5 FLOTUS Family Dinners for Under $12

8 minute read

Cooking doesn’t have to be an expensive, labor-intensive chore. That notion may well be the legacy of Michelle Obama—“the First Lady of food”—who’s on the cover of Cooking Light this month.

Studies show that cooking at home is healthier and costs less than eating out, yet putting dinner on the table that’s both healthy and tasty is a scary proposition for many families. “A lot of people think that a meal requires some sautéing and sauces and double boilers,” Michelle Obama told Cooking Light in an interview. “I mean, it looks really intimidating. But broiling a chicken is probably one of the simplest, quickest things you can do.”

Inspired by Mrs. Obama’s Let’s Move! program, Cooking Light developed a curriculum for home cooks who want to make fast, healthy dinners for mere dollars. Each meal costs less than $12 for four people and takes less than 30 minutes to make.

Head to CookingLight.com for more First Lady-approved recipes.

Smoky Two-Bean Vegetarian Chili

Flotus Michelle Obama Recipes: Chili
Jennifer Causey for Cooking Light

Cost for 4: $4.69

Hands-on: 15 min. Total: 28 min.

A wee bit of canned chipotle chiles goes a long way in infusing this hearty chili with rich, smoky flavor and a hint of heat.

1 tablespoon olive oil
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
1 small green bell pepper, chopped (about 1 cup)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 cup water
2 teaspoons finely chopped chipotle chiles, canned in adobo sauce
1 teaspoon salt
1⁄2 teaspoon black pepper
2 (15-ounce) cans unsalted black beans, drained
1 (15-ounce) can unsalted pinto beans, drained
1 (14.5-ounce) can unsalted petite diced tomatoes, undrained

Heat a Dutch oven or large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat.
Add garlic, onion, and bell pepper; sauté 4 minutes.
Add cumin; sauté 30 seconds.
Stir in 1 cup water and remaining ingredients.
Bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes.
Remove 1 cup bean mixture from pan with a slotted spoon; place in a bowl. Mash beans with a fork.
Stir mashed beans into chili. Simmer 5 minutes.

Serves 4 (serving size: about 11⁄2 cups)

CALORIES 233; FAT 3.6g (sat 0.5g, mono 2.5g, poly 0.4g); PROTEIN 12g; CARB 38g; FIBER 11g; CHOL 0mg; IRON 4mg; SODIUM 655mg; CALC 128mg

3 Ways to Riff:

Add ground turkey or ground beef for a meaty version; cook it with the veggies.
Use any other type of bean: kidney beans, chickpeas (garbanzo beans), or red beans.
Swap in 1 can of hominy or 1 cup frozen corn in place of 1 can of beans.

Quick and Easy Green Beans

Flotus Michelle Obama Recipes: Green Beans
Jennifer Causey for Cooking Light

Cost for 4: $1.12

Hands-on: 6 min. Total: 6 min.

Here’s a fast, efficient way to cook green beans (and other vegetables), eliminating the fuss of bringing a large pot of water to a boil or draining the veggies.

12 ounces trimmed green beans
1⁄4 cup water
1 tablespoon butter or olive oil
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
1⁄4 teaspoon black pepper

Place green beans in a large skillet; pour in 1⁄4 cup water.
Bring to a boil over high heat. As soon as water comes to a boil, cover pan and cook 3 minutes.
Uncover pan, and stir in butter. Cook 1 minute or until water evaporates and beans are crisp-tender.
Sprinkle beans with salt and pepper.

Serves 4 (serving size: about 1⁄2 cup)

CALORIES 52; FAT 3.1g (sat 1.9g, mono 0.8g, poly 0.2g); PROTEIN 2g; CARB 6g; FIBER 2g; CHOL 8mg; IRON 1mg; SODIUM 179mg; CALC 33mg

3 Ways to Riff:

Try this technique with cut asparagus, broccoli or cauliflower florets, thinly sliced zucchini or yellow squash, or quartered radishes.
You can also try with carrot chunks, butternut squash cubes, or halved Brussels sprouts; just double the cook time and add more water if the pan dries out.
Cook tender leafy greens (spinach, baby kale, Swiss chard, or mustard greens) this way; just use a Dutch oven or other large pot with a lid.

One-Pot Pasta with Spinach

Flotus Michelle Obama Recipes: Pasta
Jennifer Causey for Cooking Light

Cost for 4: $8.43

Hands-on: 29 min. Total: 29 min.

This fast pasta dinner is a game changer: Everything goes into one pot with just enough liquid to cook the pasta—no colander needed; it all stays in the pot. Recipe adapted from our sister publication Southern Living.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 (14.5-ounce) can unsalted petite diced tomatoes, undrained
11⁄2 cups unsalted chicken stock (such as Swanson)
1⁄2 teaspoon dried oregano
8 ounces whole-grain spaghetti or linguine (such as Barilla)
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
10 ounces fresh spinach
1 ounce Parmesan cheese, grated (about 1⁄4 cup)

Heat a Dutch oven or large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add oil; swirl to coat.
Add onion and garlic to pan; sauté 3 minutes or until onion starts to brown.
Add tomatoes, stock, oregano, and pasta, in that order. Bring to a boil.
Stir to submerge noodles in liquid.
Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook 7 minutes.
Uncover; stir in salt.
Add spinach in batches, stirring until spinach wilts. Remove from heat; let stand 5 minutes.
Sprinkle with cheese.

