Category Archives: Cooking

Easy Christmas Cooking that is Sure to Please

Christmas is a hectic time of year. Many families find that they barely have time to breathe much less cook dishes to bring for this or that function. For this reason there are several great cheat dishes that can be purchased and prepared for the occasions and very few people will be the wiser. Though Christmas may be about being with friends and family it is not about broadcasting a possible lack of talent in the kitchen, time on hand, or a shortage of attention span that is required in order to prepare a stellar dish for your Christmas needs.

Of course, you could begin preparing and freezing large casserole favorites as early as August for the Christmas season. In this instance you could freeze all your family favorites and have great dishes not only for family functions that require a pitch in dish but also for those nights when you are far too busy to be bothered with something as demanding on your limited attention span as actually preparing a home cooked meal. This is possible the best method for each Christmas cooking known to man. If you prepare casseroles and similar dishes that work well with a holiday theme throughout the year be sure to double your efforts next time and freeze half for busier months such as November and December.

Of course there is one method that may be a little easier in the long run though a good deal more costly. This is the supreme cheater method. There are plenty of businesses that offer you the opportunity to put together or ‘assemble’ meals then bring them home to freeze and bake. This isn’t quite home made though it tastes as good and might convince those at the parties and events you attend that you are in fact an excellent cook even if you have difficulties finding your way to boiling water. Some cities have several of these meal assembly stores while others have none or only one. You need to constantly check with the menu if you are a finicky eater because they often rotate some of the more popular dishes so that they aren’t available all the time. Since the food is frozen you can typically plan your sessions for those times when they are offering the dishes you are interested in creating.

A variation on the theme above is purchasing prepared meals in the freezer section of your local supermarket. There are a few surprisingly good meals to be had especially if you are considering macaroni and cheese or lasagna for your offering. These are meals that you bring home and heat in your oven. They are often sold in foil pans, which are great for potlucks and pitch ins but not so much for looking good. If that isn’t the utmost concern these are definitely a possible fit for your needs and your plans. They also happen to be fairly budget friendly which is something most of us can agree is a great thing.

You do not have to have super powers or even a great deal of cooking talent in order to make a Christmas dinner that is delicious and easy to make when time is short. Careful planning well ahead of time is often the key to a successful Christmas season. Most of us begin our shopping early there is no harm in also beginning our cooking a little early too.

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Cooking for One

It is often frustrating to attempt to plan meals that are designed for one. Despite this fact, we are seeing more and more recipe books and Internet websites that are dedicated to the act of cooking for one. Divorce and the death of spouses or grown children leaving for college are all reasons that someone accustomed to cooking for more than one would suddenly need to learn how to adjust all the cooking practices utilized before into a streamlined plan of cooking that is more efficient for one person creating less waste.

The mission, should you choose to accept it, is to make cooking for one a challenge rather than a trial. Use this opportunity to try new and exciting cuisines. Perhaps one of the greatest things about cooking for one is the fact that it isn’t quite as expensive as cooking for two. This means that you have a little more money in the grocery budget with which to plan and prepare your meals.

One thing you may want to keep in mind however is that when cooking for one, if you prepare foods that are freezable. It may save more time (and in the end money) if you cook the full 2-4 servings that most recipes call for and freeze the leftovers in single serving portions for a later point in time. This leaves you with a freezer full of foods for those nights when the thought of cooking just seems beyond your capabilities. This also leaves you with doing the work once and enjoying the fruits of your efforts many times over. This is a great position to be in if you ask me.

We are finding more and more recipes and cookbooks that are designed around the concept of cooking for one. No matter what situation placed you in the position of cooking for one, there is no reason that you shouldn’t enjoy great food that is exciting and pleasant simply because you are dining alone. There is no harm in enjoying a fabulous meal with a glass of wine and great music whether you are cooking for one or one hundred.

Remember you are what you eat and if you relegate yourself to boring meals that lack excitement and spice that is what you will become. However if you decide to reach out and try new and exciting dishes with every meal you prepare when cooking for one, it will show in the way you embrace life in other areas as well. While we should not live to eat, we should also not limit ourselves to eating to live. Enjoy the foods you prepare whether the portions are large or small in size.

