Healthy Eating for the Anti-Foodie
June 17, 2014 12:32 PM   Subscribe

I need some recommendations on how to eat healthy for the people that genuinely do not like to or have any interest in cooking. I work a lot and I have no interest spending the free time that I do have cooking. I eat out almost every meal and the meals that I do eat at home are usually microwave meals. When you eat out a lot, it can be difficult to find quick healthy options. I am trying to lose a few lbs and probably could stand to eat a little healthier. I am hoping to get some recommendations on how to eat healthy without the usual 'just cook it, it only takes X minutes' or 'its really easy' comments. Not only am I cooking-adverse, the grocery store may be one of my least favorite places. Has anyone tried one of those companies that gives you a weeks worth of food at a time (do you have to cook the food?)? If it is helpful, I am a single guy in my early-thirties living in Georgia. Any thoughts or recommendations would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!
posted by frednorton to Food & Drink (19 answers total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
Even if you're not cooking and don't want to, it's not hard to eat healthy. Just choose the entree with lots of meat and veggies and few carbs and you'll be fine. Standard American food places generally have salads. If they have both vegetables and protein in them, poof, healthy filling meal. Asian cuisine has lots of healthy options: a veggie-and-meat stir fry with brown rice is pretty good for you, or pretty much anything else that's mostly meat and veg. At Mexican places a tostada with black beans and chicken might fit the bill. Etc. It's both cheaper and healthier to drink water, not soda or beer, with your meal. Carbonated water usually doesn't cost extra, and can be more interesting than plain water.

Same thing with microwave meals. There are a lot of them which are not terrible. Kashi, Amy's, etc. The key is to look for minimally-processed ingredients, high amounts of meat/veg, lower amounts of carbs, especially simple carbs like white flour and sugar.

Yes, most of the companies that provide a week's worth of food are just giving you the ingredients that you have to prep and cook yourself.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 12:47 PM on June 17, 2014 [4 favorites]

I do belong to both Blue Apron and Plated, and they both send a certain number of meals per week (3 and 2, respectively) , but you receive the raw whole ingredients and follow the instructions to prep and cook them, which is not what you want. Dream Dinners and similar strip-mall franchises are the same thing.

All my grocery store delis sell basic proteins - usually a grilled chicken breast, a broiled fish, a meatball and/or meatloaf, and then a couple of goopy less-healthy options like orange chicken, plus their usual rotisserie/fried chicken options. They also sell sides, and some of them are also goopy but mine always has a rice pilaf, roasted vegetables, usually a grilled zucchini or eggplant, baked potato, green beans. So...there you go. You could go there every day, or you could go twice a week and pick up several days' worth (everything is sold by the pound so that works).

I realize it's a grocery store, but they usually have a door right by the deli and you don't have to go to the rest of the store. Or you could pay someone to do it for you.

If you really can't stand that, you might check out your nearby restaurants for take-out options that are relatively healthy. My aunt (who is a dietician but also OCD so can't get her kitchen dirty) has half the restaurants along her commute all primed to make her a grilled chicken breast and steamed vegetables with either rice or a roll, to go. She walks in, they give her a cup of coffee and go make her dinner.

For the cost and downsides of frozen packaged food, you could probably hire someone locally to come to your house once a week and cook and freeze meals for you to your specifications, using more local ingredients and fewer preservatives.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:59 PM on June 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

I know someone who hires a private chef to prepare weekly frozen meals, mostly cooked sous vide. They are very healthy, follows his paleo needs, but you do still need to heat them up (or sear the steak). They're edible if you want to eat them frozen, I guess, since they've all been cooked to temp, but I have a hard time imagining that even an anti-foodie would be willing to eat cold meat. The cost is between grocery shopping and eating out every day.

I have also (in a previous relationship) bought weekly frozen meals from a local company. I ordered it online and they'd deliver it once a week. Those did need to be cooked and still took about 20 minutes to heat up, and they were cheaper than hiring a frozen chef. They were delicious, but IMO, not worth the time/money unless you actually care about taste and are short on time. Eventually, the company cut out that part of the business, and you had to go to their location and actually prep the meals yourself and take them home and freeze them. Needless to say, I stopped purchasing from them.

For breakfast, we (people you'd probably call foodies) throw chopped fresh and frozen fruits and veggies into a Vitamix and let it blend. Then we drink it. We go grocery shopping, but I have also previously ordered fresh produce from AmazonFresh and they just delivered it every week. (I don't know if that's available in your area.)
posted by ethidda at 1:01 PM on June 17, 2014

When I'm traveling and need to eat some fruits/vegetables without a kitchen in which to prepare them, I go for:

- bananas for breakfast
- baby carrot sticks for whenever
- individual cups of hummus (for dipping the carrot sticks), guacamole (for whatever), and applesauce (no sugar added)

These you can get without venturing too far into a grocery store, and sometimes they're stocked in convenience stores.

