lettuce-wraps-pepper-boats

Terry Stein, M.D.

Terry Stein, MD, is an urgent care family medicine physician at The University of Vermont Medical Center.

Face it, evenings caring for the family can be tough! You probably just finished up a long day at your job, working hard to earn the money that supports your family. You’ve rounded up the kids from daycare or school and now you have to feed everyone, get them cleaned up and off to bed so you can get up and do it all again tomorrow. This takes a lot of effort and it’s no wonder we’re so tired at the end of the day. On top of this, we’re expected to prepare tasty, healthy family dinners

This time spent with the family will likely create some happy memories for down the road, but when you’re in the moment, it can be difficult to make things work, especially if you’re on a tight budget like so many Vermonters.

One in Five Vermont children experience Food Insecurity, which is defined as “the lack of access to enough food to fully meet basic needs at all times due to lack of financial resources” according to Hunger Free Vermont. This leads to families eating smaller quantities of food and/or eating less healthy foods that are more affordable. Unfortunately this can affect a child’s health, mood and ability to do well in school among other things.

On top of just providing calories for our families we hear in the news and from our health care providers that we should provide healthy foods including fresh fruits and vegetables, grains and lean meats and fish. This can be tough and it’s impossible to overhaul your entire family’s diets all at once.

Instead, start by making small changes here and there. Offer carrots and apple slices as snacks instead of chips and cookies. Replace soda and sugary drinks with water or low-fat milk. Add veggies, even frozen or canned ones, to your meals. A younger child may need to try a new food ten times or more before they start to like it, so keep trying, even if they’re not so interested at first. Don’t force kids to “clean their plates,” their bodies are actually pretty good at telling them when they’re full. These small changes will add up in a healthy way.

Sometimes we stop by a fast food joint to pick up dinner. While this may seem easier, often it’s more expensive and much less healthy than making a home-cooked meal with your family. Check out this quick healthy dinner recipe from What’s Cooking? USDA Mixing Bowl for Fiesta Lettuce Wraps and Pepper Boats. It has lots of veggies and is made with tilapia which is relatively inexpensive and doesn’t have much of a fishy flavor. If you have older kids, have them take a break from their screens to help you prep the vegetables. This gives you a chance to ask them about their day and they’ll also be more interested in eating something they’ve helped create.

Raising a family may be the toughest job we have. Habits we teach our kids now about eating and health will stick with them for years to come. Keep up the good work!

Fiesta Lettuce Wraps and Pepper Boats

Using bell peppers and lettuce for wraps is a fun way to increase vegetables on the plate. Lettuce leaves and mini peppers are perfect for a build-your-own Southwestern meal or as appetizers.
4
  • 6sweet, mini bell peppers
  • 8lettuce leaves
  • 1cupinstant brown rice (dry)
  • 1lbtilapia filets, fresh or frozen (thawed)
  • 2tspSouthwest chipotle seasoning (no sodium)
  • 2Tbspcanola oil (divided)
  • 1/4Tbspsalt
  • 2limes (divided)
  • 1/4cupreduced-fat sour cream
  • 1/2cupyellow corn (frozen or canned, no-salt added)
  • 1medium tomato
  • 1small onion
  • 1clove garlic (minced)
  • 1jalapeno pepper (minced)
  • 1/4tspsalt
  1. Slice peppers in half vertically. Arrange lettuce and 8 pepper halves on a serving platter.
  2. Cook brown rice according to package directions.
  3. To make salsa fresca, dice remaining pepper halves, tomato, and onion; mix with corn, garlic, and jalapeño pepper, and ¼ tsp salt.
  4. Sprinkle both sides of tilapia filets with Southwest chipotle seasoning.
  5. Heat 1½ tbsp canola oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add fish to pan, and cook for 3 minutes on each side (cook fish until it is opaque, 145 ºF). Flake with a fork and place in a serving dish.
  6. When rice is done, stir in remaining ½ tbsp oil, juice from one lime, and ¼ tsp salt. Cut remaining lime into wedges.
  7. To serve, set out pepper-lettuce platter, rice, fish, salsa fresca, sour cream, and lime, and let diners build their own boats and wraps
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Terry Stein, MD, is an urgent care family medicine physician at The University of Vermont Medical Center. He is also assistant professor at the Larner College of Medicine at UVM. 

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