Help us eat healthy and save money with an infant
February 8, 2013 6:44 PM   Subscribe

Mrs. Thabombshelter and I have a four month old son and would love to eat more meals that aren't takeout. Plus, with a baby, money is obviously a valuable and precious commodity. Easy prep and inexpensive ingredients are a priority. So please, help us with some suggestions for easy-ish, healthy-ish, cheap-ish meals that can help us avoid Papa Johns or Chinese takeout.

Both of us love eating well and making food at home. Before the boy came, we cooked about 4 or 5 meals at home a week, but now we're lucky if we can manage 2. We love using the crockpot (and have a great crockpot cookbook already), but can't really manage more than about 1 crockpot meal a week.

Here are some snowflakes:

-Thanks to our exersaucer, I have found that some light prep is possible, like: chopping an onion or two, chopping carrots or peppers or celery. However, deboning an entire chicken or chopping stew meat from a 3lb roast is too much.

-We both really want to avoid prepared/processed ingredients like frozen meal starters etc. I also want to steer away from the old school casseroles that involve canned soup-like methods.

-We ARE vegetarian friendly, but we're also happy meat eaters and enjoy our protein. Tofu isn't really in our wheelhouse, but beans and other legumes are awesome.

-We are NOT looking for "Make a huge batch of X on Sunday and eat it all week," or "Make all of your meals for the week on Sunday and freeze them." I'm okay with meals that cook for an hour or so, as long as the prep is simple. I made a great baked pasta dish on Wednesday that took about 45 minutes to cook, all told, but the only active prep was chopping two onions and tossing in a can of pureed tomatoes.

-If I can take any of these meals to lunch the next day, that would be an added bonus.

PS- Assume we have a fully stocked kitchen, and while we have a pressure cooker, I'm not 100% comfortable with relying on it as a primary cooking tool (plus, we have a crappy glass-top electric range)

PPS- We also have access to ANY ethnic or exotic ingredients and we are located in Cincinnati, OH, USA
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith to Food & Drink (25 answers total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
I'm curious about why you can't "manage more than one crockpot meal a week". In the first year of our kids' lives, the crockpot was our go-to tool for a wide variety of very easy-to-prep, fire-and-forget meals. What is limiting you to one a week there?
posted by mhoye at 7:02 PM on February 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

I've got a 5.5 month old, so I feel your pain/delight. Lately, I've been making a great soup of kale and wild rice with chicken sausage. You could also add white beans if you like. Very minimal prep - chop the kale and the sausage. For even less prep, Trader Joes's sells chopped kale. I'm definitely eating more chicken/lamb sausage and such rather than prepping a whole chicken - as you point out, minimal prep time makes a huge difference. Now that my kid is starting solids, I'm also doing some multipurpose cooking - pureeing a cauliflower or squash for a soup/side for me and a meal for him.
posted by judith at 7:10 PM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Sweet potatoes. Peel, cube, boil until tender, drain, mash.
At this point, I cook more than I need and put them on a cookie sheet in heaping tablespoon lumps (I use a small disher) and freeze everything but a few cups. The unfrozen can be served as is. What I do is make a mix of 1/2 C crushed rice chex (or bread crumbs, or corn flakes - I use rice chex because it's gluten free and my daughter can't have gluten and I can't have corn), 1/2 cup chopped walnuts, a tablespoon of melted butter, a pinch of salt, and a tablespoon of maple syrup. The sweet potatoes go into an ovenproof dish put the rest on top and into a 350 oven for I dunno, 20 minutes or more?

This goes over with the kids well. You can go easy on the topping if there aren't teeth to chew itte

We love our slow cooker - we'll oven roast a chicken (basically, rinse, salt, pepper, sage or old bay and roast at 375 until done), cut up some meat for a meal, strip the carcass after the meal and toss the bones and whatever wilty veg are in the fridge (carrots, celery, etc) into the pot with some pepper corn and bay leaf (I usually stick a few cloves into an onion and toss that in) and let it go on low over night. In the morning, I strain off the broth and use it for chicken soup later in the week. We'll also use leftover chicken meat for a simple stir fry. My kids love brisket - I'll put a slab of corned beef (well-rinsed) on a bed of carrots and cover with beef broth (or the homemade chicken broth) and a bay leaf and cook that for 8 hours, served with steamed broccoli (my kids like the Jacques Pepin Broccoli Picante recipe which is juice of a lemon, equal amount of olive oil, dash of salt, several shakes of Tobasco - it's delicious. Don't worry about the spice. My son, who flips over a single grain of pepper doesn't know and practically drinks the sauce).

