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Saving Dinner

The Menus, Recipes, and Shopping Lists to Bring Your Family Back to the Table

Saving Dinner by Leanne Ely
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Certified nutritionist Leanne Ely has a simple philosophy: “Make it and they will come.” Dinner, that is. Take-out, opening a can, or microwave fare shouldn’t pass for a nice, healthy meal–and nothing can replace a family’s time together. Believe it or not, preparing dinner can be a stress-free endeavor. Even your time in the supermarket can be cut in half!

Full of practical tips on simple, healthy meal planning, Saving Dinner is the ideal solution for today’s busy parents who would love to have their family sitting around the dinner table once again–sharing stories along with a nutritious meal. Efficiently divided by season, each section features six weeks of menus with delicious recipes, side dish suggestions, and an itemized grocery list that is organized by product (dairy, meat, produce) to make one-stop shopping a snap. Plus the book is packed with helpful hints and short cuts in the kitchen that make cooking easier and more fun.

From Big Basil Burgers and Salmon Carbonara to Crockpot Chili and Spicy Apricot Chicken, Saving Dinner will have your family coming back to the table–and back again for seconds!
Leanne Ely is considered the expert on family cooking and healthy eating. Between her popular “Heart of a Woman” radio show in Southern California and her weekly “Food for Thought” column on the ever-popular Web site, thousands of fans have already discovered Leanne’s secrets to easily prepared, well-balanced meals.

From the Trade Paperback edition.
Random House Publishing Group; August 2009
320 pages; ISBN 9780345520135
Read online, or download in secure EPUB
Title: Saving Dinner
Author: Leanne Ely

As the weather starts to change, the welcome relief from the heat begins to take hold and paint the leaves of the trees autumnal colors. With crisp fall weather, warm comfort foods begin to play into these coming weeks. The rich, glorious flavors of fall are showcased in this first set of menus with rich stews, thick soups, and recipes featuring delicious winter squashes.

Week One

Day One: Apple Chicken

Day Two: Roast Beef Picante

Day Three: Beany Burritos

Day Four: Moroccan Fish Tangine

Day Five: Italian Turkey Meat Loaf

Day Six: Crock Pea Soup

Shopping List


6 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves

11Ú2 pounds boneless sirloin roast

6 whitefish fillets

1/2 package Italian turkey sausages

1/2 pound ground turkey

1 ham bone


vegetable oil

olive oil

cider vinegar

dry white wine

Worcestershire sauce


1 lime

2-3 lemons

4 Granny Smith apples

3 pounds onions (keep on hand)

garlic (you'll need 7 cloves)

3 tomatoes

2 bell peppers

1 bunch carrots

celery (you'll need 1 stalk)

1 small jalape-o pepper

1 small bunch parsley

1 bunch cilantro

1 bunch green onions

**russet potatoes (1 meal)

**butternut squash (2 meals)

**broccoli (2 meals)

**kale (2 meals)

**spinach (I like baby spinach) (2 meals)

**baby carrots (2 meals)

**sweet potatoes (1 meal)

**2-3 heads lettuce (not Iceberg)

Canned Goods

1 28-ounce jar spaghetti sauce

1 14-ounce can chicken broth

1 14-ounce can beef broth

1 jar salsa (your favorite)

1 small can tomato puree (you'll need 3 tablespoons)

1 14 1/2-ounce can diced tomatoes with Italian herbs

1 15-ounce can pinto beans

1 15-ounce can black beans


1 envelope taco seasoning (low sodium is a good option)


ground cumin

bay leaves


Dairy/Dairy Case

eggs (you'll need 1)

Parmesan cheese (you'll need 1/3 cup, grated)

**sour cream (I use low fat)

Dry Goods

brown sugar (you'll need 1/3 cup)

sugar (you'll need 2 teaspoons)

cornstarch (you'll need 4 tablespoons)

oats (you'll need 1/2 cup)

flour (you'll need 1/3 cup)

1 pound split peas

**brown rice (2 meals)

**pasta (1 meal)


6 flour tortillas (whole wheat, if available)

**whole-grain rolls (1 meal)

Apple Chicken

Serves 6

1 1/4 teaspoons vegetable oil

6 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

4 Granny Smith apples, cored and sliced into 1/2-inch wedges

3/4 cup dry white wine

3/4 cup chicken broth

1/3 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup cider vinegar

3 tablespoons cornstarch

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet. Add chicken and brown on all sides. Add apple slices, saute 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add 1Ú2 the wine and chicken broth, reduce heat, cover, and simmer 10 minutes. Mix remaining wine and broth together with remaining ingredients; add to skillet. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until sauce thickens.


