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Rejoin the family table

Remember that picturesque Norman Rockwell portrait of a family sitting and enjoying a hot meal together? It's all but a distant memory now. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the typical American family spends more than $2,000 a year on dinners in restaurants with 10 percent of those dinners eaten at fast food establishments. What's more is more than 50 percent of the dinners eaten by overweight American children are consumed in front of the television. Further research has also shown that children who eat dinner with their parents have higher intakes of essential nutrients and vitamins. The same study showed that a family dinner is possible even if both parents work.

What's the solution? Turning off the TV is one and involving kids in the meal preparation may be another. Parents may find that kids take pride in a meal they helped to create. It's also a good opportunity for parents to talk to kids about the importance of having a good diet.

One way to have fun, be creative and eat healthy while cooking with kids is to incorporate herbs and spices into food preparation. From drinks, soups and salads to pastas and main dishes, herbs and spices add flavor and aroma without fat, sugar or salt. It's simple to freshen up the dishes your family already loves with the judicious use of herbs and spices--and you'll be giving them a boost of antioxidants at the same time. Instead of cream in a tomato soup, stir in Italian parsley, basil and cilantro. Whisk a fresh herb or herb paste with olive oil and lemon juice for a tangy vinaigrette over salads--no one will miss the salt. Banish that heavy, cream-based Alfredo sauce for pasta by switching to olive oil flavored with finely chopped garlic or garlic paste, Italian parsley and basil. Add finely grated lemon grass or lemon grass paste to tea, along with a spoonful of honey, and you can omit the sugar.

While fresh herbs and spices are available only seasonally, new innovations have made it possible to enjoy them year round and make the cooking of a meal fast, easy and fun. A relatively new product on store shelves, Gourmet Garden Squeezable Herbs and Spices, comes in a variety of choices like Garlic, Basil, Chili Pepper and many more. These herbs and spices are picked fresh, chopped, blended and sealed in the easy-to-squeeze tubes so they are always in season--and there's no chopping, no mess and, most importantly, no waste. The process of producing the squeezable fresh herbs and spices gives them a shelf life of three to six months when stored in the freezer.

Kids and parents can enjoy creating many meals together with these fun and easy-to-squeeze fresh herbs and spices.

--Herbs and spices have a long history of medicinal use--since at least 5,000 B.C.

--Herbs and spices are among the richest sources of antioxidants. On a weight basis, they're higher than many fruits and vegetables.

--Herbs and spices can help reduce fat and sugar in the diet by adding flavor without unwanted calories.

--Herbs and spices add vibrant color and a fresh flavor to most recipes--from savory to sweet.

--Herbs and spices taste best when added to a recipe toward the end of cooking.

For more information, tips and recipes, visit www.gourmetgarden.com. Gourmet Garden products are available in the fresh produce section of leading supermarkets in 4-ounce easy-to-squeeze tubes or single-serve packs (three 1/2-ounce tubes).

Spaghetti Bolognese

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 pound ground beef
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 (14-ounce) jar tomato pasta sauce
1 Single-Serve Gourmet Garden Herb Medley Pack (1/2 ounce Basil and 1/2 ounce Parsley)
1 pound spaghetti, cooked
Parmesan cheese, for topping

Heat olive oil and pan fry onion and ground beef until beef is browned. Stir in tomato paste, tomatoes and pasta sauce. Simmer 10 minutes or until thickened. Stir in basil and parsley. Serve with spaghetti and sprinkling of parmesan.

Tomato Herb Soup

2 tablespoons butter
1 cup chopped celery
1 large onion, diced
1 (28-ounce) can tomatoes
4 cups vegetable stock
1 Single-Serve Gourmet Garden Herb Medley Pack (1/2 ounce Cilantro, 1/2 ounce Basil and 1/2 ounce Parsley)
Toasted croutons

In large saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add celery, onion and cilantro: cook until celery softens. Add tomatoes, stock, basil and parsley: bring to boil. Simmer about 30 minutes. Remove from heat, cool and puree with food processor. Reheat and serve with toasted croutons.

Chicken and Tomato Fettuccine

1 lemon, juiced
2 tablespoons pine nuts
1/4 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
1 Single-Serve Gourmet Garden Italian Pack (1/2 ounce Garlic, 1/2 ounce Basil and 1/2 ounce Parsley)
1/3 cup light olive oil
14 ounces chicken breasts
12 ounces fettuccine
8 ounces grape tomatoes, halved vParmesan cheese, for topping (optional)

Combine lemon juice, pine nuts, cheese, garlic, basil and parsley in food processor. Process until roughly chopped. With motor running, add olive oil and blend mixture into smooth paste. Brush chicken with olive oil and season to taste. In large frying pan cook chicken about 8 minutes on each side, until brown and cooked through. Set aside to rest before slicing. Meanwhile, cook fettuccine according to package directions. Drain and toss with sliced chicken, grape tomatoes and enough herb-cheese sauce to coat pasta. Serve sprinkled with parmesan, if desired.


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