They also like pierogi (or liked until we had to go gluten free).

We've enjoyed a beet salad that was made from either canned or roasted beets (I used roasted in the summer because we got them farm fresh and when I grilled something for dinner, I'd toss in the beets wrapped in foil while we ate) sliced, with crumbled blue cheese and some balsamic vinegar, chilled.

Our approach with our children has been "they eat what we eat" and if they don't eat it, we ask them to be civil at least, because they won't die. As they got older, we started having them participate in the planning.

Soups in general can be very healthy, although my kids balk at most. Mrs. Plinth and I love squash soup, my kids not so much.

Forgot - spaghetti squash is an easy prep - halve it the long way, seed it, put one half face-down in a shallow microwave-safe dish with a few tablespoons of water. Cover with plastic wrap and microwave until tender (about 5-7 minutes. Repeat with the other one and scrape out the meat with a big spoon. It will look more or less like pasta, goes well with red sauce or pesto and is better for you than pasta.
posted by plinth at 7:11 PM on February 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Just go with The Fresh20. It's pretty much exactly what you need for $5 a month. Fresh, quick and easy to cook, healthy meals and it saves me tons of money on groceries.
posted by halogen at 7:12 PM on February 8, 2013 [12 favorites]

I work a lot and have been trying to eat more at home. I often will rough-chop a bunch of greens such as chard, kale, spinach, etc.*, saute that in a pan, and then add frozen turkey meatballs and store-bought tomato sauce until the meatballs are heated through. Portion out and grate some Parm on top and it's really tasty, and fairly healthy as long as you aren't watching sodium.

*Since you are in a city I bet you can buy greens already pre-washed and chopped, which will be a good time-saver.
posted by stellaluna at 7:12 PM on February 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Great question.

Creamy Chicken on toast.

Chili (brown the beef, throw in some spices, can o' kidney beans, can o' tomatoes . . . ta-da).

Chef salad

Breakfast for dinner (pancakes, waffles, french toast, sausage and/or bacon and smoothies)

Flop-Overs (slather one half of a tortilla with refried beans, sprinkle cheese on it, fold the tortilla over and cook both sides on the griddle. Serve with salsa and sour cream. Side of fruit)

Cheesy toast (make a roux of butter, flour, milk. add shredded cheese. serve on toast)

Crock pot chicken - throw a whole chicken in the crockpot for the day. Eat with BBQ or even plain. Very tender and delicious. The chicken can also be used for other recipes throughout the week.
posted by Sassyfras at 7:16 PM on February 8, 2013

I use my rice cooker a lot. A big batch of grain (brown rice, farro, quinoa etc) + vegetables (frozen are super easy) and or beans, cheese + sauce = healthy, yummy and cheap.
posted by cestmoi15 at 8:20 PM on February 8, 2013

Frittatas, which are made of eggs and just about anything else you have on hand. This recipe calls for parmesan, asparagus and ham, but you can use any cheese, vegetable, and/or meat.
posted by Wordwoman at 8:41 PM on February 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Get Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Italian Cooking. Lots of simple, down-to-earth recipes that don't take a lot of prep (and more complicated ones for when your kiddo is older!) and definitely don't call for canned cream of mushroom soup. Easy ones include pasta with tomato and onion (prep time, minus cooking, about 10 min); pasta with tomatoes and cream; roast chicken with two lemons. Also recipes for frittata as Wordwoman suggests.

Also, if you want to make bread, google No-knead Bread and follow the recipe from the NYT. Super simple and you won't find anything better from a bakery.
posted by torticat at 9:01 PM on February 8, 2013

Check out Desperation Dinners and Cheap. Fast. Good! - two cookbooks by the same authors; their claim in Desperation Dinners is that every meal can be prepared in 20 minutes. That's a little iffy to me but there are a lot of good options in both books.
posted by lemniskate at 9:15 PM on February 8, 2013

Get a bread machine and start baking your own breads, which is cheaper over the long run, healthier, vastly tastier, and gives you a lot of options for making really good sandwiches that make a meal. Making bread in a breadmaker is two minutes of dumping the right ingredients into it and pushing the button.
posted by fatbird at 9:16 PM on February 8, 2013

As an university student, I'm plagued by the same problem - lack of budget, lack of time. Meal planning is a skill that has always eluded me, so instead, I keep several ingredients constantly on hand that are versatile enough that I can just look in the fridge, decide what I want to eat on the spot, and quickly throw something together, but also can keep for a while so I won't have any issues with my food spoiling before I can actually use it.