Otherwise, if I have some kind of kitchen to work with, like at home, and I don't feel like cooking, I find that the frozen "toss this in a skillet" meals work well and taste better than microwave dinners. Trader Joe's has a great variety of vegetables in different combinations in this format. Some of the pastas are delicious but not vegetable-heavy enough, so I like to toss some baby spinach from a ready-made salad bag into the mix.
posted by magdalemon at 1:07 PM on June 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

This is totally possible. I eat fairly healthily, but spend very little time actively cooking (around once a week I make a big pot of steel-cut oatmeal and some hard-boiled eggs). My go-to meals often include:

- Greek yoghurt with dried fruit & nuts
- oatmeal with jam or honey
- a pita bread filled with hummus, hardboiled egg, and avocado
- a microwaved sweet potato with a dollop of full-fat cottage cheese
- Gopicnic meals, which are not the cheapest but which are often heavily discounted
- and, yes, some microwave stuff - generally Morningstar burgers, Tofurky sausages, or something of that ilk. If you eat meat, you can get precooked microwaveable meat options that are fairly healthy, too.

I'm big on kitchen gadgets, too. When I actually want to cook something, I make liberal use of my slow cooker (I can prep a whole week's worth of dinners in about ten minutes that way) and my rice cooker (which has a neat little steamer tray I use for veggies & tofu). I also have an egg steamer device for super-painless hardboiled eggs.

You might also be someone who'd be interested in Soylent meal replacements (probably not for every meal, but maybe as an occasional time-saver). I also sometimes use Clif bars as meal replacements - they're kind of high in sugar, but most of them also have a decent amount of protein, which keeps you full longer. And the answers to this question may also be helpful.
posted by littlegreen at 1:07 PM on June 17, 2014 [4 favorites]

This is speaking more to the "doesn't like cooking" part rather than the "meal-club" part:

It's actually totally okay to make a "meal" out of a bunch of random uncooked things, if you choose wisely. Like, you get a couple handfuls of baby carrots, a bowl of pre-washed salad greens, maybe a couple pieces of some really good bread, a hunk of cheese, and some cold cuts. That doesn't take any cooking, and is actually a fairly decent meal. Or, like, the "Ploughman's Lunch" - that's graduated into "traditional meal" territory, and all that is is a hunk of cheese, some good crusty bread, pickles, maybe a hardboiled egg, and an apple. Or a "Grand Aioli", a thing from Provence - that's more like a DIY salad but just with really substantial things (cooked tuna, hardboiled eggs, olives, tomatoes, baby carrots, lightly boiled green beans, lightly boiled baby potatoes), and a garlic mayonnaise. There's also a "salad" I know of that's nothing more than "dump a can of beans and a can of tuna together into a bowl and mix up real good. You're done."

But you get my point, yeah? Those are all "meals," but the most "cooking" you'd have to do with all of those is "slice the cheese" or "slice the bread" or maybe "boil the eggs". And some of those things you can even do in advance - pick like one weekend day when you boil a dozen eggs and just keep them in the fridge, and so they're waiting for a day when you're all "I need dinner...oh, I know, lemme grab one of those hardboiled eggs and eat that with a handful of baby carrots and some bread and salad" or whatever. Plus, that kind of low-key grazing approach to meals is good for summer when no one wants to be in the damn kitchen too long anyway.

Think picnic.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:12 PM on June 17, 2014 [14 favorites]

Always start with salad, and really reduce the goopy salad dressing. A very light dressing of olive oil and vinegar will taste good and not be full of fat and sugar. Reduced fat dressings have extra sugar and often taste pretty horrid. Maybe pick up some healthier dressings if you really want a prepared option. If there's a salad with grilled beef or chicken, that can be a great choice, as long as you don't drench it in ranch dressing.

When I was working long hours, I'd often get takeout at a steak restaurant - Outback had a good deal on steak, baked potato (not fries), green beans and a small salad. Often, it was enough food for breakfast the next morning. Just always add the salad and consider adding a 2nd vegetable choice.

Fries are full of fat, always choose the baked potato, possibly rice, or maybe ask to substitute a vegetable. Choose grilled food - beef, chicken, salmone, etc. - over breaded and deep-fried. Burgers are tasty, but generally higher in fat, plus the cheese, mayo, etc. When you get pasta, avoid the super-cheesy options. Ask for extra sauce, which is basically an extra vegetable.

