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Hamburger Helper & Alternative Ingredients.

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Hi everyone. I'm writing to see if everyone thinks that my current cooking practice is OK nutritionally or if I should figure something else out. I am trying to make my new healthy lifestyle a permanent change, so if I need to find a new way to cook then I will.

First off, I am not a very good cook. In fact, I'm a pretty big putz in the kitchen. My boyfriend is the one who actually does most of the cooking, but about once a week he needs a break and I make dinner.

When I cook, it is usually something very simple and from a box. My favorite is Hamburger Helper's Cheesy Enchillada. I also do Tuna Helper and Chicken Helper as well. However I generally substitute a few of the ingredients listed or given in the box with something I think is a better alternative.

Instead of hambuger, I use 99% fat free ground turkey. I always make sure I buy the 16 oz and not a larger size, so that I'm still using the same portion of meat. If the box contains white rice, I substitute brown or wild rice. I use only skim milk. If I am cooking a pasta meal, I use whole grain pastas instead of the stuff that comes with the box.

I know that this pretty much only leaves the spices and mixes that come in the box, and that I'd probably be better off buying my own sauces and spices and trying to make these same meals on my own. But I've tried that before and had disasterous results. Since the boxed meals only cost $1.50 each at Walmart, I figure I'm better off with than (since I KNOW I can make it) than trying and failing to do something completely from scratch.

Anyway, what do you guys think? Am I doing okay cooking these semi-prepared meals for myself and my boyfriend to eat? Or should I just stick to salads with some grilled chicken and/or boiled egg thrown in on the nights that it's my turn to cook dinner?

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I think you are always going to be better off making something from scratch rather than using a mix, which are usually loaded with sodium and artificial ingredients that are bad for you.  It sounds like at least you are trying to make some decent substitutions, but the worst stuff is probably in the items you are still using - i.e. the mix/sauce that it comes with.

Try to simplify - if your previous cooking efforts have been disastrous, then start with some simpler recipes that don't have a lot of spice combinations. For example spaghetti is really easy!   Search online for quick, easy recipes with simple ingredients, or look for a cookbook at the book store for something like that. 

Even better - you noted that your boyfriend is a good cook.  Why don't you try cooking together?  You can watch and learn from him and have fun at the same time.  Also by you taking some of the pressure off of him by helping him maybe you won't need to cook by yourself one night.

Try stocking your pantry with low fat cream of mushroom soup, jarred spaggheti sauce, and some powdered seasoning packets (beef stew, taco ...), Lipton onion soup mix, Knorr Vegetable soup mix, and some whole wheat pastas.   To that you can add veggies & beans. You can make some nice varieties of what you find in the boxes for not so much money and a lot less salt!

I like to buy the box to try something out, then think of how I could do it better. For instance the chili with corn bread on top.  All it was was a can of chili and some premade corn bread that you just put the wet ingredients into.  So the next time I made chili, I mixed up some thin cornbread, poured it over the top and stuck that sucker in the oven.

Working with what you are comfortable with, I think you are doing a great job of modifying those box meals -- although I agree with the others that is just a short trip to completely homemade.

The seasoning packets contain all the flavour AND all the sodium -- that's where the homemade comes in handy, you can control the sodium levels.

Get a crockpot.  This was how my husband and I survived our first few months of cohabitation.  I couldn't cook worth a darn either.  A crockpot will make a meal out of practically anything: just throw your ingredients in, plug it in, and presto, your dinner is ready when you get home.  And you can make lots of stuff in it, chili, jambalaya, pork loin, roasts, chicken dishes.  Hope this helps.

I agree with the crockpot, they are great to have (you can even make ribs in it).  As long as you don't have blood pressure/health problems I don't see any problem with using the mixes/sauces, though I hope you are still getting your veggies in.

