How do I eat without cooking?
June 18, 2012 9:00 PM   Subscribe

I know how to cook from scratch. Help me not do that this summer.

I don't want to cook. It's incredibly hot, I don't have air conditioning and I am busy. I want to avoid cooking and I want to avoid messing up the kitchen. What are some good-tasting, relatively healthy brands and varieties of microwavable food? What takeout options should I consider beyond rotisserie chickens, which I'm already growing tired of? Difficulty: I am in the midst of a series of dental procedures and need to avoid heavy chewing, so raw salads and hard fruits are out. There's no Trader Joe's nearby, but I can shop at Whole Foods, the usual supermarkets and Costco. I am not looking for quick cooking-from-scratch recipes. Right now, even making a frittata is too onerous.
posted by Wordwoman to Food & Drink (29 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
I am not usually a fan of microwave meals, but the Amy's Kitchen frozen stuff isn't half bad. I really like almost all of their Indian and Mexican meals (enchiladas and bowls more so than the burritos), which I think lend themselves well to freezing/microwaving. They also have a roasted vegetable lasagna that isn't too bad. All of that stuff is really soft so you won't have to chew too much.

For quick takeout, Chipotle burrito bowls. I prefer to do salad-style with lettuce instead of rice, but that might be too difficult for you with the dental procedures. If you focus on the salsas as your flavor source and omit stuff like cheese and sour cream and do guac on the side, it's not too bad nutrition-wise.
posted by joan_holloway at 9:14 PM on June 18, 2012 [5 favorites]

I really like Steamer's microwaveable meals, especially on those days when I don't have the energy or desire to cook.
posted by livinglearning at 9:22 PM on June 18, 2012

I agree with the rec of Amy's. The pesto tortellini is one of my favorites, but the Indian and Mexican are also pretty darn good. Alszo, their little nacho snacky rolls. Mmmmm.

Cedarlane is another one. I loooove their Burrito Grande with the chili verde sauce. They used to have this awesome stuffed foccacia, but I haven't seen it for quite a while.
posted by Madamina at 9:25 PM on June 18, 2012

Do you have a crockpot? We use ours constantly in the summer to keep from heating up the house with the stove and oven. And you only have one big dish to wash when you're done.
posted by chiababe at 9:26 PM on June 18, 2012 [4 favorites]

I had a cookbook once for 'tiny kitchens' that suggested making plates of party food for hot day meals, and every summer I usually have a few days I do this: rolled up sliced meats and cheeses, bowl of spiced olives, tuna salad on lettuce or in a tomato. You could totally supplement this at the salad bar at Whole Foods.

My favorite healthy cooking website has reviews of convenience foods, with the obvious warning that sometimes the brands/specifics reviewed aren't available since companies seem to have a low threshold for discontinuing less popular dishes.
posted by cobaltnine at 9:29 PM on June 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

I like doctoring up Costco's chicken tamales with some cheese and local salsa. Costco has a lettuce wrap kit sometimes that's great for summer meals, too.

Grab some bagged salad and then hit your grocery store's salad bar for the toppings, combine at home.

If you have a farmer's market nearby, they often have healthy baked goods, jams, veggies, summer sausage, etc., and you can assemble a nice little selection of stuff to graze on.

I've done takeout from Ruby Tuesdays a couple of times recently and it's been pretty good -- they have a decent selection of seafood and salads these days, not just burgers.

I also find that Thai take out is generally much healthier than Chinese takeout. You can also get those 90-second microwaveable rice packets to have one hand to stretch Thai takeout further.
posted by Ostara at 9:29 PM on June 18, 2012

For takeout lunch, I like to get a little dish of marinated tofu and whatever else there is from the salad bar at Whole Foods. There's a lot that's not raw or chewy.

I love Dr. Praeger products which are sold at Whole Foods. They make all kinds of potato, fish and vegetable patties. I think they tell you not to microwave the patties but I do it all the time and melt lowfat Swiss cheese on top. I have tried pretty much every one of the vegetarian "meats" found in the freezer section of Whole Foods. Boca products are probably the worst; most of the others are pretty tasty, microwaveable and not too chewy. There are some pretty good eggplant meatballs or croquettes which I heat up in a jar of marinara in the microwave. (If you hate the idea of fake meats-- I did too, but some of these products are not really trying to mimic meat and they are good in themselves. And they are extremely no-fuss, no-mess.)
posted by BibiRose at 9:32 PM on June 18, 2012

You might find Tasty Lies helpful - they review (mostly) frozen single-serve meals, plus they take photos so you can see how the actual meal looks compared to what's on the box.
posted by SisterHavana at 9:37 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you go the crockpot route, stick it outside or in the garage, to avoid heating up the house with it at all, so long as you live somewhere where people won't mess with it or have access to it.
posted by 6550 at 10:07 PM on June 18, 2012

Here's a link to Summer Express: 101 Simple Meals Ready in 10 Minutes or Less, from Mark Bittman's 2007 NYTimes archive.

