help me avoid fast food
February 28, 2012 10:09 PM   Subscribe

help me avoid fast food...


If I am by myself I rarely have the time, energy or even inclination to cook, even if the amount of preparation is minimal. I then end up eating fast food, or pre-prepared food from the supermarket (hello there sandwiches). This can add up in cost and probably isn't healthy either, especially those Wendy's triple hamburger combos.

But what do I do? Ideally I need inexpensive, simple food that I can pick up and eat. But it gets old eating raw carrots as a meal.

are there any no-brainers that I am overlooking?

thank you
posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey to Food & Drink (46 answers total) 68 users marked this as a favorite
Canned soup isn't so bad, especially if you add a salad (bagged baby spinach + cheese and nuts or whatever).

I like keeping individually wrapped tilapia fillets in the freezer. Those take 10 minutes to defrost and 5 minutes to broil or pan fry.
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 10:15 PM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

follow up - sometimes if there is nothing "simple" to eat in my kitchen that doesn't take any effort to get into my mouth, I end up not eating.
posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey at 10:17 PM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Cooking for one is tedious, expensive, and anti-climactic.

Pizza dough is a good one. Pop a few in the freezer, defrost in hot water, preheat the oven, slap some sauce and cheese on; easy 20 minute meal.

Add hummus and pita to your carrots. You can get pita in a variety of flavours, as well as variations of hummus. Optionally try it with celery as well. Easy instant meal.

Pasta arrabiata is easy as well. Garlic, chili pepper, tomato sauce. Cook the sauce whilst the water boils and the pasta cooks. Easy 20 minute meal.

Superfood salads. Bag of lettuce, pre-cooked chicken, bell pepper, perhaps some pine nuts. Top with a vinagrette. Easy 5 minute meal.

Steak. Procure a grill pan. Get a nice cut of sirloin, salt and pepper it. 7 minutes later, nosh it up.
posted by nickrussell at 10:18 PM on February 28, 2012 [5 favorites]

Jar of peanut butter. Loaf of multi-grain bread. Bunch of bananas.

Food for ten meals.

But seriously, when I'm feeling lazy and think to myself, "Wouldn't a Hungry Man dinner be great?" that's when I pull out my secret weapon: those pre-washed bags of spinach. With it being already washed and not needing to be cut/chopped, you really have no excuses for not having green things with your meal. If you are super lazy, you can even buy those squeeze jars of pre-chopped garlic. A touch of that with spinach in a pan, two minutes later, you have a side of greens.

As for meat, chicken breasts are not dirt cheap, but come ready for single serving cooking. Again, no need to chop or cut, so no mental barrier to cooking! Add some seasoning, slide on pan, within 10 minutes, you have meat and veggies for like 2 bucks. Then make a peanut-butter and banana sandwich for dessert. That's like $2.50 for a ton of relatively (compared to Wendy's) healthy calories.
posted by jng at 10:19 PM on February 28, 2012

Deli meat, fixins and bread.

Soup. Can be high in sodium though.

Browning meat is not that hard, once you do that you have tacos if you mix in the seasonings and half a cup of water.

Pan searing then cooking steaks is my great joy. Pan sear at medium high heat for 2 mins after melting butter in the pan. Then cook at 450 for 10 mins or less or as needed. Bacon wrapped steaks, go!
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 10:20 PM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Is there a Trader Joe's near you? Trader Joe's has frozen meals that are significantly less expensive and much healthier than fast food, although they are more expensive and less healthy than actually cooking. I have been unimpressed by the frozen meals that are available in most grocery store chains - the natural ones are overpriced, and the non-natural ones are overly processed.
posted by insectosaurus at 10:21 PM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you have a Trader Joe's near you, they have a nice selection of pre-made salads that are pretty inexpensive and really tasty.

Another good idea is cooking up a big batch of stuff on the weekend and freezing it in individual portions. Then you just pull one portion out of the freezer, reheat, and you have a meal. Do a big crockpot stew, or a big batch of burritos. Whatever. Try to keep some fresh fruit on hand and you'd pretty much good for a meal at any time.
posted by Balonious Assault at 10:22 PM on February 28, 2012 [7 favorites]

Ploughman's lunch.

