Let’s preserve the home-cooked meal

An increasing number of individuals are becoming aware of the evidence that many serious and preventable health issues are associated with diets filled with an abundance of processed, high sugar and high saturated fat diets. These are also all characteristics often found in convenience and fast foods.

As a dietetic student, it is being constantly drilled into my mind that the major avenue to living a healthy and happy life is good ‘ol nutrition and exercise. Who would’ve thunk it? A study published by the National Institute of Health in 2017 evaluating the benefits of eating home-cooked meals found that, “More frequent consumption of home cooked meals was associated with greater likelihood of having normal range BMI and normal percentage body fat.”  

However, in many developed nations, especially here in the United States, life is fast-paced and busy. It is becoming increasingly difficult for people to slow down enough to cook meals for themselves at home. Even without having to dig too deep into the research, it is clear that these busy schedules are the leading cause of death for the endangered species of home-cooked meals. In fact, a simple Google search of, “why people don’t cook at home,” supplies article upon article and dozens of personal testimonies declaring a lack of time in a packed schedule for cooking. This applies even to college students, who may not only lack the time needed to cook but oftentimes lack the resources, space and knowledge of how to prepare a healthy meal for themselves. 

In this section, I hope to provide students (and whoever else wants to give it a try) with simple and easy-to-follow recipes and tips, including some dorm-room alternatives for those who are only allotted half a room and a microwave on campus. I want to share with you all the tips and tricks of meal prep that I have learned and take the opportunity to learn even more in order to share it with you.  

Without further ado, the first recipe is a casserole with relatively inexpensive and simple ingredients from my home state of Texas (and, yes, before you yell, “HOTDISH,” the correct word, in this case, is casserole because it is a southern, not midwestern, recipe).  


  • 2 cups (8 ounces) uncooked elbow macaroni  
    • This can be replaced with gluten free, garbanzo bean, vegetable or whole wheat pasta for a more nutrient-dense or allergen-friendly alternative. 
  • 2 pounds ground beef 
    • This may be omitted or substituted with plant-based crumbles or cooked tofu crumbles for a plant-based diet. 
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  •  2 garlic cloves, minced 
    • 1/8 tsp of garlic powder is equal to 1 clove.
  • 2 cans (14-1/2 ounces each) diced tomatoes, undrained 
  • 1 can (16 ounces) kidney beans, rinsed and drained 
    • Feel free to personalize and use your favorite bean.
  • 1 can (6 ounces) tomato paste 
  • 1 can (4 ounces) chopped green chiles, drained 
    • Can be reduced or replaced with sweet bell peppers if your spice tolerance is low or nonexistent.
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons salt 
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin 
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper 
  • 2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese
    • Feel free to personalize with your favorite cheese! Personally, I would use sharp cheddar cheese.
  • Optional inclusions
    • 1 can of sweet corn
    • 1 diced bell pepper


  1. Cook macaroni according to package directions. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, cook beef (or beef alternative) and onion over medium heat, crumbling until meat is no longer pink. Drain and rinse of grease (if using beef).  
  2. Add meat back to pan with garlic (or garlic powder) and cook about a minute longer. Stir in the remaining ingredients (besides cheese and jalapenos). Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer uncovered for 10 minutes. Drain macaroni; stir into beef mixture.  
  3. Preheat oven to 375°F. Transfer macaroni mixture to 2 greased 2-qt. baking dishes. Top with cheese and jalapenos. Cover and bake at 375°F for 30 minutes. Uncover; bake until bubbly and heated through, about 10 minutes longer.   


Recipe makes two casseroles; half recipe if you desire only one dish. Casseroles may be cooled and frozen for up to three months.   

If you are living alone or in a small household, it may be beneficial to prepare casserole in smaller portions or to divide after cooking to freeze in smaller portions. This will provide you with some homemade, quick and easy frozen meals.  

“No one who cooks, cooks alone. Even at her most solitary, a cook in the kitchen is surrounded by generations of cooks past, the advice and menus of cooks present, the wisdom of cookbook writers.”  
― Laurie Colwin  

Happy cooking! 

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