If you do not want to invest heavily in cookbooks that relate to cooking for one, it is quite possible that your local public library will have a few from which you can find some excellent recipes tips and resources. While you are there be sure to check out their selection of exotic food cookbooks in order to spice things up a bit. You never know what treasures you may discover on the shelves or your local library. You may even find local resources on classes that center on the idea of cooking for one. If the library proves to be a bust as far as resources go, the Internet is full of recipes, tips, and hints for those who are cooking for one.

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Thanksgiving Menu Ideas

Thanksgiving is many things to many different people. In America it is a day we set aside to give thanks for all the things that are important to us and pay homage to an excellent dinner with an afternoon of football watching and yelling at the television screen (at least that is what you do if you live in Detroit). In other areas of the nation people actually do things together such as playing board games, touch football, or any number of other games that can be enjoyed by young and old alike. Other traditions are to gather the ladies together to plan the shopping strategy for the next day’s shopping. A worthy cause if ever there was one to be sure.

But, the traditions that go along with Thanksgiving and giving thanks do not solve the dilemma that many face each and every time Thanksgiving is celebrated in their homes faces. That dilemma would be what to prepare for the big meal. There are plenty of options and as hostess and chef extraordinaire it is entirely up to you what the menu will be. The best piece of advice that can be given however, is the less food left to prepare on Thanksgiving day is the less food that has the opportunity for something to go wrong in the preparation process.

Here are a few great menu ideas, tips, and tricks that should help make your Thanksgiving Dinner preparations go a little more smoothly.

First of all, plan ahead and make sure you have all the ingredients you need and any special menu items that may be required well ahead of time but in a manner that allows for maximum freshness. If you must wait until the day before to get some of your shopping done, then do so as early in the day as possible. Otherwise make a point of getting all the non-perishable ingredients that are necessary a week or so ahead of time. Also if you are going to order a smoked turkey or something along those lines do so far enough in advance that you have no doubt at all that your order will be filled on time.

Second, if you can afford to have something ordered and prepared offsite and it doesn’t hurt your sense of pride do so. You do not have to have everything catered but having a few items catered will leave your day much less stressed making the risk of something going wrong a little lower than if you were cramming everything into one morning and doing it all yourself. Bread from the bakery, smoked ham or turkey, and certain favorite side dishes that are complicated and time consuming as well as some pies are a great buy and save a lot of time that would be better spent enjoying the day.

Third, recruit help. There is absolutely nothing wrong with grabbing a passing child or adult and asking for a little help with the chopping, washing, or mixing that must take place in order for the dinner to go off without a hitch. The thing is that while people often don’t mind helping they are afraid to offer for fear of seeming to imply that you aren’t doing well enough on your own. For this reason there is no harm in recruiting help especially among friends and family.

Finally, keep the animals outside or locked away from the festivities and, more importantly, the food. Animals are great friends to have but most of your guests do not appreciate them in the kitchen or at the table. You do not want Fluffy or Fido to run off the food you’ve worked hard to prepare (or purchase whichever the case may be) so remove them from a situation that it might prove tempting.

The most important thing about your Thanksgiving dinner is that you are not so stressed from the preparation that you do not have the time or peace of mind to enjoy it. The advice above should help with that.

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Giving Dad Home Style Cooking on His Big Day

There is no one on earth quite like dear old dad. He has given hugs, offered advice, picked up the pieces of your broken heart, and been the source of many twenty-dollar bills finding their way into your pockets unexpectedly for gas or a new pair of shoes. This man has meant so much to you throughout your life. Do you honor him on his special day with a trip to some nameless restaurant where he is little more than table number 23 or do you cook him a feast fit for the King her really is in your heart?

A little hint, most dads prefer home made food (provided of course you have a firm grasp on basic cooking skills) to a restaurant menu almost any day of the week and twice on a day that should be sacred for family. For this reason it is a great idea to prepare to put on a fest for your dad whether you are planning for your family and mom and dad or bringing the entire family to the table you need to plan carefully and prepare as much of the food as possible ahead of time.

