How Do I Food?
April 4, 2017 8:03 AM   Subscribe

I CONSISTENTLY struggle with everything involved in the realm of feeding myself: meal planning, grocery shopping, preparing/cooking food, making healthy food choices, getting the right nutrients into my body… all of it. I am a grown up and should have this sorted, but I just don’t and it’s time to admit it. How do I get this basic life skill?

Right now I end up eating pasta w/canned sauce several times a week because it’s easy, or random awful combinations of what’s left in the cupboards (like peanut butter on a kinda-stale leftover hot dog bun and a boxed rice side), or just getting takeout. A couple times a month I will get it together enough to make a big ol’ multi-step recipe but it takes a lot of time and effort and the results of my labor last maybe 3-4 meals and then it’s gone and I’m back to square one.

I don’t even know where to start, honestly, but I envision a life in which I know how to throw together simple, minimalist meals relatively quickly and easily (that are at least mostly healthy). My challenges are things like: I am kind of a picky eater, I don’t know what a good meal should even include (protein, right? probably other nutrients?), I don’t know how to predict/plan all my meals at the beginning of a week and then stick to that plan, I get so overwhelmed at the grocery store that I end up buying the same few (unhealthy) items every time, my schedule is always changing and I don’t always have a day off every week as a ‘prep’ day, I lose track of what’s in the freezer/fridge and stuff ends up going bad. I just want to buy a bunch of food every week and then be able to put it together into meals every day!

So, I’ll take any advice you have about how to ‘adult’ in this specific area of life. Is this an instance in which I should go see a dietician to explain all this to me? Do you have a “formula” that you use for figuring out what to buy and then how to put those ingredients together, or any type of organization system related to food? Or if you can steer me towards resources that will teach me how to feed myself, I’ll take that too. My ideal life is minimal energy/effort put towards food, simple healthy-ish meals most days, and then being free to focus on the rest of my life.
posted by carlypennylane to Food & Drink (50 answers total) 93 users marked this as a favorite
 
I mean, this is what Blue Apron/other meal boxes are for. You don't mention your finances but if you're willing to throw money at the problem that is the easiest solution.
posted by crazy with stars at 8:14 AM on April 4 [5 favorites]


Dinner for us = one protein, one starch (rice/bread/pasta, or a starchy veg like potatoes or cauliflower), and 1-2 vegetables. You need some fat too to make sure it sticks. I'm sure we could do better on veggies, but this works well enough. We have about 10 meals we rotate through. So, rice/tortillas, beans, greens (kale, lettuce, mustard greens, etc) with cheese and salsa is one meal. Or maybe we sub in sweet potatoes for the rice or tortillas. Another meal is pan-cooked salmon with rice or sweet potatoes and something green. Another one is a vegetable and cheese frittata. Pasta with veggies and cheese, or with meat sauce. In the summer we eat pasta salads, in the winter, soup. Rice-based bowls are good because there's a lot of directions you can go (bi bim bop, roast veggies and chickpeas, beans, etc). We try to make extra of everything so we have it for lunch the next day or to freeze. Since we have a set of meals, we pretty much always buy the same things at the store and then just switch it up. So a shopping list always includes our set veggies, beans if we're low, eggs, cheese, etc. We usually buy fish or meat the day we plan to make it, but meat freezes really well. We figure out what we're making for dinner the night before and wash/chop vegetables after dinner so that it's easier to cook the next night.

Sunday night we washed greens. Last night we had black beans, roast sweet potatoes, sauteed greens, topped with cheese and salsa. After dinner I washed and chopped broccoli and tonight we'll roast that and have with salmon and rice. Tonight I'll probably chop leeks and we'll have a leek and cheese frittata tomorrow. Etc.

We also have a giant white board that lists what vegetables etc we have in the fridge, what we need to buy, and what we have frozen.

Also, there's nothing wrong with eggs, toast, and an apple for dinner at least once a week. Or grilled cheese and carrots. Or having the same thing every Monday, or whatever.
posted by john_snow at 8:19 AM on April 4 [6 favorites]


You need three types of food:

- healthy snacks for when it's All Too Hard (eg a handful of almonds; a glass of almond milk; eating hummus out of the tub with a teaspoon; boiled eggs that you boiled up beforehand and then stuck in the fridge for later)

- pre-prepared meals for when you're too physically/mentally exhausted or too sick or too busy to cook;

- things you can batch-cook when you have time and energy and microwave later.

These categories can be divided into things that have a long shelf life, that you can shop for every month,

and things that have a short shelf life that you need to shop for every week.

Ideally, every day you should eat:

- some kind of protein (eggs, fish, chicken, beef, nuts, cheese, lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans, tofu, soy);

- some kind of fresh fruit(s);

- some kinds of vegetables. Ideally one orange vegetable [e.g Acorn Squash; Butternut Squash; Carrots; Hubbard Squash; Pumpkin; Sweet Potatoes] and one dark green vegetable, as orange vegetables contain very different nutrients to dark green vegetables. (Nutritionists often recommend that people try to "eat the rainbow.")

- and some kind of wholegrain cereal like brown rice/quinoa/wholemeal pasta/wholemeal bread.
posted by Sockpuppets 'R' Us at 8:24 AM on April 4 [16 favorites]


Came to suggest meal subscription boxes too. I personally do Blue Apron, but there are a tonne out there so if you are a fussy eater you'll find one that suits your needs. My husband and I have been eating so much healthier using the boxes. I like it because it's introducing us to veggies & sides we'd never normally have tried so I'm learning a lot including cooking techniques.

There are also apps like this or this to make meal planning & shopping easier.

Don't overwhelm yourself trying to make 7 perfect dinners a week. Start with OK I'll eat well every Monday, Wednesday & Friday say (or whatever works for you even if it changes weekly or is only one day a week) then as your confidence builds add more days. Trying to dive into a full week of meal shopping, prep, planning etc can be overwhelming.
posted by wwax at 8:26 AM on April 4 [4 favorites]


There's an app called Mealime that I find really helpful. You can scroll through some meal ideas until you find something that sounds good, then it will create a grocery list for you based on what you selected. Each recipe comes with a list of ingredients, kitchen items you will need, and step-by-step directions. The recipes are generally healthy, interesting, but not too difficulty to make. You could probably just start with two meals a week, which would give you enough leftovers for two additional meals to kind of ease into the habit. It's much easier than trying to plan for separate proteins and sides and then combining recipes and ingredient lists.
posted by galvanized unicorn at 8:26 AM on April 4 [7 favorites]


I'm of the "cooking is overrated school."

Frozen, canned, and dried foods are your friend. You don't have to worry about it going bad, or overbuying, and you can buy a bunch at once. It doesn't have to be fresh to be healthy (see We think fresh is best. But to fight food waste, we need to think again.)

Canned fish, beans, tomatoes. Frozen shrimp, vegetables (which are generally healthier, cheaper, and, quicker than fresh). Freeze decent bread and toast it. (Healthwise, there's nothing wrong with peanut butter on a stale hot dog bun as your main dish, but it tastes better on decent bread and is healthier on a whole grain bread. Hummus is another good topping and lasts for weeks in the fridge.) Eggs last almost forever in the fridge; scrambled eggs is also a fine main dish. For less work, hard boil a dozen eggs at the beginning of the week.

There are healthy frozen prepared foods; Trader Joes is a good source if you're close.

You're not going to go from where you are to gourmet chef. That's fine. You just need to have a list of 5-10 options that take 5 minutes, are reasonably healthy, and that you will enjoy.

Previously:
easy x delicious?
Is cooking meals a good use of time?
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 8:33 AM on April 4 [17 favorites]


I totally agree that cooking is overrated! It works for those people who have the time and skills to make food (and clean up afterwards, my personal bugbear) and also for those people who enjoy cooking. But everyone isn't created equal and it might just be that cooking from scratch is not going to work for you. For me, cooking is a leisure activity, something for weekends or one of those rare weekday evenings where I'm not running a bunch of after-work errands.

I actually don't see anything wrong with eating pasta with canned sauce a bunch of times a week - as far as I can see that covers 3 basic food groups - starch, fat and vegetables. You're only missing a protein if you want to get all the major food groups in, so all you need to do is boil an egg or something. Canned and frozen foods are a great and affordable way of filling up your pantry without the pressure of using it up by a certain point as is often the case with fresh food.

Don't beat yourself up for not having instagram-worthy, cooked-from-scratch fancy food everyday.
posted by Ziggy500 at 8:49 AM on April 4 [1 favorite]


A few thoughts:

1. The amount of time you invest in learning a few staple, easy recipes pays off long term - it gets easier and easier to make those things.

2. For efficiency if you think of meals as having components you can mix and match well. For example, if you get a half chicken at a deli counter, you can have the leg and thigh for one meal, and then have the breast (depending on size and appetite) as one or two further meals - a chicken sandwich, a caesar salad with chicken. Making rice one night becomes fried rice in night two. If you have rice and chicken the first night that can be chicken-fried-rice the next night. One advantage to this as you are learning is you can buy one part of the dish and make the side dishes or just the vegetables or whatever - you are exercising the skill of cooking without having to put a full meal together.

3. If you post a few vegetables and mains you like, plus a few things you hate, since you say you are picky, I bet the hive can come up with a few 20-min meals for each. Then if you group those by component you can have a meal plan for say 2-3 weeks, and if you rotate that you'll get good at it and it will be efficient and work for you over and over.

4. The various food guides come under deserved scrutiny often but the over-simplified best explanation for a lot of people (your body may vary!) is to eat a protein the size of a deck of cards, usually a lower-fat one, a carb-based side dish (rice, potatoes, barley, bread, etc.) about a 1/4 of a small dinner plate, leaning towards whole grains when possible, and then cover the other half of your plate in vegetables. I think that's a decent place to start, even if you're getting takeout or shopping a salad bar.

One thought:

I'm all for good nutrition, but you don't have to cook to get it if you have money to throw at the problem. Shopping at grocery store salad bar or hot counters, if you choose sensibly, can be fine and easy, or one of the meal delivery services.
posted by warriorqueen at 8:53 AM on April 4


It seems like you want to tackle a lot at once. This is almost always a bad idea.