161 Calories; 2g Fat (15.5% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 24g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 16mg Cholesterol; 246mg Sodium. Exchanges: 1/2 Grain (Starch); 1 Lean Meat; 1/2 Fruit; 0 Fat;

1/2 Other Carbohydrates.

Serving Suggestions: Baked potatoes, baked butternut squash, and steamed broccoli.

Roast Beef Picante

Serves 6 (with leftovers)

1/2 cup finely chopped onion

1/4 cup water

3 tablespoons lime juice

2 large cloves garlic, pressed

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 small jalape-o pepper, finely minced

1/2 teaspoon thyme, divided

Salt and pepper to taste

1 1/2 pounds boneless sirloin roast

1 cup beef broth

2 teaspoons sugar

1 tablespoon cornstarch

2 tablespoons parsley, chopped

For marinade, combine onion, water, lime juice, garlic, olive oil, jalape-o pepper, 1/4 teaspoon let the thyme, salt, and pepper. Place beef in a plastic bag. Pour marinade over meat, seal bag, and refrigerate 6-8 hours.

Remove meat from marinade, reserving marinade. Place meat on a rack in a roasting pan.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Roast for 40-50 minutes or until desired doneness. Remove meat from pan; cover with foil. Let stand 10 minutes.

Meanwhile strain remaining marinade. Deglaze pan with 1Ú2 cup of the beef broth; pour into a small saucepan. Add the strained marinade, sugar, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon thyme to saucepan. Combine remaining broth with cornstarch; add to saucepan. Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly. Cook and stir 1 minute more. Stir in parsley. Slice meat to serve; serve with sauce.


181 Calories; 7g Fat (36.8% calories from fat); 22g Protein; 6g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 51mg Cholesterol; 346mg Sodium. Exchanges: 0 Grain (Starch); 3 Lean Meat; 1/2 Vegetable; 0 Fruit; 1Ú2 Fat; 0 Other Carbohydrates.

Serving Suggestions: Brown rice, steamed kale, baked sweet potatoes, and a salad. Remember, you want to use the leftover beef tomorrow night (but leftovers are not absolutely necessary).

A Salad (side) Bar

I can't help but push the nutritional envelope hard when it comes to making salads. If you're at all following the Serving Suggestions in the book (and I really hope you are!), you will notice the abundant suggestions for salad to be served with nearly all the recipes. The reasons for all this green boils down to the fact that we eat entirely too many cooked foods and rarely eat anything raw. A salad gives your body the alimentary opportunity to tackle a raw food and get those important enzymes, vitamins, and minerals so readily available from uncooked produce.

But in order to avail yourself of these nutrient-rich possibilities, it is necessary to understand what constitutes healthy when it comes to salad making. A pale hunk of iceberg lettuce with a goopy ladle of blue cheese dressing doesn't cut it. And yet so many people think because they've eaten this "salad," they're giving their bodies the nutrition it needs. Not true!

A good rule of thumb for evaluating a good salad should be color. Color is a great indicator of what's ahead: good nutrition or near-empty calories. The more vibrant the color, the healthier it is.

Let's go back to that Iceberg lettuce salad. It's pale green and white. The Iceberg lettuce's value is mostly the water it carries. Fiber is minimal and nutrition almost nonexistent. The blue cheese is dripping with all kinds of fat so that X's that off the list immediately. Let's do a salad makeover, shall we?

First of all, you need to choose green. Green like spinach, salad bowl (Butter or Bibb), or romaine lettuces--all wonderful examples of what green should look like. The color is there and so is the nutrition.

Look for red. Tomatoes come to mind. Vine ripened and full of vitamin C, tomatoes also contain the important phytochemical lypocene that helps fight cancer.

Orange or yellow? How about some colorful bell pepper or (when in season) summer squash? Carrots are fantastic sources for beta-carotene, a pre-vitamin for vitamin A. Beta-carotene has so many important functions, but the best part about beta-carotene is that it will convert into only as much vitamin A as the body needs, so there's no worry about taking in too much. You know what happens if you have too much beta-carotene? You turn orange! My son was orange for the first and second years of his life--he loved sweet potatoes.