Be kind to dad too and his health. Avoid laying out a table of his favorites if they are all completely off the charts for his dietary and health restriction needs. Chances are that you can find low fat, low cholesterol, or low sodium versions of most of his favorites if you do a thorough search online. You can also find plenty of recipes for sugar free treats that are delicious and friendly to those who either have type II diabetes or those who need to shed a few pounds because of other health concerns. Of course you do want dear old dad to live a little and enjoy the foods you prepare but do try to keep some of his dietary needs in mind and offer choices that fit in with his needs as well as his favorites.

Is your dear old dad a steak and potatoes kind of man? If so, feed that need. Offer a nice steak prepared in a low fat, low sodium method and a small side of potatoes with a large side of steamed or raw vegetables. This will be a good balance on the plate and should also leave a little bit of room for an excellent dessert later on. Of course if comfort food is your dad’s mainstay we are seeing new and improved recipes crop up almost every day that provide as much of the great flavor as possible without the fat, calories, and/or carbs.

Of course if your dad is the kind of man who is going to eat what he wants no matter what, there is no reason not to give him what he wants. Just make some efforts to minimize the impact by lowering where you can while still providing the taste he loves so much. Be sure to offer a nice selection of dear old dad’s favorite drinks too. Preparing an excellent father’s day feast goes well beyond just throwing a few steaks on the grill. Desserts should be something dad will enjoy and fresh fruit is another great option to add for a healthy choice and a bit of variety. The important thing is that you have taken the time to prepare and cook a great meal for the man who has given you so much on this special day.

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Cooking Light for Memorial Day

Memorial Day is a special holiday for Americans, particularly during times of war. We celebrate this day to honor those before who have served their country and those who serve today. Brave men and women have dedicated their lives to the service of our great nation, some of them at the cost of those lives. For this reason it is important that we dedicate one day each year to remember and honor their sacrifices. One way we celebrate, as decent red blooded Americans is by gathering together with friends and family and having picnics, barbecues, and bonfires to commemorate those who now serve, those who have served in the past, and countless others that we will never know.

The downside to our Memorial Day celebrations is a menu that lingers with us in the form of calories well beyond the festivities of the day. If you’re looking for a great way to enjoy the day without feeling deprived and still avoid some of the heavy hitting calories that we consume far too many of on a normal Memorial Day there is help to be had. Keep reading to discover some excellent methods for cutting calories from your Memorial Day feasts.

Grill your chicken instead of frying it. Fried chicken has for a very long time been a favorite among those celebrating almost any occasion – particularly in the south. However, this packs on unwanted calories that would be better spent on dessert rather than the main course. Another thing you can do is to skip the sauce. By this, I mean barbecue sauce. There are plenty of great rubs that can be used on your beef, pork, and chicken that pack a powerful punch when it comes to taste and leave off those pesky calories that sugar filled barbecue sauces add to your favorite dishes.

Have salad as a side. In addition to salad as a healthy side option include fresh cut up vegetables and low fat dressing as a dip for sides as well as appetizers. By having these available for your guests you may be surprised to discover that others appreciate the healthy options just as much as you do. Even cooked vegetables that aren’t dripping in cheese sauce, butter, or other types of fats provide a better option than high carb, high fat sides such as macaroni and cheese, potato salad, and mashed potatoes.

Have fruit on hand to help diminish the craving for sweets. While I would not dream of completely depriving yourself of dessert I recommend two steps to help make the fight against fat a more survivable contest of wills. First, have at least one sugar free dessert option available for those that are dieting and offer fruits. By combining the healthier sweet treat of fruit with a delicious sugar free dessert in a smaller portion you are doubling the health benefits.

Finally, homemade ice cream has for a long time been a favorite family tradition for Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day. You do not have to say no to all the good things in life even if you are trying to watch what you eat. By eliminating the empty calories many of us consume in drinks, and following the steps above you just might find that ice cream is an option for you after all without completely blowing the good work you’ve done. Remember that moderation is the key.

If you allow yourself a taste of the really good stuff along the way you will be much less likely to fail in your healthier living efforts. In addition to watching the calories you put into your body on Memorial Day be sure to take stock of the calories you burn. Go for a walk, take a hike, pick up a game of flag football with the family, or dance with the little ones in the afternoon. Consistent efforts to burn more calories while consuming less will net the greatest results whether it is a holiday or not.