Other easy foods to make:  Pizza, use the whole grain pita's spread favorite pizza sauce and top with 2% cheese and some veggies bake 350 for 15 minutes on baking sheet. Fish, so easy and quick.  Use your whole grain pasta add sauce and ground turkey (cooked) to baking dish and top with cheese, toss in oven for 10-15 minutes for cheese to melt.  Bean soup, navy beans in crock pot w/ cubed ham, basil, pepper, and chicken stock.  Taco salad, light baked tortilla chips topped with ground turkey (w or w/out taco seasoning) lettuce, cheese, tomatoes, onions, low fat sourcream and salso. 

Oh I agree with the crockpot.  Not only is it super easy to make foods but you can make such healthy foods in it.  Since you're already relatively familiar with healthy substitutions and what not, then all you need to get started is the crock pot.   You can go online and get some great recipes. 

PLUS, if you get a big enough crock pot you can cook for the future.  I've often taken a lean roast, put it in the crock pot with some garlic, black pepper, sliced onions and sometimes green peppers.  I cook it on low for 6-8 hours or until the meat falls apart easily when you stick a fork in it.  Then, drain any grease out of it (which there shouldn't be much) and shred the meat with two forks with the tines facing outward.   When the meat is shredded, you have the makings for all kinds of good stuff.  You can mix in some low calorie BBQ sauce, or put your own spices in (again lots of recipes on the net) cook for another hour or so and have what the south calls "BBQ Loosemeat"  (It tastes better than the name sounds lol) 

From there you simply need to set aside enough to eat for a day or so (this is better the next day) and then divide the rest into quart sized freezer bags.  Freeze them for an easy to make dinner at a later time.

Don't let eating healthy restrict or intimidate you.  Explore, try new things, google "Crockpot Recipes" and see what comes up.  There may even be a few great ones on CC!!! 

Another quick and easy meal is to use aluminum foil, place a chicken breast and some veggies on the foil, sprinkle with some spices like maybe Mrs Dash or whatever you prefer, then fold the foil over the food and crimp the edges (sort of like an aluminum foil calzone) and then cook on the grill.  You can grill the meat and cook the veggies this way.    I have a George Foreman grill which I use almost every day.  I grill a chicken breast, lean pork chop, turkey burger, or whatever, then steam some veggies and wild rice.  (I also have a rice maker, I LOVE IT!  Makes cooking rice so easy.)  SO much to try...


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Crockpots are great, especially if you plan ahead.  I also have a pressure cooker, in which I can throw in the ingredients after I get home from work and have a wonderful meal in about an hour, for those days when I don't plan ahead or things are too hectic in the morning.  For either crockpot or pressure cooker, its as simple as just adding the ingredients to the pot, and cooking for the recommended time period. 

As for hamburger helper, I personally avoid it. It is full of chemicals and preservatives.  I think they all have hydrogenated oils, which means trans fat.  Be careful with packaged meals.  Most of them have hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils, but they make the serving size so small that they can claim 0 grams trans fat per serving (0 is trans fat content of 0.49 grams or less per serving).  Read the ingredients.

You're paying a buck fifty for a starch that you're not eating, and a bag of seasoning. Buy the seasoning blend by itself and stop wasting money (and food)... If you're afraid of having to measure stuff, seasoning mixes come in pre-sized packets. Or else you could get a general seasoning like Mrs Dash that you can put on ANYTHING...

If you want to make a tomatoey meal, get a can of crushed tomatoes with herbs and mix that with your ground turkey... I made a meatball casserole last week that was good and very simple - cooked rice in the bottom of a dish with sliced onion on top of it, and halved turkey meatballs spread out on top. Pour over one can of seasoned tomato, and spread over one packet of mozarella cheese. Yum! I made the meatballs from scratch but it would work just as well with pre-made ones, or just with browned ground turkey... Want a bbq flavour instead? Ground turkey, onion, and a nice bottled bbq sauce... turkey burgers? Grill your patties and put them on a whole-wheat bun with fresh vegetables... chilli? One pound of turkey and one can of 'chilli starter' or spicy chilli beans and anything else you want to add... Cooking doesn't have to be elaborate or use a lot of ingredients to be good.

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