Helping families eat healthier for less

Helping families eat healthier for less

Friday, May 22, 2015

DIY Jalapeno Ranch Salad Dressing

Jalapeno Ranch Salad Dressing Whips Up Quickly

The theme for May for Recipe Redux is DIY Kitchen Essentials (describe your favorite kitchen staple that you make from scratch – but in the past you purchased).

For many years now, I make my own jalapeno ranch dressing. My husband and I have a large salad most nights and we use the same dressing. We never seem to grow tired of it. I usually make one or two blender batches at a time. You can make it as spicy hot as you like by adding more or less jalepenos to the batch.

This is a spicier version of a typical ranch dressing with a lot less calories, fat, saturated fat, and sodium per serving. The paprika gives it a nice color. It’s great on salads or use it as a dressing over cooked chicken or meats.

Salad Dressing Ingredients

Jalapeno Ranch Salad Dressing


2 bunches green onions, washed, trimmed (using white and two-thirds of green)
1 – 2 fresh jalapeno peppers, stem and seeds removed*
4 cloves fresh garlic, peeled
1 32-ounce carton Greek-style yogurt
1 cup lowfat buttermilk
1 cup reduced-fat mayonnaise
1 tsp. ground black pepper
2 tsp. paprika

Makes two large batches. Place one half of green onions, jalapenos, garlic, yogurt, buttermilk, mayonnaise, and seasonings in blender or food processor container. Blend or process until smooth, stirring and scraping sides of container as needed. Pour into sealable container. Repeat process with remaining half of ingredients. Keep refrigerated.

Makes 56 servings (2 Tbsp each) or about 7 cups.

*Note: The amount of jalapeno peppers is a matter of personal preference. Start with one pepper and add more if a spicier dressing is desired.

Nutrition Information per 2 Tbsp Serving:
26 calories, 1.4 g total fat, 0.2 g saturated fat, 1.5 mg cholesterol, 0.2 g dietary fiber, 2.0 g protein, and 47 mg sodium.

Cost per Serving: $0.19
Pricing Note: all ingredients were at “regular” prices except green onions which were on sale for $0.59 per bunch.

To print the recipe, please click herehere.

Jalapeno Ranch Salad Dressing Ready to Use

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Red Lentil Soup uses red lentils and canned tomatoes and chicken broth.

The theme for April for Recipe Redux is to go through our pantry, freezer or refrigerator and see what treasures we find.  In going through my pantry, I found some red lentils, canned tomatoes, and low sodium chicken broth .

 I love red lentils. They cook faster than the French green or brown lentils. All lentils are loaded with nutrition, particularly protein, fiber, folate, thiamin, phosphorus and iron.

If you haven’t done a lot of bean cooking from “scratch,” this is an easy recipe to make. There is no pre-soaking of the beans and it all cooks up in about 30 minutes. It also uses one of my favorite spices, smoked paprika.

Red Lentil Soup

1 large sweet onion, peeled and diced
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into coins
3 stalks celery with leaves, diced
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
32 ounces (4 cups) low sodium chicken broth
1 14.5-oz can diced tomatoes
1 cup dry red lentils (green or brown lentils may be substituted)
1 tsp. curry powder
1 tsp. black pepper
½ tsp smoked paprika

Sauté onion, celery, carrots, and garlic in oil over medium-high in large dutch oven until onion is tender, about 5 minutes. Add broth, tomatoes, lentils, and seasonings. Bring soup to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes.

Makes 4 large servings (about 1-1/2 cups each).

Nutrition Information per Serving:
297 calories, 6.2 g total fat, 1.1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 9.1 g dietary fiber, 19.0 g protein, and 167 mg sodium. One serving of this recipe is an excellent source of fiber and protein.

Cost per Serving : $1.82
Pricing Note: all ingredients were at “regular” prices. Look for red lentils in ethnic supermarkets.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Bite into NNM with Sweet Potato Breakfast Risotto with Cinnamon and Raisins

Sweet Potato Breakfast Risotto with Cinnamon and Raisins

By posting this recipe I am entering a recipe contest sponsored by USA Rice Federation and am eligible to win prizes associated with the contest. I was not compensated for my time.

The theme for this March’s National Nutrition Month® is “Bite Into a Healthy Lifestyle.” You can do this now by biting into a morning bowl of creamy risotto rice, flavored with sweet potatoes, cinnamon and raisins. there are so many reasons to "think rice" when biting into a healthy lifestyle. Visit the USA Rice website ( for a wealth of information about rice grown in this country. For example, I learned:

·         Rice is naturally gluten free and the least allergenic of all grains.
·         Rice is naturally sodium-, cholesterol-, trans fat-free with just a trace of fat.
·         A half cup serving of rice is about 100 calories and contributes 15 vitamins and minerals, especially folate, other B vitamins, iron and zinc, making it a nutrient dense choice.
·         Rice supplies complex carbohydrates that our bodies and brains need to function. It triggers the production of serotonin in our brains, a chemical that helps regulate and improve our mood.
·         Rice grown in the US has a positive impact on our environment as the rice fields create wetland habitats for many species of birds, mammals, and reptiles.
·         About 85% of the rice eaten in this country is grown in this country.
·         American grown rice is exported to over 150 countries.

