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19 Cheap and Easy Tips to Make Over Your Next Meal

By: , SparkPeople Blogger
5/10/2010 2:14 PM   :  112 comments   :  25,113 Views

This post started as a list of ways to use hummus. Then it evolved into a bit of a foodie braindump. All these great tips and tricks have been floating around my brain for the past few months. It's time I shared these quick, affordable kitchen tips and healthy eats with you! I hope you find them useful and inspiring.

  • Make your own nut butter. It's so much cheaper, and there's no added salt! Toast raw nuts until they're barely fragrant, then run through the food processor. I start by running them through the slicing attachment, then put in the chopping blade and let them break down, stopping to scrape the sides of the bowl from time to time. Add cinnamon, maple syrup or dark cocoa powder for extra special treats.

  • Poached eggs are delicious: atop a bowl of pasta and tomato sauce, on a salad, and on a bowl of savory oatmeal. The broken yolk makes a delicious, creamy sauce. Trust me. It's life-changingly delicious, especially atop the pasta.

  • Shredded carrots tossed with hummus that's been thinned with a tablespoon of water is a wonderful side salad. I grate a bag of carrots (using my food processor) every week and use them in stir-fries, casseroles and salads.

  • Hummus is a secret weapon:

    • Add it to tomato sauce instead of cream or milk.

    • Hummus and salsa is even better than cheesy Mexican dip. Warm it for an over-the-top guiltless treat.

    • Use hummus instead of mayo. More flavor, less fat!

    • Hummus makes a great salad dressing, and you can even thin it with broth or water to make a dressing for pasta salad--great with peppers, onions, cucumbers, olives and other Mediterranean staples.


  • Swapping sour cream and cheese for guacamole is a great decision. You'll love it.

  • Shredded cabbage is delicious in burritos. Toss it with chopped cilantro, a pinch of salt and a bit of lemon juice to soften and flavor it a bit.

  • Shredded sweet potatoes + canned black beans + salsa + quinoa and a few other goodies = a cheap, easy vegetarian casserole. I make this almost weekly these days.

  • Baby spinach is the little black dress of vegetables. Thank goodness, because I bought a three-pound bag at my warehouse club a week ago. In the past week, I have added handfuls to:

    • blueberry smoothies (just blend it with your milk before adding other ingredients)

    • pasta sauce (throw in one handful per person, stir and simmer)

    • scrambled eggs (add it at the beginning; it will wilt by the time the eggs cook)

    • macaroni and cheese (sometimes I eat Annie's mac and cheese from a box; throw the spinach in the pot after draining the pasta, then top with hot pasta and continue as usual)
    • wraps (place your other ingredients on top, then roll and eat)


  • Add a banana and a tablespoon of ground flaxseed to your morning oatmeal before cooking it. The banana will melt and add sweetness, and both will make your oats thick and creamy. You won't need any other sweetener.

  • Top your cereal like you top your oatmeal. In summertime, I eat Quaker Oatmeal Squares or Raisin Bran. Cold cereal doesn’t fill me up, so I add a spoonful of almond butter or chopped nuts, a handful of berries or a sliced banana, and ground flaxseed or chia seeds to my bowl.


What are your favorite tips and tricks in the kitchen? In addition to sharing them in the comments below, please feel free to add them to our new Secrets of Success feature.

Which tips did you like best?

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Comments

  • 112
    The shredded sweet potatoes idea sounds wonderful! - 1/2/2012   8:03:51 AM
  • 111
    Re the flax seed cooking the oatmeal, not a good thing. Flax seed shouldn't be cooked if you want to save the omega 3. - 6/14/2011   11:42:52 AM
  • 17FERGIE
    110
    great tips!! thank you! - 4/6/2011   5:06:36 PM
  • 109
    I love hummus and these ideas are great. - 2/8/2011   1:25:47 PM
  • 108
    When I crave taco's, I take my corn tortillas by wrapping them up in a damp paper towel and steam them in the microwave. I like to use cabbage and any type of flakey white fish. ( My favorite is tilapia or halibut.)Add a bit of chopped cilantro and onion. Squeeze some lime or lemon over mixture. Enjoy. Yummy and saves a lot of calories

    - 1/12/2011   2:24:53 PM
  • WISTERIALODGE
    107
    I like the hummus ideas. - 10/14/2010   2:35:46 AM
  • ZEYNEP86
    106
    I never buy store bought salad dressings. I always make my own. The basic ingrdients are olive oil, lemon juice, and salt. The lemon can be substituted by lime juice, vinegar or lemon salt/citric acid. I sometimes also add the peel(grated) of the citrus I am using to add scent.Grated garlic is another addition I make once in a while. I also like to add dried mint leaves or fresh herbs (mint, dill, parsley) - 8/1/2010   3:17:36 PM
  • 105
    I love Hummus. I cut up salmon and mix it in and add fresh herbs. It is a great spread. I love to try different things and see what works. So, far have not found anything bad that doesn't mix. - 5/23/2010   3:00:30 PM
  • SILVERKNOT
    104
    Dried fruit! I love to add dried fruit pieces to cold and hot cereal.

