More recipe kit ideas

In a previous post, I wrote about the micro food pantries that are popping up outside churches, schools and businesses in communities around the country (link HERE).

Then I added a post about stocking your local micro pantries or food pantries with the same kind of meal kits or recipe kits offered by meal delivery services such as Sunbasket, HelloFresh or Blue Apron (link HERE).

Meal kits or recipe kits are great for micro pantries and food pantries because it is often hard for people using the pantries to find all the ingredients they need to make a particular recipe.

From time to time, as I think of ideas for meal kits or recipe kits, I will share them. Here are a couple of ideas for meal kits, one for Chili 3-Way and one for Tuna Tetrazzini, using all nonperishable ingredients.

The Chili 3-Way recipe is one of my favorite go-to recipes at our own house when we’re in a hurry and need something quick. For the pantry recipe bag, I would add a second can of chili to make the recipe large enough to feed a larger family if necessary.

For the Tuna Tetrazzini, one can put a box of the Tuna Helper and a family-size packet of tuna in a gallon freezer bag, and assume the family has the milk and butter called for in the recipe already in their fridge. But one could also add powdered milk, along with olive oil to replace the butter. That way the person picking up the bag will be sure to have everything needed. (I use olive oil instead of butter myself. Healthier!)

Question for readers: Do you have any great ideas for recipe kits for food pantries or micro pantries? Please share your suggestions in the comments section below.

Recipe kits for your neighborhood micro pantry

About a month ago, I shared a post (link HERE) about the micro food pantries that are popping up outside churches, schools and businesses in communities around the country. The post included a list of nonperishable foods, cleaning supplies and personal hygiene items that people like to put in these miniature food pantries.

Here’s another idea for stocking your church’s or community’s micro pantry: Create the same kind of meal kits or recipe kits offered by meal delivery services such as Sunbasket, HelloFresh or Blue Apron.

I absolutely adore Sunbasket’s nifty little kits, which contain all the ingredients needed to prepare a recipe, thereby eliminating the need to run to the grocery store at the last minute for that one ingredient we need and don’t have in our fridge or cupboard.

So I got to thinking: Might a person using one of our community’s micro pantries appreciate finding a kit like this as well?

Of course, a major challenge when creating a recipe kit for a micro pantry is that only nonperishable ingredients can be used, which rules out ingredients like milk, eggs, fresh meats and most produce. But with a little ingenuity, it is possible to create a reasonably nutritious and tasty recipe using only nonperishables.

One of my favorite quickie meals at our house is tuna noodle casserole. All the ingredients for this super easy and filling recipe are nonperishable items, which makes it ideal for a micro pantry kit: a packet or can of tuna, a bag of egg noodles, a can of cream of mushroom soup, a can or jar of mushrooms and a container of parmesan cheese.

To make a kit, first create a label that looks something like this one, listing the items in the bag along with directions for making the recipe. (Note: When I make the tuna casserole recipe myself, I use a 5-ounce packet of tuna, 16-ounce bag of noodles, 10-ounce can of soup and 10-ounce jar of mushrooms, so you may want to purchase similar-sized containers of each of these ingredients for your kit in order to make the recipe work.)

Paste or tape the label to the outside of a paper bag. A plain sturdy gift bag with handles on it large enough to hold all the ingredients will work nicely.

Then just fill the bag with the recipe ingredients and place the kit in your church or neighborhood micro pantry next time you’re out and about.

If your church or civic organization wants to make this a group activity, some food pantries also welcome these meal/recipe kits. Or, if your community has several micro pantries scattered around town, you can make up several of the bags and deliver a few to each of the micro pantries.

At church, your youth group or community service committee could encourage congregation members to donate the ingredients. This project could also make a great service activity for other civic organizations you or your children belong to, such as Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts.

Recipe: Ostkaka

This Swedish dessert is a favorite at our house during the Christmas season, and has been passed down in my family for several generations.

