I don’t usually use boxed macaroni & cheese, but when you have a hungry family and not much time, there are ways to beef it up to make a one-dish meal.
I am cooking lunch for 15 people at Maia Mom’s
Dream House every Thursday, and the challenge is to use what they have on hand without buying a lot of other ingredients. They are able to get groceries from the Dream Center food pantry, so the food on hand changes every week. This past week I used boxed macaroni & cheese, canned pinto beans, ground beef, leftover cooked chicken, and canned tomatoes to make two different versions, one taco with ground beef & beans and one Italian with chicken and tomatoes. Everyone ended up taking some of each, and they were both surprisingly good.
Taco Mac & Cheese
- 1/2 lb ground beef, browned
- 1 can pinto beans, drained
- 1 packet taco seasoning*
- 1 can diced tomatoes
- 2 boxes macaroni & cheese, prepared according to package directions
Combine all ingredients except the macaroni & cheese, and simmer for a few minutes while you prepare the mac & cheese dinner. When the mac & cheese dinner is prepared, add the meat mixture and mix well. (I added some crushed tortilla chips to the top.) *Instead of the taco seasoning mix and the diced tomatoes, I used salsa,chili powder, salt and pepper to taste.
Italian Mac & Cheese
- 1 cup diced cooked chicken (or browned ground beef or turkey)
- 1 can diced tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasonings (or to taste)
- 1 small can chopped black olives
- 1 box macaroni & cheese, prepared according to package directions
Combine all ingredients except the macaroni & cheese, and simmer for a few minutes while you prepare the mac & cheese dinner. When the mac & cheese dinner is prepared, add the chicken and tomato mixture and mix well.
The inspiration for these dishes came from this blog post
by The Humbled Homemaker. (Check out that post for several other suggestions.)
I am going to be cooking this today for the residents, staff and volunteers at Maia Moms Dream House. The Dream House is a home for single moms and their kids who are in crisis, usually homeless or on the brink of being homeless. Maia Moms is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping single mothers and their children become stable and on a path to success. To learn more about the organization, go to their website
This is a great versatile casserole that can feed a crowd (expecting about 15 people today). My other challenge is to use the food that they have on hand (frozen chicken, frozen broccoli, dry egg noodles, and various spices) so I will be substituting broccoli for the spinach, and egg noodles for the penne pasta. I am taking cottage cheese since it is vital to the recipe, and am taking the proper seasonings since I am not sure they will be available. Obviously I will be at least doubling the recipe to feed this many people.
One of the goals for cooking the meal is to demonstrate how to work with what you have on hand instead of making a special grocery store run for all the ingredients. The moms have access to a weekly food pantry so it can be a challenge using what is available that particular week. The food pantry is run by the neighboring Dream Center
, who is also a partner with us on the Dream House.
I will let you know how it turns out!
This is a surprisingly tasty pasta dish that even people who dislike cottage cheese and/or spinach usually like, and it is toddler-friendly.
I sit on the Board of Directors for a non-profit called Maia Moms
that helps encourage and support single moms and their kids on their journey to become self-supporting. We recently had the opportunity to partner with Seacoast Church’s Dream Center
in a transitional home for up to 4 moms and their children called The Dream House. Our first moms moved in on November 1st, and I made this casserole for move-in day. It is easy to prepare ahead of time, ready to pop into the oven and bake for an easy hot meal. It also freezes well (unbaked and thawed before baking).
Chicken Florentine Casserole
- 2 cups cooked chicken (I use meat from a rotisserie chicken)
- 1/2 box frozen spinach, thawed & squeezed to remove access liquid*
- 2 large garlic cloves, minced
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 2 Tbsp flour
- 1 Tbsp lemon juice
- 1 1/2 cups chicken broth
- pinch nutmeg
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1 cup cottage cheese, blended to make smooth consistency
- 2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/2 pound pasta (I used penne)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Mist a 9″ x 13″ baking dish with oil. Cook pasta according to package directions making sure it is al dente (cook for a couple of minutes less than recommended time). In a large pot, heat olive oil to medium-low and saute garlic until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add flour and whisk for 30 seconds. Add chicken broth and stir until thickened. Add lemon juice, nutmeg, oregano & pepper. Bring to simmer. Remove from heat and add blended cottage cheese, spinach, chicken, Parmesan cheese & pasta. Stir to combine. Place in casserole dish. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until golden & bubbly.
*Do not be tempted to add the whole package of spinach. (Ask me how I know!)