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Feature Articles: Food, Fitness and Cooking and Produce


Mystery meal can become culinary delight

Janet Hackert, Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, Harrison County, 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.


Start by considering what you have available. To minimize the grocery bill and prevent food from being wasted, 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.


  • Choose a vegetable or combination of vegetables. Fresh, frozen or canned, vegetables are good sources for many nutrients.
  • 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.
  • Include a little meat, fish or eggs for some protein.
  • Dairy foods can be included to flavor the meal or as part of a sauce.


Next look for the spices, sauce or condiments that will make the 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 it takes is changing up the seasonings to create a new and interesting flavor.


University of Missouri Extension has several resources that might be helpful when creating a new culinary delight.


  • The MU Extension publication Herbs and Spices (N362) describes which herbs and spices complement which types of food.
  • The handout Help for Hypertension: A Dietary Guide provides recipes for salt-free herb blends such as Chinese Five-Spice, Italian Blend, Curry Blend, and Mexican Chili Blend, to name just a few.
  • And if the specific ingredient needed is not available, In a Pinch: Ingredient Substitution is a helpful guide.
  • The New Missouri Mix (GH1055) has some great recipes for easy, inexpensive sides to dress up a meal. It starts with a basic baking mix then gives recipes for such possibilities as biscuits, cobbler, pancakes or muffins.


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Last update: Tuesday, January 27, 2015