The name ostkaka can be roughly translated as “cheesecake” – “ost” meaning “cheese” and “kaka” meaning “cake.” But the dessert is a bit different from American cheesecake, not quite as sweet and with a slightly different texture.

To make it, older generations of my family used curdled milk, produced by adding rennet to a mixture of warm milk and flour. They then added heavy cream, sugar and eggs to make a batter. My parents’ generation simplified the recipe, using cottage cheese in place of curdled milk, and it tastes the same (at least to me). Needless to say, the latter version is much easier to make.

Over the years, my mother and I developed a few additional recipe adjustments to accommodate diabetes and other dietary restrictions. I use fat-free cottage cheese, substitute egg beaters for the eggs, substitute half and half or even whole lactose-free milk for the heavy cream, and replace sugar with an equivalent amount of sugar substitute. Rice flour can be used to make the recipe gluten free. The result is still delicious.

Our family likes to serve the ostkaka with lingonberries, but if these prove hard to find, strawberry jam or sliced strawberries can also be used.

Ingredients

  • 4 eggs or 1/2 cup egg beaters
  • 3 cups fat-free cottage cheese
  • 2 cups half & half or whole milk
  • 1/3 cup regular or rice flour
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract
  • Sweetener equivalent to 1/2 cup sugar
  • Lingonberries, strawberry jam or sliced strawberries

Directions

Blend together the eggs, sweetener, cream or milk, flour and extract until smooth.

Stir in the cottage cheese until well-blended and pour the mixture into a cake pan.

Bake in a 350-degree oven for an hour, or until it rises a bit and is slightly brown on top.

Allow the dessert to cool at least four hours or overnight in the refrigerator.

Top each individual serving with about a tablespoon of lingonberries, strawberry jam or sliced strawberries.

Nutrition information

My version, made with egg beaters, whole milk and sugar substitute, topped with a tablespoon of lingonberries.

Serving size: 3/4 cup | Calories: 120 | Carbohydrates: 14 g | Protein: 10 g | Fat: 2 g | Saturated Fat: 1 g | Cholesterol: 13 mg | Sodium: 300 mg | Potassium: 240 mg | Fiber: 1 g | Sugar: 9 g | Vitamin A: 9% | Vitamin C: 0% | Calcium: 17% | Iron: 1%

Recipe: Ground beef crumbles

Today I’m sharing one of my favorite cooking hacks.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve thought about making a recipe using ground beef crumbles, only to change my mind at the last minute because the only meat I had available was frozen solid and would take forever to thaw before I could even start browning it.

Then I hit on a solution: Why not use ground beef I’ve already browned ahead of time and frozen for nearly instant use? Batch cooking at its best.

I start by sautéing an onion, green pepper and garlic for a bit of extra flavor. Then I add five pounds of fresh ground beef, which I brown and drain thoroughly, separate into recipe-sized portions and store in the freezer until I need it.

And voilà! When a recipe calls for browned ground beef, all I have to do is pull a bag of the crumbles out of the freezer and pop the crumbles in the microwave for just two minutes. 

The crumbles can be frozen for up to three months and are handy for use in beefy mac, chili, taco filling, ground beef stroganoff, spaghetti, sloppy joes … the list goes on.

This recipe makes six 10-ounce bags of crumbles.

Ingredients

  • 5 pounds fresh lean ground beef
  • Large onion, diced
  • Large green bell pepper, diced
  • 2½ teaspoons minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • Dusting of freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Sauté onion, green pepper and garlic with oil on medium heat in a large dutch oven until vegetables are softened and slightly caramelized, adding a very light sprinkling of black pepper.

Add the fresh (unfrozen) ground beef to the sautéed vegetables a bit at a time, breaking it up as you go with a large high-temperature-resistant hamburger meat chopper and stirring constantly until all meat is browned and crumbly. 