I'd suggest starting with a small goal - maybe cooking one "real" meal per week. Build from there. I've been listening to Sid Garza-Hillman's "Approaching the Natural" podcast, and it helped me decide to set a goal of eating a salad every day. Garza-Hillman calls himself "the small steps advocate." That philosophy works really well for me.

Dietitians can be all over the place in terms of how helpful they are. You might find someone who would help you set reasonable goals - you might end up with someone who would expect you to change everything overnight.

I was given one of those Blue Apron type meal services for one week, and I don't think it sounds ideal for you. I ended up with the same problem of a lot of stuff to cook and worrying about things going bad. Plus it was more of a time investment than I felt like making at the end of a workday. So if you want to give it a try, go ahead, but if it's not your thing, don't feel like you've failed.

On preview: you don't need to add a "protein" to your pasta meals. If you get enough calories and don't eat junk, it's impossible to be protein deficient. Some people claim to feel better with more protein, and I would never argue with how people feel, but there's no scientific basis for needing something called a protein. All whole foods have protein.
posted by FencingGal at 8:56 AM on April 4 [2 favorites]


People seem intimidated by cookbooks, but they work very well for me, as someone who isn't very good at improvising in the kitchen or meal planning. I put whatever books seem interesting on hold at my local library, and when I pick it up, I will spend a bit of time looking through it. If I find something I like, I use post-it tabs on recipes I want to make, decide what I'm in the mood for, write down the ingredients I need and take that list to the grocery store. I find the Better Homes & Gardens cookbooks great for simple meals. There are also cookbooks geared toward picky adult eaters.

I don’t know how to predict/plan all my meals at the beginning of a week and then stick to that plan

Realize a lot of people do this but plenty of people cook a little bit throughout the week--there isn't one true way to do this. A lot of it will depend on your finances as well. A lot of cooking advice is geared towards coupon-cutters and/or people who have to cook for a family, and want/need to save money while doing so.
posted by girlmightlive at 8:59 AM on April 4


I have also struggled with this issue (while additionally being vegetarian and someone who very very quickly tires of a recipe), still haven't totally figured it out yet. That being said, the best advice I can give you as a person who was in your position very very recently is to find a few reliable cookbooks and food blogs. It will, unfortunately, take trial and error- recommendations can only get you so far when everyone's tastes are so different- but once you've got even one or two where you can flip to a random page and be confident that the recipe will be to your liking, it will lessen the mental burden immensely.

One thing that helped was seeing someone's recommendation list, trying the one that they considered the best, and finding that that cookbook really clicked with me, and in particular the recipes that they pointed out. I then found that I also had a much higher success rate with the cookbooks and recipes that they recommended than with other recommendation lists I'd tried, despite the fact that this person was just a random person and not someone who had any professional relationship with food. In other words: find someone else with similar tastes and constraints, and let them do the research for you.

Additional advice: start with one culture whose food you generally like (say, Italian or Indian). Every dish in that culture will probably draw from the same set of basic staples (say, spices for Indian, herbs for Italian) and rely on the same set of preparation methods.

Also, start with trying to learn just a couple of basic dishes and variants on them. I started with soup and pasta, and I recommend them- healthy, fairly easy, everyone likes them. So, make say a tomato soup one week, a broccoli cheddar the next, a potato soup... you'll get variety while still gaining experience in basic soup-making. It also, again, lessens the mental burden of picking a recipe out if you know that at least one recipe a week will be some form of soup.

Go grocery shopping with a list. My parents don't do this; I do; I attribute our significant difference in daily food-related stress levels (and weekly grocery shop visits) to this.

Recommendations for cookbooks and food blogs: Smitten Kitchen is my favorite food blog, though her recipes are sometimes pricey/time-consuming. Pasta e Verdura is my single favorite cookbook- 50+ variants on vegetarian pasta dishes that are all very easy and good. It's so good that I've been considering posting an AskMe looking for more single-dish cookbooks. Most of the other food blogs/cookbooks I've tried have been more hit-or-miss, but I like (food blogs) Orangette, Serious Eats, the New York Times Cooking, Pioneer Woman; (cookbooks) The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian. The NYT and Serious Eats in particular though are often targeted to a... particular income strata, let's put it that way, but there are cheaper gems contained within. (I especially adore the NYT Cooking Guides).

Finally: I should probably emphasize that I (1) enjoy cooking and (2) have a probably unhealthy desire for novelty, so that's where a lot of my advice is coming from. My parents and grandparents had a stock set of 10-12 recipes at most that they rotated through. One recipe in particular (for a sort of pasta soup) we'd often eat 4-5 times a week. If cooking isn't inherently enjoyable to you once you've tried it out properly, it may be best to think of some dishes you're sure you could never tire of, that are reliable, cost-effective, and easy, try out several different recipes for each until you've found one you really like, and spend your time and effort on perfecting your preparation to the point where it's effortless, after which food will be much easier.
posted by perplexion at 9:01 AM on April 4 [1 favorite]


I don't see anything about budget or family situation in your post, but seriously cooking for one is the worst. Recipes are usually for 2-6 servings, so typically there are tons of leftovers that may or may not get eaten. There is also the situation of buying ingredients for a recipe, only to have them unused by the expiration date. Then, in additional to cooking food that you may not eat all of there is the clean up required.

Is there a reason why your question is focused on cooking at home? Yes, it is more economical, but in my experience it's really a matter of scale. Eating out all of the time for a family of 4 adds up quick. For 1 person, it's not as much as a difference.

People say eating out is more unhealthy, and it can be if you eat Pizza and Popeye's all of the time. But, there can be a lot of healthy options, depending on where you live. Around where I live, there are a lot of salad places, in addition to ethnic options such as Mediterranean and thai which can be very healthy depending on what you order. In terms of what to order to be healthy, it's pretty simple - avoid sugars, deep fried items, processed food (Ex: lunch meats most typical fast food), and too many carbs. Try to load up on vegetables, fruits, proteins and complex, unprocessed carbohydrates (some people avoid carbs altogether).

Cooking at home isn't for everyone. It can definitely be healthier and save money, but there are ways to be healthy eating outside of the home. Perhaps something to consider.
posted by seesom at 9:06 AM on April 4 [1 favorite]


So I live off the same two meals a day and dinner is kind of dealer's choice.

Breakfast:
Good Food Made Simple Frozen Egg White Patty (heat for 75 seconds in microwave) with two slices of Sargento Thin Sliced Cheddar Cheese and two slices of Canadian Bacon on Foldit Flatout 5 Grain Flax Flatbread (ignore the dumb header and scroll past it). Once the egg is done you heat the whole sammitch for 25 seconds to make the cheese super cheesy. I literally eat this every day. No shame. It's delicious and good for me.

Lunch is protein, veg, starch. This is usually chicken thighs or breasts that I've cooked all at once (like, a package that I cook all of it and I eat one for dinner, the rest are for lunches or dinner through the week - cooking all of them at once takes no more time than cooking one after all), kale I sautee out of a bag of precut kale, and brown or basmati rice (again I make several servings when I'm making dinner and just eat on that all week).

Dinner is some kind of mix and match of the stuff I've got on hand for lunch or I eat out or someone else cooks.

Routine makes things easy. Don't worry about variety. Find something you can do (like my example above) and that you WILL DO (like, I am not going to cook oatmeal. I do not know why. I just won't), and keep doing it. Once you have the one routine down, you will start to feel like you can freestyle around it.
posted by Medieval Maven at 9:35 AM on April 4 [2 favorites]


Do you have a “formula” that you use for figuring out what to buy and then how to put those ingredients together, or any type of organization system related to food?

I basically live off of stir fries*. Buy frozen chicken breasts or thighs (or ask for them individually wrapped at a butcher counter so you can easily freeze them yourself), frozen salmon filets (often available in bulk), beef (skirt steak is good for this), or firm tofu.

Additional flavor/variety comes from what vegetables you decide to throw in the stir fry, what oil you use, what seasonings you add, and what you serve it with (Noodles? Rice? Diced potatoes, which I like for curries?)

It's pretty inexpensive, fast, easy to scale for 1-2 people without a lot of leftovers, and just enough work/variety to feel like you're actually cooking.

*For dinner. Breakfast is cereal if I'm in a hurry, or some kind of egg scramble on weekends, and lunch is sandwiches and fruit.
posted by AndrewInDC at 9:39 AM on April 4


Two parts to this question:

"I am kind of a picky eater, I don’t know what a good meal should even include"

There really aren't rules here. Some people will tell you there are, but unless you're super-concerned about nutrition, don't worry. Eat what you want to eat. What do you order when you get takeout? Just recreate that. Pay attention to menu combinations, and to what other people order. You'll see that people don't often order tomato soup with spaghetti, or baked potatoes with hot dogs, but that mashed potatoes and pork chops are a good mix. Get a feel for menu planning that way: by copying off of people who already know what goes well together.

"I just want to buy a bunch of food every week and then be able to put it together into meals every day!"

This is the fun part. ("Fun", because I actually hate cooking, but I love eating, and so I cook.) First, buy yourself a spice rack that comes with a bunch of spices already. We have something like this, although not nearly so expensive. Then google "kitchen staple list" and buy those things (stuff like flour, sugar, salt, eggs, and butter). This will give you a base for most recipes. It's probably not a bad idea to stock up on basic sauces and condiments like mustard, barbecue sauce, mayo, salad dressing, etc. These keep for a long time in the fridge.

Next, buy a grill. You can find these for $15 at TJ Maxx. If you don't have outdoor space to grill, or you live somewhere where the weather is lousy, buy a George Foreman. Actually, get both. Grilling is the easiest way to cook meat, because the technique is literally just "put meat (or veggies) on grill, turn over, take meat off grill". That's it. You can't get any simpler than that. Buy a bunch of meat you can just throw on the grill: Frozen hamburger patties (Bubba brand is tastiest, but all stores have a generic brand that tastes just fine), bags of frozen chicken breast, sausage (hot dogs and brats, yeah, but there are all sorts of sausages from brands like Aidell's now), frozen salmon, shrimp, etc. You can leave it in the freezer more or less indefinitely, and you don't have to worry about thinking ahead to defrost. Just pull it out out of the freezer and start grilling. For special occasions, you can buy fresher meat like steak or pork chops. A charcoal grill is preferable because the charcoal flavor can make up for your inexperience. Even a mediocre charcoal-grilled burger is still pretty damn good. As you get better, you can start using seasonings and marinades. For variety, put your grilled meat between two slices of bread, with some cheese and a condiment, and boom, you've got a sandwich.