This is all common-sense nutrition here, but the point is to get you thinking next time you're meandering your way through the produce section at the grocery store. Think in vivid, living color--you need the nutrition!

Tortilla Flats

Whole-wheat tortillas have a better flavor and texture than white flour tortillas, and if you have a choice at the grocery store, give these whole-grain alternatives a try. Also check the package for lard or shortening--you definitely want vegetable oil instead (much healthier).

Corn tortillas are corn tortillas, although some brands are better than others. You'll have to try different brands to see which one you like best. Here in California, we have every brand known to man and then some. Choices become smaller and smaller the farther east you go.

One more thing: Remember that you have incredible power as a consumer. Tell the dairy manager guy (or whoever is in charge of the department at the grocery store that carries the tortillas) what you want. If you want whole-wheat tortillas, ask for them. You will be surprised at how accommodating supermarkets are becoming. The competition for your grocery dollar is stiff. If the market you're frequenting now won't yield to your requests, find one that will.

Beany Burritos

Serves 6

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 onion, chopped

1 1/2 cups leftover beef, chopped

1 package taco seasoning mix (low sodium, if available)

1 can black beans, rinsed and drained

1 can pinto beans, rinsed and drained

6 flour tortillas (whole wheat, if available)

Chopped green onions, salsa (your favorite jarred variety), sour cream, and chopped cilantro

In a skillet, heat oil over medium heat and saute onion till translucent. Add leftover chopped beef, taco seasoning, and both cans of beans; stir till well heated through.

Warm tortillas and fill with bean beef mixture. Garnish as you like it!


317 Calories; 3g Fat (9.5% calories from fat); 26g Protein; 46g Carbohydrate; 14g Dietary Fiber; 34mg Cholesterol; 429mg Sodium. Exchanges: 2 1/2 Grain (Starch); 2 12 Lean Meat; 1/2 Vegetable; 0 Other Carbohydrates.

Serving Suggestions: A big spinach salad and a bowl of baby carrots ought to do the trick!

Moroccan Fish Tangine

Serves 6

3 garlic cloves

3 tablespoons ground cumin

3 tablespoons paprika

3 tablespoons tomato puree

6 tablespoons lemon juice

6 whitefish fillets

3 tomatoes, sliced

2 bell peppers, seeded and thinly sliced

Salt and ground black pepper to taste

Chopped cilantro

In a medium bowl, mix together the garlic, cumin, paprika, tomato puree, and lemon juice. Place the fish in a 9 ´ 13-inch pan and spread this mixture over the fish; cover and chill for about 30 minutes to let the flavors penetrate the fish.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Arrange half of the tomatoes and peppers in a baking dish. Cover with the fish, in one layer, and then arrange the remaining tomatoes and peppers on top. Salt and pepper to taste. Cover the baking dish with foil and bake for about 20 minutes, until the fish flakes easily with a fork. Sprinkle with chopped cilantro and serve.


54 Calories; 1g Fat (19.1% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 11g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; Omg Cholesterol; 44mg Sodium. Exchanges: 0 Grain (Starch); 0 Lean Meat; 1 Vegetable; 0 Fruit; 0 Fat.

Serving Suggestions: Steamed kale, brown rice, and a green salad. Pass the baby carrots around the table, too!

Italian Turkey Meat Loaf

Serves 6

1 large egg

1/2 14 1/2-ounce can diced tomatoes with Italian herbs, undrained

1/2 cup finely chopped onion

1/3 cup minced fresh parsley

1/2 cup oats

1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Salt and pepper to taste

1/2 package Italian turkey sausages (removed from casings; about

4 sausages)

1/2 pound ground turkey

1/3 cup spaghetti sauce

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

In a large bowl, beat the egg and stir in tomatoes, onion, parsley, oats, Parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper. Then mix in by hand the Italian sausage and ground turkey just until blended. Make into a large meat loaf on a baking sheet (like a jelly roll pan), patting to remove any air spaces. Bake for one hour. Top with spaghetti sauce and continue baking 15-30 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.


259 Calories; 12g Fat (41.8% calories from fat); 20g Protein; 19g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 96mg Cholesterol; 888mg Sodium. Exchanges: 1/2 Grain (Starch); 2 Lean Meat; 2 1/2 Vegetable; 1 Fat.