Serves 4 (serving size: about 2 cups pasta mixture and 1 tablespoon cheese)

CALORIES 333; FAT 7.1g (sat 2g, mono 3.2g, poly 1.1g); PROTEIN 15g; CARB 55g; FIBER 9g; CHOL 5mg; IRON 5mg; SODIUM 538mg; CALC 197mg

3 Ways to Riff:

Switch from canned tomatoes to fresh grape tomatoes, as shown on our cover. Add your favorite fresh herbs.
Swap out spaghetti for any short pasta shape, such as elbow macaroni, rotini, or shells.
Try adding chopped skinless, boneless chicken thighs, sausage, or ground turkey for a heartier dish.

Parmesan Chicken Breast Tenders

FC March 2015
Jennifer Causey

Cost for 4: $8.61

Hands-on: 15 min. Total: 20 min.

We call for chicken breast tenders here to keep things easy, but you can also use skinless, boneless chicken breasts (which are less expensive). Just cut each breast lengthwise into 3 strips.

1.5 ounces all-purpose flour (about 1⁄3 cup)
3 tablespoons fine-ground cornmeal
1 ounce Parmesan cheese, finely grated (about 1⁄4 cup)
1⁄2 teaspoon garlic powder
1⁄2 teaspoon onion powder
1⁄2 teaspoon black pepper
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
1⁄2 cup nonfat buttermilk
1 large egg, lightly beaten
8 chicken breast tenders (about 11⁄4 pounds)
1 1⁄2 tablespoons canola oil
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 425°. Combine first 7 ingredients in a medium shallow dish.
Combine buttermilk and egg in another shallow dish.
Dip chicken in buttermilk mixture.
Dredge chicken in flour mixture.
Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil; swirl to coat. Add chicken to pan; cook 3 minutes on each side or until browned.
Transfer chicken to a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Bake at 425° for 5 minutes or until chicken is done.

Serves 4 (serving size: 2 tenders)

CALORIES 336; FAT 12.2g (sat 2.8g, mono 5.5g, poly 2.4g); PROTEIN 37g; CARB 17g; FIBER 1g; CHOL 143mg; IRON 2mg; SODIUM 481mg; CALC 145mg

3 Ways to Riff:

Cut chicken into bite-sized pieces for nuggets.
Use skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into strips, for richer flavor.
Try the breading on tilapia for homemade fish sticks.

Beef Chorizo Tacos with Cabbage Slaw

Flotus Michelle Obama Recipes: Tacos
Jennifer Causey for Cooking Light

Cost for 4: $8.37

Hands-on: 25 min. Total: 25 min.

Each person gets three filling tacos for a satisfying meal with lots of fresh veggie crunch. A good hit of garlic, paprika, cumin, and vinegar turns regular ground beef into near-instant, much leaner Mexican-style chorizo than one traditionally made with pork.

4 cups very thinly sliced red cabbage
1⁄3 cup cilantro leaves
3 tablespoons white vinegar, divided
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3⁄4 teaspoon salt, divided
1 tablespoon paprika
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1⁄2 teaspoon black pepper
5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 pound 90% lean ground sirloin
12 (6-inch) corn tortillas

Combine cabbage and cilantro in a medium bowl.
Combine 1 tablespoon vinegar, 1 tablespoon oil, and 1⁄4 teaspoon salt in a small bowl, stirring with a fork or whisk.
Drizzle vinegar mixture over cabbage mixture; toss well to combine. Set aside.
Combine remaining 2 tablespoons vinegar, remaining 2 tablespoons oil, remaining 1⁄2 teaspoon salt, paprika, cumin, pepper, and garlic, stirring well with a fork or whisk.
Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add beef; cook 5 minutes or until browned and done, stirring to crumble.
Stir in vinegar-spice mixture; cook 2 minutes or until liquid almost evaporates.
Heat tortillas over medium-high heat directly on the eye of a gas or electric burner or in a skillet for about 10 seconds on each side or until lightly charred.
Spoon about 1⁄4 cup beef mixture and 1⁄4 cup slaw into each tortilla.

Serves 4 (serving size: 3 tacos)

CALORIES 443; FAT 23.5g (sat 6.1g, mono 12.4g, poly 2.4g); PROTEIN 27g; CARB 34g; FIBER 6g; CHOL 74mg; IRON 4mg; SODIUM 549mg; CALC 91mg

3 Ways to Riff:

Swap in ground turkey or ground chicken for ground beef.

For crunchy tostadas, crisp the tortillas in a 400° oven, and assemble chorizo and slaw on top.

Try this as a modern take on taco salad: Chop cabbage, and use the slaw as salad base; top with chorizo, and serve with tortilla chips.

More Must-Reads From TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com