For sides, the easiest is a baked potato. The entire preparation is "microwave on high for 10 minutes, cut open, and top with whatever you want". Steamer bags of vegetables (e.g. Birdseye brand) are also good. They're easier to prepare than fresh ones, and they taste just as good. My wife and I prefer steamer green beans to fresh. Pro tip: whatever veggie it is, drizzle some olive oil and sprinkle some garlic salt over it.

For other side dishes, and for fancier dinners than you can make on your grill, buy prepared foods. Trader Joe's is the key here, if you have access to one. As I type this, I'm eating Trader Joe's gyros with Trader Joe's tzatziki. They have an unbelievable variety, and it's nearly universally delicious. Some favorites: guacamole, braised beef roast, frozen french fries, frozen mashed potatoes, gnocchi, and mac and cheese. If you live near a Wegman's, their prepared foods are also amazing. Most grocery stores, even awful ones, sell rotisserie chicken these days, and that's always a good meal. Everywhere sells heat-and-eat bread and dinner rolls now, too.

If you like soup, there are hundreds of options now, and since canned food is non-perishable, you can buy a bunch and then let it sit in your basement for years.

Mix some grilled meat, a steamer bag of veggies, a fancy side from Trader Joe's, and a heat-and-eat dinner roll, you'll have a pretty complete meal that's also pretty tasty. Some salad before, and some ice cream after, and you've got a dinner that will impress just about anyone but the snobbiest foodies, and it will only take 20 minutes to prepare.

For lunch, there's salad and/or deli sandwiches. There are dozens of AskMes about salads, but all you really need is a leafy green (spinach or romaine lettuce are the best) and some dressing. Everything else is just ornament. Play around until you find some you live. They sell pre-made salad mixes, too, if you really don't know what you're doing. For sandwiches, it's another pretty simple recipe: cold cuts plus bread; optionally cheese, mayo, mustard, lettuce, or tomato.

That should get you started. Once you start feeling comfortable in a kitchen, watch old episodes of Alton Brown, and you'll learn a lot of the rest.

You have made me hungry, even though I am eating.
posted by kevinbelt at 9:41 AM on April 4 [1 favorite]


I'm a dedicated, enthusiastic home cook but I am pretty sure that if I was living alone I'd lose that drive pretty quick. Cooking for one is the worst and on weekends that my husband goes out of town, I order dinner Friday night for myself and my son from a local Thai place that gives huge portions and we eat the leftovers for the entire rest of the weekend because blargh cooking for one person + a four-year-old, what's the point? A single friend of mine that I used to work with ate his lunch out every day, saved half the portion, and took that home for dinner.

I also do like Medieval Maven above. I have a standard breakfast (much less fancy: two strips of fake bacon, one scrambled egg with cheese, a cup of tea) and a standard lunch (a small piece of poached salmon and rice that I make over the weekend, plus just-add-hot-water miso soup in a jar with tofu). Dinner is some combination of one vegetarian protein (beans or tofu or vege fake meat product), one starch (pasta or noodles, rice, potato product, bread product), and a some kind of vegetable(s). Pasta with a can of garbanzo beans thrown in and tossed with some kale and tomatoes covers all those bases. That same dinner becomes minestrone if you cook it all together in a pot full of water. Tacos covers all the bases too (fake ground beef, taco shell, lettuce and tomato).
posted by soren_lorensen at 9:42 AM on April 4


My advice is to think in terms of basic ingredients, not recipes, and focus on assembling very simple meals with basically single-ingredient dishes.

Assuming you eat meat: Figure out a few cuts of meat and kinds of fish that aren't intimidating to you when you are shopping. You can learn more about the meat counter as you go along. Start off really basic. Ground beef, chicken breasts, pork chops, salmon are all easily identifiable and don't involve much more cooking than just frying them in a pan or baking them in the oven. Learn how to cook these things very simply and when you go shopping for the week, buy six or seven dinners worth so you know you will have something for dinner every night. Go to the vegetable aisle and buy several veggies you like, again about a weeks worth. You can boil or roast just about any veggie and put some butter or olive oil on it and it will taste great. Keep it really simple. Then learn one or two simple ways to cook potatoes (boiled, baked) and learn how to cook rice. For dinner, pick a protein and a veggie and a starch and just cook them and put them on a plate together and you have a nice meal. Butter is not bad for you and makes everything taste great!

You can go so far with this kind of cooking and just branch out gradually. Try pulled pork sometime when pork butt is on sale. Learn to cook another kind of grain. Learn to make scrambled eggs and have eggs with a veggie side, or make a frittata. Learn to make a pan sauce after you cook your chicken or pork chops.

Keep Parmesan, mustard, mayo or whatever condiments you like on hand. Eat leftovers for lunch. For breakfast, pick something like oatmeal or yogurt or whatever seems simple and nutritious to you and just make the same thing most days.

I think this is a great goal and wish you good luck!
posted by bluebird at 9:52 AM on April 4 [5 favorites]


What foods do you like? What foods do you particularly not like? Are there any cooking techniques you are already familiar with?
posted by bunderful at 9:55 AM on April 4


I don't like grocery shopping, so I have basically made a routine where I go to the grocery store once a week on my way home from a regularly-scheduled event. I get certain staple foods, and I permit myself to have what might be considered "snack" food in lieu of "cooking a meal." For example, last night's dinner was hard boiled eggs, a single-serving bag of baby carrots, and hummus. A weekend lunch might be rice cakes and peanut butter, bananas, and yogurt. Nothing fancy.

I also bought frozen broccoli florets and frozen peas to stir into my pasta. I eat quinoa and corn pasta -- maybe that has more nutritional heft than wheat pasta?

As you can see, it's pretty low-maintenance, but it's working for me so far. I eat out for lunch Monday through Friday, so those meals are more elaborate and interesting and satisfy my desire for novelty.

By the way, just because someone mentioned it above, I don't think hummus keeps for "weeks" in the fridge -- I think it's 4-6 days after opening.

Good luck!
posted by delight at 10:04 AM on April 4 [1 favorite]


Peanut butter on a hot dog bun? That's impressive! Are you sure you're a picky eater? (Just kidding, have totally been there, lol you haven't lived until you've tried oatmeal and canned squash). =)

I would recommend first getting into the groove with simple things. You can buy a bag of frozen broccoli, defrost and throw a can of tuna in it. Some cocktail sauce might be good on that.

Frozen fish fingers and frozen spinach might be nice.

Basically a protein and a green.

If you have the time, sauteed vegetables and chicken strips is incredible and completely worth it. Throw some soy sauce on there. It's amazing, very well worth learning as a regular recipe.

Seconding delight's suggestions of veggies (with hummus!) and boiled eggs. Quinoa is also extremely nice, if you feel like branching out.
posted by benadryl at 10:10 AM on April 4 [1 favorite]


I found "How to Cook without a Book" very helpful when I was learning to make weeknight dinners. It's focused on teaching you some simple recipes and techniques so that you can be the sort of person who looks in the fridge and goes, "Hm ... I'll throw together a stir fry."

I also find a big whiteboard in the kitchen very helpful. I tend to write the meals I have ingredients for (that I shopped for on the weekend) in order from most-spoilable to least-spoilable (like, a fresh green salad has to be eaten pretty soon after buying, but a meal where all ingredients are frozen, canned, or shelf-stable can wait), and then I just look at the whiteboard and go "It's cold, I'm tired, I'm making this easy dish" or "I feel kinda cookingy, I'll make the complicated thing." (I also write leftovers up there, so I remember what I have.)

Food spoilage happens to literally everyone -- in North America the average is around 20% of what people buy spoils without being eaten. Try not to let that frustrate you too much -- you will get better at it and let less go to waste, but there are plenty of people out there who are letting literally half of what they buy spoil! Even very good kitchen managers end up throwing out some food.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:11 AM on April 4 [4 favorites]


I am really in the midst of figuring this out, too. I probably will never be able to get a handle on the entire scope of it. But my new life philosophy of recent years is to just give myself a break.

If I had the money, I definitely would get a lot more prepared food. But believe me, eating out, getting take out or delivery, or even from the prepared food counter, is a lot more expensive than cooking at home, even for one person. I actually tested this once for two weeks: I ate at home three meals a day, and calculated the cost of food for each day. It averaged $6 a day, and that was even without trying to save on groceries at all. I can't get lunch in Midtown for $6.

Here are some of my current coping strategies:

(About me: I am single and live alone, have a full-time out-of-the-house job, am also pretty picky/limited in what I eat, and I think if a meal doesn't have meat/eggs, that's a snack.)

I don't personally mind eating the same thing all the time. So I sort take the capsule-wardrobe approach to eating. Fewer decisions.

For breakfast, I got one of the Hamilton Beach breakfast sandwich makers--it's awesome! But some mornings if that's too much effort, I've come back around to just effing cereal and milk (part of giving myself a break). Also instant oatmeal, or Greek yogurt plus granola. I also love cooking a huge batch of breakfast burritos to freeze and microwave (but I don't currently have a microwave).

For lunch if I don't have leftovers, I do sandwiches--I'll try to do turkey and cheese, but sometimes all I can do in the morning is peanut butter and jelly. Hot dogs are good, too! I try to have snacky vegetables and/or fruit.

For dinner, I also wind up doing a lot of pasta. I usually cook 1/2lb ground beef, throw a small can of tomatoes in, and then add that to 2 cups of dried pasta -- that's two meals, one for dinner, and one for lunch the next day. I have this a few times a week. For even more time-saving, I get the bags of frozen pasta from Trader Joe's, they have fancy things like mushroom ravioli, asparagus risotto, etc, and I will add ground beef or a chicken breast to that--those also make enough for two meals.