Here's my list:

Potatoes - keeps for impossibly long and can be cooked in a million ways. Self explanatory.
Bok Choy - since you tend to use the stems as much as the leaves, it keeps quite well too, if you don't mind some slight yellowing. You can toss them into stirfries or boil them into soup... It's an excellent way to add some greens to your food.
Green Onions - rather them getting them from the supermarket, just toss some of the roots you get into a pot and watch them flourish. A few of these can spice up any meal in a myriad of ways even just as an afterthought.
Mushrooms - sauteed mushrooms go with almost anything, so if you're finding yourself lacking a vegetable in the meal you've tossed together, you can just use that.

Ground Beef - again, incredibly versatile. Can almost stand alone with very few additions if you're browning it for fast protein.
Firm, Non-Oily Fish Fillets - these freeze very well, but thaw in a manner of minutes, and again, you can do a lot with it from breading it and frying it to baking it. They also cook incredibly fast as well.

Eggs - an omelette, frittata, or even steamed/scrambled egg can effortlessly act as the centerpiece in a meal.

Miso Paste - beyond the obvious application of instant and delicious soup, Miso Paste works amazingly as a marinade/seasoning. Works really well with the fish - you just baste it on, bake it, and wow.
Cumin - cumin is the one spice that I've noticed makes a huge difference in taste when it comes to meat. Even bland and hastily cooked meat (see ground beef) takes on a new life with some liberal application of it.
Firm Tofu - I know you said you're bad with tofu, but I have a suspicion that you might be using soft tofu, which is a pain to work with and easily devolves into a mush if you're not an expert at it. Firm tofu is the opposite - you can do anything with it and it won't complain at all.

Another tip I find really helpful is to look into Chinese/Japanese cooking - not the Americanized type, but the simple, home-cooking recipes. A lot of Asian cooking was developed to save on time and energy, so it's really a no-frills way to make simple and delicious food. Interestingly too, a lot of the pre-packaged frozen Asian products are of the type that suffer very little from freezing and is designed to be cooked from frozen - spring rolls and dumplings/dim sum come to mind. So you may find that a refreshing change from the frozen meal starters, which really are just facsimiles of food that isn't meant to be frozen in the first place.
posted by Conspire at 9:32 PM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

look, i don't have children, but i am incredibly lazy so this is what i eat most of the time. also everything has leftovers because i'm also too lazy to make lunch the next day.

1. pasta with tomato-butter sauce. recipe here. this is amazing and delicious and stupid easy. chop onion in half. open can of good tomatoes. add butter. boil water. drain pasta. this costs like $5.

2. sweet potato and black bean burritos. chop up a sweet potato into chunks, throw them in a ziploc bag with some salt, garlic powder, cumin and chili powder, cayenne if you like it spicy. and some olive oil. roast until soft. in the meantime, heat up a can of black beans and open a container of sour cream and a jar of salsa (i am in love with trader joe's green salsa for this). if you're feeling especially romneyesque, throw in an avocado or some guac. anyway, put all the shit in a tortilla with some cheese and eat it. this costs like $6-7 total, but you get a lot of leftovers.

3. i don't have a name for this, but i eat this like twice a week because it's super cheap and super easy. cook some pasta. right before it's done cooking, throw in some handful of kale or swiss chard. drain. add 2-3 tablespoons of butter to hot pasta and greens. throw in a handful of parmesan cheese. add a can of tuna. sprinkle liberally with black pepper. eat. this costs like $4.

4. super lazy bacon fried rice. chop up some bacon into pieces, cook in a pan. add some chopped onion, then add leftover cold rice to the bacon grease (you can take some out, it just depends on how much is in there. don't be afraid of bacon grease). stir until rice is heated and also deliciously bacony. move rice to the edges of your pan and throw in an egg or two. stir that around so it sort of coats the rice with delicious egg. cook until the egg isn't raw anymore. also put some peas in there because they're green and that's gonna make you feel a WHOLE lot better about eating egg-coated rice fried in bacon grease. this costs like $4 if you don't use a whole pound of bacon.

