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Published May 17, 2013, 11:33 AM

Prairie Fare: Son’s graduation prompts food for thought

“They grow up in a blink of an eye,” our friends with grown kids would remark a bit wistfully when we arrived with a stroller carrying our bright-eyed baby boy.

By: Julie Garden-Robinson, INFORUM

“They grow up in a blink of an eye,” our friends with grown kids would remark a bit wistfully when we arrived with a stroller carrying our bright-eyed baby boy.

Later, as I followed my energetic toddler son around our home and cleaned up messes in his wake, some days I didn’t believe that time was passing quickly at all. Then came kindergarten, Pinewood Derby events, basketball practices, 4-H meetings and elementary school orchestra concerts.

“He’s getting so tall. He’s growing up fast!” people would comment. I don’t think I believed them.

Before I knew it, he had his own social activities, which usually didn’t include us. Then he had his driver’s license and a first job. Now, in a couple of weeks, our son graduates from high school.

How did that happen so fast?

He was 2 years old when I launched this weekly column, and he has been a frequent inspiration, often without knowing it. Once again, he is inspiring a column, and I doubt it will be the last time. His college years are next.

“What kind of food do you want for your graduation party?” I asked one day.

“Whatever you think,” he replied. I think he learned that comment from his dad. It didn’t help.

“How many friends do you plan to invite to your party?” I asked.

“I can invite all my Facebook friends,” he replied.

“No, that won’t work. You have more than 500 Facebook friends! We have other people to invite, too. We need to send out invitations,” I said. Actually, I think I “exclaimed” that remark.

In the many years of writing this column, I have focused on food preparation for large-scale events, including community potlucks and graduation parties. Now it’s “real life” for me.

First, we needed to think through a few things: Do we have space to have the event at home? Yes, we have space, as long as my son doesn’t invite 500 Facebook friends.

Could we make all the food ourselves? Sure, we could prepare all of it, but we have a few other things to do. I decided to make some of his favorite cookies, cupcakes and side dishes and buy the sandwiches and other side items.

Many of us prepare food on a large scale from time to time. If you have a family event such as a family reunion at a picnic site in your future, here are a few ideas as you begin to make plans.

• Choose someone or a committee to be in charge. Without someone in charge, important details can fall through the cracks. For example, what if no one brought any plates, forks or cups to the event?

• Plan your menu accordingly. Do you need to keep food hot or cold for a while before you serve the food? How will you do that? Be sure that everyone bringing food is aware of food safety rules. On warm days (more than 90 degrees), perishable food should spend no more than one hour outside of temperature control.

• Be sure you have the right equipment, especially if the event is not being held in someone’s home. You might need to bring cutting boards, utensils, cookware, shallow containers for storage, soap and paper towels.

• When preparing and transporting food, avoid cross-contamination. Keep raw meat separate from ready-to-eat food so meat juices do not contaminate fruits, vegetables, salads, pop cans or utensils.

• Be sure that clean water is available, along with a cleanup plan for the picnic site.

• You can learn more about food safety when cooking for groups at http://tinyurl.com/

cdxc49h. On a smaller scale, check out the food picnic safety rules at http://tinyurl.com/btegoxy.

Here’s a quantity recipe for a popular family reunion or picnic food. Be sure to keep it cold by storing it in smaller containers in an ice-filled cooler. At home, you can nest small bowls of salad in larger bowls surrounded by ice. This recipe appeared in the 11th edition of “Food for Fifty” by Mary Molt.

Creamy Coleslaw for 50

7 pounds shredded cabbage*

2 cups mayonnaise or salad dressing

2 cups half-and-half (light cream)

½ cups cider vinegar

½ cups plus 1 tablespoon sugar

1½ tablespoons salt

½ teaspoon white pepper

Note: If you start with 9 pounds of whole cabbage heads, the edible portion will be about 7 pounds. Or, you can purchase preshredded cabbage with shredded carrots in many grocery stores.

Rinse and shred or chop cabbage. Combine remaining ingredients. Mix together and refrigerate. For most accurate serving, use a No. 12 (Zc-cup) scoop.

Makes 50 portions of about Zc cup each. Each serving has 100 calories, 8 grams (g) of fat, 1 g of protein, 7 g of carbohydrate, 258 milligrams of sodium and 50 percent of the daily value for vitamin C.

Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.

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