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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Dinners by Design ~ Week #3 (Tonya V.)

Each week, one lucky blog reader will be selected to receive a customized meal plan using 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 Tonya W.

Tonya, her military husband and their two kids, have been stationed in England for the past couple years. Tonya has been trying to get healthy and is working to eliminate processed foods from her families' meals. She and her daughter are willing to try just about anything, but her husband and son prove to be more challenging to cook for, according to Tonya. In addition to staying within my $10 budget, I also had to work with non-veggie eating family members and try to help Tonya work in some lower gluten or gluten free meals. Wow! I sure had my work cut out for me this week! ;)

Tonya sent me a mile-long list of every food and ingredient in her house, which I cut down to the basics for all of you. She had a TON of food to work with--seriously a ton. Here is a portion of the list Tonya sent me:

  • Bread
  • Hard taco shells
  • Flour tortillas
  • Peanut Butter
  • Refried beans 
  • Organic black beans
  • Pinto beans
  • Baked beans
  • Chickpeas

  • Onion lipton soup mix
  • Italian salad dressing mix
  • Potato steamers seasoning packet
  • Ranch dip mix
  • Potato toppers seasoning packet
  • Meatloaf seasoing packet
  • Herb potatoes seasoning packet
  • Spaghetti sauce seasoning packet
  • Taco seasoning packet
  • Chili kit and seasoning packets
  • Bag-n-Season Pot Roast seasoning
  • Veggie Steamers chedder cheese packet
  • Vegetable dip mix

  • Ramen noodles (Tonya says, "I cannot get this kid to eat!")
  • Mac-n-cheese
  • Variety of pastas
  • Couscous
  • Quinoa
  • Brown rice
  • Rotel
  • Tomato sauce
  • Diced tomatoes
  • Crushed tomatoes
  • Tomato paste

  • Beef Broth (can)
  • Canned crab meat & salmon
  • Roasted red peppers
  • Onions (white and red)
  • Potatoes (white and sweet)

  • Nuts and seeds
  • Granola
  • Various spices
  • Various baking supplies
  • Various vinegars/oils

  • 3 lb. pot roast
  • ground beef
  • sirloin steaks
  • chicken breasts
  • shrimp
  • salmon
  • strawberries

  • milk
  • almond milk
  • coconut milk
  • eggs
  • butter
  • cheeses (Parmesan, mozzarella, cheddar, feta)
  • pepper jack cheese sticks
  • salsa
  • hummus
  • all the standard condiments
  • salad dressings
  • pancake syrup
  • garlic
  • Liquid Smoke  ("What do people do with this stuff?" asks Tonya.)
  • fresh fruits and veggies
  • apples
    green onions
    chili peppers
    banana peppers

Working My Magic and Creating the Meals

When looking at Tonya's detailed list, one of the things I noticed was the vast array of seasoning packets she had on hand. Many of the packets were ones I have never used or had a need for in my own kitchen. Knowing how those packets of seasoning are full of preservatives, MSG and other fillers--I wanted to help her come up with alternatives to the mixes she currently uses.

Tonya had a very diverse selection of produce in her kitchen, which somewhat surprised me considering she lives in England and their weather is much different than ours. She has the advantage of shopping locally and also on the military base.

You can click on any linked meal to see that particular 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, possibly leaving Tonya and her family with some leftovers for another meal. Cooking once and eating twice means less dishes to wash!

# 1  Chili Cornbread Bake with Cilantro Lime Fruit Salad

I didn't have green pepper or kidney
beans, so I used red pepper & great
northern beans instead. :)

What she's using up: ground beef, beans (kidney, pinto or black), salsa, tomato sauce, green onion, chili powder, taco seasoning mixcornbread mix, sour cream, egg, cheese, tomato,

For the fruit salad: cilantro, lime, honey, strawberries, peaches, grapes,  mango, clementines, apples

What she needs to buy: bell pepper (red pepper won't stick out as much as green)

# 2  Shrimp en Brochette on the Grill with Mixed Green Salads and Cheddar Bay Biscuits

Shrimp en Brochette
Photo credit: ifood.tv

What she's using up:  shrimp, Cajun seasoning, pepper jack cheese sticks (in lieu of the cheese and the jalapenos called for in the recipe link), veggies for salad, flour, baking supplies, cheddar cheese, butter, milk

What she needs to buy: sour cream

How to make it gluten-free: Create a dinner salad out of the mixed greens, salad veggies and shrimp en brochette. Skip the biscuits or try these almond flour biscuits instead.

# 3  Lasagna Roll-ups and Strawberry Italian Ice*

spinach lasagna roll ups
Photo credit:

What she's using up: spaghetti sauce  
[spices, crushed tomatoes, veggies for spaghetti sauce (onion, zucchini, peppers, etc.), garlic, oil]  spinach, mozzarella cheese, parmesan cheese, lasagna noodles, egg,

For the Italian Ice: strawberries, lemon, lime, orange, *sugar (reduce amt. in recipe to 2/3 c. or swap for 1/2 c. honey)

What she needs to buy: ricotta cheese (or cottage cheese)

How to make it gluten-free: Buy a box of gluten-free lasagna noodles, made from rice. Make up a few gluten-free lasagna rolls for those who eat a GF diet and traditional ones for everyone else.