5. tabbouleh. soak some bulgur wheat (or you can use quinoa if you want to be healthy). add chopped tomato, chopped cucumber, chopped green onion. toss with lemon juice and olive oil. i also like to add feta cheese to mine because life without cheese is no life at all. if you use the quinoa, it's a complete protein. otherwise i will sometimes add chickpeas. or, you know, just eat an entire container of hummus with my finger. this costs like $5-6, but you get a lot of leftovers.
posted by kerning at 9:57 PM on February 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

If prep time is your main constraint, could you occasionally have a local butcher wrangle some of the meat prep for you? Our local butcher shop and friendlier local grocers are quite willing to debone meat that's only available with the bone in, or cut meat into chunks. (I also have limited prep/cooking time, and have found this to be a huge help!)
posted by eseuss at 10:15 PM on February 8, 2013

I made this pasta the other night and it was a hit with both of us and quick to make. Changes I made: used 1/2 of the whole sausage (I think she used 1/4 of it), used whole wheat egg noodles, and added a chopped green pepper. It looks like a good recipe for using up whatever you've got. I've had good results with the recipes on that site and most seem pretty quick and cheap.

This recipe for squash stuffed with sausage is another one I make when I don't have time for a lot of prep. I usually just use one big squash and used the whole thing rather than just using the center of two small ones. We're not big squash eaters, but we like this (I buy the Jimmy Dean reduced fat breakfast sausage when it's on sale, freeze it, and use it in this).

Another recipe I'm loving for quick and easy is this curry. I double the recipe but quadruple the green beans to get a little extra veg in there. If chicken breasts are too expensive where you are, I'm sure boneless thighs would be fine.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 10:57 PM on February 8, 2013

Best answer: Our son is 22 months old.

If you want to save money AND have a lovely time with your wee one when the weather breaks - START VISITING YOUR LOCAL FARMERS MARKET!!

If you have a great farmers market, this may also solve many of your protein needs - farmers market eggs are cheaper and better (not as cheap as commercial crap eggs, but waaay cheaper than supposedly organic eggs from you grocery store,) pasture raised chicken tastes better and is better for you (better prices in LA than grocery, don't know about Ohio) and I found an awesome source for grass fed and corn finished ground beef at a butcher shop that is USDA PRIME at $3.50 per lbs - so much better than the ground beef at grocery stores. Butcher shops, if you find a good one, love on it:))

- Slow cooker is your friend in the first year. Embrace it.

Stew cuts of beef (or lamb, if you go that way) are ridiculously inexpensive and they become LOVELY in the slow cooker. Add herbs, garlic, onions or shallots, water or red wine, towards the last 2 hours add carrots and potatoes or white beans, last 15 minutes add chopped greens.

- Sweet potatoes and beets wrapped in foil, roasted in the oven for an hour, keep in your fridge for up to a week.

After roasting, you can easily take off the beet skins. My child hates sweet potato skins, so I scoop out the soft orange goodness for him and reheat in a small sauce pan with organic butter.

- Buy your beets whole with good-looking tops, saute the tops as you would kale or chard.

- Roast squashes the same way as beets or sweet potatoes - scoop out the delicious and season.

- Add mushrooms to everything.

- Slow cooker good ground beef with tomato paste, h2o, garlic, onion, cumin, oregano, and season with salt for about 5 hours or so for AWESOME chilli.

- Do the same chilli recipe in the slow cooker, but delete the cumin, and add basil and shredded carrots with minced mushrooms for a thick and healthy bolognese sauce for pasta.

- Frozen pre-cooked rice (brown, basmati, whatever) is your friend during the first year of your child's life, DON'T OVERLOOK THIS TIME-SAVER.

- Canned beans with the frozen rice + avocado and/or salsa or sauce. You're welcome. Add chicken or whatever if you have time and energy to prepare.

- Lentils are delicious, packed with nutrition, and cook up within 20, they are soft enough for baby with extra liquid within 30 minutes. Add greens, chicken, rice, whatevs to make a one pot meal of them.

- Sometimes my "greens" in a dish are a lot of parsley, which is very very healthy AND tasty!

- Switch to sea salt if you have not already.

