In honor of back-to-school month I wanted to take on some of the most popular school lunch menu items and make them over into delicious and healthy dinners for the whole family. Now I realize that the thought of cafeteria food doesn’t exactly sound enticing or mouth-watering; however I’ve discovered some fantastic ways to makeover cafeteria food that will have these meals leaving lunch lady land!
- Classic Macaroni and Cheese with Stewed Tomatoes
Now when I was growing up, I hated macaroni and cheese and I think that my cafeteria may have played a huge role in this. Macaroni and cheese shouldn’t be this congealed hunk of macaroni slapped on a plate. The sauce should be velvety and luscious. In my recipe, I’ve add some baby spinach and cherry tomatoes to add some additional flavors and used gorgonzola cheese for a more grown-up take on a kid classic.
Macaroni with Gorgonzola Cheese Sauce
4 ounces uncooked ziti
1/2 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
6 tablespoons half-and-half
3 tablespoons Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
1 cup fresh spinach
Cook pasta according to package directions
Heat extra-virgin olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add cherry tomatoes, salt, crushed red pepper, and minced garlic to pan; cook 1 minute, stirring occasionally. Stir in half-and-half and Gorgonzola cheese; cook 2 minutes or until slightly thick, stirring constantly. Stir in spinach and pasta; cook 1 minute or until spinach wilts, tossing occasionally.
Taco day in school was the only day that even the bag lunch kids were in the cafeteria line. Soft shell, hard shell, as a salad…we loved it all. A great twist on this school lunch is to turn this into a healthy casserole. I added some extra veggies that I personally enjoy, but feel free to add in what you like. This is more of a fajita casserole and is a great way to sneak in those vegetables for picky eaters. Be sure to rinse the jalapeños thoroughly and remove the seeds before cooking since the heat is mainly in the seeds. Always be sure to wear gloves when handling jalapeños. I learned that lesson the hard way when I rubbed my eyes after making this dish. Ouch!
1lb fusilli or any short cut pasta
1lb. 99% fat free ground turkey
2 cloves minced garlic
1 c. onion, sliced
1 c. sliced button mushrooms
1 zucchini, sliced
1 red bell pepper, sliced
1 green pepper, sliced
1 jalapeno, sliced
Salt and Pepper
1 15 oz. can organic diced tomatoes
1 bottle taco sauce
1.5 c. shredded cheddar cheese
Chopped cilantro, Sour Cream or Guacamole for garnish
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil, salt heavily, cook pasta until al dente. Drain, and pour into a large casserole dish.
In a large skillet, cook turkey over medium heat, season with salt and pepper. When cooked, pour into the casserole dish with pasta.
In the same skillet, add mushrooms, zucchini, peppers, onion, and garlic. Sautee veggies for 10-15 minutes, until they’re tender. Season with salt and pepper. Pour into the casserole dish.
Add tomatoes and taco sauce to casserole; stir well to mix all ingredients.
Top with cheddar cheese and put in the oven. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until cheese is melted and pasta is bubbly.
Plate and serve with garnishes.
- Sloppy Joes
What kid doesn’t love sloppy joes? I know they were always my favorite school lunch and now I make them at home with a Middle Eastern twist. I used ground chicken for these Middle Eastern Sloppy Joes, but you could easily substitute that with ground turkey. This meal combines savory with sweet and spicy with mild, making for a truly gourmet take on a cafeteria classic. Hope you enjoy these Middle Eastern-inspired Sloppy Joes (or as I have dubbed them, “Sloppy Jafars”!)
Sloppy Chicken Jafar
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 bunch scallions (white and green parts separate), thinly sliced
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium tomatoes, diced
1/4 cup golden raisins
1 pound lean ground chicken
1/4 cup plain low-fat yogurt
1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted
4 (4-inch) whole wheat pitas with pockets, tops trimmed and warmed
Heat olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat, add the scallion whites cinnamon, salt, and pepper, and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, tomato, and raisins and cook over high heat until mixture is almost dry, about 6 minutes. Add the chicken and cook stirring until meat is cooked through, about 5 to 6 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the green part of the scallions, yogurt, and pine nuts. Serve mixture stuffed into warm pita with tomato slices and cucumber slices.