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Cooking with Children

I am fairly certain that most of us have either seen or at the very least heard of the hit situation comedy “Married with Children” that dominated television for quite a few years and is still shown in syndication in many markets around the world. There are some wonderful insights that are shown by this often dysfunctional family and a few pearls to bring into your every day lives. The same can be said when it comes to cooking with children.

There is little on this earth that can teach you about yourself and the way your children view you as easily as cooking with your children. Of course, this is the perfect opportunity for many of us to let our hair down a little, relax, and have fun in the kitchen. Unfortunately, if you are anything like me, this is a difficult process to say the least. I am a bit of a control freak in my kitchen. It is my domain or sovereign territory so to speak. For this reason it is difficult to give up that little bit of control and hand over the reigns to any one of my children.

On the other hand, I know they are learning important skills that they honestly need to know in life. This knowledge of course doesn’t make it any less difficult when I’m scraping tomato sauce out of places I would never have thought to discover it on my own. If you are considering cooking with children you need to make sure you have the proper ingredients on hand before beginning. You certainly do not want to be caught without that cup full of patience you will be requiring nor do you wish to need to leave in the middle of things for a run to the local grocery store to pick up the missing ingredients.

Another great rule of thumb when it comes to cooking with children is the KISS rule. Keep it simple silly. This rule will help out more than you ever realize. First of all, most children have relatively short attention spans. While they want to learn and help mommy out, they also do not want to have enough time to get bored with the details. Use simple recipes when cooking with children and your chances for success will be much greater than with overly complicated or ingredient intense recipes.

As if this wasn’t enough to absorb another very important rule when it comes to cooking with children is to clean as you go whenever possible. Trust me on this. While there is part of you who will want to put off the task of cleaning the messes that are made until later, or wait till the end and only clean once, this allows the opportunity for messes to layer and compound themselves. Constantly clean throughout the process for the best possible results. You should enlist your children in the cleaning process as well. While it may be easier to do yourself, it is far more important to teach them the basics of cleaning as you go. Remember one day they will more than likely invade your kitchen while you’re not looking.

Cooking with children can be an incredible way to have a fun day if you are able to let go of the control that you too often hold over the kitchen. Give over the keys to your kingdom for a day of fun and frolicking among the flour and sugar and see just how many wonderful memories you can make with your little ones along the way.

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St. Patrick’s Day Brings Out the Irish Cooking

There is something about St. Patrick’s Day that brings out the Iris cook in all of us. At least it seems to have this effect on the women in my family. If you are not of Irish decent it may not have quite this profound effect upon you. If you are, then I’m quite certain you will understand what I mean by this. There’s something about revisiting traditions that may have been lost in the fog of coming to a new world and adopting a new way of life that is lifted on this one day of the year. As a result old favorite recipes handed down from mother to daughter over the centuries come out and grand meals are prepared.

If your mother wasn’t of Irish decent and you do not have a stockpile of wonderful Irish recipes in your inventory there are a few great websites on the Internet that offer excellent recipes that have already been converted to standard American measurements that will have Irish eyes and any eyes that think they might wish to be Irish smiling once again.

Corned beef and cabbage is a favorite. In our house we add great things like potatoes and carrots to the recipe. This is a great meal because it can be put in the crock pot before the work of the day begins and with very little effort is simply waiting on you to be ready for dinner time. No real effort is necessary in creating an outstanding feast that many will think you’ve had to miss a parade or two in order to prepare. Just make sure you hide any throws you might have caught and they will never know that you were out having fun and drinking green beer along with everyone else in the neighborhood.

Lamb stew is another great dish to put on your St. Patrick’s Day table. There are also slow cooker or crock pot recipes available for this family favorite if you take the time to search them out. This is a stick to your ribs kind of meal that is very popular in cooler climates for the St. Patrick’s Day festivities. This makes a great lunch or dinner for this great day and goes quite well with Irish Soda Bread.

Shepherd’s pie is another hale and hearty meal that is a wonderful addition to the St. Patrick’s Day festivities. This dish is a favorite among those who have tried it and might just become a staple recipe in your kitchen if you haven’t managed to prepare it before. There are many recipes online though I recommend going the path of least resistance and finding the simplest recipe possible.

