Quick, Easy Recipes: More Halfway Homemade Dishes

Healthy 15-minute dishes that taste great, too.

By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

All I'm asking for is about 15 minutes. That's all the time it takes to put recipes together when they're what I like to call "halfway homemade." Basically, this means you're using products from your supermarket that make home cooking faster and easier -- like canned broth, bottled marinara, roasted chicken, pre-shredded reduced-fat cheese, and bags of salad mix. Get the picture? Although I call them halfway homemade "recipes," you aren't really cooking so much as assembling these quick and easy recipes. You throw some things together and voila! It's dinner or dessert!

What's the benefit of making things at home instead of buying them already made from a restaurant, fast-food outlet, or supermarket? You get to make choices about the foods and the amounts you use, so that the dish can end up being more healthful.

The way I see it, there are at least five health reasons to choose "halfway homemade" instead of store-bought:

1. You can have your favorite comfort foods and eat light, too!

I feel so strongly about the importance of having comfort foods that I wrote a whole cookbook about it (Comfort Food Makeovers). These days, there seems to be a renewed interest in comfort foods -- those mood-lifting dishes associated with pleasure, consolation, and/or childhood. I believe both psychological and physiological forces are at work when we're attracted to certain foods, and that our love for them tends not to diminish even as we become more health minded. But with a few smart cooking tricks, you can put a new healthy twist on beloved classic dishes.

2. You can cut down on fat while adding more fruits and vegetables.

Even when people do this without setting specific goals for fat grams or servings of fruits and vegetables, it leads to significant weight loss with less hunger, according to research from Pennsylvania State University.

3. You can eat out at restaurants and fast-food chains less often.

Increasing evidence links restaurant food with overweight. A recent study with families in San Diego County in California found that children in families who ate at fast-food chains most often were at most at risk of overweight. And there's also no surprise here: eating at American restaurants, primarily buffets, seemed to put parents most at risk for obesity.

4. You can use healthier cooking oils and fats.

Your goal here is to use oils with the least amount of saturated fat, and the most monounsaturated fat (olive oil and canola oil), plant omega-3s (canola oil), and/or powerful phytochemicals (olive oil). The good news: just by switching to a cooking oil with more of the preferred fatty acids (plant omega-3s and monounsaturated fat), you can cut the amount of saturated fat you take in, according to research from the 1999-2002 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Not only that, taking this step can change the ratio of omega-6 fatty acids to the healthier omega-3s in your diet from almost 10-1 to a much healthier 3-1, the research showed.

5. You can add fiber and phytonutrients to your meals.

Diets that are rich in whole-grain foods, fruits and vegetables, and beans -- and limited in red meat, full-fat dairy products, and sugar -- have been linked to a lower risk of chronic diseases like heart disease and stroke. When you cook instead of ordering out, you can use whole-grain pasta or bread in recipes calling for those ingredients, and you can add beans, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to your dishes whenever possible.

Convinced? Here are six "halfway homemade" recipes, ranging from appetizers to desserts, that I think you'll agree are a great use of your 15 minutes.

Halfway Homemade: 6 Quick, Easy Recipes

Hot Pizza Dip

8 ounces light cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 1/2 cups shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
1 cup shredded reduced-fat cheddar cheese
1/2 cup finely chopped green pepper
1/2 cup finely chopped sweet red pepper
1/2 cup bottled pizza sauce
Multigrain tortilla chips or whole-wheat Boboli pizza crust, cut into dipping sticks


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 9-inch pie plate with canola cooking spray.
  2. In medium bowl, combine light cream cheese, Italian seasoning, and garlic powder, then spread on the bottom of prepared pie plate.
  3. In medium size bowl, combine the two cheeses and two types of peppers. Sprinkle half the cheese-pepper mixture over the cream cheese layer. Spread pizza sauce over the top of this, then sprinkle with the remaining cheese-pepper mixture.
  4. Bake for 20 minutes. Serve warm with multigrain tortilla chips or dipping sticks cut from Boboli whole-wheat pizza crust.

Yield: Makes 10 servings

Nutrition Information per serving (not including bread dippers or tortilla chips): 136 calories, 11 g protein, 5 g carbohydrate, 8 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 25 mg cholesterol, 0.4 g fiber, 313 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 53%.

Party Sandwich Sub

1 unsliced loaf of whole-wheat sourdough or French bread (some bakeries bake this fresh!)
1/2 cup light cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup shredded reduced-fat sharp cheddar cheese
1/3 cup chopped green onions
1 tablespoon light mayonnaise
1 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 pound thinly sliced extra lean ham (any type you like)
1/2 pound thinly sliced lean roast beef
6 big slices dill pickle


  1. Cut the bread lengthwise and carefully hollow out the top and bottom halves of the loaf, making sure to leave at least 1/2 inch of bread as a shell (you can save the inside part for another use).
  2. In small bowl, combine cheeses, onion, light mayonnaise, and Worcestershire sauce by hand or with mixer on low speed. Spread this mixture over the cut sides of both halves of the loaf.
  3. Layer the ham on the bottom half. Top with pickles, then roast beef. Gently press the top half over the bottom half. Wrap in plastic wrap or foil and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Cut into slices (1 1/2-inches wide).

Yield: Makes about 8 party servings.

Nutrition Information per serving: 304 calories, 23 g protein, 30 g carbohydrate, 9.9 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 52 mg cholesterol, 4 g fiber, 920 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 29%.