Fill your fridge with a rotisserie chicken, cheese (I like the mini Babybels that you don't need to cut, or bocconcini), pickles, and deli meat. Add a loaf of really good bread, baby tomatoes and maybe some blueberries. Throw a bit of everything onto a plate, or just graze as desired.
posted by valoius at 10:25 PM on February 28, 2012 [7 favorites]

Vegetable soup. You can use canned or frozen vegetables are equally easy. Vegetable stock, peas, corn, green beans, carrots, beans, spices. If you feel like it, chop up an onion, or just throw in frozen pearl onions. Simmer 20 minutes, eat with bread. A potful keeps my limited-cooking-repertoire roommate fed for several meals.
posted by WasabiFlux at 10:31 PM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Im not exactly sure what this is called, but its something that I learned from my mom way back when. You take a can of tuna, add some mayo and mustard (maybe some green onions or relish), mash it all together and layer super thick on a English Muffin. Then put a slice of tomato and cheese on top, place in the oven at 350 for 5 min and presto! Ezpz delicious tuna melt sandwich in under 10 min. Super good for one-person meals.
posted by KeSetAffinityThread at 10:32 PM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

would you cook once a week? I used to cook a huge pot of something on Sunday's and then freeze some daily portions and refrigerate some. haven't done it lately but it used to work for me because I could just come home and microwave.
posted by gt2 at 10:38 PM on February 28, 2012 [7 favorites]

I make something I call "Half-assed Chili" that I've come to enjoy more than real chili. It takes like 10 minutes max to make.

Half an onion, chopped up
One Andouille Sausage, chopped up
Half a can of black beans
Half a can of petite diced tomatoes

Saute the onions in a frying pan for 5 mins
Add the sausage and saute for a couple more mins
Add the black beans and petite diced tomatoes to the pan, cook and stir for a few more minutes until everything heats up

Pour mixture in a serving bowl. Add a dollop or two of sour cream and stir that in as it melts.

So quick, so simple, so delicious. Jazz it up with different veggies you might have (I saute mushrooms with the onions quite frequently) or use a different flavor of sausage.
posted by Squee at 10:49 PM on February 28, 2012 [5 favorites]

Dead simple microwave dinners:

Small cans of salmon and peas, seasoned with cayenne.
Can of mixed vegetables with an egg thrown in, seasoned with dill.
Fillet of fresh salmon in a covered ceramic dish, poached till done.
Canned tuna with balsamic vinegar and chopped green onions.
Can of diced tomatoes (drained) and black beans with hot sauce

No-prep and healthy:

Blueberries from the carton
Cottage cheese with cayenne
Hard-boiled eggs stored in the refrigerator
Greek yogurt and honey or jam
Tomatoes eaten "out of hand" like apples
posted by aquafortis at 11:06 PM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Being of a similar frame of mind and not owning a microwave at the moment... I've been buying premix salad bags. Every few days I'll boil and peel some eggs. When I get hungry but don't want to take the time to make a meal, I throw some of the salad mix into a bowl, dump in croutons, sunflower seeds, dressing, cheese, and cut up a boiled egg. I've been pondering getting some pre-cooked chicken to toss in as well.

Sometimes I'll throw everything but the dressing in a bowl, knowing that when I get home from work at 12pm I won't have the energy to do more than pour in dressing and eat. It'll keep for 2-3 days with the lid on tight.

I also tend to keep a package of hotdogs in the meat drawer. If I don't want to take the time to boil and throw 'em on a bun I'll just eat a couple cold and move on with my day. I've also been known to keep some roast beef (thick sliced at the deli) and just munch on a couple of slices if I don't feel like taking the time to put it on a sandwich.

Peanutbutter and crackers are easy to snack on while doing homework on the computer, or watching a movie.

When I had a microwave I bought a lot of tv dinners, but they're high in sodium so I'm kinda glad I don't have that option right now.

I've been known to stop at KFC for a bucket to keep in the fridge so that I could just munch on a piece of chicken when I get hungry, it'll last for several days. I also have a fondness for cold chicken strips. Or buy a large pizza and munch on leftover cold slices for the next couple of days (not the best option health-wise but still better than the tripple hamburger combo :)

One of the biggest steps I've taken regarding eating healthier is not having junk food handy to snack on in my lazy moments, or only buying things that I know I can be good about rationing. The 2 boxes of thin mints I couldn't resist are still unopened in my freezer, waiting to be a treat on some day when I really need it. I don't buy potato chips because they're my worst binge snack vice, but I usually keep a bag of pretzels around.
posted by myShanon at 11:11 PM on February 28, 2012

I buy good quality soup that is low in sodium and has a lot of veggies. Then I thaw some shrimp and dump it in. Sometimes I spoon it over rice.

