Hunger Week Grand Rapids Healthy Cook Off Recipes

One of the hunGRy? {Grand Rapids Hunger Awareness Week} events was a “Healthy Food Cook Off”.  Chefs were challenged with using only food pantry staple items and given a dollar amount to ‘buy’ fruits and veggies from the YMCA’s Veggie Van.  The idea is to change perceptions about eating healthy when you are receiving assistance from a food pantry and also showcase how far the Double Up Food Bucks can go.

I was beyond excited to be one of the chefs for this competition! I chose Sarah as my sous chef; knowing that with my kitchen skills and her budgeting savvy we could rock this.    Oh, and also? We had to incorporate two mystery ingredients that we were told of at the last minute. We could bring some things from home; like spices and things we considered home pantry staples.

I quickly noticed what was not on the list of food pantry staples.  Cocoa, brown sugar, honey, (or any other sweetener besides white sugar), soy sauce, tortillas, cheese, milk… And the produce available was pretty robust; but did not include fresh cilantro or any other herbs, grapes, celery, sweet potatoes, or any citrus fruit. UH OH!

And I did not win.  I am totally, completely good with that for three reasonsOne, my dishes were PACKED with nutrition.  I spent a lot of time on the USDA website; which is what food pantries utilize to determine what clients will receive for proper nutrition.

If you ate one portion of the meal I created, you would have six servings of protein, one serving of grains, and nine servings of fruits and vegetables.

Two, I did not bring in any ingredients other than oil and spices to cook with and developed recipes I thought could really be created in a kitchen of someone with extremely limited resources.  Props to the other chefs and especially to the winner; but…

I saw cream, fresh herbs, citrus fruit, butter, and powdered sugar go into dishes and did not consider these readily accessible to someone relying on a food pantry.

But honestly; I have no idea what people have accessible to them. I do know that all of the dishes were fantastic and it was a LOT of fun to participate!

Three; I was also honored to be asked to participate in Romano’s Macaroni Grill new partnership with Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry as they begin their #macgrillgive national campaign.

For each blog post written sharing a recipe (up to 150,000), Macaroni Grill will donate $50 to connect a child with as many as 500 meals.

And that is amazing.

So my dishes were:

Greek Salmon Salad

{Each portion provides: 4 servings of protein and 4 servings of fruits/vegetables}


  • (2) 1 pound bags dried navy beans
  • (1) dozen eggs
  • 3 pounds carrots
  • 4 pints cherry tomatoes
  • 5 heads romaine lettuce
  • (3) 14 oz cans salmon
  • 1 pound bag of dried plums {this was one of the mystery ingredients}
  1. Cook beans, cool, and set aside.
  2. Hard boil eggs.  Cool, peel, and chop.
  3. Chop lettuce
  4. Peel and chop carrots
  5. Halve tomatoes
  6. Chop plums
  7. Drain any liquid off of salmon and remove bones, etc
  8. Assemble salad, placing salmon on top.

Greek Dressing

  • (6) cups plain yogurt
  • 6 Cucumbers
  • 2 tsp. Garlic powder or minced garlic
  • 2 T. dried dill
  • salt and pepper
  1. Put yogurt in a strainer and let excess liquid drain off.  This takes several hours. Discard excess liquid.
  2. Peel cucumbers, cut in half and remove seeds.
  3. Rough chop cucumbers.
  4. Puree cucumbers in blender.
  5. Mix other ingredients just until incorporated.
  6. Pour dressing over salad, and serve.

Makes 15 servings.

Hearty Pork Stew With Home Made Tabasco Sauce

{Each serving provides 1 serving of protein and 3 servings of fruits/vegetables}

  • 1 ½ onions plus 1 onion
  • (3) 24 oz cans pork
  • (15) ears fresh corn on the cob
  • (5) 15.5 oz cans tomato sauce
  • 2 quarts potatoes
  • 1 cup red wine vinegar
  • 4 Cayenne Peppers
  • 4 jalapenos
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tb garlic powder plus 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp paprika


  1. Peel and chop potatoes
  2. Shuck corn
  3. Cook potatoes and corn together
  4. Zip corn off cobs
  5. Chop onion (1 ½)
  6. Chop jalapenos
  7. Saute onions and and jalapenos together.
  8. Add tomato sauce.
  9. Add potatoes and corn
  10. Add pork
  11. Add spices and simmer.

Tabasco Sauce

  1. Cut cayenne peppers
  2. Simmer cayenne peppers, vinegar and salt
  3. Puree cayenne pepper mixture in blender with 1 onion and 2 tsp garlic powder

Makes 15 servings

Thai Rice

{Each portion provides 2 servings of fruits/vegetables, 1 serving of protein, and 1 serving of grains}

  • (2) 1 pound bags of rice
  • Olive oil
  • ½  Onion
  • 3 Red Peppers
  • 2 Green Peppers
  • 3 Yellow Peppers
  • 2 cans carrots, drained
  • 2 cans peas, drained
  • 1 jar peanut butter (this was the other mystery ingredient)
  1. Cook rice
  2. Dice peppers
  3. Dice onion
  4. Saute peppers and onion together
  5. Add rice, peas, carrots and peanut butter to peppers and onion.  Heat and mix thoroughly.

Makes 15 servings.

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About Jennifer Rees


  1. I sampled all your dishes, Jennifer, and believe me they were ALL just as delicious as they were healthful. My favorite was the Thai Rice. It had an absolutely nutty taste that delighted my taste buds. I could make a meal just on that–and it would be a pretty healthful meal at that.


    Big Binder Reply:

    Thank you so much, Bruce!! That rice was originally going to be Fiesta Fajita Rice, until the Peanut Butter showed up as a secret ingredient :)


  2. Thanks for posting the recipes. I am linking to this from our Facebook page and the website. So many people want to try the recipes. We are also making hard copies to make available at UCOM’s Food Pantry.


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