Makes a Million Meals Meat Sauce

by Nancy Berkoff, RD, EdD, CCE

Food and fuel are the two big costs when preparing meals at home. You can also add in waste, from boredom with leftovers.

A chef's trick for meal preparation is to make a basic menu item that can be transformed into many different dishes. The initial cooking uses the most ingredients and most fuel for cooking. Subsequent cooking uses less ingredients and less fuel. You can see this if you look closely at most restaurant menus. At first glance, it seems that the restaurant is offering many different choices. On closer inspection, you'll see that many, many choices can be prepared from a minimum of ingredients. Don't tell anyone I let you in on this secret!

You can do the same thing at home. Try to buy or prepare ingredients or foods that can be used for many different purposes. For example, corn flakes are eaten, as is, at breakfast. They can be a coating for chicken or fish, smashed into crumbs and used to thicken sauces or soups, added to muffin batter or cookie dough, and used as a dessert topping for ice cream, pudding and fruit salad. If you make a package of gelatin, you can serve it, as is, for dessert. You can cube it and add it to fruit salad or serve it as a topping for sherbet or ice cream. It can be blended into smoothies or shakes or layered as a dessert parfait with pudding, chopped fruit and smashed cold cereal. You get the idea.

The recipe I've included below can be prepared and frozen until needed. You'll find lots of uses for the basic sauce. You can serve the basic sauce over many different types of pasta, rice and cooked grains. You can toss it with leftover pasta, cooked veggies, and yogurt or sour cream and bake it as a hearty casserole. Or use it to season cooked vegetables, such as summer squash, peas and carrots or mixed vegetables. Other options would be to add it as a pizza topping (order or make a plain cheese pizza and add this as an extra topping) or mix it into macaroni and cheese, for starters. This versatile recipe can be prepared with many different ingredients, depending on seasonality and food sales. Have fun!

Make a Million Meals Meat Sauce!
serves approx. 5-6 servings

1/2 pound very lean ground beef, turkey, etc. (You can substitute extra firm tofu for half or all of meat.)
2 cups prepared tomato sauce
1/4 sliced canned or fresh mushrooms
2 teaspoons granulated garlic
1 Tablespoon red wine (optional)

Brown meat until thoroughly done. Drain fat, if needed. Stir in the remaining ingredients until well combined. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes.

This can be prepared in the microwave by first thoroughly cooking meat (it won't brown) in the microwave, draining, and then adding remaining ingredients. Depending on your microwave, the first step should take approximately 4-5 minutes on HIGH and the second step 3-4 minutes on HIGH


More Tomatoey

2 Tablespoons tomato paste
2 Tablespoons each chopped bell peppers and onions

Add ingredients during second step. Serve over pasta, use as a pizza sauce, or serve cold on French bread

Piccadillo (Cuban meat sauce)

2 Tablespoons tomato paste
1 Tablespoon raisins
1 Tablespoon chopped green olives
1/2 teaspoon each cumin and dried oregano

Add ingredients during second step. Serve over white rice, with black beans as a side dish (sauté canned black beans with a dash of garlic for two minutes)

Creamy Meat Sauce

3 Tablespoons unflavored (plain) yogurt

After original meat sauce is prepared, stir in yogurt. Toss with cooked pasta and bake or microwave as a fast entrée.


10 pieces No-boil lasagna pasta or thinly sliced (lengthwise) zucchini or peeled eggplant
1/2 cup prepared tomato sauce
1/2 cup ricotta cheese or cottage cheese
1/2 canned, chopped tomatoes
1/2 shredded mozzarella cheese

Place a layer of sauce on the bottom of an oven dish. Layer as follows: noodles, meat sauce, tomatoes, prepared tomato sauce, ricotta, shredded mozzarella. Finish with tomato sauce. Cover and bake at 375 degrees for at least 40 minutes.

Meat Sauce Subs

4 crusty rolls, cut (lengthwise) in half
shredded cheese, as desired
shredded lettuce, as desired

Spoon meat sauce over roll halves and sprinkle with cheese. Heat in 400-degree oven for three minutes or microwave until cheese is melted (about 2 minutes on HIGH). Top with lettuce and serve.

Take the Next Step

  • Get cash back on the groceries you buy. Checkout 51 can show you how!
  • Continue to trim food costs by visiting our food & groceries section to get tips and tools for keeping more of your hard-earned dollars in your pocket.

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