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Try the $10 Challenge

Here’s how to feed a family of four on a budget without skimping on taste or nutrition.

July 10, 2018

By John Arnold

Healthy and tasty doesn't have to mean expensive. Just ask the MSU Denver nutrition students who recently took the $10 Challenge, a fun and creative cooking activity developed by the nonprofit group Cooking Matters to help low-income families shop for and prepare healthy food.

RELATED: 5 healthy and budget-friendly recipes

Students drew cards representing each of the five food groups and then had to use those cards to come up with a dinner recipe for four. The catch: They could spend only $10 on the ingredients. The results (see the recipes below) were delicious. The lesson for future dietitians was even more valuable.

 $10 Challenge Recipes

Mexican Burrito Bowl Bake


  • 1 cup dry brown rice
  • 1 cup dry black beans
  • 1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 2 ears corn
  • 1 onion (chopped to preference)
  • 1 bell pepper (chopped to preference)
  • 1 jalapeno pepper (diced)
  • 1 lime
  • 1 avocado (sliced)


  1. In a large pot, bring beans and 5 cups of water to a boil for 2-3 minutes, remove from heat, cover and soak beans for at least 1 hour
  2. Place black beans in a large pot; cover with fresh water, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, simmer until beans are tender but firm.
  3. Bring rice and 2 cups of water to a boil in a medium saucepan, reduce heat, simmer, cover and cook until rice is tender and has absorbed all of the liquid.
  4. Preheat oven to 350°.
  5. Cut off bottom end of each ear of corn still in the husk. Microwave both ears of corn at the same time (still in the husk) for 6 minutes.
  6. Let ears of corn cool, peel husk, and shave corn off the cob.
  7. Pour canned diced tomatoes into a large sauté pan on medium heat.
  8. Add chopped onions, bell peppers, jalapenos and juice of ½ lime to the diced tomatoes, and sauté to personal preference.
  9. Combine rice, black beans, corn, sautéed onions, bell peppers, jalapenos and diced tomatoes in a large casserole dish, sprinkle shredded cheddar cheese on top, and bake until hot throughout and cheese is melted.
  10. Garnish with sliced avocado and other half of fresh squeezed lime juice.
Veggie & Chickpea Pasta


  • 16 oz penne pasta whole wheat
  • 1 T canola oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion sliced into strips
  • 1 medium green bell pepper sliced into strips
  • 1 large zucchini grated
  • 1 large carrot grated
  • 28 oz diced tomatoes canned, low sodium
  • 15 oz tomato sauce canned, low sodium
  • 6 oz tomato paste canned, low sodium
  • 15 oz chickpeas canned, low sodium, rinsed & drained
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • mozzarella cheese shredded/grated


  1. Drain and rinse beans; set aside. Slice bell pepper and onion into strips. Grate carrot and zucchini.
  2. Begin heating a large pot of water to a boil to cook the pasta.
  3. Heat 1 T canola oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions and saute until soft and beginning to brown, about 4-5 minutes. Stir occasionally.
  4. Add bell peppers and cook for another 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Add grated zucchini and carrot, stir to mix evenly. Reduce heat to medium and cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring frequently.
  6. Add all canned tomatoes to the vegetable mixture, and stir to melt tomato paste throughout the sauce. Bring sauce to a simmer and reduce heat to low, leaving the sauce to simmer uncovered. Season with salt and pepper. Stir every few minutes.
  7. When the water is boiling, add pasta to the water and cook according to package instructions (about 7-10 minutes).
  8. Allow sauce to continue simmering while the pasta cooks. Add the drained chickpeas to the sauce when 2-3 minutes are left of the pasta cooking time. Continue stirring occasionally.
  9. Drain the pasta once cooked, and combine with the sauce in whichever cooking pot is largest (pasta pot or saucepan).
  10. Serve as is, or topped with shredded mozzarella cheese.
Baked Falafel


  • 2 15-ounce cans chickpeas (see Recipe Note for dry chickpea version)
  • 1/2 large red onion, roughly chopped (about 1 cup chopped)
  • 4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1 large red pepper
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 2 teaspoons coriander
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 packet whole wheat pitas


  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Brush or rub a baking sheet with a thin layer of olive oil or non-stick spray.
  2. Add the chickpeas, onion, and garlic to food processor. Sprinkle the lemon juice and spices over top.
  3. Pulse the food processor 10 or 12 times, until the chickpeas are chopped and all the ingredients are mixed.
  4. Taste and add more herbs, spices or lemon juice, if you like.
  5. Sprinkle the baking powder and flour over the mixture.
  6. Continue to mix the chickpeas in pulses, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, until the mixture forms a ball when you squeeze it in your hand. You can completely purée the mixture, or leave it fairly chunky.
  7. The falafel mixture can be transferred to an airtight container and refrigerated for up to 5 days. Refrigerating also helps the mixture firm up and be less crumbly when baked.
  8. Using your hands, scoop up some of the mixture and form it into a ball in your hand. The exact amount doesn't matter — just make sure that all your falafel balls are roughly the same size so they bake at the same rate.
  9. Transfer the falafel balls to the baking sheet and gently press into patties roughly 1/2-inch thick. Pressing the patties increases the surface contact with the baking sheet and makes the baked falafels crispier. If the patties break a little as you press them, just pat back into shape.
  10. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, flipping the falafel partway through. The falafel are fairly delicate so be gentle when flipping them. If one does fall apart, just press it back together with the back of your spatula. When finished cooking, the falafel should be golden brown on both sides and feel dry to the touch, but still give a little when you press the middle.
  11. Serve in whole wheat pita topped with diced red peppers and cheese to taste and a side of canned pineapple.

For falafel with Dry Chickpeas: Soak 1 3/4 cups of dry chickpeas in a bowl of water overnight. They should double in size to give you about 3 1/2 cups of chickpeas. When ready, you should be able to break apart a chickpea with your fingers.

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