Arborio or risotto rice is different from long grain, white rice.  It’s higher in starch and cooks into a creamy texture around a chewy center. This rice has an exceptional ability to absorb flavors.  The cooking method is different too!  Instead of simmering rice in water, small amounts of hot liquid get added to cooking rice.  The rice slowly absorbs the liquid as one stirs.

For me, rice and coconut are a winning combination. So, when thinking about developing a breakfast risotto, I decided to start with canned lite coconut milk as the base. Then I wanted to add some good nutrition with some mashed cooked sweet potato. To round out the flavors, I added cinnamon, vanilla extract and golden raisins.

Sweet Potato Breakfast Risotto with Cinnamon and Raisins

2 cans (13.6- to 14 ounces each) light coconut milk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter or margarine
1 cup U.S.-grown arborio (medium grain) rice
1/2 cup cooked sweet potato, mashed
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup golden raisins

Warm coconut milk in microwave-safe container, covered, until hot, but not boiling, about 4 minutes. Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the rice and stir to coat. Ladle in enough hot coconut milk to cover the rice. Stir with wooden spoon over medium flame. As rice absorbs the milk, ladle in 1/2 cup more hot milk and stir. Continue this process until all the milk has been added and is absorbed, stirring constantly. This will take 15 to 20 minutes. Rice should be tender with just a little bite to it. Stir in the sweet potato, brown sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and raisins. Stir well to combine. Stir over low heat until heated through.
Serve warm or cold.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

Nutrition Information per Serving (for 1/6th of recipe):
322 calories, 13 g total fat, 9 g saturated fat, 10 mg cholesterol, 2 g dietary fiber, 3 g protein, and 38 mg sodium. One serving of this low cost recipe provides an excellent source of vitamin A.

Cost per Serving: $1.39
Pricing Note: all ingredients were at “regular” prices.

 Here are preparation photos:

(Left to Right): Adding rice to pan with butter; stirring to coat; adding hot coconut milk in stages.

(Left to Right); Addition of milk and stirring; rice develops a creamy texture; addition of mashed sweet potato,cinnamon, vanilla, and golden raisins.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Serve Meal in Bell Pepper for Nutrition Bonus

STOUFFER'S Macaroni & Cheese inside a red bell pepper.

By posting this recipe I am entering a recipe contest sponsored by Nestle and am eligible to win prizes associated with the contest. I was not compensated for my time.

Balance Your Plate is a recipe contest by Nestle where you start with a Nestle frozen food item and add other foods to it to make it a nutritious, balanced meal that meets the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Last month, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans Committee issued their preliminary version of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The report concludes that generally we do not eat enough vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and dairy and many of us eat too many refined grains, added sugars, saturated fats, and salt. We should strive to make half our plate fruits and veggies, at least half our grains whole grains, switch to fat free or lowfat dairy products, watch portions, and get regular physical activity.

Planning a healthy meal day after day can be challenging, even for a dietitian. Some days after coming home from work you’re tired and have no energy and the last thing you want to do is spend an hour or better in the kitchen putting together a healthy meal.

Frozen meals can easily fit into a balanced plate. You make them more balanced by adding a serving or more of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, or lowfat dairy. Frozen meals are one way to keep on handle portion size as well as cost, especially when you find them on sale or have a coupon.

Here are some creative ways to make a more balanced meal that start with a Nestle frozen food:
  • Top your baked frozen pizza with salad. Purchase a salad kit from the produce department of your supermarket. (My favorite is sweet kale vegetable salad kit that includes broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, chicory, dried cranberries and pumpkin seeds.) Prepare the salad as directed on the package, and then place it on top of your baked pizza. Cut into wedges and enjoy.

  • Serve your favorite LEAN CUISINE entree with a lower sodium vegetable-based soup, such a carrot ginger.

  • Serve your favorite LEAN CUISINE® entree over a baked sweet potato or baked winter squash.

  • Top your favorite LEAN POCKETS® or HOT POCKETS® with a zesty bean dip (Rinse and drain a can of white or black beans and put in food processor, along with herbs and spices, hot sauce, and 2 tablespoons of olive oil).

  • Prepare a salsa of mango, green onion, red bell pepper, lime juice and jalapeno pepper. Pour over your favorite LEAN POCKETS® or HOT POCKETS®.