There are at least a few recipes listed that meet your criteria—check it out!
posted by simulacra at 10:08 PM on June 18, 2012 [6 favorites]

Ethnic Gourmet frozen foods taste a lot better to me than the other brands listed so far. Their Saag Paneer is comfort food for me. Good wholesome ingredients, too.
posted by artistic verisimilitude at 10:14 PM on June 18, 2012

I was mistaken: it's Palak Paneer, not Sag Paneer. And now that I've found the website I get to specify other flavors on the grocery list.
posted by artistic verisimilitude at 10:29 PM on June 18, 2012

When your teeth are sore - or not in your mouth but in the dentist's custody - Cream of Wheat and oatmeal can be your friends. Nourishing and can be swallowed with minimum chewing. Best of all, they can be made in the bowl = no pan to wash. If you can tolerate milk/cream and sugar, so much the better for energy when you are pooped and sweltering.
posted by Cranberry at 10:36 PM on June 18, 2012

I like to keep a bunch of those "steams in the bag" frozen veggies on hand, then I pair them with the pre-made meat things from Costco (ground chicken/spinach/cheese patties, steak strips, pre-cooked sausages of all kinds -- they really do have quite a assortment). Toss it in the microwave, add some bread or one of those heat and serve packets of rice, and you're good to go in a matter of minutes. Still a little high in sodium but not as bad as many other pre-made meals, it's super quick, reasonably healthy, and there's almost no cleanup beyond washing your dishes.
posted by Balonious Assault at 11:13 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you like pasta and "without cooking" includes the willingness to use a skillet, I highly recommend Bertolli's frozen meals. ~10 minutes of preparation, with absolutely no "cooking" beyond pouring the contents of the bag into the skillet (no little flavor packets to open and pour or anything), covering it, and stirring a couple of times. I like the chicken parmigiana, chicken florentine, italian sausage, and linguine with chicken.
posted by ylee at 11:58 PM on June 18, 2012

Came in to recommend Amy's - they have these "whole meals" things with one enchilada and rice and beans that have saved the day for me on multiple occasions.

Also if you investigate the freezer section of the regular supermarket (and maybe Costco) you will find frozen vegetables with a little sauce that come in individual portion sizes that you can toss in the microwave, no dish involved. There are a few different brands that have this and they've all been pretty good - because the bag is never opened until it's time to be used entirely, there's no freezerburn problem. When you're eating a lot of premade stuff and deliberately avoiding crunchy salads, you're likely to not get enough veggies, so they might help.

Depending on your Whole Foods they might have all sorts of pickup meal options that aren't rotisserie chicken for you. Mine has sushi, udon noodle bowls, a burrito and taco bar in addition to the deli counter and salad bar, and that's just the stuff that's always available rain or shine. They're also super duper accommodating when it comes to special requests, I've found. Like once I ordered a noodle bowl to go, but I asked that they put the noodles, toppings, and broth all in separate containers so I could eat it much later that night, and they didn't bat an eyelash.
posted by Mizu at 1:08 AM on June 19, 2012

For pure microwavable things, I have never been disappointed with anything from Stouffers. Healthy Choice is nearly as good. Considering they are microwave meals.

For carry out, the little Chinese carryouts everywhere are usually surprisingly good, even if the store doesn't look very good. Usually the more run down and even dirty it looks, the better their food, even their "American" style items. I try those like a little game. YMMV.

You can order and pick up carryout meals from most IHOP, Denny's, Friendly's, TGIFridays, Outback, Applebees.
posted by caclwmr4 at 1:15 AM on June 19, 2012

Since my mom's cancer surgery and subsequent disability, while I improved my cooking skills, we've been eating a lot of Marie Callender's frozen meals. My favorite is the Sweet & Sour Chicken. Healthy Choice's Cafe Steamers are pretty good too.

Also go to the frozen section and check out the ready-made meals in bags. Stuff like beef lo-mein, stir-fry, etc. You don't need to add any ingredients, they're usually meant to feed 2 (so leftovers!) and you're usually doing nothing more than dumping it in a skillet (with perhaps 1/4 cup of water) and heating it for 10 minutes.
posted by IndigoRain at 1:49 AM on June 19, 2012

Nthing the Amy's dinners. I'm particularly fond of the Tofu Scramble with hash browns (does not taste like tofu at all!) and the Pasta Vegetable Bowl.

Also, Progresso soups are tasty, filling and many are pretty low in calories if that is a concern. Some varieties are nice dumped over a serving of microwave rice (which comes in little bags that need absolutely no prep other than opening the bag and sticking in the microwave for a minute or so.)
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 4:17 AM on June 19, 2012

Nthing the Amy's frozen meals as well. There is a "light" meal of polenta and kale that is really tasty.

