Thursday, September 20, 2012

Convenience Meals

I'm not a huge fan of packaged meals, this includes frozen meals, canned pasta (ex. Chef Boyardi) and boxed meals (ex. Hamburger Helper). That doesn't mean that they aren't in my house. It's important to have some quick go to meals that can be prepared in a time crunch. It's faster, cheaper, and generally healthier than a drive thru. This week, I want to focus on recipes using these convenience products.

Let's face it, there's not much you can add to these to make them healthier, so choose the healthiest versions to have on hand. Pair them with a salad, steamed or saut├ęd veggies, and some fruit and you have a healthier version of the covenience meal.

My personal favorite convenience meals are Hamburger Helper (or tuna or chicken). It doesn't really matter which one you buy. You can add any protein to it. Get what's on sale AND don't forget your coupon. Here's an example of how to stretch that box into a larger quantity, therfore stretching your budget and adding a healthier twist. Prepare the dinner as instructed on the box using your protein of choice (I often substitute chicken in tuna helper and vice versa). Here are your additions: More pasta. That's right, prepare additional pasta in boiling water and add it to the skillet before adding the sauce packet and liquids. You can add the dry pasta and let it cook in the skillet instead, but sometimes it doesn't cook as easily. After mixing in the sauce packet and liquids, add in some canned or frozen veggies. You can also raid the fridge for leftover veggies. Let the meal simmer and finish cooking as directed on box. I recently made the pasta alfredo Tuna Helper this way. I didn't have tuna, so I used chicken. I doubled the amount of pasta and added frozen peas and canned corn. I paired it with a salad for a healthier version of the meal. Since I added more pasta, and veggies, we had leftovers for lunch for a couple days.

A great way to use leftover protein is to use it as the protein in boxed convenience meals. We had 2 grilled chicken breasts and 1 thigh leftover. I chopped all the meat, heated it in the skillet and then prepared cheeseburger Hamburger Helper as directed on the box. I also use leftover protein and veggies in soups. I heat the leftovers and add them to Cup A Noodles for a quick lunch. Do I recommend eating these foods everyday? Of course not. Boxed and canned foods are filled with preservatives and high in sodium. We all know this. These products make life easier sometimes. We all have busy days and need quick meals.

The next time you reach for a convenience meal, experiment with what you have in the house to make the meal healthier and what you can add to it to stretch your budget. Look for these things to help you:
1. Leftover pasta, rice, protein, and veggies.
2. Additional pasta (or rice, depending on the meal)
3. Canned or frozen veggies.

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