Serving Suggestions: Pasta, steamed broccoli, and baked butternut squash.

Crock Pea Soup

Serves 12 (freezes well)

1 pound split peas, rinsed

1 ham bone, optional

1 onion, chopped

2 carrots, peeled and sliced

1 stalk celery, chopped

2 cloves garlic, pressed

1 bay leaf

1 1/2 quarts water (use chicken broth if not using ham bone)

Salt and pepper to taste

Put all ingredients except the salt and pepper into a Crock-Pot. Cover and cook on high for 4-5 hours or low for 8-10 hours, or until peas are very soft. Before serving, remove bone and bay leaf. Salt and pepper to taste.


161 Calories; 2g Fat (11.2% calories from fat); 11g Protein; 25g Carbohydrate; 10g Dietary Fiber; 9mg Cholesterol; 22mg Sodium. Exchanges: 1 1/2 Grain (Starch); 1 Lean Meat; 1/2 Vegetable; 0 Fat.

Serving Suggestions: A spinach salad and some whole-grain rolls.



All Crock-Pots or slow cookers are not created equal. The following is only a rule of thumb--your mileage may vary.

Conventional cooking time: 15-30 minutes

Crock-Pot cooking time:

11Ú2 hours on high; 4-8 hours on low

Conventional cooking time: 30-40 minutes

Crock-Pot cooking time:

3-4 hours on high; 6-10 hours on low

Conventional cooking time: 50 minutes-3 hours

Crock-Pot cooking time:

4-6 hours on high; 8-18 hours on low

Most stews, pot roasts, and other uncooked meat/poultry and vegetable combinations will require at least 4-6 hours on high or 8 hours on low.

Week Two

Day One: Chicken and Rice Chowder

Day Two: Asian Orange Salmon

Day Three: Baked Rigatoni

Day Four: Stuffed Quesadillas

Day Five: Red Beans and Rice

Day Six: Crock Beef Sandwiches

Shopping List


6 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves

6 salmon fillets

1/2 pound extra-lean ground beef

1 pound kielbasa (low fat, if available)

3 pounds sirloin tip roast (you can use a cheaper cut, but fat count will be higher)


olive oil

soy sauce

barbecue sauce


1-2 lemons

tomatoes (you'll use 1 cup chopped)

3 pounds onions (keep on hand)

1 head garlic

1 bunch celery (you'll need 1 stalk)

1 bunch green onions

1 bell pepper

1 bunch cilantro

**russet potatoes (1 meal)

**coleslaw (1 meal)

**kale (1 meal)

**spinach (I like baby spinach) (2 meals)

**baby carrots (2 meals)

**2-3 heads lettuce (not Iceberg) (1 meal)

Canned Goods

1 28-ounce jar spaghetti sauce

3 14-ounce cans chicken broth (you'll use 4 1/2 cups)

1 jar salsa (your favorite)

2 15-ounce cans red beans



cayenne pepper


bay leaves

Dairy/Dairy Case

low-fat milk (you'll use 1 1/2 cups)

orange juice (you'll use 1/2 cup)

1 cup non-fat cottage cheese

1 cup part-skim-milk mozzarella cheese, shredded

1/4 cup Romano cheese, grated

6 ounces low-fat Jack cheese, shredded

1 8-ounce container low-fat sour cream

Dry Goods

brown sugar (you'll need 1/2 cup)

brown rice (you'll need 3 1/2 cups)

oats (you'll need 1 cup)

1 pound rigatoni



12 flour tortillas

whole-wheat hamburger buns (1 meal)

**whole-grain rolls (1 meal)

Chicken and Rice Chowder

Serves 6

4 1/2 cups chicken broth, canned or homemade

1/2 cup water

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cooked and chopped

2 teaspoons thyme

Salt and pepper to taste

1/2 cup brown rice

1 tablespoon olive oil

4 cloves garlic, pressed

1 large onion, chopped

2 carrots, chopped

1 stalk celery, chopped

3 tablespoons flour

1 1/2 cups 1% low-fat milk

In a large saucepan, bring chicken broth and water to a boil and add the chicken. Add thyme and season with salt and pepper; add rice and reduce heat.

From the Trade Paperback edition.