Sneaky and Healthy Recipe #1 - Whole Wheat Pasta w/ Chunky Garden Veggie Sauce

Compared to my friends, I was lucky growing up when it came to food. My grandparents and my mom all grew gardens with fresh fruits and vegetables...peppers, beans, watermelon, tomatoes, cucumbers, and even odd things like kohlrabi, asparagus, dill. Now that I'm an adult, I REALLY appreciate that, because now I don't have to struggle with myself over whether I want to eat a plate of vegetables vs. a bag of chips and dip (although sometimes the chips [or fries, in my case] win).

Every week I prepare a huge meal and portion it out into smaller portions so I can bring it to work, grab it out of the fridge for dinner, freeze it, whatever I choose. And for me, one of the most important things is to add as many vegetables, fruits, whole grains to whatever meal that I can. I not only do this for myself but I do it because my roommate, whom I love immensely, is borderline terrified of vegetables, although I will say (even though he'll never read this) I'm VERY proud of him as he's been eating a LOT of fruits and veggies lately.

Last night I made a cheap staple, pasta and sauce, and the batch will last about 12-14 meals. But I didn't just get a can of sauce and dump it on some spaghetti that I found in the back of my cupboard. I planned my meal, spent very little money, yet made a very good meal with lots of vitamins, whole grains, antioxidants, and fiber. Here are the costs of the ingredients, the recipe, and the nutritional information stats:

3 15 oz. cans Hunt's Pasta Sauce ($.78x3=$2.34)
2 14.5 oz. boxes 100% Heartland Whole Wheat Pasta ($1.25x2=$2.50)
1 10 oz. package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed ($.89)
1 14.5 oz can DelMonte diced tomatoes ($.89)
2 large (or 3 small) zucchini, chopped ($.67)
1 large (or 2 small) yellow summer squash, chopped. ($.50)
2 medium onions, diced ($.50)
2 green peppers, chopped ($1.00)
2 red peppers, chopped ($1.50)
16 oz. fresh sliced mushrooms ($2.00)
Oregano, Parsley, Basil, Salt, Pepper, Chili Flakes, Diced Garlic to taste (minimal cost)

In a large pot, combine onions, garlic, and cook on medium until onions begin to sweat. Add mushrooms, peppers, zucchini, squash, spinach, and canned tomatoes, raise heat to medium high, stir until mixed well. When mushrooms look like they’ve begun to sweat, add sauce and spices. Turn heat up to high, cover, and bring to a boil. Let the pot boil for ten minutes, then bring it down to simmer, and allow to simmer for 45 minutes. While sauce is simmering, prepare pasta as box specifies.

I use one cup of pasta and one cup of sauce per meal, which equates approximately 12 servings per batch. Each serving is 297 calories, and consists of only 3 grams of fat, 14 grams of protein, and 63 carbohydrates, which 12 grams are fiber. Fiber! The average person eats 12 grams of fiber a day, but NEEDS 25-35. And the cost? All twelve batches cost $12.79, or $1.07 a meal. Those diet dinners you get in the frozen section of your grocery store cost around $2.50 a pop, are half the size, and comparatively, well, you may be getting only 270 calories, but you’re also only getting 4 grams of fiber, 9 grams of fiber, and a whole lot of empty calories (compared to Lean Cuisine’s Penne Pasta With Tomato Basil Sauce).

Now, if you’re sitting here thinking, “Okay, sounds good, but where’s the beef?” then feel free to add it. But I implore you to try substituting the ground beef with ground turkey. Per 4 oz, lean ground beef has 300 calories and 23 grams of fat, whereas lean ground turkey has 160 calories, and only 8 grams of fat. So give it a try, you may be pleasantly surprised. As for me, I now prefer the turkey over the beef, I think the consistency is much heavier and leads to a much heartier meal. But overall, one of the big keys to weight loss and living healthy are making smart decisions, but making decisions you can stick with.

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