- We discovered our baby liked spicey food by accident early on (Thai Penang Coconut Curry, Indian Cuisine) so you never know - don't assume your child doesn't like slighty spiced foods. When Baby Jbenben was younger and eating was difficult, he would ALWAYS eat a curry. Who knew??

Memail me. I could go on for hours about this.

If you get flats of eggs from the farmers market (do!) I hard boil at least 1/3 of the eggs and keep them in the fridge for when I need a quick snack and don't have time to cook - quick and easy.

Last tip for this thread?

For goodness sake - freeze all of your proteins (like ground beef) in good quality ziploc bags as flat as effing possible.


Because then you can toss a flatten bag of frozen whatever into a bowl or sink of COLD water and have it defrosted within a half hour. This is science. It will save your life while you have an infant.

This reminds me that I used to come home from the farmers market, chop up a bunch of stuff, layer it with cheese and cooked ground meat or the like, and freeze it in ceramic casserole dishes I could pop into the oven to bake/defrost at will. As my child has gotten older, I no longer need to do this, but I did it ALOT before he started walking.

Seriously. I could go on for hours.

Anyway. Hoped the helped.
posted by jbenben at 11:16 PM on February 8, 2013 [9 favorites]

When I was a sleep-deprived and busy parent of an infant, the thing about "cooking" that made it seem like such as hassle was that "cooking" also meant all the prep and washing-up. So I'd suggest a conversation with your spouse about which part of the "cooking" process feels most burdensome to you, and work on reducing that. For my partner and I, it was the dishes, so we moved to making one-pot meals and eating off of paper plates until we felt less bleary and overwhelmed. If shopping is the thing neither you nor your spouse want to spend your limited time and energy on, see if there is a grocery store in your area that delivers, or start buying whatever you can in bulk. If it's prep, start buying ingredients pre-chopped.

My two cents worth: part of the hard part for a lot of people in making the transition to parenthood is the unexpected ways it challenges identity. "I'm not the sort of person who will eat off of paper plates for months on end when we have nice dishes on the house," or "I am not a Sam's Club person," for example.
posted by DrMew at 11:42 PM on February 8, 2013

I did not mention fish because I work in seafood and can't get the appetite up for it anymore at home, but while we are on the subject of seafood...

My position here is if your child will eat it (mine won't) then use your best judgement.

In general, go once per month on bottom feeders like sole and halibut. Stay the fuck AWAY from tilapia - that shit is farmed and has zero regulation! (I love tilapia. This is sad.)

Go lightly on canned tuna. For fresh tuna - skip jack (a smaller species) is better than yellow fin a/k/a ahi (a longer lived version.)

I'm 50/50 on all shellfish. Most shrimp is farmed, but wild shrimp from polluted waters are just as bad. All oysters and clams are bottom feeders (where pollution falls to in the water) but they are delicious and full of great minerals. Once a month there.

Squid. Hmmm. Cheap, tasty, and they have a varied diet. Squid (calamari) are pretty good, I think. Squid steaks are kid-friendly.

For all of this, do your own research.

I have heard (and have no studies to cite) that farmed fish have as much mercury as conventionally farmed chicken and the like. So that's (not exactly) comforting.

I have zero problems with frozen or fresh lobster or lobster tails. These come from very cold and protected waters in Canada and Maine - pretty good. I have less confidence health-wise in lobster tails from Pacific species like Slipper Lobsters or Spiny Lobsters. So, there ya go.

Not sure if this helped. Memail for more details, I guess.
posted by jbenben at 11:43 PM on February 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

Growing up as one of 3 kids in a fairly poor family, my dad used the microwave constantly to speed things along. Think sausages, bacon and eggs cooked in microwaveable dishes, boiling water for minute rice/ noodle applications, rehydrate/boil frozen vegetables in water, etc. He would also use it to nuke potatoes and defrost meat quickly. The electric frying pan/dutch oven was his other favourite tool. Both allowed him to get dinner on the table in less than a half hour, top to bottom. Add in an electric kettle, and you would be good to go. Eg. Boil water for minute rice in kettle, add to rice in pot, cover. Cook sausages in microwave/ frying pan, 8-10 min . Nuke frozen green peas cover with water in microwave, 2 min. Time: less than 20 minutes.