An additional tip: I have a Foodsaver. For a single person trying to eat fresh foods, I literally don't know how I could live without it. This also helps with the overwhelm feeling that you have to just keep buying food all the time. I buy a ton ground beef, vacuum seal it into 1/2lb packs (good for two meals), and just have that in the freezer. Then I always always know that I have that. Put it under hot running water in the sink for 20 minutes and it's defrosted. The other thing I do is cook like 6 bone-in chicken breasts, shred it all, and vacuum seal that into individual packs of like 2 cups. Then I can put that in pasta, on sandwiches, etc. It lasts in the freezer for months. Sandwich bread vacuum sealed lasts a long time, too. There's probably a lot more I could be doing with the Foodsaver--I've seen people do the salad in a jar thing for the week, and I do have the mason jar attachment and bought the mason jars... but I haven't actually done that yet. A friend of mine went one step further and got a standalone freezer (in his Brooklyn studio)--a dream of mine. My freezer is full right now!

I actually love to cook, long elaborate 3-day recipes from Cook's Illustrated or Martha Stewart. But for just weeknight dinners, my favorite source for recipes is actually Cooking Light. They often have "special issues" near the cash registers that are like "100 fast chicken dinners" or "100 Italian meals under 20 minutes" or "100 one pan recipes" or whatever. The thing I like about the Cooking Light recipes is that they're very thoroughly and professionally tested (unlike random blog or Pinterest recipes), they always list the amount of time it takes, and they're geared toward normal eating so use normal ingredients.

I don't actually "plan." I should, because I still wind up with things I bought but go bad because I don't actually plan when I will eat it. I should be like, okay I bought 3 grapefruits and I will have half a grapefruit every day, either with breakfast or take to work as a snack. But I don't do that. I mean I do it in my head at the store, but it never winds up happening that way. Really planning/scheduling is a future goal. (I also will be relieved to have the daily decision-making stress removed.)
posted by thebazilist at 10:14 AM on April 4 [5 favorites]


I want to agree with the fact that cooking for one is a frustration. It takes a lot of time, generates a lot of waste, and if you don't know how to cook, then all this is followed by having to eat your mistakes several meals in a row. So:

1) Salad bar / hot food bar at whole-foods for lazy nights, otherwise...
2) Nothing wrong with rotisserie chicken
3) Each week buy pre-cut veggies, boxed/bagged lettuce, cherry tomatoes, jarred olives, canned beans (white beans and chickpeas) and just dump together to make a decent salad without any chopping or prepping at all
4) keep olive oil and a few vinegars on hand: red wine vinegar, white wine vinegar, champagne vinegar
5) bonus points for having a tub of hummus, pre-made salsa from the veggie section, and some already boiled eggs hanging around
6) fruit if you want
7) cheese if you want
8) tortillas and crackers last awhile
8) level up with a jar of mustard, a jar of harissa, mayo, other condiments

Most of the above mixes & matches pretty well

Don't bother with
Avocado (goes from unripe to bad really fast)
Any veg you have to peel/spin/laboriously chop
Raw meat. Get your meat from takeout/restaurants.
Ketchup. You will have achieved adult when you no longer require ketchup. Really, this is the main adulting indicator. Ketchup is for children.

Also, what is with meal services? You have to chop the veggies and cook the food and wash the dishes! Sad!
posted by everythings_interrelated at 10:15 AM on April 4 [3 favorites]


I actually would not recommend Blue Apron or similar -- I'm an experienced home cook, and I found their boxes were often too much of a pain for weeknight cooking, plus there are limited choices so it's tough for a picky eater (for example, if you like everything about a meal except the broccoli on the side, you can't swap the broccoli for green beans). For example -- I am never in my life going to want to caramelize onions after a full day at work. :)

I would suggest looking for a cookbook or website that focuses on fast meals -- I would suggest just browsing at the public library to find one that looks good to you, or you can search for stuff like "20 minute meals" and "5 ingredient meals). Then start with just one meal that looks good to you, and make that meal once a week for 4 weeks. When you're starting to feel comfortable, add another one into the rotation. I think the key thing is to start SLOW so you don't get overwhelmed...trying to go from zero to DOING ALL THE SHOPPING AND PLANNING AND COOKING EVERYTHING FROM SCRATCH is probably unrealistic, but adding in home cooking more gradually is something I think can work. Also important is repeating recipes you like...the first time you make a recipe (especially if you're not an experienced cook), it will always take longer -- once you've done it a few times, it gets a lot faster and easier.

I would also think about how you can do meals that use supermarket shortcuts to your benefit. For example:

Rotisserie chicken + bagged salad (you can even get ones now that have the toppings and dressing in a little bag inside) + a baguette from the bakery

Taco shells + canned black beans + salsa + cheese + bagged shredded lettuce and/or a tomato

Jarred curry sauce + package of precut veggies + can of chickpeas + rice

Pizza crust (Boboli makes pretty good ones, but I also like to use naan or pitas for individual ones) + tomato sauce + cheese + toppings + bagged salad

Frozen or bakery naan + hummus + feta cheese + whatever you like from the olive bar + chopped up cucumbers and/or tomatoes and/or lettuce to make a "mezze platter"

If any of those sound good, maybe pick one and give it a try a few times.
posted by rainbowbrite at 10:17 AM on April 4 [2 favorites]


Three tricks:

1. A reverse shopping list. It sounds like you if you follow the advice above, you might end up with a handful of meals and snacks that you eat regularly so you don't have to think too much about meal planning. If that's the case, you might find it easier to make a reverse shopping list. You write down everything you need to make these items or things you need in the pantry to snack on. Peanut butter, olive oil, rotisserie chicken, mac and cheese, whatever. Organize it by the way your store is laid out if possible. Now photocopy it and make a stack of them. Each week instead of figuring out "what do I buy?????????", you grab one of your sheets, scratch out the things you already have, and then head off to the store.

My friends laughed at me for making one because it was nerdy as heck, but it greatly reduced the amount of time I spent thinking about shopping. If you can afford Instacart, it's even easier because you can just repeat orders.

2. Stick to one type of cuisine. If you really want to simplify your life in the kitchen, pick something--American, Tex-Mex, Italian--and stick within that realm as much as possible. If you go with just Tex-Mex, for instance, you will have pintos or black beans in your pantry and you won't have to go to the store for white beans for that one Italian recipe you saw. If you go with Italian, you keep marinara sauce in the pantry that can turn in to pasta sauce, pizza sauce, a dip,meatball sub etc.

3. I recently encountered the book Small Victories and it's now going to be my go-to book recommendation for new cooks. The author doesn't make any assumptions about what tools or experience you have. Instead, each recipe is designed to introduce you to one small concept to make life in the kitchen easier. She provides alternate suggestions for each recipe so that if you're a picky eater, you can switch out item A for item B. In the back are a lot of quick lists, like "10 things to do with rotisserie chicken."
posted by tofu_crouton at 10:41 AM on April 4 [3 favorites]


The first and most important skill in fooding is to recognize when you will need to eat soon. You need to know when you are just starting to get hungry before your blood sugar and energy plummet. That way you can start making very simple meals that combine food groups rather than staggering into the kitchen and opening a can of pasta. Ideally you want to head for the kitchen anywhere from half an hour to twenty-minutes before your inner undernourished wolf begins to gnaw your way through a box of cereal off the top of the fridge, eaten dry.

To do this figure out when you usually eat - say 11 AM, 2 PM and 8:30 PM and assign yourself to go make food at 10:30, 1:30 and 7:30. You may actually be starting to get hungry much earlier, but if you start with half an hour earlier it will still be an improvement. You can always reset your when-to-start-foraging time earlier and earlier.


The most important single resource for fooding success is a food making space that does not make you anxious. It may be that your kitchen is too cluttered with dirty dishes, or cram full of long ago expired packages of glutten free tofu-cheese crackers and dehydrated kale that you think you ought to be eating which makes you feel too guilty and repulsed to be hungry, or you may feel anxiety at any foray away from the computer, or you may dread your mother's eternal complaining when she pounces on you as you enter the family socialization areas. Anyway, think about this and take some steps to make your kitchen a low stress area, or at least one counter of it a low stress area. You can always wait until your Mom has gone to bed, or turn your back on a huge pile of dirty dishes.

You kitchen should have a comfortable work space with tools and ingredients in easy reach. It doesn't have to be complex. A toaster, a tea-kettle, a microwave, two plates a mug and one bowl and a two by two foot counter is lavish, not merely sufficient.

Consider that the ergs in your kitchen may be a problem, or sensory overload. Counters, for example are often built so low that working with them results in developing a dowager's hump. The sun may be right in your eyes at supper prep time.


If those two issues are tackles your next step will be to tackle menu items. Assign yourself more than an hour to wander through the grocery store with a notebook, and start jotting down a list of things that you think are reasonably healthy, not out of your budget and which you think you might like to eat. Froot Loops, Red Bull and Frozen Sara Lee Cheese Cakes are the wrong kind of things.

Once you have your list, divy it up into those things that need no prep (bananas, milk, cheese, cashew nuts, grapes, baby carrots, rotisserie pre-cooked chicken, bagged pre-made salad greens, yogurt, etc.) and those things that need to be heated up or chopped (single serving microwave brown rice, most frozen veg, most frozen fruit, canned pasta, microwavable dinner, porridge, tea, bread-that is if you don't eat it without a topping or a dip, frozen pizza, etc.) and those things that need genuine work and multiple ingredients to turn them into something to eat: (Dried beans, onions, cabbage, pork liver, etc.)

Your first list will be your go to list. Some of them will be stuff you don't eat because it's too boring without partners, or stuff you don't eat because you are too darned hungry to take in something with so few calories. Write down the things that you won't eat all on their own, and beside them write the item that you would need to combine with them to turn them into a nice, if simple meal. For example: Cheerios and milk, bagged salad greens and salad dressing, bread and cold cuts. Forever after those things will go on your list in pairs. You don't buy cheerios without buying milk, you don't buy cold cuts without buying bread.

This list should be posted on your fridge or somewhere prominently, so that when you lurch into the kitchen you can take a quick look at it and be reminded of food that is quite simple but healthy and appetizing.

Your first list is your first go to. If you are a bit more ambitious - ideally as often as once a day you either take two combined menu choices from your first list, or work from the second, or even the third list. The third list ideally should be part of your meals once a week, whatever your day off is.

If you find yourself defaulting to canned pasta you see if you can augment that quick, boring, not so nutritious meal with something from item one. For example if you throw a few cheese curds into your canned pasta before you slide it into the microwave you will be adding protein and probably another food group. Or if you have some bagged salad on the side you will be adding roughage and vitamins. Or if you eat a few baby carrots or a defrost a few blueberries... it means you are hitting more food groups and getting a better balanced diet.

