Cathy Arnst

One of the toughest challenges facing us working parents is finding the time to make home-cooked meals. Instead, it's take out, restaurants and fast food joints. I'm sure most of us try to make healthy choices even when ordering out, but a top nutritionist at Yale University recently learned how hard that can be.
Marlene Schwartz, Director of Research and School Programs for Yale's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, recently blogged about her own experience eating at Panera's. She figured it had to be better than Friendly's, TGI Friday's or McDonald's, what with it's menu of salads and sandwiches. After checking out the nutritional information for the menu (obtained only after arguing with the manager), she found out she might have been better off going to Mickey Ds:

I was stunned to see that the Portobello & Mozzarella Panini was 750 calories and 37 grams of fat. Adding the apple, my total, was 800 calories. That seemed like a lot to me, but at this point I had already ordered my food so it was too late to figure out something else to eat.

When I got home, I looked up nutrition information on a few different website to get a better sense of the calories in some typical lunches. I went on the McDonald's website, looked up a Big Mac, and was stunned to see that it was only 540 calories and 29 grams of fat. I could have had that and a small fries (250 calories), and I would have still come in under the 800 calories of my supposedly healthy meal at Panera's.

This, of course, is why nutritional labeling on menus is needed. It may also explain the results of a recent study of 5,380 young children in 310 schools, by researchers at Ohio State University:

Obesity rose more than twice as fast when kindergarten and first-grade students were on summer vacation than when they were in school. And obese children were helped most by being in school: they gained weight no faster than other children did during the school year. It was only during the summer that overweight children gained weight more quickly than average.

"We really can't blame schools for the rise in childhood obesity," said Paul von Hippel, co-author of the study and research statistician in sociology at Ohio State University. "The problem is primarily outside of schools."

So how do working parents find the time to serve healthy meals? I try to collect as many 30-minute and less recipes as I can, and I get my daughter to help me cook. She loves to help, and I figure it's good training--soon she may be cooking for me! As an example, keep reading for a tasty, fast and relatively healthy recipe for chicken with balsamic vinegar. If anyone else has a recipe they'd like to share, send it on. We'll show Panera's.

You don't have to use balsamic--red wine vinegar is also tasty. You can substitute regular onions, or garlic, for the shallots. And any herb will work if you don't have marjoram (because really, who has fresh marjoram?). I like tarragon myself. I use chicken legs, and if I'm really feeling ambitious I remove the skin.


2 whole and halved chicken breasts (or legs if you prefer dark meat)
2 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. shallots
3 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 c. chicken broth
2 tsp. fine chopped, fresh marjoram

Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper.
Heat 1 tablespoon butter and oil in heavy fry pan over high heat. Add chicken, skin side down, and cook until skin is crisp. Reduce heat to medium-low; turn chicken breasts over and cook until chicken is done, about 12 minutes.

Transfer chicken to heated platter and keep warm in oven. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon fat from fry pan. Add shallots and cook over medium-low heat for 3 minutes or until translucent, scraping up any browned bits. Add vinegar and bring to a boil. Boil for 3 minutes or until reduced to a glaze, stirring occasionally. Season to taste with pepper. Remove sauce from heat and whisk in remaining 1 tablespoon butter and marjoram. Whisk in any juices from chicken. Spoon sauce over chicken and serve immediately. 4 servings.