At the store, pick up pre-peeled carrots, washed spinach, any other prepared veggies you can have in the fridge to dip in some dressing or hummus. I buy fresh salsa and the occasional meal of salsa and corn chips is reasonably healthy because I love fresh salsa, and the chips are merely a conveyance. Rotisserie chicken plus salad bar can be several meals. Cold chicken in salad is wonderful.

Lean Cuisine frozen meals may be high in salt, but there are some pretty good choices. They use decent-quality ingredients. I like the salmon and the squash-filled ravioli.

It would help if you mentioned the restaurants you like, if they're chains. If it's not apparent, burger places - McDonald's, Burger King, etc., - have limited healthy options. Wendy's has some good salads.
posted by theora55 at 1:23 PM on June 17, 2014

Things that have dramatically changed up my eating:

1. I buy a two-pound bag of baby carrots every week and a couple of handfuls every day.

2. I buy a tub or two of the fanciest little cherry or grape tomatoes they have - the best ones vary from year to year and region to region - and eat six or seven with dinner.

3. I buy some form of tasty-yet-healthy crackers - I like Dr. Kracker - and a tasty/healthy spread - good chevre, nut butter, etc.

4. Apples every day - I get whatever is tastiest for the season (trying new varieties as needed), slice them up and eat them with cheese, nut butter or sometimes nutella.

When I'm feeling up to it, I buy a tub of mixed greens and some fancy salad dressing.

So if I have no other plans (whether cooking or eating elsewhere) I have a quick dinner of carrots, cherry tomatoes, crackers and cheese and an apple. I also keep some fancy little things like good olives or pickled vegetables or nuts and have a few on the side.

Also, I would have thought that this was sheer folly a week ago (before a friend gave me some to try), but these hemp seeds are really, really delicious.

Also, if you're looking for things to eat for breakfast, a mix of chopped apricots, raw pumpkin seeds and cashews is easy and tasty.

These are all things that require basically zero time to put together and (mostly) things that keep well. I love to cook, but I am also often subject to "OMG SO HUNGRY I WILL DIE OR KILL" feelings.
posted by Frowner at 1:35 PM on June 17, 2014 [4 favorites]

Ooh, another idea!

I buy a tub or two of the fanciest little cherry or grape tomatoes they have - the best ones vary from year to year and region to region - and eat six or seven with dinner.

If you get a tub of cherry or grape tomatoes to eat on their own - get a second one, and pick up a tub of marinated mozzarella balls. Then mix one tub of the tomatoes with the mozzarella balls - marinade and all - for the world's easiest caprese salad. I actually keep that on hand in the fridge for summers pretty regularly.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:38 PM on June 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

I give you permission to never cook a meal, or even prepare one in your home.

The supermarket is full of things that are ready to be devoured and are relatively healthy for you.

1. The salad bar. Make a nice salad. Even a small side salad. See those tomatoes? That spinach. Put that on there. Yum.

2. The deli section. My Publix and my Kroger have meatloaf, rotisserie chickens, poached salmon, etc. Get whatever appeals. Rice salad, pasta salad, roasted veggies. Whole Foods does this too. Trader Joes has heat up meals, but they're more processed.

3. Order the healthy stuff at restaurants. Every Chinese place I know will steam shrimp or chicken and veggies for you. If they have brown rice, so much the better!

4. How about the pizza joint. They'll probably have pasta and meat sauce. That's tasty and healthy. My pizza joint now has whole wheat pasta.

5. Wendys has really good salads and chili. Or chili and a baked potato. Ain't nothing wrong with that.

6. Cheese and bread with pickles is a nice meal.

7. Fruit salad and cottage cheese.

8. Steak, salad and a baked potato from Outback. Call ahead, they'll bring it out to your car.

Schwanns will deliver food (it's not that much better than Stouffers.) And a lot of it you have to dick around with.

I'd just plot out 7 places where I could call in an order and easily pick it up on my way home from work. Review the menu to see what's healthy, and what you like. And just work with that.

Eat24 and Grubhub have a good selection of places that will deliver.

Most every restaurant on the planet will have healthy options right next to the Chili Cheese Fries. Just choose what makes sense for you.

Bon Appetite!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:48 PM on June 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

nobeagle kibble. 1 can chick peas, 1 can lentils, 1 can black beans. Rinse and drain all cans. 1 block frozen spinach, 1 lbs frozen mixed vegetables. thaw frozen stuff in microwave (or leave in the fridge for 2-3 days before mixing). Drain spinach/veggies. 1 jar salsa (or pasta sauce). Mix everything together in giant bowl or pot. Spoon into serving containers and refridgerate. You'll get 5-6 servings, and depending on your salsa/pasta sauce, vegan friendly.