On a really good day, instead of the pasta go straight to your second list and combine two of the more complex ingredients : a satchet of microwavable precooked rice with a can of tuna and a sprinkle of onion powder, or porridge with bananas and milk or a microwavable dinner with baby carrots to crunch on the side and a glass of milk.

Now every time you have gone awhile without eating you want to start with protein, rather than simple carbs - (white grains or sugar) If you start with protein you tend to not get so hungry so fast, which makes it easier to avoid not eating until you binge on white pasta in sweetened tomato sauce.

Examples of protein are:

Eggs
Meat
Fish
Nuts
Grains eaten with milk
Grains eaten with beans
Peanuts

So you start the day with bread (a bagel?) and peanut butter, or porridge and milk or an egg and toast.

Of if you haven't eaten in five hours start the meal with a torn off chunk of cheese or a handful of peanuts, or some cold sliced roast, or a a chunk of a pre-cooked rotisserie chicken. This torn off chucnk of cheese or smidgen or chicken should be eaten while you are foraging and starting the process of boiling the kettle or steaming some frozen veg or heating something in the microwave. This is what they call an "appetizer" even if you eat it standing up in the kitchen and it serves the purpose of stabalizing your blood sugar so dinner isn't just a bag of Oreos, helps you wait until the microwave goes ding, and gets your mouth watering and your stomach convinced that you really do care and it can come out of hiding and start grumbling for more. Truly gifted food experts make their appetizers a little bit more complicated than just that rolled up slice of ham, and add a baby carrot or a cracker or some raisins with those almonds, or some olives - all cold, barely any prep things - and so hit more than just the first food group.

One of the most important things in fooding is doing stuff that takes time and requires you to wait. So suppose you have just put the Stouffers Family Flavours in the microwave and set it for five minutes? That is not just enough time to do a round of motivating and polishing in your Forge of Empires game or to check your e-mail. That is when you grab some celery, rinse it, hack it into shorter bits and and toss it into a bowl of water and put it back in the fridge. You will then have nice crisp celery raw and ready to eat on the side, or possibly to shake the water off and fill with peanut butter. Failing the three minute prep job, you can wash a dish. Or two. Washing while you are working means that the kitchen becomes or stays clean and ready to use.

Fooding should be done at a relaxed pace enjoying the experience. It works much better when you actually spend fifteen minutes in the kitchen doing kitchen stuff in a leisurely way than if you treat the kitchen like the end post in a relay race, where you bolt in, toss something in the micro and race away only to bolt in again, grab the frozen dinner tray and dash out again. Food is a blissful treat if you aim at it in the right way, so having a kitchen and being able to pick what you eat can be savoured and enjoyed the same way you enjoy picking troops for the battle in Forge of Empires, or chocolates from a box full of them.
posted by Jane the Brown at 10:44 AM on April 4 [4 favorites]


these are all SUCH helpful answers, thank you to everyone so far! to answer some questions: yes, i am cooking/cleaning for one (ugh), budget is really tight right now but hopefully won't be forever, so i will evaluate the option of meal boxes in the future. i like a good amount of veggies/fruits but don't like seafood and eggs-cooked-alone sometimes upset my stomach, making it hard to rely on eggs as protein. i don't like strongly bitter/acrid foods like kale or vinegar, or anything remotely spicy. i am working on trying to taste/learn to like more and more, though.


lots of great suggestions here, please keep 'em coming!
posted by carlypennylane at 11:06 AM on April 4


I have been doing a lot of very minimalist foil packs: I do 4 frozen chicken tenders, a tablespoon or two of something for them to cook in for flavour (ranch dressing, honey mustard dressing, oil/vinegar/herbs, I did a Persian-inspired thing with yogurt/saffron/sumac berries/onions/garlic this week because I was feeling fancy), fold into foil. I gather you can do the same thing with fish, but I haven't experimented yet.

In another I do "take some frozen vegetables, fold" (where I usually do about 2 servings of whatever it is, my standards right now are broccoli, cauliflower, or a mixed vegetable one.)

For folding, I fold up two sides to the middle, fold it over a couple of times to make a seal, then fold up the ends until there's no gaps.

They go in the freezer, and I pull out one meat (which is two servings) and two vegetable ones, bake at 400F for 40 minutes, and have dinner + food for the next day's lunch. You could label them, but I mostly don't bother and just remember where I stashed which flavor if I need to.

The prep work takes about 15 minutes to make enough for most of the week. I buy lunch at work once a week for variety, and usually also have a day where I do something like tuna fish or a take-out sub for variety, one night where I order take out, and a night or two where I make something different, and that's been pretty balanced.

In the summer, I do mason jar salads a lot, which take about 30-60 minutes of prep (depending on what I'm doing for the protein: grilling chicken and letting it cool enough takes a little time) but that's it for the week. For dinner in the summer I do a lot of 'take two turkey burgers on the George Foreman grill" along with a tomato/mozarella/maybe avocado type salad' with a few other easy things in the mix when I need a change.

I keep cheese around all the time for a snack. (I'd do more nuts, but my workplace is a nutfree school and so I can't rely on them as a staple for work). Breakfast is one of greek yogurt, hard boiled eggs, cottage cheese, and the occasional backup protein bar for when I really can't cope with any food choices first thing.

I do need to keep a mix in there - I sometimes hit weeks where nothing looks like food, and then I have to switch things up. (I just hit one of those: they're partly seasonal and partly medical) and muddle through eating the stuff that is currently food until I figure out the current food things. But now I've got a nice stock of options I can try that aren't high-effort. (This is part of why I always have cheese: cheese, decent quality chocolate, and olives are pretty much universally food for me. Figuring out what that thing is for you would probably help.)
posted by modernhypatia at 11:20 AM on April 4 [3 favorites]


As far as dietary requirements, when my fooding ability is minimal, I just make sure that I've had at least some protein (Basically Jane The Brown's list plus dairy, tofu, and seitan), some fiber (fruit or vegetable or whole grain), and enough fluid to not have chapped lips. I've tried calculating micro- and macronutrients, but it's been way more effective to pay attention to how I feel, and how certain foods make me feel, and follow that. If I'm feeling kind of hollow and needing a donut in my face asap, protein seems to make me feel better than a donut (and protein for breakfast helps prevent that feeling later in the day.) More often than a grownup should admit to, I split the difference between protein and donut with a peanut butter and marshmallow fluff sandwich.

For me, a lot of buying efficiency involves just plain writing down the name of a thing that has run out, and buying more or less of it depending on how successful that quantity was in getting me the 6-8 days to the next shopping trip. The other thing is definitely checking the fridge every day and having some sense of what's in there that won't be good in two days, and cooking based on that. Pasta and sauce is great for this actually. Slightly wilty spinach and two dented mushrooms the half block of tofu I'm tired of looking at can get sauteed and added to jarred sauce, and now the uninspiring bits are all edible. Cooking some vegetables to go into the sauce and pasta might be a good starting point. Cut some veggies to snack on the next day while the knife and cutting board are already out and dirty, while you're waiting for the pasta water to boil. Freeze the extra sauce if there was too much. Other things that often go well with leftover bits: stir fry, curry, beans and rice (basically what I just said about sauce except we add canned beans), quiche/omelette/fritatta. Also, we rarely make a proper salad but we cut up a raw veggie or fruit as a side almost any time we sit down to eat at home. Defaulting that way means more efficient knife skills and also sort of getting over the hump of food prep.
posted by tchemgrrl at 12:26 PM on April 4


I recommend this cookbook to everyone, because it's so darn helpful:

How to Cook Everything (The Basics) by Mark Bittman.

When I was first learning how to cook, I found a lot of cookbooks sort of intimidating and not that helpful, because there was a lot of knowledge that they just assumed you already had. If you are the sort of person, like I was, who doesn't know what an onion is supposed to look like when it's been sautéed, then it doesn't really help all that much when the instructions for a stir-fry tell you to first sauté the onions and add the broccoli when the onions are almost done.

The reason why Bittman's book is so fabulous is he really truly starts from the beginning, and so he fills his book with useful pictures of the cooking process rather than pretty pictures of the end result.
posted by colfax at 12:43 PM on April 4 [5 favorites]


In between days, when you don't feel like cooking or don't have time to cook dinner are good days for pantry/frozen veggie meals. For instance, if you bake 3 or 4 potatoes on the first weekend of the month, you have them available for short-notice dinner for a couple weeks. Reheat in the microwave with: broccoli and cheese; sour cream and bacon bits; plain yogurt mixed with curry powder and nuts, raisins or spinach; salsa and cheese; tapenade from a jar (or just olives) with feta cheese; sardines and blue cheese; pesto (from a jar), pine nuts and some cheese.

My husband cooks up a couple boxes of button mushrooms at the beginning of the month (he does it on the stovetop with butter, salt, a bit of red wine, but here's a roasting recipe) and then uses them all month for omelettes, on toast with mustard and melted cheese for lunch, over pasta for dinner. They stay fine in the fridge for a while and could also be used on the baked potatoes.

If you heat up some jarred sofrito (in the Mexican food aisle of my grocery) in a pan before mixing in canned beans, you can use the beans in a number of ways: served with rice and cheese or sour cream on top. Rolled up in a tortilla with toppings as a burrito. On chips with cheese as nachos. Or, again, on the baked potatoes!

I like recipes with canned/jarred/shelf-stable ingredients because it makes it easier to keep a few complete meals on hand all the time. There's nothing wrong with jarred pasta sauce, or with making a pot of rice and topping it with jarred salsa and canned beans. But there are also soups that can be made out of the pantry easily. Here's a no-cook pantry tomato soup, a quick white bean soup (assumes spices, onions and garlic are in the kitchen) and my favorite from-the-pantry-soup recipe is below(I keep a squeezable tube of minced ginger in the fridge and omit the cilantro or pumpkin seeds).

The habit that is hardest, I think, is figuring out what you want to keep in your fridge/cupboard all the time. I like Jane the Brown's suggestion above.

