Cooking 101 (Week 6) Quick and Easy Menus, Recipes and Tips for Singles and Couples Putting a Healthy Spin on Prepackaged Favorites

(FN1561, Reviewed June 2020)

Many people do not have a lot of time to devote to meal preparation. While many convenience foods are available, some are high in sodium or fat. You can make these foods more nutritious without doing a lot of work.

Lead Author
Lead Author:
Emily Westrom, Student Dietitian, NDSU Nutrition Education in the Community (class)
Other Authors

Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

Web only
Publication Sections

Compare Sodium Content

Our body uses sodium to regulate blood pressure as well as muscle and nerve functions. Sodium is found naturally in many foods and it is added for flavor or as a preservative. The adequate intake for sodium is 1,500 milligrams (mg) a day, or about ½ teaspoon. Most people consume much more than the recommendation. In fact, consuming three to four times the recommendation is not uncommon. Keep your sodium intake in check by following these tips:

  • Read Nutrition Facts labels and compare the sodium content of different canned or packaged foods.
  • Add fresh or frozen vegetables (without sauces) or fruits to your menu.
  • Put the pepper shaker on the table and leave the salt shaker in the cupboard.

Pop Quiz: What do you know already?

Which food has the least amount of sodium?

1. Breakfast
(serving sizes are similar)

a. Scrambled eggs
b. Kellogg’s Buttermilk Pancakes
c. Hash browns

2. Lunch

a. Filet-O-Fish®
b. McDonalds Chicken Selects® Premium Breast Strips (three pieces)
c. McDonalds Southwest Salad with Grilled Chicken (without dressing)

3. Snack
(sodium amount is based on one serving)

a. Chocolate Snack Pack Pudding
b. Chocolate Teddy Grahams
c. Double Stuffed Oreo Cookies

4. Supper
(serving sizes are similar)

a. Kraft Macaroni and Cheese
b. Stouffer’s Lasagna With Meat & Sauce
c. Campbell’s Condensed Tomato Soup

5. Beverages
(serving sizes are similar)

a. Classic Coke
b. Hi-C Pink Lemonade
c. Skim milk

Answers: 1. A 2. C 3. C 4. B 5. A and B

Cook with spices and Herbs

To add flavor to your food without increasing the sodium content, try using seasonings such as garlic or onion powder, ground mustard, basil, thyme, oregano, bay leaves, chili powder, dill, parsley, rosemary, ginger, nutmeg and cloves. Garlic, onions or vinegar, in relatively small amounts, can add flavor to foods, too.

Herbs add flavor without adding sodium. As a rule of thumb, use 1 teaspoon of dried herbs for 1 tablespoon of fresh herbs. For example, if a recipe calls for 3 tablespoons of fresh basil, use 3 teaspoons of dried basil. Don’t be afraid to experiment. If you are new to cooking with herbs, start by adding a small amount to your dish, then add more herbs as desired. The more you use herbs in your cooking, the more familiar you will become with their flavors and the foods that pair well with them. This guide will get you started.

BasilTomatoes, garlic and oil, soups, butter, cheese, garnish
RosemaryPoultry, potatoes, carrots, bread, pork, beef, garnish
ThymePoultry, beef, turkey, stew, soup, sauces, tea
MintTeas, eggs, salads, vegetables, chocolate mousse, garnish
ParsleyFish, poultry, vegetables, garlic, salad, pasta, potatoes, butter, garnish

Note: Fresh herbs will stay fresh in the refrigerator for about 10 to 14 days. Frozen herbs will stay fresh for up to six months. Dried herbs will stay fresh until the “best used by” date on the package.