  • Prepare your favorite LEAN POCKETS® or HOT POCKETS® as directed on the package. Then cut it up into crouton-size pieces and serve over a tossed green salad.

  • Prepare your favorite LEAN CUISINE® Simple Favorites (such as Santa Fe-Style Rice & Beans)  or Morning Collection  (such as Veggie Scramble) entrees according to package directions. Microwave a whole grain tortilla and serve your Simple Favorite entrée inside the tortilla along with a 4-ounce glass of 100% fruit or vegetable juice.

My favorite suggestion to serve a more balanced meal is very simple one. Serve your Nestle product inside a cooked bell pepper. You may be surprised at the nutrition that just one red bell pepper adds to a meal. One medium red bell pepper adds only 37 calories and no fat, 5 mg of sodium, 2.5 grams of fiber and helps you meet 75% of your daily value for vitamin A and over 250% of your vitamin C needed for the day. And if you use a large red bell pepper, you get over 100% of your vitamin A and 349% of your vitamin C for the day and add only 51 calories and 7 mg of sodium. What a tasty way to get your vitamins. Green bell peppers are good, too, although you don’t get near as much of vitamins A and C as you do with the red ones.

You can fill you bell pepper with a number of different Nestle products.  Here are a few examples.

Start with peppers that have flat bottoms so that they will sit upright in a custard cup or container. Slice off the top of the bell pepper and remove the seeds and inner membranes. 

Slice top off pepper and remove seeds and membranes.

I found that it is best to partially cook the bell pepper before filling in. So, cover it loosely with plastic wrap and microwave on high power for 2 and a half minutes.

Microwave bell pepper for 2-1/2 minutes.

Fill the partially cooked bell pepper with your favorite frozen entrée that has been allowed to thaw overnight in the refrigerator.

Fill partially cooked pepper with thawed macaroni & cheese.

Here is a red bell pepper with STOUFFER’S macaroni & cheese.

Finished Macaroni & Cheese in red bell pepper.

Here is a green bell pepper stuffed with STOUFFER’S Chili Cheese Mac Cup

Chili Cheese Mac in a Green Bell Pepper.

Here is a pepper stuffed with LEAN CUISINE Turkey Sausage Scramble

Turkey Sausage Scramble in a green bell pepper.

Here’s the complete recipe for the Macaroni & Cheese Stuffed Bell Pepper:

Macaroni & Cheese Stuffed Bell Pepper


1 12-ounce package LEAN CUISINE® Macaroni & Cheese
1 red or green bell pepper
Parsley or cilantro for garnish, if desired


Thaw frozen Macaroni & Cheese in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight.
Wash and dry the green or red bell pepper. Slice off the stem top and remove the inner seeds and membranes. Place pepper in a custard cup or microwaveable container to hold it upright. Cover loosely with plastic wrap. Microwave on High power for 2 and a half minutes.
Uncover and fill partially cooked bell pepper with softened macaroni & cheese.
Microwave, covered, on High Power for 2 to 3 minutes, or until peppers are tender. Let set for 1 minute. Garnish with parsley or cilantro, if desired.

Makes 1 Serving.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

dark chocolate + black beans = guilt-free brownies

Guilt-Free Black Bean Brownies

The theme for February for Recipe Redux is to identify your favorite chocolate match.  Valentine’s Day is over and many of us may have “extra” chocolate laying around.  So, we need to show our favorite healthy chocolate combo.

For me, I love dark chocolate brownies. But there can be a guilt factor with the “normal” or “traditional” brownies. So, I make mine using canned black beans in place of the vegetable oil typically called for in the recipe. It saves on calories and total fat and adds fiber. And, it means less guilt while enjoying them.

E-Z Bean Brownies

1 15 oz. can cooked beans, drained and rinsed well (can use black beans or dark red kidney
2 large eggs
¼ cup water
1 19-1/2 oz. package chocolate fudge brownie mix
1/4 cup bittersweet 60% cocoa chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a 9 X 9-inch baking pan with foil; then spray with nonstick cooking spray and set aside. Place the drained beans in the bowl of a food processor; process until smooth and creamy.  In a large bowl combine the pureed beans, eggs, water, and brownie mix; stir just until smooth, about 50 strokes.  Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish and bake 30 to 35 minutes, or until the edges start to pull away from the sides and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Top cooked brownies with chocolate chips as soon as remove from oven. Spread in even layer with spatula. Let cool completely. Lift out of pan and cut into squares.
Makes 20 Servings
Nutrition Information per Serving (1/20 of recipe):
150 calories, 3.8 g total fat, 0.6 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 1.6 g dietary fiber, 3.0 g protein, and 134 mg sodium.
Cost per Serving (1/20 recipe): $0.18

Pricing Note: all ingredients were at “regular” prices except for the brownie mix (on sale for $1.50 a box).