Drain the meat thoroughly and place in a shallow, loosely covered container in the refrigerator until the meat has cooled.

Once cooled, split the crumbles into recipe-sized portions – I usually make each portion about 10 ounces – and place portions in plastic freezer bags. Transfer to the freezer promptly.

When it’s time to use the crumbles, remove from the freezer bag, place in a microwave-safe dish and heat on high for about two minutes. Then add to your favorite recipe!

Nutrition information

Per 10-ounce recipe portion, based on 90% lean ground beef. Depending on the recipe the crumbles are used in, final portion size may vary considerably.

Calories: 715 | Carbohydrates: 5 g | Protein: 75 g | Fat: 150 g | Saturated Fat: 37 g | Cholesterol: 245 mg | Sodium: 250 mg | Potassium: 340 mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 1 g | Vitamin A: 0 % | Vitamin C: 28% | Calcium: 4% | Iron: 70% 

Recipe: Cheesy veggie casserole

This casserole meets a couple of my criteria for an ideal recipe: It’s not only tasty, but super easy to make. Throw together frozen vegetables, a can of soup and pre-made topping and pop in the oven.

I use the Birds Eye Oven Roasters vegetables because they are pre-seasoned and thoroughly delicious, the Campbell’s Healthy Request cheese soup because it has half the fat and sodium content of regular cheese soup, and the smallest possible can of French-fried onions so the calorie count doesn’t create too many shock waves.

The recipe makes approximately 6 servings. Leftovers will last in the fridge for up to 4 days or can be frozen for up to 3 months.

Ingredients

  • 15-ounce bag Oven Roasters seasoned brussels sprouts and carrots
  • 14-ounce bag Oven Roasters seasoned broccoli and cauliflower
  • 10-ounce can Campbell’s Healthy Request cheddar cheese soup
  • 2.8-ounce can French fried onions

Directions

Thaw frozen vegetables in the microwave by heating the brussels sprouts and carrots on HIGH for 4 minutes, then adding the broccoli and cauliflower and heating on HIGH for another 4 minutes.

Add cheese soup and stir until all vegetables are thoroughly coated.

Pour into baking dish and bake in 375-degree oven for 25-30 minutes, or until vegetables are of desired softness when tested with a fork. (For slightly al dente vegetables, bake for the shorter period of time.)

Top with French fried onions and bake for an additional 5 minutes, or until onions are golden brown.

Nutrition Information

Serving size: 3/4 cup | Calories: 210 | Carbohydrates: 18 g | Protein: 5 g | Fat: 12 g | Saturated Fat: 2 g | Cholesterol: 0 mg | Sodium: 750 mg | Potassium: 550 mg | Fiber: 4 g | Sugar: 4 g | Vitamin A: 18% | Vitamin C: 0% | Calcium: 2% | Iron: 2% 

Recipe: Chicken salad

This classic comfort food is perfect for either a picnic lunch or a quick-but-healthy meal at home. It’s also a great use for leftover chicken.

I use reduced-fat mayonnaise to cut calories and fat content, and add Dijon mustard and lemon juice for a burst of extra flavor. Celery, green onions and almonds add both crunch and fiber.

I may pile a generous portion of the chicken salad onto whole grain bread or a whole grain bun for a delicious sandwich. Or I may enjoy a scoop with salad greens.

Leftovers can be frozen for up to two months or will keep in the refrigerator for up to four days.

This recipe makes four 3/4-cup servings.

Ingredients

  • 2 cooked boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 3/4 cup reduced-fat mayonnaise
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 stalks celery
  • 2 green onions
  • 1/4 cup unsalted sliced almonds
  • Ground black pepper to taste

Directions

Dice or shred the chicken, dice the celery and thinly slice the green onions. Combine, add almonds and stir until well blended.

In a small dish, combine the mayonnaise, mustard, lemon juice and black pepper and stir until well blended before adding to the chicken mixture and blending well.

If you wish, chill in the refrigerator for an hour or so before serving.

