Where's my meal in a cube?
February 15, 2013 3:49 PM   Subscribe

I'm terrible at eating. I'm not bad at cooking, but I'm lazy, and the benefits (tasty food) don't balace the effort (preparation, and cooking and cleaning). If sci-fi meal cubes existed, I would be very happy. What is the easiest way to ensure reasonably complete nutrition?

I don't get particularly bored of foods, I ate the same sandwich basically every day of my life until university. I am comfortable in the kitchen, and I enjoy cooking/baking when I want to cook/bake, but I need to eat more than once every other week or so. Occasionally I manage to do things like cook a week's worth of meals at once, but I can never manage to maintain it because of the time involved.

I would like things that are simple of the open package-(possibly heat)-consume type that aren't full of crap and will help give me a reasonably complete diet nutritionally. So please give me your handy helpful meal solutions. Shelf-stable and/or long expiration would be an added bonus.

Some things in the current rotation, if examples are helpful: Can of chickpeas and a jar of butter chicken sauce; bagel, egg, cheese; baby-carrots and hummus; baked potato. I used to add in Instant Breakfasts but have lately discovered that I can't drink large glasses of milk anymore.
posted by platypus of the universe to Food & Drink (26 answers total) 55 users marked this as a favorite
Hardboil a dozen eggs at the beginning of the week.

Not sure how healthy this is, but we've gotten a bag of breaded chicken cutlets at Costco to keep in the freezer for nights when we don't feel like dealing with anything complex. You put them in the oven and then eat them as a sandwich or in spaghetti.

Trader Joe's has a bunch of frozen packages of rice that can be heated up to go under stuff.

I've found that the Fage greek yogurt works as a breakfast item really well with honey or granola on top.
posted by sciencegeek at 4:01 PM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

This isn't SUPER cost efficient, but I'm working a totally insane 12 hour a day job right now and I've been surviving off weekly visits to the whole foods prepared section. In the morning, a little bit of veggies, olives, beans, whatever goes on top of some lettuce and there you have it.
posted by justjess at 4:03 PM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Roast a chicken. Or if you don't like doing that, get a rotisserie chicken. Lots of things you can do with roast chicken.

If you roast your own, throw root veggies in the roasting pan. That can keep me for a week.
posted by xingcat at 4:03 PM on February 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

Pemmican, with some organ meat included, can sustain you for years.

Potatoes, sweet potatoes, and coconut are also foods that you can make the majority of your diet with likely few if any ill consequences.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 4:03 PM on February 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

Protein shake! It is nutritionally dense not full of garbage and relatively inexpensive per calorie. You want a blend that contains casein as it is a slower digesting protein and will keep you feeling fuller for longer than a whey-only blend. With something simple like chocolate or vanilla, you can mix with water, ice water, coffee, or iced coffee (super good) to mix things up.
posted by milqman at 4:08 PM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Nuts may not be nutritionally perfect, but they're pretty decent and they hit all your other desiderata: easy, convenient, tasty, long shelf life, not full of crap. As long as you don't try to get literally all your calories from nuts over a long stretch of time, you're fine.

Mchicha — an East African greens-and-peanut stew — is really fantastic if you have a minute to cook, and gets you even more nutrients. There's a gazillion different versions of it, and I'm betting you could find/invent one that's entirely open-containers-and-heat, especially if you use frozen spinach for the greens.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 4:09 PM on February 15, 2013 [6 favorites]

I would definitely recommend buying a good rice cooker like a Zojirushi. Get some bags of rice, whatever kinds you like, maybe some lentils. Put them in the rice cooker and add enough water. Push the button that says "cook." That's it. 30-40 minutes later you have perfect rice, if you didn't add lentils open a can of beans, add seasoning/soy sauce/whatever, you're good.
posted by citron at 4:29 PM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Awww yeah, I absolutely love that genre of African greens-and-peanut stew. My favorite version contains crushed pineapple too.