Pumpkin Coconut Curry Soup with Black Beans
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp cracked black pepper
1 – small yellow onion, finely diced
2 cloves of garlic, crushed (about 1 tablespoon)
2 Tbsp fresh ginger, finely minced (I use the stuff in a tube)
2 Tbsp red curry paste (lasts in the fridge for a while)
1 cup stock (vegetable or chicken stock)
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 Tbsp Sriracha sauce
1 – 13.5 ounce can of unsweetened coconut milk
1 – 15 ounce can of pumpkin, not pumpkin pie filling
1 – 15 ounce can of black beans
Sour cream, cilantro, or toasted pumpkin seeds for garnish
Directions:
Place olive oil in pot over medium high heat. Add onions, salt, and pepper and cook until onions are translucent. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for 2-3 minutes or until fragrant. Stir in curry paste and cook for another 2 minutes or until color starts to turn a deeper shade of red. Whisk in chicken stock, coconut milk, brown sugar, Sriracha and pumpkin. Cook until heated through. Add black beans and let simmer for 5-10 more minutes. Garnish with sour cream and cilantro. Enjoy!
posted by crush at 12:46 PM on April 4 [1 favorite]


I also cook for one and what's been saving my ass lately has been those chopped salads in the produce section. Already washed and chopped and has the sprinkles and the dressing in packets in there. I usually eat half of one as half my dinner, then eat something else for the other half (fried eggs on top of spinach salad is really good, or a grilled cheese, or a tomato sandwich, or part of a frozen pizza). Some of the bagged salads are so good that I actually crave them.
posted by fiercecupcake at 12:48 PM on April 4


Another thing you can do is buy a rotisserie chicken from the deli, strip off all the meat, and put it in small-ish containers. You can put this shredded chicken in salads, burritos, pasta, or heck, eat it alone--whatever you would use chicken for. Freeze what you want and defrost it as needed.

I cook for one, and I tend to eat a lot of convenience foods and don't eat a lot of "meals". Cottage cheese, yogurt, salads, fruit (like, an apple or a few clementines), oatmeal (you can make steel-cut oatmeal overnight very easily, and it will stay good for at least a few days), raw carrots, Kind bars, and a fair amount of sandwiches. Tuna salad is easy to make, or you can go to the grocery store and buy deli meat. The upshot is that you don't need to "cook" to eat healthy, nor should you feel obligated to make a hot prepared meal if you don't feel like it. I have a nice set of Rubbermaid containers and basically portion these things for the week, then throw one of each item into my lunchbox for work.

There's still something to be said for having a repertoire of recipes in your arsenal, that you can refer to when the occasion calls for it. I would certainly recommend finding recipes that you like. But if you only have yourself to please and you don't feel like standing over a stove...don't.
posted by Autumnheart at 1:06 PM on April 4


1- I recommend two publications. The first is a book for kids. Simple easy recipes. The second Rachel Ray magazines. She gets how to cook quickly without a lot of fancy, get in get out get fed. Lots of taste, little effort. Single meals too. She isn't a great chef but she is perfect for home cooks

2. Use grocery delivery or pick up services. Make a basic list of food you eat for your freezer and pantry. Once you have a basic list save it as a preset and Set it up to be delivered once a month.Now you've eliminated the no food eat a stale got dog buns issue. Include precooked meat so it's to throw a meal together. Include some heat and heat (beans on toast). And frozen veg of course. Do it once and the pressure if off.

It's easy to get overwhelmed with all the food info out there. Start slow and easy.
posted by Ftsqg at 1:07 PM on April 4


I like to cook now, but for years I didn't, and in a way I think you're setting really high expectations for yourself!

You can eat pretty healthy while taking down the fuss a bunch. It's not like you're going to be on an amazing tour of the foods of the world, but I couldn't afford to do takeout and managed to pretty much like what I was eating most of the time.

I used to buy like, two boxes of frozen pre-marinated chicken breasts and a bag of shrimp.
a bag of frozen peas, a bag of frozen broccoli and a bag of frozen green beans.
wheat pasta, rice, rice pasta, couscous, a few boxed rice/pasta things (sidekicks).
bag of potatoes.
a couple of sauces that appealed to me (sate is a fave of mine but since you don't like spicy, maybe teriyaki or oyster sauce?)

then you just.. grab a starch and make it (baked potatoes are great in the microwave, and I'd definitely never make rice even now without a rice cooker.)

put a frozen chicken breast on a foil covered cookie sheet and throw it in the oven, and after about 15 minutes add your frozen vegetables to the pan beside it. OR put some frozen shrimp in a pan with some butter or oil on lowish heat, add your frozen veggies, and cover the pan. stir around and flip a bit.

then, dish up your starch, add your veggies and meat, and either just eat it, or put some sauce on it and then eat it. bonus points, you don't have to heat up sauces, the food heats them up enough. though if you're doing shrimp, you can put the sauce into the pan while the shrimp cooks to heat it up.

essentially, frozen and dry are your friends. both are easy and just fine on nutrition. packaged sauces exist for a reason, and the reason is they're an easy way to add flavour and interest without needing to like, own a million spices and know what to do with them. packaged sauces are a LOT cheaper at ethnic grocery stores than they are at my supermarket, too. Just switch up what frozen protein and veggies you're buying, don't use too much sauce, and try to dish up twice as much veggies as protein and starch. Buy a bag of apples and snack on them. buy an apple cutter if you want, I have one, because cutting apples is the pits. buy pre-bagged salads. they're already washed! buy pre-shredded cheese! don't compare prices too much on those "more convenient to use form of food" things, because they're ALL cheaper than takeout.

oh, and everytime you cook something, make twice as much as you're going to eat and dish it out and put it in the fridge, and now tomorrow's lunch or dinner is done too.
posted by euphoria066 at 1:28 PM on April 4


First of all, please don't feel bad at all about lacking this skill: it's actually surprisingly difficult, many adults haven't actually mastered it (I was surprised to find several people I know who eat mostly take-out), and, as others have said, cooking for one can be The Worst. I go through phases when I'm super organized, grocery shop with prepared lists and then prep my food in advance on the weekends... And then phases when I eat oatmeal for dinner every night for a fortnight, or when I eat hummus, pretzels, and baby carrots for dinner, or grapes and rotisserie chicken, or whatever that doesn't involve cooking. The good news is that humans are evolutionarily designed to be omnivorous, are adaptable to incredibly different diets, and can live on sub-optimal diets for decades (not that I'm advocating it...!).

Basically, what I have found works best for me (cooking for one, with varying amounts of enthusiasm for the task) is to cook in bulk and freeze. Granted, I do a lot of slow-cooker cooking, which typically freezes well; I don't know how this plan would do with the standard meat and veg fare. That said, I will usually try to cook one recipe every week or so. Since it's so infrequent, I can gin up reasonable excitement to pick something and execute it, and I'll usually spend half an hour googling for ideas before I settle on something. I'm willing to spend 1-3 hours in total preparing the meal. It usually breaks down into 30-45 minutes of grocery shopping (with a list), an 45 minutes to an hour chopping things etc., and then another half an hour checking on it throughout the day and doing anything at the end that needs to be done. I make a full recipe and end up with about 8 servings, and then I freeze 5-6 of those servings in individual containers, with the other 2-3 to be eaten over the next week (one for dinner the day of, and the other 1-2 as a dinner and maybe a lunch). What this means is that most days, I basically am able to get single-serving portions of food out of my freezer (that I have cooked in big batches previously) and then just heat them up, so aside from my one cooking adventure each week, it's just as easy as buying microwave meals from the grocery store would be (except more nutritious, and tailored to my tastes and nutritional preferences). I email myself each recipe I cook, so I can easily text-search my inbox to find them again. I also write a brief review for myself of how well it turned out, and any changes I did make or would make next time (really brief, like "This was tasty and I would make it again, especially for a cold winter's day. I added 1 tablespoon more olive oil than the recipe suggested, and omitted the brown sugar. It was a little bit bland - next time maybe double the spice mixture? Needed 8 hours in the slow-cooker rather than the suggested 7.").

If I had to do this daily, it would kill me, but done once a week or so, it's not bad, and is often even pretty fun. Divided by the eight servings each cooking episode usually provides, that's only 15-20 minutes spent per meal that I get out of it, which I think is a pretty good ROI. The nicest part is just being able to heat up healthy-ish homemade tasty meals on all the other nights. It's hardest at the outset when you're figuring out what you like: once you add some things to your repertoire, the prep starts to go faster.
posted by ClaireBear at 1:39 PM on April 4 [1 favorite]


In terms of what to make: as I said above, I think the slow-cooker is a godsend, because it doesn't have to be babysat like things on the stovetop or in the oven, and it's extremely tolerant on things being left in there for longer. I also find warm stews filling, which is another bonus for the slow-cooker. Personally, I try to eat extra vegetables, less sugar, fewer simple carbs (pasta, bread, etc.), more protein, and more fiber. Those are my general dietary goals, so when I'm meal planning I have those in the back of my mind. Yours might well be different. I tend to make stews with chopped vegetables (usually carrots, onions, and potatoes), lots of lentils, and some meat. I'm big into ethnic food simply because the flavors are interesting and pleasant to me: I've lately been on a Thai curry kick, and have been using a can of Maesri curry paste (red, yellow, green, Massaman) and a can of coconut milk to create amazing Thai curries in the slow-cooker. But the same ingredients can also make more traditionally-European (and less spicy) stews, with some changes in the spices. I try to include a lot of vegetables in the stew, as well as protein and fiber, so it can be a simple one-pot meal: if I don't want to make salad, or source bread or rice, I don't have to.

Just to give you a sense of how it works for me: yesterday I made a beef stew in the slow cooker (I usually cook on the weekend or on Monday). I found a recipe online and made a few tweaks based on what I know I like. I used about 3 pounds of chuck beef, 2 cups of dried lentils, 5 large carrots, 3 white onions, maybe 4 large potatoes, and about 7+ cloves of garlic (all chopped). For flavor, I used 2 cups of red wine, 3 spoons of beef bouillon reduction (paste - bought from the store; I usually use the cubes but this was on sale), 4 spoons of olive oil, powdered garlic, a bay leaf, some sprigs of fresh sage, and about 2 teaspoons of dried rosemary. I cut the meat and the vegetables, parboiled the vegetables and lentils for maybe 5 minutes make them softer, browned the meat (you don't have to though), layered it in the slow-cooker, and turned on the machine. Ten hours later I had a delicious stew, I ate it with a small amount of herbed bread (bought from Costco a while back, frozen, and I thawed out what I needed), I let the flavors marinate over night, and then I will eat another portion tonight and freeze the remaining 8 portions (since it's so nutrient-dense I got more servings out of this one). This one took about 3 hours to make, which is less than 20 minutes for each portion, and I will pull out a freezer portion and eat it probably once a week over the next few months. I won't cook again until next Monday probably: until then I will be pulling out individual freezer portions from things I made over the last few months and reheating them each night (and some lunches) for dinner.
posted by ClaireBear at 1:55 PM on April 4


What do you actually like to eat? I can't tell from the post. It's important to know what you like so that you can make it for yourself.