If you do go to Wendy's, instead have a small chili and a baked potato. You can eat fast food and make better choices. Do note the chili has 33% of your daily sodium and isn't healthy, but at least it has fibre and isn't so calorific.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 11:41 PM on February 28, 2012

Lazy-ass bachelor tip: heat water for pasta in an electric kettle. Shaves about half the time off.
posted by en forme de poire at 12:02 AM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

another lazy pasta tip - cook pasta in a frying pan.

if you can once every two weeks or so make a big huge meal - like chili, or a fuckton of pasta sauce - then some freezer bags or containers, portion to one meal sizes, and then you have ready made food that's probably quicker than the drive through line.

a prep once a week meal that i like in the summer - make couscous (it's near the rice in the grocery store), just follow the directions - then chill it. after it's chilled chop up some parsley or cilantro, garlic, tomato, bell pepper, cucumber (or whatever veggies you like - carrots, radishes, green onions, mushrooms) and mix the cooled couscous and the veggies together - add some greek salad dressing (or any vinaigrette sort of dressing) and it's good for a week, just stir it before you eat it. i also like putting feta on it. it seems complex or hoity-toity, but it's just a pasta salad that holds better than traditional pasta.

a good fiber rich cereal can make for a quick dinner if you just don't care and know you need to eat.

my husband likes to make "shitty eggs" - get a frying pan hot, add butter, drop two eggs in, a crap ton of garlic powder and pepper, flip it, sort of mash it around a bit so it's not over medium but not scrambled either - drop in all in a bowl, throw a piece of cheese on top. the whole thing takes 6 minutes.
posted by nadawi at 12:26 AM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's really easy to make your own burgers, especially if you go the lazy route and buy them pre-formed (along with pre-sliced cheesed, should you desire a cheeseburger).
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 12:34 AM on February 29, 2012

I also have this problem, but my main solution is to make too much food once or twice a week and eat the leftovers the rest of the time. Most recently: fry some potatoes, cook up some canned black beans with some spices, make some fresh salsa = burritos for 3 nights.
posted by beerbajay at 1:02 AM on February 29, 2012

It is much harder to make wise food choices when your immediate hunger informs your decisions. I am like you so what I do is prepare food for the week on Sunday so I am less tempted by "fast" food. For me, it's always been that I wait until I am really hungry before doing anything about it which leads me to eat way more Burgerville than I should.

Get things like string cheese, cut up veggies (ready for salad or to eat with hummus), hard boiled eggs for eating plain or quickly made into devil eggs, soups that are canned or homemade - Costco has an 8-can Amy's Organics soup that comes in vegetable and lentil, which for canned food tastes awesome, etc. Just do as much prep work on the foods you like to eat, esp. ones that go together well so you can make different combinations. I buy chicken breasts, cook them up and cube them so I can throw it on salads or in soups. I also keep things like yogurt to temporarily stave hunger pangs as I prepare a quick meal as I've done most of the time consuming parts.

Good luck!
posted by loquat at 1:05 AM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

My standard meals for one are pork chops or chicken breasts. I know you said no cooking... hear me out. One pork chop, nice and thick. You heat oil in a pan, throw it in, leave it for 3 or 4 minutes, flip it, leave it for 3 or 4 minutes, then you're done. While that's going on you rip and shred some handfuls of lettuce, add nuts and dried fruit and maybe some cheese (this stuff all comes in bags, no chopping, but you could add more veggies if you like) and pour some dressing on. There is time to make a quick vinaigrette if you like. With practice you will get really good at getting the meat just right and it will be nice and juicy -- you can do things like brown it for a minute on high and then turn the heat down for the next few minutes, but this is optional to be honest. In less than ten minutes you have a tasty hot meal with a fresh salad. Just as fast as making a sandwich. Prep and cleanup is dead simple.
posted by PercussivePaul at 2:43 AM on February 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

frozen bags of peas and carrots. Dump some in a bowl, add a little water, 4-5 min in the microwave, hold a plate on top of the bowl and drain out the extra water, add some barbecue sauce for seasoning (maybe I have odd tastes...) -> veggies.

Eggs. Scramble, fry, boil. Serve with salt and pepper or hot sauce -> fat and protein.

Canned tuna. Open, drain, season to taste -> protein.

Peanut butter. on bread, crackers, a spoon... -> fat, carbs, protein.

Toast -> Carbs.

Sweet potatoes - poke some holes in it with a fork, put it in a plastic bag with holes punched in it or wrap in a damp paper towel, microwave ~5-6 minutes, maybe add some butter/oil and some salt -> starch.

Whole wheat pasta and jar of sauce. Boil pasta, drain, add sauce -> carbs, protein, fat

frozen beef taquitos and jar of salsa. Wrap in paper towel, nuke and serve -> carbs, fat, protein

Instant oatmeal. In packets or in a big inexpensive tub (add fruit, raisins, cinnamon sugar, maple syrup if you like). Add water, microwave. -> carbs, protein.

Unsweetened frozen strawberries and other fruit (by the ice cream section in the supermarket). Usually cheaper than fresh fruit and won't go bad as quickly.
posted by itheearl at 3:04 AM on February 29, 2012

I don't think you're far off with sandwiches. But don't buy them. They usually add tons of mayonnaise and other stuff.

I am seconding valoius. Have pre-cooked basics around or things which don't require cooking:

*Ready to Eat

- Whole chicken. Many supermarkets sell pre-roasted chickens. Buy it and throw it in the fridge. eat it as cold chicken.

- Cheese. Lots to choose from depending on your preference. You can throw it in a sandwich or eat it by itself

- Bread. Fresh is good but I guess packaged will last longer. Always have bread around.

- Cured meats. Also ham slices, turkey slices. All sorts of deli meats.

- Canned tuna.

* Takes almost zero time and effort, even for me

- Pre-made pasta. They come in transparent containers. You boil water. Throw them in for 5 minutes and they're done. I just add some olive oil and some cheese.

- Hard-boiled eggs. You can boil them whenever and keep them in the fridge.
posted by vacapinta at 3:09 AM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think the key to this is making food when you have some energy rather than when you need to eat. I lived alone for a long time and tried to practice this. I don't mind eating the same meal three or four days in a row, especially with large pots of hearty food that get more tasty the more you heat them. A stew on day three is about twice as amazing as a stew on day one.

Once you get used to it, you can get a large pot of stew or chili or bolognese or curry bubbling on the hob in 15 minutes. These kinds of meals are incredibly quick to prepare. I always think "convenience" food people just don't understand this. The time it takes to procure fast food for me would be greater than the time it takes to cook a pot of food that can feed me all week.

So, as others have mentioned, you do it on Sunday morning when you're not working, or you do it first thing after getting home from work on Monday. You don't think "I'm hungry, what will I make," you make it during your free time as part of the other chores you do.

Then, for days afterwards, when you are hungry you are not thinking "What can I cook to eat? Where will I get ingredients?" You are turning the hob on for twenty minutes (and throwing on some boiled potatoes or rice or whatever) and eating extremely good, healthy, hearty food.

If you make it very large you eat it for three days and then freeze a few portions. These can be defrosted as you need them. A large part of eating well like this is getting into the habit of doing things as you're passing (stirring the pot, grabbing something out of the freezer before leaving for work in the morning, picking up food when you're already out at the weekend). Your actions can get really economical once you build up the habits, and the payoff in good food is quite astonishing.
posted by distorte at 3:09 AM on February 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

I do a few things to combat this. Generally on Monday nights, when I have more energy, I peel and chop a sweet potato and microwave in a container of water for 10min or so, drain, mash. I then crack open a bag of baby spinach - put as much spinach as you want in the bowl, adorn with a serve of potato, top with shredded ham (double smoked, sliced thick from the deli thanks) and Nom away!! The rest of the potato then lives in the fridge and is doled out over the course of the week. From a decent sweet potato I could have 4 meals.

Another one is buying frozen salmon fillets in those microwave steam bags - there is a lemon and dill one which is particularly tasty - and while the salmon to cooking (2 -3min) I chop off some bits of broccoli and a serve of frozen veg mix (peas,corn,carrot etc) and swap them out with the salmon, nuke for 1-2 mins then serve!
posted by latch24 at 3:46 AM on February 29, 2012

Huge pot of pasta sauce:

fry up onions and garlic
add in ground beef, brown it
add in peeled tomatos, tomato sauce, italian herbs, peppers, whatever else strikes your fancy
boil it
now simmer it FOREVER... no seriously, just add more water as it boils down, let it go at low heat all day... your home gets all yummy smelling...

When you can't stand it anymore, do up a small bit of pasta, then add the sauce and some parmesan cheese

And here is the excellent part... tomorrow the sauce will be EVEN BETTER. If you really want you can put it in the fridge, I don't. The next day I get it simmering again, same procedure...

The larger the pot, the more days of exponentially more tasty food you get. It gets BETTER AND BETTER EVERY DAY.
posted by Meatbomb at 4:22 AM on February 29, 2012

I like to make a big pot of lentils(you could turn this into a chili sort of thing) and eat that over several days. Since it has lots of veggies, sometimes meat, and the lentils, it's pretty healthy and you can switch up the spices and things that you put in.

I used to eat a lot of fast food and junk and back then I would have turned my nose up at lentils, but they actually are really tasty if you switch them up and make them in different ways. You can turn them into a dip for tortilla chips or to go into burritos, etc.

Most of the time if I'm pressed for time I just heat up a bowl of them and top with some cheese.

Vegetable soup is great too. I sometimes make a big pot and eat it over the week.

Roasted chick peas are a great snack. Toss a can of chick peas with some olive oil, salt/pepper and/or whatever other spices you want and roast at 400 until crispy.

Cooking for one really isn't much "worse" thank cooking for two imo. I guess liking to cook helps but you can saute veggies and cook things while you're doing other things.
posted by fromageball at 4:55 AM on February 29, 2012

I feel dumb for even asking this, but do you have a crock pot? Because if you do, all you have to do is throw in some frozen meat, some sort of sauce (tomato sauce, cream of mushroom soup, spaghetti sauce, chicken broth etc.) some salt and pepper and any other seasonings you like and then set it on low and come home to a hot meal. Prep for meals like this literally takes about 5 minutes. I usually cook rice or pasta or potatoes when I get home, but you could also just eat it with bread if you like. The bonus of this is that you make enough for three or four meals and then eat more that week or freeze and then pull out of the freezer the night before you want to eat it and reheat in a pan for five to ten minutes when you get home that night.

I also love buying whole roasted chickens from the supermarket with some greens and some cheese and bread. That will be enough for two or three meals.
posted by Kimberly at 5:19 AM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

As has been previously mentioned, cooking when hungry is not ideal if it can be avoided. I think it is fair to assume that I will be hungry at regular intervals during the day, if I wait until those times to sort my food out I become irritable and make choices that are good in the short term (lots of easily accessed fat and sugar) but do not result in satisfying my appetite for very long.

There are already a lot of great suggestions in this thread for food that would be quicker to get into your mouth than the time it would take to get to a fast food joint and order, or have food delivered. If you really cannot do any prep or cooking, then your options are limited to food that is edible cold and straight out of the packet.

There are lots of cookery books aimed at cooking in as short a period of time as possible. One I enjoyed using was Nigel Slater's 30 Minute Cook.

I don't live in the US, but I remember that at Wholefoods there was a huge choice of ready to eat food. Here in the UK I can buy ready to eat stir fry (cooking time <5mins), fresh pasta and sauce (cooking time <8 mins), Indian, Chinese, Thai or traditional British food in most supermarkets. The trick is to buy it ahead of when I need it!
posted by asok at 5:35 AM on February 29, 2012

On days when you *know* you're not going to cook, do not overlook the possibilities offered by grocery stores: Most of the larger stores in the US have deli areas where you can get hot or cold meals a la carte. If you check around, you're bound to find one that has a selection that appeals to you. The salads bars tend to be pretty extensive.
posted by Ys at 5:40 AM on February 29, 2012

when I was single-

I'd chop a ton of vegetables at once and keep them a big container in the fridge- Zucchini, all kinds of bell peppers, snap peas, onions, basically whatever was on sale. Throughout the week I'd make variations on those vegetables for dinner every night. If I ran out and didn't have time to go back to the store, I'd have some bags of frozen vegetables on hand.

add (some chopped pre cooked chicken if you like) half a can of spaghetti sauce, some garlic, saute for ten min and throw over noodles- ten min Italian.

add add some chopped garlic, and a half cup of soy sauce, some chopped pre cooked steak if you like, and you've got stirfry- ten min.

toss some veg in a bag with balsamic vinegar while you're at work and then grill it on a tabletop grill with a meat of your choice: great hoagies- ten min.

Add some browned hamburger, a can of kidney beans and a can of stewed tomatoes with basil and oregano and you've got a quickie , tasty stew.

I did the same thing with different vegetables- cucumber, sprouts, whatever and just added them to pre-washed lettuce/spinach bags for salads. I also kept dried cranberries, walnuts, feta cheese, and fruit in the fridge to spruce up the salad as needed.

and, there is nothing wrong with adding an apple or a pear to your meals. they are completely preparation free and fill you up. I feel like a lot of the time hand fruit gets forgotten once we get out of grade school since it doesn't really fit on the plate like you think a meal component should.