Weekly Menu Planner - Week 6

*indicates recipe is provided 

  • Cereal with fat-free milk 
  • Fruit
  • Turkey sandwich on whole-wheat bread
  • Fruit
  • Veggies with dip
  • Fat-free milk
  • Cheesy Garlic Chicken and Shells*
  • Garden salad with almonds and dressing
  • Fat-free milk
  • Fruit with peanut or almond butter
  • Granola bar
  • Granola bar
  • Fruit
  • Fat-free milk
  • Leftover Cheesy Garlic Chicken and Shells*
  • Veggies with dip
  • Fat-free milk
  • Ramen Noodle Hotdish*
  • Chocolate Pumpkin Muffin*
  • Fat-free milk
  • Popcorn
  • Fruit
  • Hot chocolate
  • Oatmeal with apples and dried fruit
  • Fat-free milk
  • Peanut or almond butter and banana on whole-wheat bread
  • Veggies with dip
  • Fat-free milk
  • V8 Vegetable Soup*
  • Turkey sandwich on whole-wheat bread
  • Fruit
  • Fat-free milk
  • Chocolate Pumpkin Muffin*
  • Fruit
  • Cereal with fat-free milk or low-fat yogurt
  • Fruit
  • Leftover Cheesy Garlic Chicken and Shells*
  • Veggies with dip
  • Fat-free milk
  • Granola bar
  • Dried fruit
  • Granola bar
  • Low-fat yogurt
  • Fruit
  • Leftover Ramen Noodle Hotdish*
  • Fruit
  • Fat-free milk
  • Leftover Vegetarian Taco Salad
  • Fruit
  • Fat-free milk
  • Chocolate Pumpkin Muffin*
  • Veggies with dip
  • Whole-wheat toast with almond butter
  • Scrambled eggs
  • Fat-free milk
  • V8 Vegetable Soup*
  • 1/2 turkey and cheese sandwich on whole-wheat bread
  • Tortilla chips with salsa
  • Fat-free milk
  • Popcorn
  • Almonds
  • Fruit
  • Veggie omelet
  • Whole-wheat toast with almond butter
  • Fruit
  • Fat-free milk
  • Taco pizza: Put salsa, chicken, cheese, tortilla chips on a whole-wheat tortilla. Bake until cheese melts. Top with lettuce and light sour cream.
  • Fat-free milk
  • Leftover Ramen Noodle Hotdish*
  • Fruit
  • Veggies and dip
  • Fat-free milk
  • Chocolate Pumpkin Muffin*
  • Almonds

Grocery List


  • 1 loaf whole-wheat bread
  • 1 small canister quick-cooking oatmeal
  • 1 box whole-grain cereal of choice
  • 1 package whole-wheat tortillas
  • 1 package ramen noodles (any flavor)
  • Velveeta Shells & Cheese (24 ounces)
  • 1 box granola bars (6 bars)
  • Corn/multigrain tortilla chips
  • Microwave popcorn – light


  • 1 bag spinach (fresh)
  • 2 large tomatoes (fresh)
  • 2½ cups fresh vegetables of choice* (consider shopping at the salad bar for these ingredients: broccoli, carrots, bell peppers, cauliflower, celery or green beans)
  • 2 bags frozen vegetables of choice
  • 1 bag mixed greens


  • 1 bag dried fruit
  • 16 pieces fruit of choice (fresh or frozen): apples, bananas, grapes, pears, oranges, grapefruit, watermelon, honeydew melon, cantaloupe, berries, kiwi, peaches, plums, mango, pineapple


  • 1 gallon (or more) fat-free milk
  • 1 package cheese slices of choice (for sandwiches)
  • 1 package shredded cheese of choice (or shred your own from a block of cheese)
  • 3 (4- to 6-ounce) containers of low-fat yogurt
  • 1 container low-fat sour cream

Meat/other protein foods

  • 1 dozen eggs
  • 2½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • Peanut butter or almond butter
  • Almonds/nuts
  • 8 ounces turkey breast (cooked)

Canned/dry goods, etc.