I'd way rather cook for just myself than deal with pretending to care what other people like and then pretending to be a higher-order animal while eating. If somebody else is around, I'm too embarrassed to, for instance, boil up an entire bag of radiatore and eat it all out of the pot with a half pound of parmesan grated over it and a quarter stick of butter--also, I can't cook that stuff for other people because other people don't like to eat 6,000 calories of greased paste at a single sitting.

I don't actually eat the above way anymore. But it's how I started when I learned how to cook and eat. My "journey" was a two-step one:
1. Figure out what I like to eat and can tolerate cooking, no rules about "health."
2. Figure out how to reconceive what I like to eat so that it won't cause my heart to explode.

So for the above example, I added broccoli (and garlic and lemon, both of which you could skip if you don't like) to the radiatore and butter and cheese, then I slowly introduced whole wheat noodles instead of white, then I added more broccoli, then I backed out the noodles--by the end of it I was eating a bowl of buttered broccoli with cheese and garlic and liking it. Tastes do change, but it's slow. And you have to know what your tastes ARE to change them.

As for protein, I think it's overrated, though now and again I like to do a roast. (I dispute that the grill is the easiest way. With a roast, you put it in a slow oven. Four hours later you take it out. No turning, no checking, no hassle, and meat for a week). For quick protein, let's consult my friend the noncook. She's the one who introduced to me something called a "chick patty." These are found in your grocer's freezer. It's textured vegetable protein formed into a circle and breaded. They come four or six to the box. You can nuke one of these and eat it with ketchup, mayonnaise, or nothing. Perfectly palatable, not bad for you, and nothing could be easier. You can also get canned beans. Add sour cream, peppers, tomatoes, green onion. Now it's a meal. What about antipasti? It sounds so fancy, but it's basically: sliced deli meat, sliced provolone and olives eaten together or in close succession.

Use frozen veg to avoid chopping and the rotting-in-the-fridge problem; why make things difficult for yourself? I agree with everybody who recommends bagged lettuce. Start with the boring stuff and then try adding baby greens and see if you can't grow your tolerance for bitter stuff that way. Throw on cherry tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers.

The Frugal Gourmet taught me how to make an omelette, and I've trusted TV chefs ever since, but now it's a thousand times better because now there's Youtube. Try youtubing to expand your interests and your skills. This is my new favorite. The editing and camerawork are great. I like the way they show the skills. Like when she cuts something up, it's not a virtuoso blur, you can see what she's doing. It's not that you'd make the things she makes, but you can profit from watching her cook. Here she's making omurice.
posted by Don Pepino at 2:10 PM on April 4 [3 favorites]


When I was in grad school, cooking with limited money, time and will, this was the basic plan:
1. Find three-four proteins I like to eat, with bias toward easy long-term storage.
2. Think of at least two ways to cook each of those, at least one of which involves a vegetable, possibly in varying levels of difficulty.

So, my menu:
A. Frozen cheese ravioli: cheese ravioli with nothing but butter because I’m lazy, or jarred spaghetti sauce when I’m less lazy, or with a packet of frozen chopped spinach mixed into the jar of sauce when I’m fancy, or possibly even saute fresh zucchini slices and chopped onions and maybe another vegetable in butter and toss the ravioli into that when I’m trying to impress someone.
B. Canned black beans (get the pre-seasoned kind). Black beans over rice is instant dinner bowl, or wrapped in a tortilla is a burrito; or stale corn chips, rice, black beans and cheese layered in a casserole dish is a casserole (optional tomatoes, onions, etc). Beans plus a can of tomato plus a spoonful of chili powder is chili. All this taken up a notch by keeping some polish sausage in the freezer.
C. Since you have polish sausage in the freezer (chunk it up into single servings before you freeze it), just heat that in the microwave or a frying pan or by simmering it, and eat that with some starch (rice, pasta, bread, instant mashed potatoes) and the frozen vegetable of your choice (petite peas are my favorite, you might prefer green beans, you may even not find frozen broccoli to be overly wet. Be sure to get a jar of some spiced salt you like (eg Mrs Dash, lemon pepper seasoning, etc) because that makes frozen vegetables much better). Or toss sausage in with your cheese ravioli. Or substitute sausage for the ravioli in that recipe involving the saute pan full of zucchini. (note that the recipes are starting to overlap a lot – that’s good, finding something you like and just go with it will limit the number of accessory foods you need to keep around and decreases the reliance on specific ingredients – you won’t say ‘oh, drat, my zucchinis are going to mold because I’m all out of ravioli to cook that recipe’ if you can just throw in any other protein instead.
D. Or get frozen chicken fingers, (the decent kind that have meat texture, not the cheap spongy ones), and do that instead of the sausage. Or heck, just heat them up and eat them - you should get the giant bag, because it’s a great fallback. Or heat up and toss them with buffalo sauce then slice them up and serve with lettuce as a salad or a wrap. (blue cheese salad dressing optional) (You could make sausage wraps/salad too you know)
E. Challenge mode: buy raw chicken breasts. There’s lots of recipes out there that involve baking chicken smothered in a jar of sauce so buy that and serve over rice (or cheese ravioli) (and hey, that jar of sauce and the baking idea, you could do that to the sausage too) Or cut it into cubes and sautee it in the pan along with those zucchinis (see??), or put some pan-grilled chicken in your salad/wraps.

As time went on the number of things I cooked increased, and the complexity of ways I was willing to prepare my few staples. But what really worked was having a core of protein objects with long shelf lives, and getting really good at heating those things up quickly, without being lured into the false dichotomy of peanut butter sandwich vs 1.5 hours spent slaving over a hot stove.
posted by aimedwander at 2:15 PM on April 4


Develop a few easy go-to options. I live alone and have been fairy broke for the last couple years. I have some dietary (no dairy) requirements, so cooking at home really helps.
Breakfast:
muffins I often make whole wheat, bran, pumpkin(1/2 can), apricot, walnut muffins with this recipe. Lots of fiber, some protein, vitamins and minerals. Grab 2, microwave 30 sec, add butter, eat while driving to work.
breakfast burrito or taco - any combination of cooked sweet potato, rice, beans, scrambled eggs, salsa, sausage on a warmed corn or flour tortilla. These can be made ahead, wrapped in waxed paper or plastic wrap, microwaved.
Oatmeal. I like regular-cook oatmeal, and I put it in the pyrex 2 cup measuring cup and microwave on 50% while I get ready for work. I like it with just a bit of brown sugar, many people add fruit.
Lunch I almost always take my lunch to work, and have saved tons of money and get better nutrition because I add lots of veg.
Salad rollup big tortilla, tons of mixed greens, tiny amount of dressing, some
sliced steak or chicken. Or egg salad or tuna salad.
Stew, chili, soup with pasta or rice. Chili is easy to learn to make adequately, as well as many thick soups. A great way to add vegetables. Pasta and rice can be frozen in single portion in baggies. If you get tired of chili 4 days in a row, freeze single portions. Then you grab a portion of soup, a portion of rice/pasta, and lunch is packed.
1 easy soup - sausage, usually Italian sausage, but sometimes linguica, browned, then add chicken broth, potatoes and a bunch of kale. Simmer until kale is really tender. This has potatoes, so no rice or pasta.
Dinner
In the winter, I make a lot of the above chili, soup or stew or red sauce for pasta.
Or stirfry - beef or chicken or pork, cut pretty small. You can add lots of different veg, but I get tired of chopping, so I often go with cabbage or broccoli or yellow summer squash. Saute in your biggest frypan. Easy stirfry sauce - soysauce, rice wine vinegar, sherry, a little brown sugar, ginger (fresh is really good, powder is ok), garlic (same), a little corn starch.

Salad Buy your preferred greens - romaine, mesclun mix, whatever, but whenever there is lettuce in the fridge, start the meal with a salad, even if it's a very small salad. It's a good habit, and it reduces Buying-lettuce-just-to-throw-it-away Syndrome. You can dress it up with canned artichoke, sliced hard-boiled egg, carrots, cherry tomato, whatever, but you don't have to.

I do get bored, so I buy some frozen meals, and some canned goods, like Trader Joes stuffed grape leaves, easy lunch option.
posted by theora55 at 2:23 PM on April 4 [1 favorite]


I'm a fairly confident cook, having grown up with two parents who were both confident in the kitchen, and at this point in my life I'm also pretty experienced. However depending on my life situation there are times when I might cook practically everything I eat, and others when I rely heavily on Trader Joe's frozen meals and takeout. Adulting in this area, for me, means making sure I get adequate nutrition at whatever effort and expense are reasonable for my circumstances.

Something that helps me is reading a lot of recipes. I look at blogs and cookbooks and see what seems appealing and how difficult it seems and how expensive the ingredients are. I also google techniques and watch videos about them. All of this makes cooking seem more approachable and gives me chances to find recipes that really excite me and include ingredients that I love. So do some googling and look around at the library - if you get super excited about something in particular, bookmark or copy the recipe. If the ingredients are accessible and you're comfortable with the techniques, go for it.

Here are my suggestions for you, starting with super-easy.

* Purchase frozen meals with at least some veggies. Follow package instructions. Eat.

* Assemble dinner from prepared items, such as the following:
** plain yogurt with fruit
** hummus with fresh veggies
** cheese, crackers, fruit and/or nuts

* Buy salad greens and other non-cook things that you enjoy to make salads (learn to make your own dressing):
** diced apple with cheddar cheese and walnuts nuts
** rotisserie chicken with cherry tomatoes and broccoli
** tuna with beans and olives

* Learn to roast vegetables. Roasted veggies will stay good in the fridge for several days. You can add them (perhaps along with a bit of cheese) to pastas or salads or just reheat them for your dinner. Or put them into a sandwich.

