Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Bonus Post: Homemade Helper

With soccer season beginning tonight and the first day of school looming ahead I thought I'd share some quick make ahead recipes that embody all of the wholesome real ingredients you're used to here at Ode To Mrs. Katz Cohn.

I've never been a fan of Hamburger Helper as my foodie-vegetarian mother never made it at home.  I'd tasted them at friend's homes but never made them myself as an adult.  Boxed meals are everything I've grown to despise about processed food.  They're made in a factory, use chemicals and artificial ingredients, contain too many calories and salt, and taste unsatisfying.  So why explore homemade versions?  In reading The Way America Eats by Tracie McMillan (see my review here) I learned why these meals are popular and that it takes about the same amount of time to make them from scratch.  (The biggest reason- not having to decide what to make for dinner.  Count me in!)  So while Tracie didn't include a recipe I was intrigued.  Off Googling I went and found Suzanne McMinn's blog, Chickens in the Road.  There are many recipes out there but Suzanne's has different flavors of Homemade Helper and she created each one herself.  I couldn't wait to try them!

First I made the Salisbury and then tonight I made the Lasagna.  Neither are the best meals I've ever made nor are they meals I'd make for a special occasion but for their intended purpose, making a nutritious meal from scratch in about 20 minutes, they were perfect.

Take a look at Suzanne's original post.  Poke around her site too.  There are tons of recipes she's created and most are made from real whole foods.  I already bookmarked half a dozen to try!

Since I enjoyed the first two I thought I'd prepare more as ready-to-make mixes to have in the pantry.  It took about 10 minutes.  

Yes, I still have holiday zip bags.  Ha ha!
First measure out the spices and mix them in a little container, labeling the tops.  Then measure out the pasta and put it in the big zip bag.  Write the fresh ingredients required on the bag so you know in a glance if you have everything else.  Slip the instructions into the bag and that's it!

What's nice about making Helper meals yourself is that you can adjust the amount of salt, sugar, and seasonings to suit your taste and dietary requirements.  Use gluten free pasta if you need.  (And pure cornstarch.)  Strict about organics?  Use all organic ingredients.   Want to make use of that bargain pasta that was on sale and you bought way too much?  Well here you go!  (Er, uh... I have no idea how it happened.  Really.  You should see my basement!)  Sneak in more veggies if you want.  Mushrooms or onions sound good in a few of these dishes but experiment when you have time.  (See Suzanne's original post linked above regarding fresh veggies.)  The recipes can be doubled or tripled if you have hungry teens or a larger family.  Each recipe made enough for 4 servings for us but I can see myself doubling them as my son grows up.  He's already eating more than his older sisters.

Everyone in the family gave these meals a solid B.   Pretty good since I feel like I didn't put forth much of an effort.  What more could a mom want?  (An easy A!  But in the kitchen an easy A is hard to get. LOL)

Here's to a terrific school year!



  1. What a cute and practical idea "Homemade Helper" is! Plus a minimal effort "B" is nice.

    I still use my holiday Ziploc bags, too. : )

    1. I bought a few boxes when they were on sale in January and I had coupons. The little containers had gumdrops on them too.

  2. This is great, Sarah! My stepkids love this stuff. I'm going to try one of these.

    1. I hope they like it! I made one of the "kits" tonight after soccer and it really hit the spot. Sliced up some carrots and dinner was on the table. :)