In the next-to-last installment of The Star’s Meal Makeover class with instructor Sheree Russell of the Calhoun County Extension Service, the Owens family learned how to utilize a master stir-fry recipe to create a variety of quick, easy meals that contain balanced portions of the core food groups.
The Owens family—parents Lynetta and Nathaniel and daughter Natalie—won the Meal Makeover contest after Lynetta described her desire to make her family healthier and curb the development of conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure in her family.
The Master Recipe for Skillet Meals chart is a starting point for experimenting with meals that are tasty and that also contain proper amounts of grains, dairy, proteins and vegetables. Cooks can mix and match items from each of four columns.
The Owens family created a simple sauce using a can of cream of mushroom soup and 1 percent milk, a method that can be tweaked to use water to cut calories or low-salt soups to reduce sodium.
Using whole grain pasta is another way to increase the health value of the meal, because it increases fiber and nutrients in the dish, Russell said. “It’s all bland until you do something with it, so why not use the better one?”
The only food group not represented in the meal is fruits, which can be incorporated as a healthy dessert, either eaten alone or in dishes such as a fruit crisp.
Russell served the meal on small disposable plates she brought in for class in order to reinforce last week’s lesson on portion control. “Some people don’t know how to do that for themselves,” she said, but small plates keep servings small.
With the emphasis on cooking with high blood pressure in mind, lowering sodium intake has been a goal for the Owens family. So they are looking for new ways to lose the salt without losing the flavor.
“Your food picks up your spirit,” said Nathaniel Owens, as his family discussed spices around the dining room table. “It’s an extension of you.”
Russell said adding onions or garlic for flavor can help with this, as can breaking out those little-used spices at the back of the spice rack, something Lynetta Owens said her family has been experimenting with.
Russell also emphasized the importance of food safety with the Owens family. In previous generations, she said, individuals weren’t necessarily aware of the dangers of food-borne bacteria. But now, she said, research shows that bacteria on food can multiply exponentially at room temperature. “After you cook, food should be put up within two hours,” she said. Refrigerators should be set to temperatures no higher than 40 degrees F, and freezers at about 0 degrees F.
On the flip side, she said, thawing out frozen foods should never be done at room temperature, which gives bacteria increased opportunity to grow. A safer method is to place the foods in cool water to help them thaw more quickly, without entering into a bacteria-friendly temperature range.
Star staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.
Master recipe for skillet meals
Breads and Cereals - 1 cup raw
Sauce - 1 can soup + 1 1/2 cans of milk or water
• Cream of potato
• Cream of chicken
• Cream of celery
• Cream of mushroom
• Tomato soup
• Onion soup
Protein - 1 pound or 1 1/2 cup cooked
• Chopped beef, chicken, turkey, pork or ham
• Ground beef
• Green beans
• Lima beans
• Mixed vegetables
• Green pepper
On the stove:
Choose one food from each of the four columns above. Stir together in a skillet.
Season to taste with salt, pepper, soy sauce, onion flakes or garlic powder.
Bring to boil.
Reduce heat to lowest setting. Cover pan and simmer 30 minutes, until pasta or rice is tender. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking.
Stir in 1/2 to 1 cup of cheese at the very end. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
To bake in oven:
Mix all ingredients in a casserole dish and cover tightly.
Bake at 350 degrees for about 1 hour.
Add water if necessary.
‘When in doubt, throw it out’
Food safety tips from the Alabama Cooperative Extension:
Food items – Refrigerator – Freezer
Eggs (fresh in shell) - 3 weeks - Don’t freeze
Milk - 1 week - 6 months
Mayonnaise - 1 week - Don’t freeze
Cottage cheese - 5 days - Don’t freeze
Sour cream - 2 weeks - Don’t freeze
Fresh beef - 3 to 5 days - 6 to 12 months
Ground beef - 1 to 2 days - 3 to 4 months
Fresh pork - 3 to 5 days - 4 to 6 months
Fresh poultry - 1 to 2 days - 12 months
Cooked meat - 3 to 4 days - 2 to 3 months
Cooked poultry - 3 to 4 days - 2 to 3 months
Soups and stews - 3 to 4 days - 4 months
Fresh fish (lean) - 1 to 2 days - 6 to 8 months
Fresh fish (fat) - 1 to 2 days - 3 to 4 months
Shellfish - 1 to 2 days - 4 to 6 months
Canned fruit or vegetables - 3 days - 9 months
Meal Makeover contest
Follow our contest winners through five weeks of healthy cooking classes taught by the Calhoun County Extension Service. Read previous stories in the series online at AnnistonStar.com.
For more info on the “Centsible Nutrition” class, contact the extension service at 256-237-1621.