foodMenestra is a summer dish very easy to prepare. There is no excuse not to have a nutritious dinner for the family, when we can reach over and have a menestra prepared in no time. Some of the ingredients can be kept frozen until ready to cook. One of them is the “home-made tomato sauce” I explained before. I am going to repeat the ingredients and preparation of this basic because it is worth to keep it ready to go in your freezer.

This tomato sauce combines fresh green ingredients and contains no preservatives or chemicals; just natural ingredients with some salt and pepper to taste. I make a batch of it on the weekend and find plenty of occasions to use it during the week.

Here are the ingredients:

4 large, fresh tomatoes or 1 can of tomato puree
½ onion
1 leek
1 small carrot
2 garlic cloves
Fresh parsley
Oregano
Basil
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Pinch of sugar (optional)

Preparation:

In a saucepan, heat up 4 tablespoons of olive oil. Cut the onion, garlic, leek, fresh parsley and carrot in small pieces and cook it in the oil for about 5 minutes. Add the tomato puree or the fresh tomatoes (peeled and cut). Cook in low heat for about 30 minutes. Separate from the heat and mix, using a hand blender, until all he ingredients are forming a sauce of uniform consistency. Add the dried oregano and basil, salt and pepper and cook for additional 10 minutes. You can also add a pinch of sugar is desired.

This sauce is typically added to cooked pasta, but this time we are going to use it to make Menestra, a vegetable dish.

But we are going to need few other simple ingredients:
1 bag of fresh frozen green peas and carrots
1 bag of fresh frozen green beans
½ onion
3 tablespoons of olive oil
½ lb of cooked ham, cubed
1 hard-boiled egg

You just need to cook the frozen vegetables in hot water until tender, drain and reserve.

In a saucepan, heat the olive oil and add the onion, cut in small pieces. When the onion is soft and transparent, add the cubed ham and cook for about 7 minutes. Now you can add the cooked vegetables, stirring frequently. Add 1 cup of the previously prepared tomato sauce, cover and allow cooking for about 40 minutes in low. While cooking, all the juices from the vegetables will soak the flavor and spices from the tomato sauce, and the result will be a vegetable dish even youngsters will try and enjoy.

After cooked, you can cut up pieces of hard-boiled egg on top for decoration and extra protein.

This combination provides a healthy amount of vitamins and fiber from all the greens and tomatoes, plus a protein source in the ham and egg ingredients.

This is the way we can efficiently create a balanced meal. All the ingredients in the dish, when put together, meet the nutritional needs of children and adults.

Some mothers are asking me what to do to lose or maintain weight. They are concerned about their own weight and they are afraid their own eating habits may translate into future weight problem in their children.

All menus and dishes offered here are suitable for the whole family, from toddlers to elderly. Different age groups may eat different amounts of the same dish/meal, but all age groups should benefit from it. A small toddler, for example, may need to have this dish semi-pureed, while a teenager may need to eat two servings of it. Providing one meal for all also saves preparation time and is budget friendly.

About the Author

Dr. Katalenas

Dr. Katalenas is a pediatrician and owner of The Pediatric Center of Round Rock and the author of the book "The Step Up Diet: From Scratch… The Quality, Quantity, and Timing Solution to Childhood Obesity", a guide to healthy cooking and eating for busy families.