"Mix and Match" Meal Planning Strategy

Create Meals from Basic Foods on Hand - Solve the "What's for Dinner" Dilemma

Alice Henneman, MS, RD, UNL Extension in Lancaster County

A "Restaurants and Institutions" survey found that about 70 percent of the adult U.S. population doesn't decide what to eat that night until 4 p.m. or later. One way to ease the "dinner dilemma" is to plan meals like some people plan clothing purchases.

Consider the person who rapidly mixes and matches a few clothing items into dozens of different outfits. Perform that same trick in your kitchen! Stock up with basic foods that quickly assemble into an assortment of different and delicious meals.

To start you thinking, here are some sample foods and suggested uses. Then, kick-off your "hurried and harried" recipe collection with four fast and fabulous recipes from cookbooks by registered dietitians. Transform the dinner dilemma into a daily delight!

Possible Foods For "Mixing And Matching"

  • Assorted Fresh Fruits in Season: Eat out of hand; chop or slice and add to salads; slice and serve as a topper for frozen desserts or layer with pudding for a parfait.

  • Cheese: Make toasted cheese sandwiches; add to main dish salads; mix into a white sauce and serve with broccoli over a baked potato or use as a base for soups; grate and use as a topping for casseroles.

  • Eggs: Hard-cook, slice and use for a main dish salad; fry; scramble; make into an omelet; use in egg salad sandwiches.

  • Frozen Vegetables: Serve as is; toss into soups; add to casseroles; thaw and use in cold salads.

  • Mayonnaise-Type Dressing: Check your cookbooks, library or the Internet for variations on mayo-type dressings to add variety to salads and sandwiches. Some possible add-ins include curry powder, mustard, tarragon, dill and onion. To keep calories low, use reduced-fat or fat-free versions of dressing.

  • Milk: Use in white sauces, puddings and cream soups as well as for drinking.

  • Meat, Poultry and Fish: Look through your recipe sources for multiple ways to fix your favorite types of meat and poultry. Especially look for recipes that include other staple foods you typically have on hand.

  • Rice, Pasta: Offer with seasonings as a side dish, serve topped with a sauce; mix with other foods and a white sauce or can of soup for a casserole; use cold in salads; add to soups.

Some Recipes To Get You Started

Pasta Dinner

4-6 servings

The format of the cookbook from which this recipe was taken shows how to transform 10 basic recipes into 50 popular dishes, simply by changing a few ingredients. Here are two of the five versions for pasta.

Cooking Directions For The Basic Pasta Recipe:

  1. Cook pasta according to package directions.

  2. Prepare all vegetables and seasonings.

  3. Heat the cooking liquid in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the vegetables and seasonings and cook for 3-7 minutes.

  4. Add the "ad lib" and cook for 3-5 minutes or until all food is heated and cooked to desired tenderness.

  5. Pour the vegetable mixture over the hot pasta.

Asian Version Of The Pasta Recipe:

Pasta:

12 oz. udon noodles or linguine

Vegetables:

1 cup carrots, thinly sliced
1 cup scallions, chopped
1 cup snow peas
1 cup bean sprouts
2 cups mushrooms, sliced

Seasonings:

2 tsp garlic, minced
1 T fresh ginger, grated
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes

Cooking Liquid:

1 T sesame oil
3 T soy sauce
1/3 cup rice vinegar
1/3 cup white wine or broth

Ad Lib*

1 cup cooked chicken, cut into strips, or 2 T peanuts

* Use one of the suggested ingredients or substitute your own special ingredient.

Per 1 1/2 Cup Serving:
Exchanges: 2 vegetable, 3 bread, 1 meat, 1 fat
Nutrition Information: 375 calories, 5 g total fat, 1 g saturated fat, 25 mg cholesterol, 420 mg sodium, 60 g total carbohydrate, 3 g dietary fiber, 8 g sugars, 21 g protein
% Daily Value: 120% vitamin A, 40% vitamin C, 6% calcium, 30% iron

Spanish Version Of The Pasta Recipe:

Pasta:

12 oz penne pasta

Vegetables:

2 cups red pepper, cut into thin strips
1 cup yellow or green pepper, cut into thin strips
1 cup onion, thinly sliced
1 cup artichoke hearts, quartered

Seasonings:

2 tsp garlic, minced
1 tsp thyme
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
salt and pepper to taste

Cooking Liquid:

1 T olive oil
3/4 cup broth
2 T lemon juice

Ad Lib*

6 oz. cooked tuna or 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese

* Use one of the suggested ingredients or substitute your own special ingredient.

Per 1 1/2 Cup Serving:
Exchanges: 3 vegetable, 3 1/2 bread, 1 meat
Nutrition Information: 380 calories, 4 g total fat, 0.5 g saturated fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 65 mg sodium, 64 g total carbohydrate, 4 g dietary fiber, 7 g sugars, 21 g protein
% Daily Value: 8% vitamin A, 260% vitamin C, 6% calcium, 25% iron.

Excerpted With Permission From:
"Quickflip to Delicious Dinners," Nutrition Connections, $17.95, by Eileen Faughey, M.A., R.D.