Mestemacher Fitness Bread was too expensive for me to buy regularly last time I lived nearby a place that sold it but it always looked to me as though it's been formulated in defiance of the adage "Man cannot live by bread alone."
posted by XMLicious at 4:30 PM on February 15, 2013

ask.mefi gets the bachelor chow question periodically...
posted by zadcat at 4:34 PM on February 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

I have gotten to the point where getting a glass of water is daunting. It takes time, goshdarnit.

How about buying precooked frozen shrimp, then just defrosting what you want. I just eat them with ketchup & horseradish. Rotisserie chicken is great too. Just cut some slices off and put on pre-washed cutup salad mix.

Rice cooker too much work, you can buy pre-cooked microwaveable brown rice.
posted by fifilaru at 4:59 PM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Funny you ask! Just two weeks ago I finally resolved to try my own solution to this very problem before posting the exact same question to ask.Mefi! Also my friend STILL makes fun of my idea from college where I would eat only supplements and Power Bars but quickly abandoned it due to, uh, bowel issues.

I am pretty lazy and given the choice between cooking up something nice that takes 10 minutes or eating goldfish crackers, I will pick the latter.

So I came up with a plan that makes good nutritious food as easy to eat as goldfish crackers. Once a week I go shopping for the following (some items added that don't need regular purchasing):
Veggies that are good to eat whether raw or cooked. This includes carrots, an onion, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage.
2x boneless skinless chicken breasts.
A pound of brown rice.
A pound of lentils.
One lemon.
One can of coconut milk.
Vegetable stock.
Some sauces like Bragg's, fish sauce, teriyaki sauce.

Then I follow this chicken recipe, which gives you 20 minutes of waiting for it.

While you wait for the chicken, start 2 cups of brown rice in a rice cooker, replacing some of the recommended water with coconut milk. Prep all of the vegetables and put them in tupperware. Squeeze the lemon into a jar and sprinkle it on the vegetables. Save the rest of the lemon juice for next week.

Now get the DELICIOUS chicken breast, cut it into chunks and put it in a tupperware.

Now go do something else until the rice is done. Then scoop it into a tupperware as well.

Now run some lentils through the rice cooker.
1 1/2 cups lentils
1 3/4 cups veggie stock or stock + water
1 bay leaf
Some onion bits
Some carrot bits
Some olive oil.
Just put it all in and let the thing go. Then when it's done put that in a tupperware.

All in all, this all takes less than 30 minutes to prepare.

Then ALL I do when I want something to eat is dump some rice, lentils, chicken, and veggies in a bowl, sprinkle some sauce on it, a splash of water (so your brown rice doesn't come out dry), cover it in plastic wrap, nuke for 2-3 minutes and then eat the crap out of it!

This has helped me WAY more than any suggestion from a nutritionist or well-meaning friend, since they mostly involved getting completely un-lazy.
posted by MonsieurBon at 5:13 PM on February 15, 2013 [11 favorites]

One last tip about that plan: use your RECEIPT from the last time you went shopping as your SHOPPING LIST for next time. This way you don't have to remember a damn thing.
posted by MonsieurBon at 5:16 PM on February 15, 2013 [12 favorites]

I don't think you really want a tasteless food cube, but to literally answer the question, the closest real-world analog is a nutritionally complete prison food called "nutraloaf," which could be prepped in large quantities then frozen and microwaved. Getting served "nutraloaf" is regarded as a punishment, even compared to regular prison food.
posted by tyllwin at 5:24 PM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Magic Soup! (Recipe stolen shamelessly from a previous mefi thread.)

1 can white beans
1 can pureed pumpkin or squash
1 can coconut milk
1 can vegetable broth (or the equivalent amount of Better than Bouillon/broth cubes+water)
Dried sage, salt, and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients together. Heat through. Run through blender if you like your soup extra-smooth. Eat with crusty bread.

One recipe is about two small meals of soup for one person.
posted by ActionPopulated at 5:36 PM on February 15, 2013 [10 favorites]

I get a lot of this stuff, which my husband calls "Sweety's human chow". Despite being a good cook, I hate to cook for myself, and I would live on this and oatmeal and fruit if I lived alone.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:55 PM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

sciencegeek eats my kind of food. One Trader Joe's rice packet + two eggs over easy + cracked pepper + soy sauce = my favorite current meal.