    There are a couple of grocery stores here where you can get freshly ground nut butter (literally ground from whole nuts and right into your take-home container) and that is how we buy our peanut butter. Once you get fresh ground peanut butter you will never want to go back to peanut butter in a jar. - 5/15/2010   4:05:30 AM
  • 103
    I make oatmeal with caramelized bananas pretty much every morning for brekkies.

    I'll take 1/3 cup rolled oats and 2/3 c. water and nuke it in the microwave for about a minute and a half the night before, then put it in the fridge. In the morning the oats have soaked up all the liquid andd are big and fluffy. I take 3/4 of the oats and blend them in my little Ninja food processor with half a banana that I've microwaved for about a minute (until it gets melty and turns a brighter yellow). I often add a tsp of unsweetened cocoa, cinnamon and nutmeg, too. Once I've blended my oats and banana into a creamy goo, I'll mix the unblended 1/4 c. cooked oats into it to add some chewy texture.

    I bring it to work, heat it up when I get there and have a healthy, filling start to my day. It's like pudding for brekkies. Yummy yum yum. - 5/14/2010   4:54:55 PM
  • PSLOVINGLIFE
    102
    Wow, great tips! I'll use all of them. Loved the hummus tip. Spinach is also great on a veggie burger with a scrambled egg. - 5/14/2010   11:45:21 AM
  • 101
    It all gets me thinking - but the spinach is the best, I enjoy it in my scrambled eggs. - 5/12/2010   10:59:29 PM
  • 100
    I'm always looking for good recipes to feed my vegetarian teenage daughter, so the black bean casserole with sweet potatoes is one I'd like to try. Also, adding hummus to tomato sauce, I love hummus and use it fairly often; will have to try this. Thanks! - 5/12/2010   9:27:11 PM
  • 99
    the spinach! I love it. - 5/12/2010   5:55:59 PM
  • 98
    Love the poached egg and hummus ideas! - 5/12/2010   1:07:55 PM
  • 97
    Hummus sounds wonderful and yummy!! - 5/12/2010   12:47:20 PM
  • BRIANNEM
    96
    Yummy, I think I'll make some hummus this weekend! Love the idea of the cabbage in burritos, great idea. I think the Sweet Potato caserole sounds like something my 2 year son would like too. Thanks for the great ideas. - 5/12/2010   10:14:49 AM
  • RE2BAH
    95
    Love the ideas, use some of them already, so I know the others will be as good!

    Hummus is an acquired taste, but even those who thought they'd never eat it can become devotees of it. My husband, for example, said he'd never like it, but with added flavors like garlic and roasted peppers, learned to use it for dip and then accepted it on tortillas as a main course meal! - 5/12/2010   9:17:36 AM
  • 94
    I can't live without hummus! Also, baby spinach has replaced lettuce in our house. You definitely have a bunch of great ideas! - 5/12/2010   9:05:56 AM
  • 93
    I love these tips. Thanks for sharing! - 5/12/2010   8:25:06 AM
  • 92
    I like to add fruit to my cereal. most of the time I also add wheat germ.
    I love adding spinach to several different meals. It is quick to add and so nutritious. - 5/12/2010   6:47:51 AM
  • 91
    I particularly like adding salsa to my salads in place of dressing. It allows me to enjoy the salad while appreciating the lower calories for my food plan. I like the hummus. I also add Key Lime Pie Yogurt as a dressing for my broccoli slaw. I love it. - 5/12/2010   6:03:06 AM
  • 90
    Im a big hummus fan and thanx to this post I've learned some new ways to make use of it besides as a dip for pita chips. - 5/12/2010   12:59:44 AM
  • VANANDEL
    89
    One of my secrets is low-fat, low-carb tortillas. La Tortilla Factory makes a great whole wheat one which has only 50 calories, 7 grams of fiber, 5 grams protein and only 2 grams fat. I love make small wraps with turkey or lean ham and a cheese stick, along with various veggies. The whole wrap is less than 200 calories and filling. - 5/11/2010   11:57:45 PM
  • 88
    thx for the great ideas! - 5/11/2010   11:23:19 PM
  • 87
    Love hummus! Spinach with a blueberry smoothie?? Two of my favorites, but had never imagined them together! Very creative ideas! Thanks. - 5/11/2010   9:27:22 PM
  • 86
    Recently discovered hummus, Yummm! Will have to try some of these variations. Thanks - 5/11/2010   9:10:17 PM
  • 85
    Hummus, hummus, hummus!! - 5/11/2010   7:05:59 PM
  • THULLIBE
    84
    I like the Hummus tips, it is already my favorite anytime snack. I also can not imagine spinach in a blueberry smoothie. - 5/11/2010   6:32:01 PM
  • K_RENEE
    83
    I don't think I'd like the spinach in my blueberry smoothie, though. - 5/11/2010   6:24:39 PM
  • K_RENEE
    82
    I have tried several of these tips, and my favorites are the ideas with hummus. I love hummus!! - 5/11/2010   6:24:09 PM
  • 81
    Awesome!!!! I didn't expect to get so many great ideas from one blog. I am saving this as a favourite and coming back to it daily until these things become old hat for me. First thing tomorrow morning: banana as my sweetner for oatmeal! - 5/11/2010   4:08:28 PM
  • 80
    Love hummus and use it as a sandwich spread, added to soup, by itself, on a tortilla as a fast breakfast, and as a thickener in other dishes (depending on the dish and its seasonings). Pureed white beans can be used as a thickener where a strong flavor is not desired.