* Soup - I have a vegetable soup recipe that's very straight-forward, makes quite a lot of soup, and freezes really well. Thawed and reheated soup along with a grilled-cheese sandwich = really good dinner.

* Chicken thighs. This is one of my favorite proteins. Chicken thighs are forgiving - don't get dry as quickly as chicken breasts - and are great for braising, roasting, stir-fy, etc, and go with all kinds of flavors.

Winding up - take it easy. See what inspires you but (from my own experience) start simple. Think about what you really enjoy and will be motivated to eat. Explore. It's hard to change habits so don't get discouraged if you hit some roadblocks - be patient with yourself and keep trying.

Good luck!
posted by bunderful at 4:31 PM on April 4


This is lazy, but my solution has been Hello Fresh. I have a bunch of codes for a free box, so if you want one, just message me.

The reason I use Hello Fresh is because not only do I find it annoying to buy all the groceries I need for any given recipe, I actually find it very difficult to a) decide what I want to eat and then b) pick a specific recipe. Google "vegetarian dinners" and you get a million suggestions. Google "lasagna recipe" and you get a thousand suggestions. I'm too indecisive for that.

Hello Fresh is my favorite, but I have also used Plated, Blue Apron and the Purple Carrot. As a vegetarian, Hello Fresh is the cheapest one and I've never had any problems, so I stick with that.
posted by AppleTurnover at 4:58 PM on April 4


The typical American solid meal is a protein, a vegetable side, and a starch side.

Keep frozen chicken breasts, frozen vegetables, and either rice or potatoes around, along with a few ways of adding spices to that, so instead of worrying about planning everything, you can simply plan upgrades.

Chicken can be grilled, or marinated (any vinegar-based salad dressing) then grilled.
You can pan fry it in butter with oregano.
You can bake it in a pan with butter and garlic.

Steam, boil or microwave some frozen veggies.

Put rice in a rice cooker, or boil some potatoes, or just make instant mashed potatoes.
If you make rice, you can also slice the cooked chicken and put it on the rice directly.

Alternatively buy a loaf of Italian bread and serve it with butter, but rice and/or potatoes last a long damn time, and bread doesn't.

Open a bottle of wine, pour a glass, and set that alongside.

Voila. Adult meal. Do that once a week - the meat and veggies will keep many months in a freezer! - and worry about a second upgrade in a month or so.
posted by talldean at 6:46 PM on April 4


I know this question is marked resolved already but I'll take this opportunity to recommend my all time fav recipe blog, budget bytes! I didn't know how to cook much at all and was overwhelmed by the sites that aggregated thousands of recipes, and blogs that posted "fancy" recipes. On budget bytes, she posts easy basics with step-by-step pictures. She also notes the prices and gives tips for saving leftovers.

Try searching for a basic ingredient you want to know how to use like "chicken breast" or "ground beef"! I would recommend just starting with one recipe a week and make note of the ones that hit the right balance of easy ingredients, easy/quick steps, and tasty.
Good luck!
posted by astrid at 7:35 PM on April 4 [4 favorites]


Someone gave me one of those panini presses, and I thought it was totes lame, and now I use it all the time.

If you're looking to get a quick tasty meal, it's pretty easy. Buy some bread or wraps. Buy some vegetables (leafy greens, green or sweet peppers, mushrooms, zuchinni even), chop them up, buy some sliced cheese, buy some chicken sausage or canned beans. Throw it in there with some condiments (salad dressing, hot sauce), wrap it up, stick it in the press for a few minutes. Add some chips, ba-boom. 5-10 minutes. You get cool grill lines on your food, too.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:51 PM on April 4 [2 favorites]


It took me a long time to figure this out and I still kind of suck at it. I've tried meal-planning, I've tried buying the same thing every week and making up meals from it, I've tried batch cooking, none of it worked very well for me. But the trial and error helped a lot, so I would suggest to just keep trying things. One thing: think about the food you like to eat, and try different recipes to make those foods. Maybe try one new recipe every week or so, like on a Sunday when you have time and energy. Oh, and when you're starting out, always go for the "easy weeknight" version of whatever. Even if you have hours on a Sunday. Remember, that's "easy weeknight" to someone who cooks professionally!

One thing that HAS worked for me is having some solid go-to balanced meals, and trying to keep things on hand to make those. Even better if the ingredients are things that are good for a while. My go-tos are:

- Pasta+tomato sauce+veggies (I like spinach and mushrooms)+precooked sausage. I use quinoa/brown rice pasta and chicken sausage, so this is actually a strikingly easy and healthy meal. You can batch-cook tomato sauce and it will be better than what you buy in the store, but it is also TOTALLY FINE to buy pasta in a jar (look for the brand with the least sugar). It's also nice if you sauté the mushrooms and brown the sausage first, then add the sauce to the same pan, but again, not required. I also like to add seasonings to my sauce (garlic, oregano, basil) to the point where it is a perfectly reasonable meal to feed a friend over for dinner - but again, you don't have to. All of these ingredients except the veggies keep forever on the shelf or in the freezer.

- Salsa chicken+ frozen veggies + rice and beans. Dump half a jar of salsa (mild since you don't like spice) over a few frozen chicken breasts and some frozen peppers and onions and cook it in the oven at 350 for 40 minutes (if you have a slow cooker or pressure cooker you can do this part there too). Add canned black beans at 30 minutes (I actually cook these separately usually, I saute some onions and garlic in taco seasoning and then dump in the beans, but you don't have to) . Serve with heated-up precooked rice, or make rice separately. (Note: you can actually use that chicken cooking method with almost any kind of sauce, so it's a good thing to have in your back pocket. If you ever don't know what to make for dinner, but you have frozen chicken breasts and some kind of sauce, you've at least got your protein figured out). Most supermarkets sell big bags of frozen chicken breasts and it's usually the cheapest way to buy chicken.

- Omelettes! No shame in omelettes at any time of day. One tip: if you're including veggies, cook them first or they will make your omelette watery.

Oh, and through a lot of trial and error, here is a list of veggies that should last longer than a few days in your fridge or counter:

- Carrots
- Cabbage (not shredded)
- Iceberg lettuce (same)
- Cherry or grape tomatoes
- Root vegetables (potatoes, turnips, etc)
- Really sturdy greens
posted by lunasol at 1:14 PM on April 5


If you have a slow cooker, throw a bunch of ingredients into it in the morning before you go to work, set it on medium, and eat it when you get home. If you don't have a slow cooker one can be had very cheaply. Even better, do this on the weekend when you can kind of keep an eye on everything and give [whatever] a stir every now and then, and you'll have food for at least the next few meals.

Or: learn to cook steak and chicken breast properly, and do these in a pan or the oven. In the oven you don't even have to do anything except flip it after twenty minutes or so. Steam a bit of broccoli or whatever and you're set. You can survive on broccoli and steak pretty much forever.
posted by turbid dahlia at 10:27 PM on April 9 [1 favorite]


Also: get a food bucket. Put all your leftovers in the food bucket. Freeze the food bucket. At the end of the week, empty out the food bucket into a saucepan or slow cooker, add liquid of some sort, cook, and eat what will either be a stew or some kind of gruel. Perfectly cromulent.
posted by turbid dahlia at 10:29 PM on April 9


Be patient with yourself for starters. When I first was on my own I went off to the grocery store to buy what I knew from home. I ended up buying more than I needed and foods I ended up never eating and having to throw away. Over time I learned to get by on less-is-more, meaning you really need very little to keep your health up and maintain energy. The trick to not feeling hungry and needing to worry about the next meal an hour after eating is to eat nutritionally, that is, mostly whole foods, organic if you can afford it, (I try to research which foods are better or worse for you when organic or not and limit my organics to the foods that are worst for you when not, like potatoes) and get regular exercise. If you follow those two rules you will feel better and have less desire to eat. I find that eating very simply saves a lot of time as well. Have a handful of grapes for a snack. Learn to bake fish in the oven - super easy, can be spiced any way you like and is great protein. Frozen can be quite cost-effective and goes well with salad. If you can't afford fresh all the time, consider foods like canned black beans with brown rice. These are cheap, take minutes to make and eaten together will
Keep you full for hours without, say, the sugar crash from eating a bowl of pasta or drinking soda.

Nutritious may sound about as interesting as eating cardboard but I highly recommend trying it if you haven't already! Your body may have to adjust a while but once it settles down you will start to see and feel the benefits.

For help learning how to cook efficiently and on a budget you could also try browsing your local bookstore bargain section and you will find tons of inexpensive books on five minute meals, meals for college students, etc. Learn what foods you like and keep the basic ingredients on hand so it becomes easy to restock. The trick is to learn what you like and build your pantry and fridge so that you don’t have to think what you will eat, just prep and go.
posted by Crystal Fox at 1:14 PM on April 10


I have the exact same struggle. No one in my family has cooked for generations and I didn't even know how to boil ramen until I reached my twenties. We survived on cold cereal and junk food, although I have finally found the ultimate effortless solution that works for me. I regularly visit the local Mexican supermarket for ready-made and low-effort foods that are inexpensive, healthy, and actually very tasty. Honestly, I have never seen so few ingredients on food labels - there are not a lot of additives in the food and everything is fresh. The supermarket I shop in has a bakery and restaurant, so I stock up on their fresh, enormous 10-inch bread rolls (50 cents each), mildly sweet breads if I'm craving a treat, and no-prep foods such as soft corn tortillas which I like to eat plain, whole milk cheese, fresh salsa, etc. They also have the freshest and most inexpensive produce I've ever seen. The restaurant there has 25 different Mexican food entrees for around $10 each, and when I buy one, I take it home and it lasts for one to two days. Lots of rice, beans, grains, meat, and vegetables, all made from scratch there at the store... this is how I feed my children since I lack the skills, time, energy, and money to invest in meal planning, prep, and cleanup. Today I picked up a large container of hot, freshly made Posole soup, full of whole hominy grains and big pieces of tender cooked pork in a slightly spicy broth, along with corn tortillas, lettuce, onion, and lime. It was $8.00 and this is what my family ate today, along with the bread rolls and cheese.
posted by AMom15 at 1:45 AM on April 11 [1 favorite]


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