I've found that the Fage greek yogurt works as a breakfast item really well with honey or granola on top.

I found this, too, and ate this for breakfast almost every day for a year. In that year, without having changed much else about my diet, I gained two bra sizes. Correlation does not equal causation, but be careful!
posted by limeonaire at 5:55 PM on February 15, 2013

use your RECEIPT from the last time you went shopping as your SHOPPING LIST for next time. This way you don't have to remember a damn thing.

That's gold!!!!

These are all things you can pick up from a supermarket.
~ Canned lentil soup (or any soup with meat/protein and veggies)
~ Frozen chicken and vegetable pies
~ Some butchers have pre made pinwheels/wraps/parcels with meat and veggies
~ Samosa's which usually contain mince, potatoes and peas
~ Frozen mini quiches
~ A packet of gnocchi with a bottle of spaghetti sauce

You'll either have to heat them in the oven or in the microwave.
posted by praline at 6:36 PM on February 15, 2013

Trying to think of absolutely no effort ok things to eat, I can't think of much that's wrong with your current menu, but maybe you'd like to add in a bag-of-salad (plus dressing out of a bottle or it's pretty easy to slap together) sometimes, and small tubs of proper yoghurt with some fruit or granola or something dumped into it.

I like to cook well enough, and I am always greedy, but sometimes the whole thing is just so tedious. I often daydream about those prison meal loaf things - I reckon one could make one of those that would be delicious, and so easy (and crazy futuristic!). I had a friend whose mum used to make something like that, involving grated vegies (carrot, zucchini, onion chopped), bacon, cheese and eggs, and it was really nice, and super portable.
posted by thylacinthine at 8:27 PM on February 15, 2013

I have a couple of variations of cold bean "dump" salads that are pretty good nutrition-wise and involve little more than dumping a few cans of things into a bowl. My main variants are:

chili bean salad:
1 can chili beans (the vegetarian kind)
1 can corn
1 can diced tomato and jalapenos (aka "Rotel" tomatoes)
1/4 cup vinegar
1/4 cup oil
1 teaspoon cumin if you have it

Italian garbanzo salad:
1 can garbanzos
1 can green beans
1 can Italian style diced tomatoes
1/4 vinegar
1/4 cup oil
tablespoon Italian seasoning
(you can replace the vinegar/oil/seasoning with 1/2 cup Italian dressing if you like)

1. open cans, drain off excess liquid
2. dump
3. stir
4. eat
posted by drlith at 5:26 AM on February 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

Learning to dice an onion properly, and quickly, has made a huge difference in meal prep-time for me, all the more important now that there's a toddler in the house. Diced onion + jar of pre-minced garlic + jar of ginger pulp + canned diced tomatoes, and most of the time-consuming work involved in making a variety of good curries from scratch has been done for you. I can do a saag paneer, from start-to-finish, in 30 minutes thanks to those shortcuts and frozen chopped spinach. And I can make enough in one go to last for several days.
posted by 1adam12 at 7:46 AM on February 16, 2013


My favorite quick meal is Alton Brown's sardine-avocado sandwich. I do a simpler version of it, without the lemon and parsley and vinegar.
posted by yaymukund at 11:46 AM on February 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm doing something along these lines at the moment. My choice is:

1. At the weekend, buy a chicken, a bag of sweet potatoes and some veg suitable for stir frying (I'm going for a couple of carrots, couple of courgettes/zucchini, 3 peppers and anything else I fancy).

2. Roast the chicken - at the lowest grade of effort this pretty much means chuck a bit of butter, seasoning and tin foil on it and forget about it in the oven for and hour and a half. If you can be bothered, stick a quartered onion and/or lemon inside for moistness.

3. Roughly chop the veg, stick it in a bag in the fridge. Takes about 10 minutes.

Then, when you want to eat, just stick a sweet potato in the microwave for 3 or 4 minutes, chuck a couple of handfuls of veg in a hot pan for a couple of minutes, tear off some chicken and add that to the pan, and you're done. Add soy or whatever for taste.

Has the advantage of being insanely healthy as well as pretty economical and easy.