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Cheesy Pepperoni Bread Loaf Perfect for the Big Game

This gooey, cheesy bread loaf is sure to please a hungry crowd.

I received free samples of Cabot Cheese mentioned in this post. By posting this recipe I am entering a recipe challenge sponsored by Cabot Creamery and am eligible to win prizes. I was not additionally compensated for my time.

Cabot Creamery is a  family-farmer owned cooperative of more than 1200 farms located throughout New England and New York. One-hundred percent of Cabot's profits go back to their farmers.  Their Cheddar cheese is a protein-rich snack and is naturally lactose free.

The big football game is just about here and it's time to think about what snacks to prepare for a  roomful of guests. Whether it is a football game, family reunion, or any large gathering, this recipe is perfect to feed a crowd.

Cut bread into 1-inch squares.

Slice cheese into 1/8-inch slices.

Tuck cheese into rows.
Wrap pepperoni slice around cheese slice.
Tuck cheese and pepperoni into rows.

Below is the complete recipe. I used an 8-ounce package of Cabot's Pepper Jack and an 8-ounce package of Cabot's Seriously Sharp Cheddar cheese. I found a beautiful 2-pound round loaf of whole grain bread at my local Costco store.

Cheesy Pepperoni Bread Loaf

1 2-pound loaf whole grain round bread
2 8-ounce packages Cabot cheese (Seriously Sharp, Extra Sharp, Vermont Sharp, and/or Pepper Jack)
1 5-ounce package sliced turkey pepperoni
2 tablespoons sliced green onions (both white and green part)

Heat oven to 3500 F. Cut two pieces of aluminum foil, each about 30 inches long, and place on baking sheet forming a cross.

Using a serrated knife, cut bread into a grid pattern with rows about inch apart in both directions. Be careful not to cut through to bottom crust. Place cut loaf into center of foil on baking sheet.

Cut cheese into about 1/8-inch slices, getting 35 to 40 slices per 8-ounce piece. Then cut all slices in half yielding cheese pieces that are about 1-inch squares. Place half of cheese slices into parallel rows of bread so that just the top of cheese is exposed. If needed, press up on bread carefully from underneath to open up each row to make room for the cheese. Start with the center rows and work to outside edges. For the other half of the cheese, wrap each slice of cheese in a pepperoni slice and insert into remaining bread rows that are 90 degrees from the first rows. Tuck cheese and pepperoni deep into row so that just the top is exposed.

Wrap foil loosely around bread. Bake 25 minutes. Pull back foil and top with green onions. Broil about 6 inches from heat until cheese is bubbly and slightly browned. Serve immediately.

Makes 12 servings.

Note: Recipe can easily be cut in half, using a one-pound road loaf of whole grain bread, if desired.

Nutrition Information per Serving:
376 calories, 17 g total fat, 9 g saturated fat, 55 mg cholesterol, 6 g dietary fiber, 23 g protein, and 790 mg sodium. One serving of this low cost recipe provides an excellent source of protein and calcium.

Cost per Serving: $1.40
Pricing Note: all ingredients were at “regular” prices.

Be sure to check out these other cheesy favorites.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Recipe Redux - Spicy Bok Choy Soup

Spicy Bok Choy Soup is fast and easy.

This month for Recipe Redux we were given the challenge to show a healthy dish we are heating up with smoke and/or spiciness. I choose spiciness. It is perfect for lunch or dinner on a cold, winter day

This is an fast and easy soup that goes to together in no time. You can add as mush or as little sriracha sauce as you like.

Spicy Bok Choy Soup

3 cups bok choy
6 cups chicken broth                
1/4 cup reduced sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine or sherry  
1 tablespoon fresh minced ginger
3 cloves minced garlic
3 green onions, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces (use both white and green parts)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon sriracha sauce, or to taste
2 teaspoons dark sesame oil
6 to 8 ounces dry Chinese egg noodles or soba noodles

Cut off the stem end of bok choy; separate leaves. Wash and dry. Cut into 1-inch pieces.

Combine the chicken broth, soy sauce, rice wine, ginger, garlic, and green onions in a large pot.  Season with pepper and sriracha sauce; stir the ingredients until well mixed.  Heat over medium-high heat. Once the mixture has reached a boil, add bok choy , sesame oil, and noodles. Reduce heat to medium; cook for 3 minutes or until the noodles are tender. Ladle soup into bowls.

Makes 6 servings

Nutrition Information per Serving:
148 calories, 2 g total fat, 1 g saturated fat, 3 mg cholesterol, 1 g dietary fiber, 7 g protein, and 541 mg sodium. One serving of this low cost recipe provides an excellent source of vitamin A and C.

Cost per Serving: $1.25

Pricing Note: all ingredients were at “regular” prices.

Preparation photos: