Thinking Outside the Box

Serving busy families nutritious, healthy meals can be a challenge. Cooking for one is a challenge, too. Often we throw up our hands in defeat then head for the drive-thru. Or we pick up boxes of one-dish “Just add meat” meals, like “helpers” or skillet dinners. Tempting, aren’t they? All the work has been done for you except for browning the meat.

Not so fast.

When I was a college student, I often had Betty Crocker’s Noodles Almandine for dinner. I added some water, cooked the contents of the box for about 15 minutes, melted a pat of butter with the noodles, then sprinkled the few packaged almonds that were included as a garnish. I loved that dinner! It was cheap and easy. One night I was hungry and hadn’t had time to grocery shop, so I decided to create the dish on my own. I had noodles and slivered almonds, and there was butter in the refrigerator. How difficult could it be?

Even as an inexperienced, young cook, I quickly figured out the answer. Not difficult at all. I dissolved a chicken bouillon cube in the boiled noodles. Then I melted a pat of butter, tossed the noodles, then sprinkled with the almonds. I had noodles almandine! It tasted just like Betty Crocker’s. As I ate my dinner, I came to two realizations: A chicken bouillon cube, some noodles, and a few almonds cost a lot less than my box; it took no longer to make the dish on my own than with the boxed ingredients. From then on (sorry, Betty Crocker) I made my own noodles almandine. These days I make it with whole wheat pasta to bump up the nutrition.

Noodles Almandine

Whole Wheat Rotini Almandine

Save your money and your health by making your own skillet dinners or casseroles. They’re easy, less expensive, and tastier. Here’s my healthier version of a family favorite.


• 1 pound lean ground turkey
• Nonstick cooking spray
• 1 10 oz. package frozen seasoning blend*
• 1 15 oz. can tomato sauce
• ½ cup water
• 1 cup dry whole-wheat elbow macaroni
• 1 tsp. paprika
• 1 tsp. salt
• ½ tsp. pepper
• 1 clove garlic, pressed
• 8 oz. shredded cheddar cheese
1. Spray the inside of a large skillet with nonstick cooking spray.
2. Over medium heat, brown the ground turkey. Break meat apart using a fork or potato masher.
3. Add the frozen seasoning blend. Cook for two minutes with the meat.
4. When meat is fully cooked, add the remaining ingredients except the cheese. Be sure all the macaroni pieces are covered in liquid.
5. Cover the skillet and simmer over medium-low heat for 15 minutes. Check macaroni for doneness (do not overcook) and add cooking time as needed.
6. Remove skillet from heat. Sprinkle with the shredded cheese and cover to melt the cheese.
7. Serve turk-a-roni from the skillet.

*Frozen seasoning blend is a convenience item containing chopped onion, bell pepper, celery, and parsley. If you don’t have seasoning blend, use 1 cup chopped onion.

1 Comment

Filed under casseroles, cooking, Healthful Eating, macaroni and cheese, pasta, Turkey Recipes

One response to “Thinking Outside the Box

  1. That’s similar to a beef and macaroni dish that I make, except I didn’t think of using whole wheat pasta. Thanks for the tip!

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