If you want to make even less effort you could buy a bag of ready-chopped stir fry veg, but I find that goes slimy in the fridge within a day or two, so then you have to go to the trouble of buying some more. Chopping your own is more of an overall time saver, as it lasts much longer, even pre-chopped and bagged.
posted by penguin pie at 12:07 PM on February 16, 2013

I experimented a bit with this a long time ago. I had two solutions.

First, I used to make something I called "Instant Thanksgiving" in college. I'd take the individual recipes for instant mashed potatoes, stovetop stuffing, and frozen mixed vegetables; and I'd combine them into one pot. This pretty much meant cooking the vegetables and throwing in everything else at the last minute. In parallel, I'd microwave two Boca burgers which would get folded into the mix after. In all, this was less than 10min.

Second, I made a pilaf of barley, frozen mixed vegetables, butter, and chicken breasts (baked chicken at ~25min at 350F with lemon pepper) in a large pot. It was extremely simple and lasted a week of dinners. I wouldn't let it go past a week, though.

If I were to do this now, I'd mix TVP, frozen vegetables, and couscous into one pot with butter and lemon pepper. Very fast and nutritious, and it won't go bad as fast as using meat.

What I'd love to see is a vitamin-fortified snack based on freeze dried vegetables and TVP, without any MSG or preservatives. You could eat it dry or pour hot water on it. Maybe with puffed rice if you need the carbs. I could eat a bag of that.
posted by hanoixan at 2:29 PM on February 16, 2013

I feel ya, here's what I do:
-1/2 an avocado mashed with chèvre, salt and pepper. Eat with crunchy, seedy crackers
- crack an egg in a bowl. add chèvre and a spoonful of salsa. nuke and add avocado when it comes out
- egg muffins: scramble 6 eggs in a bowl, add brown sausage and a bunch of grated veggies. pour into a muffin tin and bake. eat with guacamole packets and salsa.
- honestly sometimes the above are just too much effort so I keep a lot of deli meat and raw veggies/fruits around. Salami, roast beef, liver wurst and avocados, carrots, mangos and oranges are probably 75% of my diet.
posted by pintapicasso at 2:40 PM on February 16, 2013

These salmon burgers from Costco are cheap, easy to reaheat, and keep forever (because they're frozen). One emergency meal around here is to reaheat one and plonk it on a plate of salad greens.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:01 PM on February 16, 2013

I'm also a lazy ass when it comes too cooking, today I was too lazy to fry an egg. I make at home about five to six meals, max. I basically live on salad and cottage/quark cheese. If you're not into that - get some roasted chicken strips from the prepared food section.

i. cucumber, one whole tomato, one whole sweet pepper, red onion to taste. Mix with generous amounts of quark or cottage cheese. Also works with hard boiled eggs and chickpeas. Dressing: either olive oil + balsamic vinegar + salt + pepper or tehini sauce with lemon when I feel fancy. My parents do something similar with lemon juice instead of balsamic, but it means I have to get a juicer dirty..

ii. lettuce, tomatoes, mushrooms, peppers. Add feta/mozzarella cheese in large quantities. Dressing: either olive oil + balsamic vinegar + salt. If I feel super fancy, also some mustard.
Supplement with some bread as necessary.

Pro tip: don't bother mixing your dressing in a separate vessel, it creates more cleaning up.

iii. yogurt with banana, and if i'm super hungry, an apple.

iv. grilled cheese sandwich (lazy version - two pieces of toast + some cheese in the middle)

v. Scrambled eggs, supplement with some veggies and toast.

I'm actually thinking about upgrading from bread to cous cous or some other just-add-boiling-water grain. There are a few of them around - the recipe is to add water, wait ten minutes, eat. You can throw some stuff into them to make them interesting. (Avocado? Roasted veggies from the deli? Olives + feta?)

Oh yeah, I'm not even vegetarian, but I kinda gave up on cooking at home six months ago. Processed meat is mostly gross. I eat out when I feel like eating decent meet dishes. They prepare it much better than me anyway.

Cutting veggies is not fun, but it doesn't take long, you get to eat a large volume of food for little calories and they keep you healthy.
posted by ye#ara at 2:07 PM on February 22, 2013

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