The Hatch-Palucks, Week 29: Happiness Is a Hot Grill

Filed under: Healthy Families Challenge


Springtime is hard to come by in the Midwest.

Here in Urbana, Ill., we get just a fleeting few weeks -- or days, even -- of the temperate weather one longs for during the winter months. You know, the kind of sunshine-y days that require just a light jacket, and during which you can blow bubbles in the backyard and ride bikes to the park.

We tend to go from frigid to furnace here on the prairie, so when we get that rare 65-degree afternoon, we make the most of it. Last weekend, we caught a case of spring fever so bad that we even spent the morning at a home-improvement store, eyeing tulips that were begging to be replanted in our flower beds, and finding a replacement model for our bird feeder.

I was on a mission, too -- I needed to replace the grate on our gas grill and get a new tank of propane. In our house, when it comes to cooking on an open flame, I'm the go-to girl.

We don't pay too much mind to traditional gender roles in our household. Channing, my husband, doesn't bat an eyelash when it comes to cleaning the toilet or changing diapers, and I'm not afraid to take out the garbage or cook a steak on the barbie.

The occasional slab of red meat aside, one of the best things about springtime (and summer, too) is that we naturally tend to eat lighter. I hate to make a mess in the kitchen -- it feels almost punitive to come home and make a meal and then have to clean it all up, too. Channing does the dishes most nights, but if we can keep washing up to the bare minimum, I'm all for it.

While I'm a bit of a dunce when it comes to cooking meat on the stove or in the oven (although I do make a mean roast chicken), I'm pretty good at grilling out. We do a lot of grilled chicken, veggies and corn (we even have our own local hybrid variety of corn, Illini Sweet, developed at the University of Illinois) in the warmer months, and I try to keep cooking outside well into the fall -- while we're cursed with a short spring, we're also blessed here in Central Illinois with a protracted, mild autumn.

It's so much easier for us to eat healthfully when we can grill. Lean cuts of meat taste great cooked over the coals, and I'm an ace when it comes to making homemade barbecue sauce. I prefer to make my own so I know what's in it and I can keep the sugar to a minimum. Last year, I even tried out some Thai-style chicken satay with peanut sauce, and it was a hit.

grill amy hatch picture

Getting the grill in shape is a sure sign of spring on the prairie. Credit: Amy Hatch

One of the best things about grilling is how easy it is to make more than one main dish at the same time. Often, I'll grill a turkey burger for Channing, a portabella mushroom with balsamic vinegar for myself and a hot dog for Henry, and everything is ready at the same time with minimal mess. I toss together a salad and it's a complete meal.

Spring and summer are generally more healthy for us -- and, I imagine, for plenty of other folks. The urge to get outside and run off that cabin fever leftover from wintertime helps burn off energy and calories, not to mention the extra padding we added during the cold season.

Spring also brings the opening of our farmer's market. We are blessed to have a truly fabulous open-air market here in Urbana, and soon we'll be carting home pounds of fresh, locally grown asparagus, berries and tomatoes. In the summer months, we buy nearly all of our produce there every Saturday, and it's not only delicious and local, it's also way cheaper than it would be at the supermarket.

Last weekend, when we fired up the barbecue for the first time (we had grilled chicken breasts, simple and yummy), I was more optimistic than ever. With all the lessons we've learned over the past several months of the Healthy Families Challenge, I'm certain that we're ripe to reach our goals as we get close to the finish line.

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