# 4  Fiesta Lime Chicken (GF) with Mexican Rice and Fruit Smoothies

What she's using up: chicken breasts, lime, Liquid Smoke, garlic, spices, sour cream, mayo, milk, tomato, onion, cheese, yogurt, almond or reg. milk, frozen strawberries, peaches, mango, banana, spinach (if you want to be sneaky!), etc. 

If making the rice from scratch: oil, long grain rice, tomato sauce, spices

What she needs to buy: teriyaki sauce, chicken broth (for the rice), tortilla chips (save $ by crushing hard taco shells)

How to make it gluten-free: It already is!! :)

# 5  Sweet Potato Pancakes and Eggs in Pepper Rings
Photo credit: Pinterest

What she's using up: sweet potatoes, flour, baking supplies, milk, eggs, butter, syrup

What she needs to buy:  Bell peppers

How to make it gluten-free: Use a GF baking flour or pancake mix, such as Bob's Red Mill brand, to make the pancakes or make these GF fluffy little almond flour pancakes. You could also skip the pancakes and have the eggs and smoothie.

# 6  Shredded Teriyaki Beef Wraps with Oven Baked Fries

Photo credit: The Nourishing Home

What she's using up: pot roast (cook in crockpot w/garlic & teriyaki sauce), shredded lettuce, thinly sliced bell peppers, matchstick carrots, diced green onions, flour tortillas 

For the oven baked fries: potatoes, spices, oil

What she needs to buy: teriyaki sauce

How to make it gluten-free: Use a corn tortilla in lieu of a flour tortilla or make the wrap in a large romaine (or other variety) lettuce leaf. 

Tonya's Shopping List
  • 15 oz. ricotta cheese (or sub. cottage cheese by draining liquid and pureeing in blender or food processor)
  • 16 oz. sour cream
  • teriyaki sauce
  • bacon (1 lb.)
  • bell peppers
  • tortilla chips (This will put it over the $10, so to save money you could just crush hard taco shells and use those.)

Total cost approximately $10, more if she opts to buy the tortilla chips.

3 Ideas for "sneaking" in more fruits & veggies

1. Drink them! Smoothies can be made with or without dairy products. You could do frozen fruits (like bananas, strawberries, blueberries, pineapple, etc.) and add some almond or coconut milk and ice. Or blend fruit and veggies with water and ice for more of a "slushy" of sorts. You can make endless smoothie combinations with yogurt, frozen/fresh fruit, a splash of milk/juice and a few ice cubes. Throw in some spinach for good measure! Blueberries will hide it well and the sweetness of the fruit will mask the taste of the spinach.

Of course, if you own a juicer that would be another fabulous way to get your kids (or spouse) to increase their consumption of fruits and veggies. The sweeter fruits hide taste of the not-so-sweet veggies. Nice, huh?  The last time I made juice in our juicer I added small amounts of broccoli, spinach and carrot to the watermelon, apples, grapes and pineapple. Delicious!! Even my hubby drank two glasses, unaware of the broccoli and spinach. Shhhh!

2.  Add veggies to your breakfasts, snacks and desserts!  It's easy to add veggies like pumpkin, sweet potato or carrot to muffins, pancakes, and other baked goods. Mashed banana, applesauce, and sweet potato puree all add sweetness and moisture to baked goods. Oils and sugars can be cut back when recipes call for these sweet fruits/veggies. I regularly make pumpkin french toast for my kids by adding a few tablespoons of canned pumpkin to the egg mixture when dipping the slices of bread. I feel good they've gotten some extra vitamin A and fiber at breakfast, yet they have no idea it's in there! Check out this yummy recipe for Peanut Butter Muffins with Carrot & Banana.

3. Make them invisible! Sometimes you just have to go undercover with the picky eaters in your house. Try to use veggies whose colors blend into the food you're serving and add it in very small amounts, tasting as you go. You could add a small amount of mashed butternut squash to mac-n-cheese, some diced or pureed red pepper & carrot into spaghetti sauce, cauliflower in the mashed potatoes, a bit of finely chopped zucchini or mushrooms into sloppy joes or hamburgers, etc. Cooked and pureed veggies also make it easy to "hide" the "yucky" foods in other more appealing and readily eaten entrees. Start sparingly as not to overpower the dish with the vegetable flavors. For more recipes with "hidden" nutrition, check out the books Deceptively Delicious by Jessica Seinfeld or The Sneaky Chef by Missy Chase Lapine.

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 Friday 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. I can't wait to try this stuff out! Thanks so much Ashley!!!

  2. We need selected because we are in a bit of a rut! Since discovering our son's gluten and peanut allergies we have resorted to eating a lot of the same... (fingers crossed!)

  3. We need to be selected! In need of some creative, easy, new recipes :)