EZ Mac is.... not "good" in any sense, but is a personal guilty pleasure, and super fast/easy to make.

2 of my favorite no-cook meals are avocado toast (a ripe avocado smeared on some toast, with salt/pepper and maybe some hot sauce); and baking a sweet potato in the microwave, then eating with salt/pepper.
posted by Fig at 6:02 AM on June 19, 2012

Evol frozen burritos are pretty tasty. They have both regular & breakfast-style burritos and lots of natural/organic ingredients.
posted by jabes at 6:33 AM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Kitchens of India boil-in-the-bag. You can even get it delivered to your house. I like it with a side of naan bread for dipping in sauces.

If watermelon isn't too much for your teeth, we basically live on watermelon and feta salad here in summer. Bite sized cubes of watermelon, squeeze a lime over it, crumble some feta on top. Sweet, salty, sour, refreshing. Does involve butchering a watermelon, however, which can be onerous.
posted by looli at 7:08 AM on June 19, 2012

I agree, Amy's is great for frozen (and I HATE frozen entrees!) Another option, is Stouffers mac and cheese and stuffed cabbage (love that stuff). Greek yogurt is a great option for you, filling, protein, calcium.

I think Italian take out would be nice, spaghetti and meat sauce or risotto.

Go to a deli and get some chicken or tuna salad. Light, cool, tasty and healthy-ish.

A melon and berry salad with cottage cheese.

Microwaved kosher hot dogs? Beenie weenies?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:21 AM on June 19, 2012

The brands vary in different locations, but I see Kitchens of India and Ethnic Gourmet mentioned above... on the whole, I have had great luck with Indian-food-in-a-bag (or in a bag inside a box). I don't know what it is, but they're almost always good. If you have an Indian grocery store nearby, these meals will be about 1/2 or 1/3 of the price at Whole Foods, so try that. Lots of yummy paneer, chickpea, and lentil dishes, so they should all be good for your teeth, too.

You can also sometimes find different and interesting pre-prepared foods at other Asian groceries, too--depending what you have in your area. If you can find Japanese curry, which usually comes just as sauce blocks but is sometimes also available with veggies in a bag, that's great. I've seen a lot of Korean box meals, too, but haven't tried them.

Frozen dumplings and instant noodles are other options from the same source. If you can explore a wide selection, you can usually find some instant noodles that you can make in the bowl, and that will actually really get cooked in the bowl. Vermicelli, for example. There's also a whole bunch of different kinds of Korean noodles that are meant to be served cold, which would be good for summer! You find them in the fridge at Korean groceries, and to prepare them, you boil the noodles, then run cold water over them, and add a cold broth that comes in the package. I think they're much healthier than the usual fried and dried instant noodles. As for frozen dumplings, check the packages and find some which have microwave instructions. Many of them need to be steamed, but some (BBQ pork buns, for example) are fine with a minute in the microwave. Or if you are OK with boiling things, many dumplings can be boiled also.

And of course, edamame make a good low-prep snack, if, again, you're OK with boiling them.
posted by snorkmaiden at 8:00 AM on June 19, 2012

Definitely Amy's and Evol. I had an Evol mexican-style beef bowl that was seriously one of the best things I've ever eaten! If you're okay with sticking something in the oven, Amy's pizzas are divine.

Also for snacks you should get some VitaTops muffin tops!
posted by radioamy at 9:05 AM on June 19, 2012

Ahaha, I dunno about healthy, but I love the Fast Fixin' microwaveable Country-Fried Steaks. Even my dad the chicken-fried steak snob is a fan. Their microwaveable hamburger patties are also very good.
posted by nicebookrack at 9:06 AM on June 19, 2012

Oh I almost forgot - Kashi has great microwaveable meals! I just ate the Chicken Florentine for lunch, it's ridiculously good.
posted by radioamy at 10:12 AM on June 19, 2012

Plain yogurt with berries: this is a meal if you eat enough of it.

I am a fan of Sabra hummus, on pita, with hot sauce.

I don't know if this is too arduous (it isn't for me, and I have lived in my apartment for almost a year and I have yet to turn the oven or stove on), but a smoothie. Yogurt, milk or orange juice, and some frozen fruit. A banana. Some spinach.

Olives and caviar. This is also a meal, if you want salt and you want a lot of salt.
posted by millipede at 1:39 PM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

And you only have one big dish to wash when you're done.

Seconding the crockpot, and there are crockpot liners by the ziplock bags/wax paper at the grocery store. So handy.

If you go this direction, you might want to check out my previous question where I prepare different stuff beforehand, keep it in the fridge, and microwave at my leisure.
posted by Evilspork at 3:07 AM on June 20, 2012

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