Nutrition information

Serving size: 3/4 cup | Calories: 240 | Carbohydrates: 9 g | Protein: 17 g | Fat: 14 g | Saturated Fat: .5 g | Cholesterol: 45 mg | Sodium: 350 mg | Potassium: 230 mg | Fiber: 2 g | Sugar: 0 g | Vitamin A: 4% | Vitamin C: 6% | Calcium: 2% | Iron: 4% 

Recipe: Garbanzo beef

For those seeking ways to cut back on pasta consumption, this recipe offers a variation on the ever-popular beefy mac. Add a green salad for a deliciously filling meal.

I’ve substituted garbanzo beans for the noodles to cut down on processed carbs and add fiber. To increase the vegetable-to-meat proportions, I’ve also doubled the amounts of mushrooms, garbanzos and tomatoes and used an extra-large pepper and onion. 

If you’re looking to cut the amount of red meat in your diet, and the saturated fat and cholesterol that come with it, feel free to use ground turkey instead of ground beef. Or, if you want to go vegan, use your favorite plant-based “beef” crumbles. I’ve used the Boca veggie crumbles and found they work very well.

As usual, I use reduced-sodium versions of products whenever available, and do not add salt to this recipe, but include enough spices that I really don’t miss the salt.

Garbanzo beef freezes well, and so lends itself to batch cooking.

This recipe makes approximately 8 servings.

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound lean ground beef, ground turkey or plant-based “beef” crumbles
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 large green pepper, chopped
  • 2 10-ounce jars sliced mushrooms
  • 1 28-ounce can reduced-sodium diced tomatoes
  • 2 16-ounce cans reduced-sodium garbanzo beans
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon low sodium Worcestershire sauce

Directions

Sauté the onion, green pepper and mushrooms in olive oil until tender and caramelized. Set aside.

Brown the ground beef or turkey and drain excess fat. Or, if using veggie crumbles, brown according to package directions.  

Combine the ground meat/veggie crumbles and spices with the onion, green pepper and mushroom mixture, stirring until well blended.

Add the tomatoes (with their juice) and drained garbanzo beans and simmer on medium heat for about 15 minutes or until the liquid is gone.

Nutrition information

Made with ground beef

Serving size: 1¼ cups | Calories: 260 | Carbohydrates: 10 g | Protein: 11 g | Fat: 19 g | Saturated Fat: 9 g | Cholesterol: 83 mg | Sodium: 184 mg | Potassium: 284 mg | Fiber: 3 g | Sugar: 2.5 g | Vitamin A: 1% | Vitamin C: 21% | Calcium: 5% | Iron: 6% 

Made with ground turkey

Serving size: 1¼ cups | Calories: 152 | Carbohydrates: 10 g | Protein: 13 g | Fat: 7 g | Saturated Fat: 1.5 g | Cholesterol: 40 mg | Sodium: 175 mg | Potassium: 284 mg | Fiber: 3 g | Sugar: 2.5 g | Vitamin A: 1.5% | Vitamin C: 21% | Calcium: 5% | Iron: 4% 

Made with veggie crumbles

Serving size: 1¼ cups | Calories: 120 | Carbohydrates: 14 g | Protein: 11 g | Fat: 2 g | Saturated Fat: .5 g | Cholesterol: 0 mg | Sodium: 287 mg | Potassium: 355 mg | Fiber: 6 g | Sugar: 2.5 g | Vitamin A: 0% | Vitamin C: 21% | Calcium: 7% | Iron: 6% 

Recipe: Lemony dill salmon

I am always, always, always looking for delicious ways to add fish to our diet, and this recipe definitely meets the “yum” test.

Better yet, both salmon and olive oil contain omega-3 fatty acids – the good kind of fat known to lower the risk of heart disease.

Plus, the recipe meets another test – it’s super easy to prepare.

