Posted by Janet Harriett on Aug.10, 2009
Hamburger Helper and similar boxed meal kits are convenient, but leave something to be desired in the area of nutrition. They usually use white-flour pastas and a string of additives in the flavorings, and can contain up to half of an adult’s recommended daily allowance of sodium in a single serving. Plus, they tend to be scant on the vegetables.
By making your own dinner kits, you can control the sodium content and eliminate synthetic preservatives. Plus, you can slip in a serving or two of vegetables into each portion and save some money over the premade, preservative-laden commercial dinner kits. Dehydrated vegetables, which are easy to make at home and very economical when the vegetables are in season or purchased at a farmer’s market, are an easy way to incorporate vegetables into the meals with no extra prep time after work. Make a few of these dinner kits up ahead of time for quick, no-effort dinners on busy nights. Precook and portion out the meat for even easier weeknight prep.
Basic recipe for 4 people:
1 cup whole grain
2 teaspoons bullion powder (or omit bullion and prepare with broth or stock instead of water)
1 cup dehydrated vegetables - If you do not have access to dehydrated vegetables, you can add 2 cups frozen vegetable 10 minutes prior to the end of cooking time (15 minutes for sliced carrots)
Herbs and spices to taste
Place all of the dry ingredients in a zip-top plastic bag or airtight food storage container. The seasonings can be loose in the mix. Store in the pantry.
To prepare, simply combine the contents of a bag with 3 cups water and 1 pound meat. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer 45 minutes until the grain is soft. Many of these make delicious side dishes with the meat omitted.
Fried Rice (prepare with beef, chicken, shrimp, pork or tofu)
Grain: Brown rice
Seasoning mix: garlic powder, chives, ginger, mustard powder (add 1 tbsp soy sauce to the cooking water)
Vegetables: Onion, peas, carrots, cabbage
Beef and Barley (prepare with cubed beef or ground beef crumbles)
Grain: Pearl barley
Seasoning mix: Onion powder, garlic powder, ground black pepper, beef bullion
Dehydrated vegetables: Onion flakes, mushrooms, peas, celery
Garlic Herb Chicken and Rice (prepare with shredded or chopped chicken)
Grain: Brown and wild rice blend
Seasoning mix: Garlic herb Mrs. Dash, garlic powder, thyme
Dehydrated vegetables: carrots, celery, onion, green beans
Cheesy Chicken and Broccoli (prepare with chicken)
Grain: brown rice
Seasoning mix: onion powder, garlic powder, chicken bullion
Dehydrated vegetables: Broccoli
Mix in 4 ounces cheddar or colby-jack cheese immediately before serving
These Hamburger Helper-type meals are a little more complicated to bag up and a little more complicated to prepare than the rice meals, but no more complex than the commercial variety. You need to package the sauce mix separate from the pasta/vegetable packet. A foldover sandwich bag, tied with a twist-tie and dropped into a larger zip-top bag or airtight food storage container containing the measured pasta and vegetables keeps the seasoning and sauce mix separate for preparation. You can use whole grain pasta for more nutrition.
Basic recipe for 4 people:
Sauce packet ingredients:
2 tsp bullion powder
2 tbsp thickener (flour, cornstarch or arrowroot powder)
Seasonings to taste
Pasta packet ingredients:
8 ounces uncooked pasta
1 cup dehydrated vegetables
To prepare, brown 1 pound meat in a skillet. Mix the contents of the sauce packet with 1 cup water until no lumps remain. Pour over meat, then add the pasta and vegetables along with enough water to almost cover the pasta (at least 3 cups). Cook until the sauce is thickened pasta is tender (5-15 minutes depending on the type of pasta used).
Beef Stroganoff (prepare with cubed or ground beef)
Pasta: egg noodles
Vegetables: Mushrooms, onion flakes, celery
Seasoning Packet: 2 tbsp whole wheat flour, beef bullion, onion powder, garlic powder, ground black pepper
Special instructions: Mix the sauce packet with 1 cup milk instead of water. Stir 2 tablespoons sour cream at the end of the cooking time.
Chicken Vegetable Pasta (prepare with chicken)
Pasta: spirals, wagon wheels or bow tie pasta
Vegetables: Carrot, green beans, celery, peas
Seasoning packet: 2 tablespoons flour, 3 teaspoons chicken bullion, 1 teaspoon garlic powder, parsley, chives, marjoram
Chili Mac (prepare with ground beef)
Vegetables: Onion flakes, sweet red pepper, green pepper, tomato
Seasoning mix: 2 tablespoons masa flour, 2 tablespoons chili powder, 2 teaspoons cumin, 1 tablespoon garlic powder, 1 tablespoon onion powder, red pepper flakes
Special Instructions: Substitute 1 cup tomato sauce for 1 cup of the water. Top with shredded cheddar.
Spaghetti Skillet (prepare with ground beef, ground turkey or meatballs)
Pasta: Spaghetti, broken in short pieces
Vegetables: Tomato, celery, onion, green pepper, zucchini
Seasoning Packet: garlic powder, italian seasoning blend
Special instructions: Do not use thickener. Substitute a 3-cup jar of pasta sauce instead of the water, diluted as needed. Serve with parmesan cheese.
Article By: Janet Harriett
Profile: Janet Harriett, Green Diva Mom's fomer editor, has been a writer and editor for print and online media, specializing in education and environmental issues since 1999. She lives on 2 acres in central Ohio with her husband, a 275-square-foot backyard garden and a home orchard growing 25 varieties of fruit. Janet holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing.
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