To keep costs down, my family grew vegetables in a small backyard plot in the summer, and also used the local farmers market heavily. Whatever was in season and super cheap got canned or frozen. I suggest you buy a large freezer - my dad had 2. In it over the summer went mashed plain microwave-cooked squash, corn kernels cut from the cobs with a bread knife, chopped green beans, etc. You can also buy into a 1/4 of a cow, or some other animal through a local food cooperative, or through a farm directly. Have your portion butchered and stored in freezer.

Finally, learn to love the " dead veg" rack at the grocery store, and the reduced meat - if it looks like it is "use today", buy a couple and just stick it in the freezer. Honestly, I never saw an expensive b/s chicken breast on my plate till probably the last year of highschool (2004)- if my dad ever bought one, it went into stirfry ti "stretch the meat $".

Using the above tools/approaches, my time-strapped parents delivered quick, nutritionally balanced, healthy meals all the way along. Adding a crockpot would have been fantastic, but didn't seem to be present (likely due to lack of familiarity).
posted by NorthernAutumn at 4:34 AM on February 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

Re. Freezer: my Dad always saved any plastic containers with lids he could get, like yogurt,, margarine, sour cream, ice cream, etc. He never spent a dime on tupperware or storebought containers, just marked the resused with sharpies or labels ( plus the year/month).

Was also thinking, blender and food processor may help you for making baby food, and doing mass chopping of veg for spaghetti sauce or whatever... Makes it that much easier to double the batch, eat one and stick the other in the freezer for months down the road.
posted by NorthernAutumn at 4:44 AM on February 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


I know you don't want to make a ton of *some item* on saterday to eat all week- but spending some time doing prep right after you go shopping is such a life-savor! You kinda have to have a plan for the week in order to make this valuable, but if you know at least three of the meals you'll be eating in a week, preparing however many common ingredients is so nice. And, frozen veg can always be substituted in a pinch (i am not a big fan of the taste comparatively, but if it's no-veg verses frozen, I'll suck it up.)

I'll take my green squash, broccoli, colored peppers, carrots, yellow squash, cauliflower, green beans, mushrooms, and any other vegetable that is on sale and wash and chop them as soon as I have them in the house. They are always ready to toss into whatever I am making.

My easiest, least painful and quickest meals:

Mexican Casserole (which happens to be just as good if you tweak it to being vegan, and is naturally gluten free)
Pre-heat oven to 375
mix up some polenta dough and line the bottom of a greased glass dish (the crust can be anywhere from a quarter to three quarters of an inch on the bottom- you cant really screw this up.)
dump a can of rinsed black beans into dish (can substitute cooked ground beed if you like)
Dump as many pre-cut OR frozen vegetables as you like.
season veg/beans with cumin and adobo
dump one or two jars of salsa on top
heat in oven for about a half-hour to 45 min (until center is hot)
*optional* as much cheddar cheese as you like.

That seems to be the favorite comfort food of choice whenever my sick friends want food brought over.

"who needs noodles" spagetti.
Jar of marinara sauce (I like the home-made kind with no sugar or preservatives)
A giant pile of chopped OR frozen vegetables
two teaspoons of minced garlic
two teaspoons of Italian seasoning
browned ground pork or beef.

toss together and heat. this is one of my boyfriend's favorite meals- and Griphus is goddamned picky.

Stir Fry!
Giant pile of vegetables (pre-chopped or frozen)
a little oil
two tablespoons of minced garlic
a quarter cup of low-sodium soy sauce
whatever meat you want (they sell frozen strips of chicken or beef that are hella easy to drop in)
posted by Blisterlips at 5:54 AM on February 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

Our favourite easy meal is shepherd's pie. It also makes good leftovers (which says a lot, because I'm normally really bad at finishing leftovers). Just don't forget to start your potatoes first, and cube them small enough for quick cooking. Sometimes I get ahead of myself thinking it's such an easy meal and my meat is started before I've even thought about potatoes. oops.

Soup night is also a favourite for days where we're feeling lazy and not too hungry. The other day I made a vichyssoises with very little effort, and it felt fancy! In a saucepan, coarsely hopped fried bacon (set aside), brown a bone-in chicken breast in the leftover fat, drain fat, sautee leeks in the pan, add a large cubed potato, 4 cups of liquid, chicken and thyme. Simmer until the chicken and potatoes are cooked through, remove chicken, debone, slice, purree the soup with an immersion blender (or otherwise), add heavy cream, sour cream or yoghurt, bring up to heat again. Serve garnished with chicken breast and bacon bits. This "recipe" made enough for 3-4 in terms of liquid, I'd add another piece of chicken for more than 2-3 though.