For More Information:
Phone: Nutrition Connections at 888-554-3547
E-Mail: nutritionconnections@juno.com
Write: P.O. Box 21175, Boulder, CO 80308
Internet: also available from Amazon.com (www.amazon.com)


Quick Lasagne

Yield: 12 servings

You don't precook the noodles in this recipe so it is really fast to assemble. This can be put together the night before and refrigerated without baking. Increase baking time by 15 minutes if it has been refrigerated.

4 cups spaghetti sauce (less than 4 g fat per 4 oz)
2 cups low fat Ricotta cheese
1 cup low fat cottage cheese
2 Tbl. dried parsley
1 tsp. chopped garlic
4 oz. grated, part skim mozzarella cheese
3/4 lb. uncooked lasagne noodles
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9-inch by 13-inch pan with non-stick coating. Mix Ricotta cheese, cottage cheese, parsley, and garlic. Pour 1 cup of sauce in bottom of pan. Arrange 1/3 of the noodles in the pan so that they touch but do not overlap. Spread 1/2 of the cheese mixture over the noodles. Top with 1/2 of the mozzarella cheese. Top this with 1 cup of sauce, 1/3 of the noodles, the remainder of the cheese mixture and the rest of the mozzarella cheese. Add another cup of sauce, another layer of noodles, and the remainder of the sauce. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Bake, covered tightly with aluminum foil, for one hour.

Per Serving (one serving = 1/12 recipe):
Exchanges: 1 1/2 starch, 2 vegetable, 1 lean meat
Nutrition Information: 240 calories, 32 grams carbohydrate, 15 grams protein, 6 grams fat

Excerpted With Permission From:
"Quick and Healthy Recipes and Ideas," ScaleDown Publishing, Inc., $16.95, by Brenda J. Ponichtera, RD.

For More Information:
Available at local bookstores, Amazon.com, or directly from ScaleDown Publishing, Inc., 1519 Hermits Way, The Dalles, Oregon 97058
Phone: 541-296-5859
Fax: 541-296-1875
E-mail: scaledwn@gorge.net
Web Site: www.gorge.net/business/scaledown


White Beans With Tomato, Basil and Parmesan

Serve this 15-minute meal hot or cold, as a main or side dish; serves 4 as a main course, 8 as a side dish.

Suggested Menu:

White Beans with Tomato, Basil and Parmesan
Cornbread or 9-Grain Bread
Raw Vegetables and Dip
Lemon Sorbet

Note: If you're planning to serve with cornbread, mix that up first. Start this recipe once you have the cornbread in the oven.

In a 12" nonstick skillet, saute over meduim heat for 3 minutes:

1 T olive oil
1 tsp minced garlic (2 cloves)

Stir in and cook about 7 minutes or longer:

1 jar (24 oz.) Great Northern Beans, rinsed and drained
1 large ripe tomato, chopped
1/4 cup fresh minced parsley (optional)
1 tsp dry basil

(Meanwhile . . . slice bread and prep raw veggies.)

Mix in just before serving:

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
1 T lemon juice

Per main course serving, 1 cup:
Exchanges: 2 starch, 1 meat
Nutrition Information: 240 calories, 6.5 g fat, 13 g fiber, 550 mg sodium, 32 g total carbohydrate, 24% calories from fat, 2.5 g saturated fat, 8 mg cholesterol, 14 g protein, 1 g sugar

Excerpted With Permission From:
"Lickety-Split Meals For Health Conscious People on the Go!," ZHI Publishing, $23.95, by Zonya Foco, RD.

For More Information:
Phone: 1-888-884-LEAN
Fax: (248) 960.8157
E-mail: zonya@tir.com
Internet: also available through Amazon.com (www.amazon.com)


Pumpkin Pie Shake

Makes 3 servings (generous 1 cup serving size)

The cookbook that's the source for this recipe "sneaks" nutrition into your diet. The "sneak" in this recipe: Canned pumpkin is the key ingredient that adds a lot of vitamin A.

1 cup canned pumpkin
1 cup nonfat milk
6 scoops (3 cups) fat-free frozen vanilla yogurt
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1/2 teaspoon rum extract

In a blender, combine the pumpkin, nonfat milk, frozen yogurt, pumpkin pie spice and rum extract. Blend until smooth.

Per Serving (Approximately 1 cup or 1/3 of recipe):
Nutrition Information: 249 calories, 0 grams fat, 7 grams protein, 55 grams carbohydrates, 0 milligrams cholesterol
% Daily Value: 180% Vitamin A

Excerpted With Permission From:
"Stealth Health: How to Sneak Nutrition Painlessly Into Your Diet," Viking, $24.96, by Evelyn Tribole, M.S., R.D.


See related recipes and meal ideas in Recipe Central:
Recipes from Basic Foods for Fridge, Freezer and Cupboard blue dot
Chicken Strata a la King with Variations
Rice Bowls and Stir-In's from "Now You're Cooking with Brown Rice."
Pasta Pronto! Canned Tuna, Tomato Sauce & Pasta

UNL Food Features

(Updated April 6, 2014)

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