Italian-Style Veggie Bake

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups sliced mushrooms
1 cup chopped bell pepper
1 cup sliced zucchini
1 1/2 cups bottled pizza sauce or marinara
1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
1/3 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup egg substitute
2 green onions, chopped (optional)
1 cup Heart Smart Bisquick
1/2 cup low-fat milk
1 large egg (use a brand higher in omega-3s, if available)
1 cup shredded reduced fat mozzarella cheese


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat an 8-inch square baking dish with canola cooking spray.
  2. Pour olive oil into a large nonstick frying pan and heat over medium-high heat. When hot, add mushrooms, bell pepper, and zucchini and saute until tender and lightly brown. Turn off the heat, stir in the pizza or marinara sauce, and spoon the mixture into the prepared baking dish.
  3. In small bowl, combine the ricotta cheese, Parmesan cheese, egg, and green onions (if desired) until blended. Drop small spoonfuls of this mixture on top of the mushroom mixture.
  4. In the small bowl, combine the Bisquick, milk, and egg using a fork. Pour this over the cheese and veggie mixture in the baking dish. Coat one side of a sheet of foil with cooking spray and cover the baking dish well with it, the sprayed side against the food. Bake about 25 minutes or until golden brown. Uncover the dish, sprinkle the mozzarella over the top, and bake until cheese melts (5 to 10 minutes).

Yield: Makes about 6 servings

Nutrition Information per serving: 275 calories, 17 g protein, 27 g carbohydrate, 12 g fat (5 g saturated fat), 60 mg cholesterol, 2 g fiber, 750 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 39%.

Slow Cooker Barbecue Boneless Ribs

Who doesn't love the taste of barbecue ribs? These have the taste and fall-off-the-bone texture of restaurant ribs -- but without all the grease!

About 2 1/2 pounds boneless, very lean, beef short ribs, trimmed of visible fat (my butcher makes it from the center brisket)
Black pepper
Garlic powder
Canola cooking spray
1 onion, sliced
16 ounces of the best barbecue sauce you can get your hands on


  1. Sprinkle ribs lightly with pepper and garlic powder.
  2. Start heating a large nonstick frying pan or skillet over medium-high heat. Spray pan generously with canola spray. Place ribs in pan, and brown on all sides, if possible (about 6-8 minutes altogether)
  3. Put sliced onion into slow cooker. Cut ribs into serving size pieces and put in slow cooker. Pour in barbecue sauce. Cover and cook on LOW about 8-9 hours (or on HIGH about 5 hours).

Yield: Makes about 8 servings

Nutrition Information per serving (if half of the barbecue sauce is consumed): 221 calories, 28 g protein, 12.5 g carbohydrate, 5.6 g fat (1.8 g saturated fat), 83 mg cholesterol, 1.3 g fiber, 404 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 23%.

Key Lime Whip

Lime Whip:
2 (6-ounce) containers lime yogurt (light or low-fat)
1 cup light (or nonfat) Cool Whip or other non-dairy whipped topping, refrigerated (not frozen)
Cookie topping:
3 lower-fat vanilla sandwich cookies or shortbread cookies, broken into pieces
1/8 cup roasted walnuts (or raw walnuts)


  1. Add cookies and walnuts to small food processor and pulse into crumbs.
  2. In small bowl, combine lime yogurt with whipped topping until well blended. Spoon lime mixture into 4 small dessert cups and sprinkle the cookie topping of the top of each.
  3. Cover and store in refrigerator until ready to serve.

Yield: Makes 4 servings

Nutrition Information per serving: 154 calories, 6 g protein, 21 g carbohydrate, 5.5 g fat, 2.5 g saturated fat, 0.3 g fiber, 2 mg cholesterol, 90 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 32%.

White Chocolate Fudge Mousse

1 box (1 ounce) Jell-O Sugar Free Instant White Chocolate Pudding
1 box (1 ounce) Jell-O Sugar Free Instant Chocolate Fudge Pudding
2 2/3 cups 1% low-fat milk (or skim milk), divided use
2 cups Light Cool Whip or similar whipped topping, refrigerated, divided use
Optional garnish: 1/2 cup Light Cool Whip; cocoa powder


  1. Beat white chocolate pudding mix into 1 1/3 cups COLD milk in mixing bowl on medium-low speed for about 2 minutes. Scrape sides of bowl halfway through, and continue mixing. Stir in a cup of Cool Whip, mixing by hand just until blended. Pour into individual serving dishes, using the back of a spoon to smooth the tops.
  2. In same mixing bowl, beat chocolate fudge pudding mix into 1 1/3 cups COLD milk on medium-low speed for about 2 minutes. Scrape sides of bowl halfway through, and continue mixing. Stir in a cup of Cool Whip, mixing by hand just until blended. Pour into serving dishes.
  3. Cover individual dishes with plastic wrap or foil and keep in refrigerator until ready to serve. For optional garnish, add a dollop of Light Cool Whip to the center of each and top that with a sprinkle of cocoa powder.

Yield: Makes 8 servings

Nutrition Information per serving: 104 calories, 3 g protein, 17 g carbohydrate, 2.8 g fat, 2.5 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 0 g fiber, 346 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 24%.

Recipes provided by Elaine Magee; © 2008 Elaine Magee

Elaine Magee, MPH, RD, is the "Recipe Doctor" for the WebMD Weight Loss Clinic and the author of numerous books on nutrition and health. Her opinions and conclusions are her own.

SOURCES: Stein K. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, March 2008; vol 108: pp 412. Rolls B.J. et al., American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, June 2007; vol 85: pp 465-1477. Duerksen S.C. et al, Journal of the American Dietetic Association, May 2007; vol 107: pp 849-853. Johnson G.H. et al., Journal of the American Dietetic Association, October 2007; vol 107: pp 1726-1734. Hu F.B. et al., The Journal of the American Medical Association, 2002; vol 288: pp 2569-2570.

© 2008 WebMD Inc, All rights reserved.


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