The recipe also lends itself to batch cooking. It can keep in the refrigerator for up to three days and I just pop the leftovers in the microwave for 2-3 minutes.

This recipe makes 4 servings.

Ingredients

  • 4 salmon filets
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon dried dill weed
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • fresh ground pepper to taste

Instructions

Whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, dill weed and garlic until well-blended.

Dip salmon filets in the mixture to coat thoroughly and place in a 9 X 9-inch baking dish.

Pour the remaining mixture over the top of the filets.

Bake in a 375-degree oven for 20-25 minutes, or until the fish flakes easily, basting filets with the liquid once or twice while baking.

Nutrition information

Serving size: 4-ounce filet | Calories: 300 | Carbohydrates: 0 g | Protein: 20 g | Fat: 27 g | Saturated Fat: 5 g | Cholesterol: 55 mg | Sodium: 60 mg | Potassium: 360 mg | Fiber: 0 g | Sugar: 0 g | Vitamin A: 1% | Vitamin C: 6% | Calcium: 0% | Iron: 1%

Recipe: Pete’s chicken and spinach soup

My husband came up with this recipe and it’s definitely a keeper.

There’s so much healthy stuff (like protein, veggies and fiber) and so little of the bad stuff (like added salt) that if he weren’t making it himself, I’d probably have to hide the ingredient list to get him to try it.

Plus, it’s easy-peasy to make. Pete says he has the recipe perfectly timed to prepare during the nightly PBS News Hour. 

And it’s delicious! What’s not to love?

This recipe makes approximately 6 one-cup servings.

Ingredients

  • 2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 16-ounce can reduced-sodium garbanzo beans
  • 14.5-ounce can reduced-sodium diced tomatoes
  • 9-ounce package frozen chopped spinach
  • 32-ounce container low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2-3 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon powdered garlic
  • 1 teaspoon paprika 
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried cilantro leaves
  • Aleppo pepper flakes to taste (may be added at the table)

Instructions

Add chicken breasts and bay leaves to the broth in a large soup kettle and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until the chicken is cooked all the way through.

Shred or dice the chicken and return to the broth. 

Thaw the spinach in the microwave oven and add to the mixture.

Add the remaining ingredients and simmer an additional 20-30 minutes. 

Nutrition information

Serving size: 1 cup | Calories: 100 | Carbohydrates: 6 g | Protein: 14 g | Fat: 2 g | Saturated Fat: 0 g | Cholesterol: 30 mg | Sodium: 230 mg | Potassium: 320 mg | Fiber: 2 g | Sugar: 1 g | Vitamin A: 23% | Vitamin C: 22% | Calcium: 4% | Iron: 8% 

Adding and subtracting for Lent

When it comes to healthy eating, I’m not one to weigh and measure every single thing I put on my plate. Nor do I have the patience to constantly track calories. My common sense tells me to avoid crash diets that ask us to eliminate whole food groups, even if they promise to take off ten pounds in one week. And I’ve learned the hard way that putting any item on a forbidden list only makes me suddenly crave it.

For me, taking off weight has required developing sustainable habits I don’t need to think about – at least not too much – once they’re established. And what better time to initiate a new positive habit than during Lent? Some experts say it takes about 30-40 days for a habit to get firmly established, so the time frame is perfect.

In recent years, some people I know have added a new tradition to their annual Lenten discipline. Instead of (or in addition to) giving something up, they approach Lent as a time to “take something on.” This could include anything from daily prayer and meditation to better self-care to a new charitable commitment.

Since Ephesians 4:22-24 tells us to put off the “old self” and put on a “new self,” I’ve begun including both a sacrifice – or “subtraction” – and an “add-on.” That is, I dedicate each Lenten season to acquiring a new positive eating habit as well as ditching a negative one. 

This addition/subtraction process makes sense to me psychologically. Experts agree shedding a habit can be hard unless we replace it with something else. Examples I’ve adopted include replacing salt with herbs and spices, replacing “refined” starches with more fiber-rich whole foods, and replacing sugar- and fat-laden munchies with “legal” snacks.