Another favourite (for me anyway) is frozen salmon/trout filets. They're vacuum packed, so they're easy to thaw in cold water for 30 minutes, they're healthy and the price/quality beats what we can get here, though I'm supposing your location makes shopping fresh easier. The filets are flexible- sometimes I just throw them in a pan with some oil and lemon juice, other times I'll bake them for 20 min at 375F with a marinade or rub. A favourite rub is 4 parts brown sugar, 1 part cinnamon, 2 parts chili and lime juice. I'll usually serve this with rice and steamed vegetables since those take a similar amount of time. Often I'll start the rice when I am thawing the fish because it can sit for a while when everything else is cooking. The vegetables are only on the stove for 10 minutes. Easy! Other meats that are good in this way are pork tenderloin and chicken breast. They are simple, easy to thaw fast cooking proteins that can compliment a variety of flavours.

Mini meat loaves, how could I forget? I put them in a muffin tin... loaded up with grated carrots they're so moist and yummy.

Also, don't underestimate big cooking days to serve you over a longer period. We use these meals largely for lunches , but it was such a lifesaver when we recently had 100$ worth of food prepared and in our freezer after the birth of our second kid. A lot of stuff just needed to be paired with a rice or vegetable side, so we barely had to think. It's nice to have the option on nights where your meal plans are ruined or you're otherwise not feeling up to real cooking. Freezing flat in ziploc bags makes for simple reheating. Soups, sauces, stews, casseroles are best, although casseroles are so easy that I tend to prefer them fresh anyway.
posted by sunshinesky at 6:35 AM on February 9, 2013

Have you ever had falafel? I was given a deep fryer for Christmas and I've been making it nonstop. (But you can make it in a skillet too.) Vegetarian, delicious, and oh so cheap - just dried chick peas and a few spices plus cooking oil that can be re-used. (That's an important point - use dried chick peas that have been soaked overnight but not cooked, rather than canned chick peas.)

I know you said you're not looking for "Make a huge batch of X on Sunday and eat it all week" but it's great for that; you can put anything you want on a falafel sandwich, of course, so perhaps you could put your time into preparing tasty toppings. Grocery stores around me (Northeastern U.S.) have a dizzying array of pitas, lavash, and all manner of other things that serve well to make a sandwich with. Joseph's plain basic pitas are for some reason cheaper by weight than all other sorts of rolls and buns, by about half.

I've also been making enormous batches of fried eggplant cutlets and freezing them, but I usually like cheese on an eggplant or eggplant Parmesan sandwich so they turn out a bit less healthy than my falafel sandwiches do.
posted by XMLicious at 8:33 AM on February 9, 2013

I have a two-year-old and we are finally eating real food again after discovering The Scramble. Each week, you get five healthy recipes (three are vegetarian-friendly) and all recipes take 30 minutes or less to make. Even better, the food actually tastes good and most of the time my picky toddler will eat it. Most recipes also include instructions for making everything in the crockpot and tips on what to make in advance to save time.

The only downsides are that the website can be frustrating to navigate and it's not free. I think that you can get a free trial though.
posted by JuliaKM at 6:00 PM on February 9, 2013

Reading this thread reminds me!

I wash a bunch of Parsley from the farmers market and a bunch of cilantro with the rubber bands still on, chop the ends, stick them with some h2o in jars or glasses - I let them air dry then pop them in the frig. As long as I keep the cut stems submerged in water, they stay fresh for 2 weeks. Parsley is especially healthy to eat. 2 weeks they stay fresh and green!

I stick a paper towel in with any bag of lettuce or other greens. Adds one week of freshness.

Tomatoes go on the windowsil. NOT in the frig! Will stay fresh and get sweeter over two weeks!

As mentioned - I buy a bunch or two of beets at the farmers market. I wash and save the beet tops to saute in the fridge in a bag with a paper towel. The beets get washed and wrapped individually with foil, then roasted for an hour+ in the oven at 350 degrees. After they cool, I peel the skins and store all of the roasted beets in a plastic bag.

Ok. That's that.
posted by jbenben at 12:33 AM on February 14, 2013

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