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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Dinners by Design ~ Week #1 (Kendra S.)

Each week, one lucky blog reader will be selected to receive a customized meal plan working off the current contents of their pantry, fridge and freezer. After "working my magic", I will supply between 6-8 dinner meal ideas using no more than $10 in additional ingredients. My goal in doing this series is to teach people how to be resourceful, creative and frugal while still planning delicious and healthy meals for their families. If you would like to be featured in the "Dinners by Design" blog series, please check out the details at the bottom of this post.

Meet Kendra S.

My friend, Kendra, had gone over her grocery budget for the month of April--due to lots of entertaining and out-of-town guests around the Easter holiday. She was looking to save her family money by using up some of what she already had on hand. Kendra is married and has one toddler and a baby on the way.  She is a fairly proficient cook and had lots of staples for me to use in designing her dinners. Here is the list Kendra sent me of what she had in her freezer, refrigerator and pantry.


  • tuna
  • canned black, garbanzo and great white northern beans
  • dry beans of the same variety (Kendra says, "I never know how to use beans besides bean soup.")
  • lots of variety of pastas
  • lentils
  • barley
  • rice of different varieties
  • couscous
  • jar of pesto
  • bread crumbs
  • canned crabmeat 
  • lots of different oils and vinegars
  • all baking supplies
  • spices/herbs/ etc.
  • diced tomatoes (2 cans)
  • bread (assumed)


  • veggies (peas, corn, broccoli/cauliflower)
  • homemade chicken stock
  • 2 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts
  • pork chops
  • a whole turkey
  • corn tortillas


  • milk (assumed)
  • eggs (assumed)
  • butter (assumed)
  • apples
  • potatoes (a couple)
  • celery
  • onion
  • hummus
  • cheeses
  • all the standard condiments
   The fridge is "a sorry sight!" according to Kendra.

Working My Magic and Creating the Meals

Several things stuck out to me when checking out Kendra's list. First of all, her family is adventurous in their eating (I mean, who has barley in their pantry and hummus in the fridge?) and secondly, they have no red meat on hand. The lack of packaged, convenience foods also tells me that Kendra is used to cooking from scratch (the homemade chicken stock was another clue!). It was time for me to wave my magic wand and design some creative and inexpensive meals.

You can click on any linked meal to see the recipe. Listed underneath each meal, you will see what we are using from her current stash of foods and what she will need to purchase separately. All recipes make enough for at least 4 adults, leaving Kendra and her husband with some leftovers for another meal. Gotta love a "leftovers night"--no cooking and very few dishes!


# 1  Chicken (Turkey) Pot Pie

What she's using up:  turkey, peas, corn, celery, onion, potato, chicken stock, flour, shortening/butter (for the crust), milk, salt, pepper, thyme

What she needs to buy: carrots, frozen green beans (optional)

# 2  Chicken Pesto Pizza

Photo credit: An Easy Recipe

What she's using up: split chicken breasts (one), jar of pesto, mozzarella cheese, flour & oil (for the crust) 

What she needs to buy: fresh mushrooms (cheaper) or artichoke hearts (more expensive)

# 3  Crunchy Baked Pork Chops with Twice Baked Potatoes and Fried Apples

What she's using up: pork chops, bread crumbs, flour, egg, potatoes, cheese, milk, butter, apples, cinnamon & sugar

What she needs to buy: green onions for topping potatoes (also used in recipes #4 and #7), sour cream (also used in recipe #5)

# 4  Burritos (or Enchiladas)

What she's using up: split chicken breast (1), corn tortillas, beans, rice, cheese

What she needs to buy: (optional) green onions for topping enchiladas, enchilada sauce (or can of tomato sauce, if making from scratch)

# 5  White Chicken (Turkey) Chili

What she's using up: cooked turkey, beans, chicken broth, garlic, onion, cheese, corn tortillas (could be made into tortilla chips and used as soup topping)

What she needs to buy: small can of green chilies, sour cream (also used in recipe #3)

# 6  Tuna Noodle Casserole

What she's using up: tuna, frozen peas, pasta, milk/flour/butter (for making sauce)

What she needs to buy: fresh mushrooms (will also use for recipe #2)

# 7  Crab Cakes and Veggie Couscous

Photo credit: All Recipes

What she's using up: canned crabmeat, mayo, egg, bread crumbs, oil (for frying crab cakes), couscous, chicken broth (if any remains), any random veggies still available

What she needs to buy: green onions, a lemon

Kendra's Shopping List
  • small bag of carrots
  • frozen green beans (optional)
  • green onions
  • fresh mushrooms or artichoke hearts*
  • small can of green chilies
  • sour cream
  • enchilada or tomato sauce (optional)
  • a lemon

Total cost approximately $8 with optional ingredients (*artichoke hearts would bring it closer to $10)

If you would like to have dinners designed for your family, please comment on this blog post (include your real name so I can contact you!) or send an e-mail with subject line "Dinners by Design" to these_precious_days@yahoo.com by Saturday at midnight and tell me why your family should be selected as next week's winner. If you are chosen to be featured in the next "Dinners by Design", you will have until Monday at noon to submit a list of the fridge, freezer and pantry items you wish for me to use in creating your meal plan. (That gives you a chance to run to the store over the weekend and stock the fridge so I have more to work with than mayo, a can of beer and some moldy berries! LOL!)



  1. Pick me, pick me Ashley! My husband would love you long time;) Kim Bulgin

    1. Kim, you have been entered into the contest. I will pick the next lucky reader on Sunday morning. Contest ends Saturday night at midnight. :)

  2. Replies
    1. Gotcha entered, Christi! Thanks for sharing on your wall! :)

  3. AMAZING! I'm embarrased to tell you whats in our pantry/freezer but would love to see what you could do with it!!

    1. You have been entered into the contest Sara! Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Truly, I tell you... AMAZING! This has been an eye-opening experience for me!! I can't wait to (try and...) work my own magic next month! I feel so good about using Ashley's creative ideas instead of just diving off the deep end of the budget! Plus, these recipes...de.lic.ious. Loved them all so far, and tonight, White Chicken Chile...can't wait! Thanks again Ashley! -Kendra

    1. Kendra, this was SO fun! You are very welcome! I am glad you are liking the meals and I love that doing this for you gave me lots of future blog content! LOL

  5. I'm so making crab cakes... I too am embarrased to disclose my pantry contents currently but... i bet you'd work your magic!

    1. It's not like I'm coming to inspect it, Emily!! I only know what you tell me! Lay it on me girl...I'm sure I've seen worse! You're officially entered into the contest now. ;)

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. Great blog Ash! I want to be entered in next week's contest. You should definitely pick me because I'm your sister and you want me and my family to eat healthier. Plus, I don't know when and were that profile pic was taken, but you look GREAT! (That should get me an extra entry right!?!)

  8. Oh I hats that I'm too late for this one!!! Course I don't know if I really want to disclose my pantry....Id have to go shopping first! Lol!

    1. You can try again next week, Christy! I'll choose a new winner each week from the comments on the most recent post. Should be up on Wednesday! :)

  9. What a great idea... i want to win...when i find the time to get in the drawing;)

    1. The next installment of Dinners by Design will be this Wednesday and I will choose a new winner for the following week from the comments on this week's post. Stay tuned!