calling for your help: a healthy, budget-friendly recipe project

Hello! How’s your October going? This month I’ve had the wonderful luxury of time to pursue endeavors that I had placed on the back-burner for a bit, and one of these is getting back to a project I’ve been working on throughout med school—something I’d like to share with you and invite you to get involved.IMG_0783

At my med school, every student chooses a longitudinal project to pursue. These range anywhere from work in basic science labs to investigations abroad. My interests landed me in the realm of community health, and furthermore, my love for cooking, nutrition, and making healthy food accessible gave me the inspiration to create a healthy cooking resource for community members in the South Side of Chicago, an area disproportionately affected by obesity and obesity-related illness and under-resourced in terms of access to healthy foods. But before I could create a recipe resource, I wanted to find out what assets, needs, and desires actually existed in the community. To do this, I interviewed community members about what and how they cook, what they like to eat, where they shop for groceries, and what they would find helpful in a healthy cooking resource. From this, I received a wealth of information regarding people’s food habits, a lot of wonderful stories about favorite dishes and kitchen memories, and most excitingly, found there were a strong interests in cooking and obtaining a healthy, budget-friendly resource of recipes.


Now armed with this firsthand knowledge and a list of hundreds of dishes, I’m onto phase two of the project: writing up recipes that honor people’s food preferences and cooking styles and use ingredients that are readily available and affordable in grocery stores in the area. Much as I love to cook and conjure new creations, I know there is a talented pool of cooks out there, and the power of our combined efforts is greater than anything I could ever do alone.


So, I’d love your help! If you have any favorite healthy, budget-friendly, quick-and-easy recipes, send them my way! There are also interests in diabetic-friendly, low-sodium, and kid-friendly recipes. I’m compiling recipes onto a nutrition-focused site, and of course, anything you send will be credited.

As a starting point, here’s a recipe I tested last night: Zucchini Noodle-less Lasagna, which replaces pasta sheets with zucchini slices, ricotta with cottage cheese, and packs a punch of spinach. At 120 calories, 12g of protein, 9g of carbohydrates, and 91 cents per serving, this certainly fits the bill of health and budget-friendliness.


Here’s to putting our creative minds and cooking talents together! You can send me any of your recipes, thoughts, or ideas to

Zucchini Noodle-less Lasagna
Makes 15 servings
5 medium zucchini

10 oz frozen spinach
24 oz 2% cottage cheese
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
3/4 cup parmesan cheese
1 cup mozzarella cheese
2 1/2 cups tomato sauce (recipe below)*
Slice zucchini lengthwise into 1/4-inch strips. Sprinkle lightly with salt and place in a colander to drain for 20 minutes. Pat dry with paper towels.
Meanwhile, thaw spinach according to package directions. Combine thawed spinach with cottage cheese, basil, and oregano.
Preheat oven to 425F. Line a 9×13 baking pan with foil or lightly grease with cooking spray. Place 1/2 cup of tomato sauce into the pan and spread it out evenly. Place 1/3 of the zucchini slices in single strips to form one layer across pan. Spread half of the cottage cheese mixture on top of the zucchini slices. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup of parmesan cheese and 1/3 cup mozzarella cheese. Layer an additional 1/2 cup of tomato suace, 1/3 of zucchini slices, remaining cottage cheese, and 1/4 cup of parmesan cheese and 1/3 cup of mozzarella cheese. For final layer, use remaining sauce, zucchini, and parmesan and mozzarella cheeses.
Cover with foil and bake for 50 minutes. Uncover and broil on HIGH for 5 minutes until top is slightly golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to sit for at least 15 minutes before serving.
*May also use prepared canned or jarred tomato sauce. Try to choose a low sodium version if available.
Tomato Sauce
Courtesy of Laura Cohen
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp fresh basil, thinly sliced, or 1 tbsp dried basil
1 clove garlic finely chopped or 2 tsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp red pepper flake
1 small onion, finely diced
1 carrot, finely diced
2 28-oz cans crushed tomatoes
salt and pepper
sugar (optional)
Place olive oil, basil, garlic, and red pepper flake into a large pot or dutch oven and heat on low, simmering for 10-15 minutes and stirring often (careful not to burn garlic!). Add diced onion and carrot to olive oil mixture and saute for 15-20 minutes on medium-low heat until softened. Add crushed tomatoes and a sprinkle of salt, pepper, and sugar to taste. Simmer for 20-30 minutes on medium-low heat and adjust seasoning according to taste. Remove from heat and use for lasagna recipe, or store for later use!