No Irish meal is really complete without potatoes of some kind on the table. Keep this in mind no matter which meal you cook. There must be potatoes in order to complete the meal or it simply cannot be authentically Irish. This may be a slight exaggeration but you should take a moment to make sure that there are potatoes for this particular event because it’s just a very Irish thing to do.

Of course Irish coffee and green beer are quite often the drink choices for St. Patties day celebrations and they are never a bad choice, provided someone not drinking those drinks is doing the driving. If alcohol isn’t your beverage of choice it is definitely not a requirement. However, if you are feeling particularly in line with the green theme of St. Patrick’s Day you could make a green milk shake, a green smoothie, green powdered drink mix, or any other green drink that comes to mind. The drinks and even the colors aren’t really all that important in the end. It is all in good fun at this point even if it isn’t Irish in nature. There are some days when it just pays to be green despite the fact that Kermit still claims, “it ain’t easy being green.”

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Fun Christmas Cooking for Everyone

Christmas is a time of year that brings friends and family together who may not have the pleasure of one another’s company at any other time throughout the year. While family ties may be a bit difficult to maintain in the world in which we live today, the traditions of Christmas for many families is what keeps us grounded and in touch with one another no matter how far apart we are geographically. The problem is that if one person is doing the cooking for all, that person tends to spend endless hours in the kitchen and misses out on the joys of the company of others year after year. One way to avoid this is by rotating locations for the festivities from one year to the next. Another way, a much simpler way, is to delegate items of contribution from all guests in attendence each year so that the cooking and meal preparation duties are shared among the masses.

Of course this isn’t a perfect plan but it is a good plan. Another great plan is to prepare pieces and parts of your Christmas dinner ahead of time. With careful planning there are items that may be prepared as much as a few weeks ahead of the big day and stored either in air tight containers at room temperature or frozen for heating or baking on the big day or within a reasonable time frame of Christmas for best results. Any of the prep work that can be taken care of before the big day is one less thing to be taken care of when the time comes and that becomes a load off your mind.

Make lists. Lists are wonderful things. If you learn to live by your lists you will wonder how on earth you ever got anything done without them. When you are planning your Christmas dinner right down everything you plan to have, who is bringing what, what you are making, and what ingredients will be needed to complete each and every single dish. Go through your pantry and see which items you have in abundance and which items you will need to prepare the meals. Head to the store at least a week ahead of the big day and purchase all but the fresh ingredients you will need in order to prepare your Christmas feast.

Another thing you will need to do is make sure you have a list of all the non food items you will need to stock ahead of time. Make sure all the bathrooms are stocked, that you have plenty of garbage bags, waste baskets, paper plates, cups, napkins, cutlery, and other items that will be needed in order to make things go smoothly when your guests begin to arrive. These are little things that matter and may get overlooked if you fail to plan ahead.

You should also make a list of decorations, invitations, and gifts or games you may need to purchase for the day too. You want your day to go as smoothly as possible and you want everyone to fill wanted, appreciated, and anticipated. It may be a great idea to pick up a couple of generic gifts for a male or female in case someone unexpected shows up (you really never know) and have extra wrapping paper and supplies on hand in case someone has an emergency rewrap (as in a kid opened a gift intended for someone else). Most importantly plan to be able to sit back, relax, and enjoy as much of the festivities as possible.

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Cooking for the Day of the Dead

The Day of the Dead or Dia de los Muertos is an important holiday in Mexican culture in which the departed adults that have gone on to the afterlife once again walk the earth for a night. It is an opportunity to honor those who have left us behind and a very healthy approach to death that many other cultures would do well to adopt. This is a family event and as such there is typically a good deal of great food involved.

If this is your first celebration of the Day of the Dead you are not alone. Most Americans never adopt this custom and those that are interested enough to try out some of the cuisine of this important day in Mexican society are very rarely versed in the tradition, which makes it difficult.

