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Feature Articles: Food, Fitness and Cooking and Produce


Make a mystery meal into a culinary delight

Janet Hackert, Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, University of Missouri Extension


Baked vegetable gratinIt’s time to eat. You open the fridge and find some brown rice, a small piece of meat and some leftover vegetables. How can this possibly become a meal? Here are some tips on converting a mystery meal of leftovers into a culinary delight.


  1. Start by considering what you have available. To minimize your grocery bill and prevent food waste, check the leftovers first (but make sure they’re still safe to eat). Then see what is on hand in the pantry, refrigerator and freezer. Look for interesting ways to combine what you already have.
  2. Choose a vegetable or combination of vegetables. Fresh, frozen or canned, vegetables are good sources for many nutrients.
  3. Add a starch. It could be a starchy vegetable like potatoes or dried beans, or a grain like brown rice, whole-wheat pasta or couscous.
  4. Include a little meat, fish or eggs for some protein.
  5. Dairy foods can be included to flavor the meal or as part of a sauce.
  6. Next look for the spices, sauce or condiments that will transform an ordinary meal into something extraordinary. Keep in mind that sauces can be ready-to-eat — like a jar of spaghetti sauce — or easy-to-create by using ingredients on hand, like cottage cheese or stewed tomatoes.


Another option is to just add a little of this and a little of that to pizza, macaroni and cheese, a casserole or pancakes in order to change up the flavor. With familiar, mundane foods, sometimes all you need to do is vary the seasonings to create a new and interesting flavor.


MU Extension has several resources that might be helpful when creating a new culinary delight.


  • Herbs and Spices (N362) describes which herbs and spices complement which types of food.
  • If the specific ingredient needed is not available, In a Pinch: Ingredient Substitution (MP564) is a helpful guide.
  • The New Missouri Mix (GH1055) has some great recipes for easy, inexpensive sides to dress up a meal. It is an all-purpose baking mix which can be used to make biscuits, cobbler, pancakes, muffins and more.


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Last update: Thursday, August 03, 2017