Over the years, these small tweaks to my eating habits have yielded great long-term benefits. Here are some habits I’ve added and subtracted during the past few Lenten seasons, along with a couple new ideas I will be working on this year:

  • Subtract added sugar. I’ve found that some things – cornbread, applesauce, dry cereal, iced tea – actually taste better when they’re not gunked-up with added sugar. I’ve also become an inveterate label reader because I’ve learned that manufacturers sneak the nefarious substance into all kinds of foods where one wouldn’t expect to find it, from ketchup and peanut butter to fat-free yogurt. Thankfully I’ve discovered “no added sugar” versions of all these things.
  • Add fruits and vegetables. The U.S.D.A. recommends we eat at least 3-5 vegetable and fruit servings per day. I’ve come up with several ways to slip more of these into my diet – adding a small salad to my lunch, adding spinach or other veggies to pasta dishes, replacing soda with a small glass of V-8 juice. See my blog post “Meeting My 3-5 Challenge” (link HERE) for a list of ideas.
  • Subtract added salt. Again, I always check labels – more and more popular brands now offer reduced-sodium versions of their soups, sauce mixes and other products. Frozen vegetables are just as nutritious as fresh produce, and less likely to contain salt than canned veggies. Since I’ve begun replacing the added salt called for in many of my recipes with herbs and spices, I’ve found I don’t even miss the salt.
  • Add fiber. One easy way to do this is to substitute whole-grain bread, cereal and pasta for the refined stuff. Other good sources of fiber include raw veggies, avocados, berries, legumes, nuts and seeds. I also don’t peel potatoes, cucumbers or apples.
  • Subtract red meat. Being a Midwesterner raised on a farm, I grew up eating lots of beef and pork. While I don’t plan to eliminate these from my diet – at least not at this time – I have begun to replace some “red-meat” meals each week with fish, chicken, eggs or a plant-based protein such as beans or lentils. 
  • Add healthy snacks. I’ve developed a repertoire of “legal” between-meal nibbles. Best are munchies that help me meet my daily quota of fruits and vegetables, such as fresh fruit chunks and raw veggies with dip. Also good are snacks that have higher protein content and fewer carbs, such as a small dish of sugar-free pudding made with fat-free milk, or snacks high in fiber such as air-popped popcorn.
  • Subtract impulse buys. I’ve found it much easier to avoid eating “junk” if I don’t bring it into the house in the first place. Grocery shopping with a list helps, as does not shopping when I’m hungry. Since the pandemic began, I’ve been ordering groceries online and having them delivered, which makes avoiding impulsive purchases so much easier that I plan to continue shopping this way once the quarantine is over.
  • Add portion control. The “plate method” suggested by the American Diabetes Association is attractive because there’s no weighing, measuring or calorie-counting. (Note: You don’t have to be diabetic to use it.) The plate method involves filling half a nine-inch plate with non-starchy vegetables such as lettuce, broccoli or carrots, one-quarter of the plate with whole grains or starchy vegetables such as corn or potatoes, and one-quarter of the plate with a protein source. For detailed information on the plate method, link HERE and HERE.
Source: Centers for Disease Control

I feel it’s important for me to point out that I didn’t make all these changes at once. Each Lenten season, I’ve made one or two small changes at a time, which means the new habits have been acquired over a period of years. For example, the first year I focused on subtracting added sugar and adding more fruits and veggies on my plate. Since then, I’ve added/subtracted a new habit or two each year. This year I will be working on avoiding impulse buys and using the plate method for better portion control. Baby steps, as my spiritual advisor always liked to say.

The good news: These baby steps really do work. So far, I’m about 25 pounds down from my top weight. Yes, the weight has come off much more slowly than it would have with a crash diet, but the bottom line is that it’s staying off.