  • Veggie dip and/or salad dressing of choice
  • 1 (15-ounce) can whole-kernel corn
  • 1 (15-ounce) can black beans
  • 1 jar salsa
  • 1 (6-pack) low-sodium V8 juice (regular or hot and spicy)
  • 1 (15-ounce) can pure pumpkin
  • 1 box devil’s food cake mix
  • Sugar
  • Olive oil
  • Garlic powder

Read through the recipes and check your supplies to see what and how much you need. Adjust the list based on your supplies and preferences.

 To save money, compare unit prices (price per ounce) on the store shelving.


Key to Abbreviations

tsp. = teaspoon
Tbsp. = tablespoon
c. = cup
oz. = ounces
pkg. = package
g = grams
mg = milligrams
lb. = pound

Cheesy Garlic Chicken and Shells

Figure 1

8 small boneless, skinless chicken breasts halved widthwise (about 2 lb.)
½ tsp. garlic powder
1 Tbsp. olive oil
3 c. water
1 (24-oz.) pkg. Velveeta Shells and Cheese Dinner
1 large tomato, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Sprinkle both sides of chicken breasts with garlic powder. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add chicken; cook seven to nine minutes on each side or until the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165 F; keep warm. While cooking chicken, heat 3 cups water in a pot. Bring to boil. Stir in shell macaroni. Reduce heat to medium-low; cover. Simmer 12 minutes or until shells are tender. Strain noodles. Stir in tomato and cheese. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook until cheese sauce is melted and mixture is heated through, stirring occasionally. Top with chicken.

Extra Notes:

  • For added color/flavor, try adding other vegetables such as red, green or yellow peppers; broccoli; garlic; and onions to oil before adding chicken.
  • This recipe uses the family-sized shells and cheese. If cooking for four or fewer people, use the regular box (12 oz.) and cut ingredient amounts by half.
  • You can freeze the leftovers in meal-sized containers for later use.

Makes eight servings. Per serving: 420 calories, 14 g fat, 35 g protein, 37 g carbohydrate, 0 g fiber, 860 mg sodium

Ramen Noodle HotDish

Figure 2

2 c. vegetables (carrots, peas, corn, onion, celery, broccoli, green beans, spinach)
1 Tbsp. olive or canola oil
1 pkg. ramen noodles, any flavor
½ c. water

Sauté vegetables in oil until tender-crisp (about five to 10 minutes). Crush ramen noodles and add to vegetables along with the seasoning packet and water. Cover and simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the water is absorbed and noodles are tender.

Note: You also can add cooked chicken if you like. (You can use a leftover chicken breast if you have one from a past meal.)

Makes four servings. Per serving: 120 calories, 4 g fat, 3 g protein, 18 g carbohydrate, 3 g fiber, 370 mg sodium

V8 Vegetable Soup

Figure 3

1 (5.5-oz.) can low-sodium V8 vegetable juice
1 c. frozen vegetables (peas, corn, broccoli, peppers, onion, carrots, garlic, spinach)
Salt and pepper to taste

Add V8 and vegetables to a small pot and cook on medium heat until vegetables are tender (about 10 minutes). Note: If you prefer spicy, use V8 hot and spicy.

Makes one serving. Per serving: 120 calories, 0 g fat, 25 g carbohydrate, 4 g protein, 4 g fiber, 125 mg sodium

Chocolate Pumpkin Muffins

Figure 4

1 pkg. devil’s food cake mix
1 (15-oz.) can pure pumpkin
1½ tsp. sugar (optional)

Mix dry cake mix and pumpkin together, then place in muffin tins. Sprinkle the tops of each muffin with a little sugar. Bake at 400 F for 20 minutes.

Note: This recipe doesn’t have a very strong pumpkin flavor; to get more of a pumpkin flavor, try using a white or spice cake mix.

Makes 18 servings. Per serving: 130 calories, 4.5 g fat, 23 g carbohydrate, 2 g protein, 1 g fiber, 240 mg sodium

For more information, visit www.ag.ndsu.edu/food.  

For more information on this and other topics, see www.ndsu.edu/extension.