Sugar skulls are a very important part of the Day of the dead festivities and can be decorated quite elaborately by skilled artisans. If this is a tradition you’d like to explore there are many recipes for the mixture as well as forms for the skulls that can be found online. It is a fun art project that takes place in the kitchen for kids and grown-ups alike that also happens to provide a somewhat unique peek at another culture. The painting of the skulls can be very simplistic or as elaborate as you wish to make it. You should note that days when it is either raining or very humid are not good days for trying to make the sugar skulls so plan ahead and pay attention to the weather reports.

Pan de Muerto is a staple for cooking on the day of the dead. It has become known as day of the dead bread. There are many recipes ranging from simple in nature to extremely complex. They are all somewhat different and you may need to try a few before you find that one you like best. The best solution is probably to taste several different varieties and request the recipe for the one you prefer if you know the person who did the baking.

Beef tamales are another excellent food for the day of the dead. They are also great to make ahead of time and freeze so that there is little actual prep work to be done on this day. You can also make tamales with the help of your little ones if you are so inclined. It makes them feel important and allows them to be big kids and big helps in the kitchen. Not only that, but when all is said and done they will appreciate the tamales that their efforts produced even more than if they had taken no part in the preparation.

Another great tradition is to serve foods that the departed family members considered favorites. This means that you may have quite a variety of foods on the table, depending on how large the family was and how many family members are dead. This is a tradition that was Indian in origin and is more strongly observed in areas that have the largest Indian population within Mexico and in some southwestern states within the United States. If you are looking to add a little excitement to your cooking feel free to do a little cooking for the Day of the Dead next time it comes around.

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Start the New Year’s Cooking Off Right

Most people will make a New Year’s resolution each year. Most of those will also break that resolution before the year gets too far underway. In fact, most people who are going to break their resolutions do so within the first day at some point or another. There is hope however if you are planning to eat healthier throughout the New Year. The trick is to immediately begin rather than putting it off until tomorrow or until you have emptied the Christmas goodies from your pantry.

If you are among the many people around the world who resolves that this next year is going to be the year that you take positive steps to reducing your weight and improving your overall health the way to begin isn’t by loading up on carbohydrates and champagne. So out go the peas and in goes the cabbage and corned beef (in small proportions however). Begin the year by understanding portion size, the value of fresh vegetables, the idea that the meat isn’t supposed to take up most of your plate, and the notion that dessert is a rare treat not the anticipated ending of an ordinary meal.

These are outstanding beginnings. Not only do you need to rethink the way you eat for your New Year’s Day festivities but also the way you prepare the foods you love. High fat preparation methods are out. In is the idea of using seasonings that contain no or very few calories and leave little fat behind as evidence of their participation in the savory flavor of your meals. Herbs and seasonings are a healthy cooks best friend because they help eliminate visions of blandness invading every meal to come until your fitness goals are met and you’ve reached a state of maintenance in which a few more calorific luxuries are allowed.

Stop frying. The frying process adds simple carbohydrates and fat to your cooking. These are two things you want to try to eliminate from your diet all together. While I am not personally an advocate of removing all carbohydrates from any diet I do believe it is a good idea to switch, whenever possible and tolerable to more complex carbohydrates that are healthier to consume. Fats should always be in moderation however, it is best to save their use for those times when it is a real treat rather than wasting them on well, dinner. Reserve the fats for fun food and rewards rather than squandering them on fuel that is meant to merely get you through the day.

Another thing you need to learn when cooking for the New Year’s Holiday and trying to keep things on a more healthy note is that bigger isn’t necessarily better. This means that by sticking to the proper portion size you may avoid over eating and filling up. You do not want to leave the table full you want to leave the table wanting a little bit more (not hungry but definitely not full). Eating the proper portions reduces the risk of overeating and feeling bloated or stuffed later on. It also helps you understand what your limits are better and where you need to make cuts in your dietary habits.

Prepare for smaller meals rather than cooking one huge meal for New Year’s Day and carry that eating ethic through the rest of the year with you in order to achieve optimal results. Food is the fuel your body needs to carry out its duties properly. The bad news is that far too many of us really enjoy food to the extent that we overindulge, which also prevents the body from working properly. You will need to work to discover what the optimal amount of food and calories is for your dietary needs but it starts by eating healthy one day and following up the next. New Year’s Day is a great day to begin a new way of eating. Are you ready?

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