The most extravagant meals I made took about a half hour, but the best part of all this was that I was getting at least ten servings of vegetables a day and felt like a freaking god.
posted by Blisterlips at 5:40 AM on February 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

Man, all these answers/recipes are super complicated. Here are three "recipes" I use when time is tight.

A) 1/2 lb deli roast beef + a little cream cheese or horseradish. Prep time: 5 seconds.

B) Deli chicken, sliced or rotisserie + an avocado + mustard or whatever. Prep time: 5 seconds.

C) 6 hardboiled eggs from the deli. Add salt and hot sauce. Prep time: 5 seconds.
posted by a_girl_irl at 5:41 AM on February 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

nickrussell: "Steak. Procure a grill pan. Get a nice cut of sirloin, salt and pepper it. 7 minutes later, nosh it up."

Okay, that is a pretty big exagerration. Unless you're not resting it, that leaves around 2:30 for each side, which is not long enough to cook most respectable steaks even to rare. Also, steak is a relatively expensive food and although "simple" to make, it's one of those foods that is hard to make because it's so simple -- if that makes sense! I wouldn't suggest cooking steak to someone who says they don't have the inclination even for simple cooking.

There are a lot of great foods that cook quickly and are relatively tasty for you. These are foods that basically require nothing more than heating up or adding to boiling water.

Supermarket ramen isn't that great for you, but if you can find an Asian grocery you can get better noodle packs (my favorite is Bib Bib Men which is a korean noodle swimming in a spicy chili sauce). Defrost some frozen spinach or chop some cucumbers and throw them on top.

You can buy Indian food in boil-in-the bag packets at many supermarkets. Just throw it in a pot of boiling water and you're done.

Do you have enough money to invest in a rice cooker? Rice cookers are a godsend to people without much spare time. Almost any grain, including oatmeal, can be cooked in them. Just throw in the grain and the water and you can then leave it to cook while doing everything else in your life. You can pair that with the indian packets above.

Canned soups are great, when cooking them I almost always throw a clove or two of garlic in a garlic press and squeeze it directly into the soup or minute or two before ready for extra flavor, or if you like spicy you can squirt some sriracha into it. Watch out for sodium, though -- canned soups are loaded with it, and if it's a health concern you should absolutely avoid it. You don't have to heat them, though -- my favorite snack as a teen was progressive soups eaten cold out of the can.

Rotisserie chickens are a great choice if you don't want to cook. Sometimes as little as $6-7 and will spread to three meals: first hot, then cold leftovers. Delcious as a sandwich -- take the meat, put it on bread with a little mayo and lettuce.

Foods you can literally just pick up and eat, if preparation is difficult for you:
  • veggie hot dogs (just throw on a bun with ketchup, etc. they don't need to be cooked, or eat on their own)
  • cheese sticks
  • protein bars
  • yogurt
  • can of tuna - open can; eat from can with fork!
  • similarly, canned sardines or mackeral -- very good for you, relatively cheap
  • bread, slice or roll (get multigrain or whole wheat for fiber)
  • hard boiled eggs -- make them yourself or most supermarkets have them pre-boiled for a higher price but still cheaper than fast food
  • steam in the bag veggies - chuck in microwave or just leave in the fridge instead of the freezer and eat cold
  • cold tofu - remove from package, smother with bbq sauce or soy sauce, and eat
Also, you can be smarter about your fast food choices.

Order Chinese take out instead of the hamburger. Get the "Diet" platter and get the largest portion they offer. You should be able to get 2-3 meals out of it. Here's a tip with Chinese food leftovers: keep everything but the rice in the fridge; put the rice in the microwave or somewhere else air tight (so ants, etc. don't get to it). The rice won't go bad overnight and won't turn hard like it does when refrigerated.
posted by Deathalicious at 5:56 AM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

Get a crockpot and visit a place like crockpot recipe exchange or just google crockpot recipes. It takes less than 10 minutes to dump everything in, and then you have a nice meal or two at the end of the day.

When I was on my own, I also ate a lot of noodles of all kinds. One of my favorites was egg noodles, boiled, then pan fried with shredded lettuce.

And, on this very green, I first learned about omuraisu and ate that all the time when I was a bachelorette. You fry an egg and all the rice you have lying around from Chinese takeout.
posted by mibo at 6:08 AM on February 29, 2012

Rotisserie chicken, canned tuna, wasa crackers, canned beans, fresh fruit, hummus, peanut butter, nuts, olives, bagged salad, sundried tomatoes, cheese. From that you can pull together a salad, a sandwich, or a small plate in just a few minutes.
posted by bunderful at 6:15 AM on February 29, 2012

Yo, this is like my home base. I love cooking but most days I am way too lazy/tired to cook anything elaborate. Speed is essential, or else I will end up eating a box of crackers for dinner, and that is bad.