    I make my own "faux hummus" by leaving out the tahini and substituting a half teaspoon of roasted sesame oil (House of Tsang is the one I use). Extra lemon juice can take the place of salt.

    I also throw vegetables (carrots, small amounts of shredded cabbage, kale, chard, chopped celery, etc) along with onions and mushrooms into tomato-based pasta sauces to simmer. - 5/11/2010   4:06:41 PM
  • 79
    These are some amazing tips! I can't wait to start trying them out. There are so many ways to use hummus and it is so tasty. - 5/11/2010   4:01:55 PM
  • 78
    Great tips! Thanks so much! I love spinich and often pick up a bag, but don't do much with it besides making a salad or putting in eggs. And what wonderful ideas for hummus. Now I need to find a tahini source and learn to make my own. Thank you for the link to the sweet potato/black bean cassarole recipe as well - maybe this weekend! - 5/11/2010   3:54:51 PM
  • CORRIE3222
    77
    If you have tried hummus and didn't like it, try making your own before you give up on it. The homemade kind is SOOO much better tasting than what you can buy at the grocery store. My four year old always asks to make more with me. - 5/11/2010   3:54:01 PM
  • MKIRKLE
    76
    Too many great ideas to pick just one. I too will be saving this. - 5/11/2010   3:53:22 PM
  • 75
    I love poached eggs, never thought of using them with pasta before. Lots of good ideas here, I will save this article.

    I also love salsa and I love hummus; I never would have thought to mix to the two together. - 5/11/2010   3:16:39 PM
  • 74
    I thought the poached egg ideas were good. I want to try them on pasta, the creamy sauce sounds delish. - 5/11/2010   3:06:52 PM
  • 73
    I love Hummus! I make my own so I control the ingredients, I omit the tahini and add cumin. I never thought to thin it and make it a salad dressing! and the idea of shredding carrots and adding hummus is such a great idea, I'm going to do that tonight. Thanks for the ideas. - 5/11/2010   2:23:29 PM
  • 72
    Thanks. This article makes me want to give hummus another chance. I bought it in a container at the grocery store and it was awful. I threw it out and never looked back. Maybe I'll try to make it myself. - 5/11/2010   2:11:13 PM
  • 71
    Thanks for the great tips on using Hummus. I love spinach & cabbage and use them whenever possible. - 5/11/2010   1:44:20 PM
  • 70
    Thanks! These are great ideas! - 5/11/2010   1:21:51 PM
  • KINGDOMHEIR
    69
    I love spinach, so I'm gonna try a couple of these ideas. Not yet tried hummus, but it seems to be a favorite among the responses...will try some out this weekend (needing good suggestions). Thanks! - 5/11/2010   1:17:15 PM
  • TWOOFTHREE
    68
    you don't need to add syrup to nut butters. Nut butters should be just nuts with maybe a little salt. - 5/11/2010   1:11:54 PM
  • 67
    I don't use hummus often, but these ideas are interesting. I like the shredded carrots and cabbage-- they add a lot of volume. - 5/11/2010   1:05:15 PM
  • JALENMAC
    66
    Love all of these but my fave is the Hummus hints. I love hummus & look forward to trying these - 5/11/2010   12:56:42 PM
  • JSIMMON1
    65
    Except for the poached eggs you and I seem to have similar tastes. Since you mention spinach and sweet potatoes separately I have to say you might want to try sauteed spinach mixed with roasted sweet potatoes. I discovered by accident that kale that had been sauteed with garlic, olive oil and mushrooms mixed with sweet potatoes that had been roasted with a little olive oil and rosemary mix beautifully - I was rushing to pull together left overs to take to work for lunch and didn't have enough containers so I threw the sweet potatoes over the kale - yum. I imagine spinach would be similar.

    Also I make an oatmeal "cobbler" for breakfast that I really love. I put about a cup of frozen mixed berries into a bowl, pour a serving of prepared steel-cut oats over top and sprinkle with ground flaxseed or a tablespoon of toasted walnuts. Many times I throw this together and eat it at work in the morning - I like it hot, lukewarm, even cold. You could always use fresh berries or heat them if you like your oats really hot as the frozen berries do cool it a bit.

    PS casserole sounds good - I'm going to have to try it. Love that you put a link to a recipe. - 5/11/2010   12:32:46 PM
  • 64
    Believe it or not, you can use shredded cabbage instead of rice or pasta with tomato sauce. It's delicious! The hot sauce warms up the cabbage and you can barely tell the difference. - 5/11/2010   12:22:26 PM
  • LIZWANNABEFIT
    63
    I love hummus! Never thought of using as a salad dressing but willing to try. - 5/11/2010   11:55:47 AM

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