This fall, as we return back to normal schedules after a summer of fun, the reality of having to tighten our belts budget-wise is upon us. While the economy and our wallets might seem a bit melancholy, our taste buds and health need not suffer. This month, let’s explore budget-, palate- and nutrition-friendly family meals.
Many cost-conscious meals rely heavily on carbs. This is comforting for certain but not a healthy way to satisfy an appetite. This recipe uses carbs in moderation as the backdrop for the main event: tasty vegetables and chicken. Frozen and canned staples make the best use of your dollar without suffering flavor-wise.
MEDITTERANEAN CHICKEN AND SPINACH PASTA
1 box of short pasta (such as rigatoni, penne, ziti, etc.)
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 pound of boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into 2-inch cubes
1 onion, peeled and chopped fine
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 green pepper, cored and cut into 1-inch strips
1 jar drained artichoke hearts cut into quarters
One 14-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed well
One 10-ounce box chopped spinach, thawed, and squeezed dry
1 teaspoon dried basil
½ teaspoon dried oregano
1 pinch dried thyme leaves
½ teaspoon red chili flakes (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
½ cup grated parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
1 lemon cut into quarters for serving
Cook pasta according to direction on the box. Reserve ½ cup of the cooking water when draining pasta. Meanwhile, in a large sauté pan, heat olive oil over medium heat and sauté chicken until browned and cooked through. Remove to a plate. Continue cooking, adding onion, garlic and pepper. Cook until garlic just turns slightly brown. Add remaining ingredients, except the grated cheese, and stir until heated through. Add cheese, drained pasta plus ½ cup of the cooking water and reserved chicken. Stir and heat through. Serve with more cheese and lemon wedges as desired.
This stir fry recipe is great because of its flexibility. For a weeknight dinner, it couldn’t be any faster thanks to its prep time. Take any combination of vegetables lingering in your crisper or on sale and off to the races you go. The use of brown rice boosts the nutrition value and adds a nice texture.
3 cups brown rice, prepared according to package directions
3 tablespoons canola oil
2 cups protein, such as cubed tofu, chicken, fish of your choice, beef or pork
3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
½ tablespoon minced ginger
3 cups vegetables of your choice cut into 1-inch pieces (onion, carrots, peppers, zucchini, frozen corn kernels, etc.)
¾ cup teriyaki sauce of your choice
3 scallions, trimmed and cut fine
Cook rice according to package directions. While rice is cooking in a large sauté pan, heat oil over medium high heat and sauté protein until well browned. Remove to a plate. Add garlic, ginger and vegetables and, over high heat, sauté until lightly browned. Add sauce, protein back into the pan and heat through, approximately 3 minutes. Serve over rice and garnish with scallion.
These hybrid meat/meatless meatballs will be a hit both for weeknight meals as well as served in smaller form for fall tailgating. A few tricks and hacks make this recipe a quick snap. Using eggplant and mushrooms as a meat stand-in extends the reach of how far the 1 pound of ground meat will go but also adds a healthy boost of vitamins and minerals.
MEAT(LESS) MEXICAN MEATBALLS DINNER
Servings: 4 medium meatballs or 8 as small appetizer
1 box Spanish yellow rice, prepared and set aside
1 box frozen peas
For the meatballs:
1 medium eggplant, peeled, seeded and cut into small cubes
6 ounces white mushrooms, cleaned and chopped fine
1 small onion, peeled and chopped fine
1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped fine
1 packet taco season
1 pound ground turkey or chicken
1 cup breadcrumbs (more if necessary)
One 10-ounce jar of your favorite salsa
1 cup sour cream for serving
1 small bunch cilantro for garnish
1 lime, cut into quarters for serving
Prepare the rice according to package directions. Prepare peas by pouring into a 2-quart microwave safe casserole dish. Add ¼ cup water. Microwave on high for 3 minutes. Combine both when cooked and set aside to serve with meatballs.
For the meatballs:
Preheat oven to 350°F. In a large sauté pan, sauté oil, eggplant and mushrooms over medium heat until slightly browned, stirring often. This will take about 10-15 minutes because there will be a lot of water to evaporate. Remove to the bowl of a food processor and allow to cool. In the same sauté pan, sauté onion and garlic until fragrant over medium heat. Stir in taco seasoning. Process vegetable mixture until coarsely chopped. Remove to a large bowl and allow to cool completely. Add raw meat, egg, sautéed onion mixture and breadcrumbs. Form into 2-inch large balls, using more breadcrumbs if too wet to form a ball. Place in a medium size casserole dish. Pour salsa over and bake until cooked through, about 25 minutes. Serve over rice and pea mixture, passing sour cream, cilantro and lime wedges.