Dinner doesn't have to be meat/veg/starch. It can be whatever you want. These are the things I keep around that I can have a bit of, and together, make a decent meal:

-baby carrots
-string cheese
-bagged salad
-cooked chicken (you can buy things like a rotisserie chicken, or Perdue Short Cuts, or make your own)
-deli meat

For a little more prep work than the above, here are some very quick recipes.

Chickpea salad: Take a can of chickpeas (I buy low-sodium), drain, put in bowl. Add a spoonful of olive oil. Grate a whole bunch (bout 1/3 c.) of hard cheese like Parmesan over it. Or use the Kraft kind, but don't tell me about it. Crack a ton of black pepper over it and maybe a tbsp of lemon juice if you have it. Mix up and eat voraciously. I can make this in about 4 minutes and it is delicious and full of protein.

Bastardized Asian noodles: Cook up some rice noodles, or angel hair, or whatever long noodles you can find. In a bowl, mix up 3 parts soy sauce, 2 parts peanut butter, 1 part rice wine vinegar, 1 part sesame oil. Add some hot chili oil if you want, or sriracha. Taste, add more of whatever tastes good to you. Mix into cooked noodles. Add veggies if you want, I'll slice up some bell pepper and red cabbage if I have it laying around. Eat.

Chicken and couscous: Cook couscous according to directions. It seriously takes 4-5 minutes, and is great to add to your repertoire. Take some of that precooked chicken and stick it in a saute pan. Add salsa (bought fresh, or canned, or homemade, whatever) and cover and cook on medium 'til it's all hot. Everything's already cooked, so this is basically just to heat it and meld the flavors. Once hot and a little bubbly, serve over couscous.

I have more if you want to MeFi mail me.

Oh, last thing! Frozen vegetables are the bomb. I'm only one person, and I can't always cook and eat fresh veg before they go bad- frozen have all the same nutrients, but they keep forever and you can always have them on hand. Buy the seasoned ones if you want, but I like the plain ones. Mixed veg, plain broccoli, plain cauliflower, plain brussels sprouts. Once cooked, you can add things like: Sriracha! Or parmesan and butter. Or some rosemary and cracked pepper. or soy sauce and sesame oil. Or ANYTHING YOU WANT and it feels like you almost-cooked. Perfection.
posted by rachaelfaith at 6:38 AM on February 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

Soup! Either make it yourself or buy it from the supermarket. Fills you up good and depending on what kind of soup you get can be wonderfully indulgent OR very healthy and low-fat. I like to have a bowl of soup with an egg either boiled or fried on the side as a standard weekday "single girl" dinner.
posted by Ziggy500 at 6:48 AM on February 29, 2012

Rotisserie chicken, bonus round:
when you bring it home from store let it cool a few mins then pull the meat off by hand. Put it in a container in the fridge and you've got nearly instant availability for a bunch of different uses (chicken sandwich, chicken salad, a regular veggies/greens salad with chicken, etc. or my personal favorite, eaten straight from fridge container using my fingers).

Sometimes setting a timer/alarm on my cell phone helps me to remember that it's time to eat. That almost always works to keep my intake regularly spaced so I'm not so freakin' hungry that I haaave to haaave Burger King french fries right this second.

Also, if you're not quite ready to drop your fast food habit and pull out the slow cooker you might try choosing one healthierish option from the restaurant menu board to go with the jumbo burger. Eat the healthierish item first, then the less healthierish thing after that. Going this route you won't see any cost savings but the nutritional stuff will come into a better balance.
posted by mcbeth at 6:48 AM on February 29, 2012

I feel as though everyone has missed a very important point. For the price of two deli sandwiches, you could easily make a one week supply of sandwiches yourself. Find out what you like, and do it!
posted by oceanjesse at 7:00 AM on February 29, 2012

If your current habit is either to get fast food or eat nothing at all, you're not likely to start cooking anything from scratch right away. And managing groceries so you buy just enough produce/meat/milk/etc. to eat before it starts going bad is a learned skill. Plus you have to wash dishes! So it's probably best to start with super-duper easy things that have long shelf lives and require either microwaving or nothing:

- dry cereal
- pretty much anything in the Trader Joe's frozen section (read the instructions before you buy)
- handful of raw almonds or other nuts
- energy bars (expensive, but you can get them in bulk)
- peanut butter on toast (keep the bread in the freezer and you can just plop it in the toaster frozen)
- lazy person's bean salad: drain a can of chickpeas or other beans and pour some salad dressing on 'em
- lazy person's tuna salad: same as above but with tuna
- yogurt, especially Greek yogurt (doesn't keep forever, but does keep a while)

We cook stuff from scratch often, but I still eat most of the above if I need a quick breakfast or I just need to eat something and don't want to think about it.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:20 AM on February 29, 2012

Somebody already suggested chili, but I'll second it and say you can make a huge batch and eat it for days. Instead of buying pre-shredded cheese, consider buying a block of cheese and grating as much as you need each time.

Cous cous is cheap and it literally takes minutes to cook. Throw some sliced vegetables in a pan with some butter or olive oil, let them sizzle for a bit and then serve them on top.
posted by emelenjr at 8:34 AM on February 29, 2012

I live alone which sucks most of the fun out of cooking, so here's what I live off of:

Eggs (scrambled, hard boiled, made into egg salad, etc.)
String cheese
Chicken (I put dijon mustard on it and cook it for 15 minutes, lasts for a few days)
Salmon (again, bake for 15 or so minutes and eat off of for a few days)
Steamed broccoli and carrots (I buy the fresh bagged stuff, nuke for for 3 or 4 minutes)
Bananas and peanut butter
Cottage cheese
Black beans (pour on some salsa, nuke for 3 minutes)
Turkey sandwiches
I keep a few frozen meals on hand for when it's time to go to the store for fresh stuff and it's the last thing I want to do

And I made a vow to avoid fast food drive thrus completely. I am sad to say I love that garbage, but it'll kill ya.
posted by cecic at 9:14 AM on February 29, 2012

I get like this occasionally, when I'm really stressed out or depressed--if it takes the slightest effort to acquire or prepare, I'm not going to eat it. So when I know one of these days might be coming up, I get a roast chicken from the grocery store deli. Then when I am in this state and hungry, I just pull the chicken out of the fridge and rip off pieces of it to eat, usually with some cheese. If I'm feeling really fancy, I may combine the two with bread to make a sandwich. In subsequent days I'll toss what's left into a soup or salad (sometimes even canned soup or storebought salad), or mix it up with mayo for chicken salad.

When I was living on my own and really depressed, there was a time period where I ate nothing but shrimp cocktail trays from the Mexican grocery across the street. I still find them to be pretty tasty and relatively healthy convenience foods. If your grocery store doesn't sell pre-made trays, they probably still have cooked shrimp and jarred cocktail sauce.

Cheese and crackers is a good go-to food that's a little more substantial than baby carrots. If slicing cheese is too much effort, get Babybels, string cheese, or Laughing Cow wedges, or some sort of cheese spread. Along similar lines, Hormel makes a "snack tray" of cheese cubes, meat, and crackers (basically Lunchables for grownups) that may be pricier than cooking at home, but is tasty and probably better for you than Wendy's. You can also usually find cheese trays, veggie trays, and snack trays at most grocery store delis.

Boiled eggs are good, too, especially with some pickles and cheese and crackers. If boiling the egg is too much effort, many grocery stores and convenience stores sell 2-packs of boiled, pre-peeled eggs for not much more than a couple eggs would have cost you raw.

Maybe slightly more effort, but still pretty easy: baked potatoes; bagged salad kits from the grocery store; microwaved cheese sandwiches, ramen with chopped veggies or meat thrown in.
posted by rhiannonstone at 12:24 PM on February 29, 2012

thanks everyone for a lot of good suggestions

>I get like this occasionally, when I'm really stressed out or depressed--if it takes the slightest effort to acquire or prepare, I'm not going to eat it.

>Cooking for one is tedious, expensive, and anti-climactic

it's also comforting to know I'm not the only one who has faced this type of dilemma.
posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey at 7:06 PM on February 29, 2012

If washing dishes is part of the problem (I know it is for me), buy paper plates, maybe even plastic forks and spoons. It'll still cost less and create less waste than fast food. (Of course, there's still the washing of the pots and pans you cooked with.)
posted by WasabiFlux at 1:01 AM on March 1, 2012

I keep apples, bananas and lots of dried fruit (raisins, sultanas, mango, apple, pear and cranberries) in my bedroom, as well as a knife and a plate so I can chow down on fruit at a moment's notice.
posted by teraspawn at 7:53 AM on March 1, 2012

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