Healthy Family Meals
Eating well without going broke
With three active kids, a husband and herself to feed, Trish Pollak always has her eye on the family budget. One of the family’s favorite low-cost recipes — and one that is healthy, as well — is her fish tacos.
“My kids love fish tacos,” says Pollak, of Owings Mills. “Originally I used to make them in a fish-fry form, like fish and chips. One day I didn’t have any batter. I had halibut. I pan-seared it and threw it in the oven and sliced it off. They won’t even eat it breaded anymore. You put a little sour cream and some salsa and a little bit of shredded cheese on a whole-wheat soft tortilla, and they are all over it.”
The whole family (Pollak’s husband, Andrew, and their kids, 13-year-old Rachel, 11-year-old Lilly and 9-year-old Ben) all enjoy fish. She serves it up to four times a week, which is great, as it is a much cheaper alternative to the kosher meat the family eats.
(Pollack jokes about the former Trish Flannigan keeping kosher. She’s a convert to Judaism and says keeping kosher just felt like the right thing to do.)
In fact, eating less meat is a smart move in terms of both budget and health, notes Ronnie Fein, author of “Hip Kosher” (Da Capo Press, 2008). The Connecticut-based Fein says she makes meat go further by “bulking up” her meals with whole grains and pasta.
She also adds oomph to omelets, frittatas and hummus wraps by adding chopped leftover meat or fish. Fein also suggests using cheaper substitutes when possible. For example, she makes rotelli with smoked salmon using the chopped ends of salmon, since the salmon is just going to be chopped and combined with the pasta anyway.
Fein urges fish lovers to try either mackerel or bluefish. “Most people have never even given them a chance,” she says. Fein prepares mackerel with lemon or lime, saying the acid cuts the fattiness of the fish. And she says cooking bluefish with tomatoes and horseradish dressing takes away that fishy flavor. Another smart choice: tilapia. It has a mild flavor and is also less expensive.
With all her kids busy with sports, music lessons and other afterschool activities, quick and easy meals are also high on Pollak’s priority list.
“I throw in a little pasta, put the fish in a grill pan and the meal is done in minutes,” she notes.
Pollak makes and freezes homemade pasta sauce and she’s made the switch from traditional pasta to whole wheat. It was a bit of a transition for her family, but she finds that if the sauce is good, the kids don’t really notice.
Fein says focusing on dairy meals is another way to keep the grocery bill down. “I serve eggs at least once a week. I think eggs are probably the cheapest, best source of protein around,” she says. “I will make the eggs into something substantial. I have a recipe for huevos rancheros. It’s a full meal. It has vegetables, protein, carbs, and you can cook it in advance and pop it in the oven to reheat.”
One of Fein’s favorite meals is a variation on an Israeli dish called shakshouka.
“It’s basically this huge salsa with eggs on top. It’s a fantastic recipe.”
As for Pollak, when she does cook meat, she finds that London broil is generally a good value, and she likes chicken when she’s cooking for a crowd.
“If we have another family over I can easily put in three whole chickens with lemon, orange. I make a citrus glaze and I can feed 15 people with a salad and vegetable and challah.”
Other ideas? Fein says hearty soups serviced with salad and bread are great weekday meals. A dish of bulgur and lentils that you can prepare with or without meat is also a winner. “It’s a full protein, it’s incredibly cheap. I make it at least twice a month.”