Quick options; frozen cooked chicken strips. Thaw and add to mix.

You can't get much easier than this. I lived most of my summer's in college on this (except I made brown rice and lentils together in a rice cooker - but that's cooking).
posted by nobeagle at 2:04 PM on June 17, 2014 [7 favorites]

A couple I used to babysit for used Seattle Sutton as a meal service and sometimes I would eat the meals when I was babysitting. It's all pre-prepared and fully cooked (they are not frozen but they have to be reheated) and it's aimed at weight loss or special dietary needs, so it's "healthy" for some value of "healthy". I'd never choose to eat it, but it's better than your average TV dinner.

If you don't care much how your food tastes and don't want to be bothered with cooking your food, it's reasonably convenient and cheaper than take-out.
posted by crush-onastick at 2:10 PM on June 17, 2014

Thanks to all. These are some helpful suggestions. I was hoping that more people may have tried the weekly food services but these may not be popular and may require cooking which would defeat the purpose of the question. I do eat a lot of salad and that can get old so i sometimes end up eating a lot of tuna/chicken/egg salad, which im sure are not low on calories.
posted by frednorton at 4:42 PM on June 17, 2014

Well, if you pair the tuna/chicken/egg salad with a side of tossed-green-leafy salad, that's actually decent. Caloric intake is not the only thing to consider when it comes to "eating healthy", and if tuna salad or chicken salad is a good chunk of what you eat that's actually not bad. (It's if you eat, like, an entire bag of Cheetos for dinner that you start to run into problems.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:51 PM on June 17, 2014

I think Jenny Craig (the weight loss program) actually provides their prescribed meals and snacks as part of the program, but surely someone will correct me if I'm wrong.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:15 PM on June 17, 2014

I've tried the weekly meal service. My gym was a pickup location for one of these companies. I'd order online a week in advance, and all I'd have to do is heat up the food. It was pretty basic food, nothing super fancy. A typical meal was broccoli, sweet potatoes and chicken. Or meatloaf, plantains and greens. I only ordered about two dinners a week. The people I knew who got meals five times a week got sick of it very quickly. It was healthy and convenient, and slightly cheaper than ordering in.

I stopped ordering because I like cooking and everything the meal service served was something I could cook myself. If you're averse to cooking, Whole Foods sells prepared food in bulk - stuff like a tray of grilled chicken. Add a bag of frozen broccoli or other vegetables and you basically have a 'microwave meal'.
posted by hooray at 8:29 PM on June 17, 2014

My solution to this is not to have an all or nothing approach to food. I find that people (including sometimes myself) tend to feel like either they're going to eat out for every meal, or they should be cooking from scratch three meals a day. So if you're not up to an elaborate home-cooked meal, well then why bother?

I work crazy hours which mean that one week I might be home three meals a day with a lot of time on my hands for cooking, and the next week I might be working 16 hour days. On Monday I might be home at 5:30, while on Friday I might not get home till midnight. This makes grocery shopping for meal ingredients complicated, so I tend to buy a lot of semi-prepared shelf-stable items that I can turn into a meal very quickly without worrying that something will go bad if I don't have time to cook it within a couple of days.

I went to Trader Joe's yesterday and this is what I bought*:

6 pre-packaged heat-and-eat Indian curry packets, each of which makes a very generous meal for one

2 boxes of frozen pre-cooked brown rice (I have only ever seen this at TJ's, but if some other version of pre-cooked rice is available in your area, jump on it!)

1 can black beans (I always have a few cans of beans at home)

1 jar shelf-stable pesto sauce

1 pkg pasta

1 frozen chicken pot pie

1 package frozen pork dumplings

1 package frozen chicken gyoza

2 packages frozen cha siu bao (another thing I've only seen at TJ's, but maybe they're available at Asian groceries?)

1 box veggie burgers

1 dozen eggs

1 loaf of bread

This will form the backbone of my dinners for the next couple of weeks. There will probably be a few nights I'll cook from scratch, and let's be honest, I'll inevitably eat out at least once. But the above items are healthy enough and require almost no cooking. They won't go bad, and they don't require any planning at all. Are they the optimal thing a human being can eat? No. But they're a lot better than McDonald's every night.

*I do buy vegegables, I swear! I just tend to buy them on the way home from work immediately before cooking them, rather than stocking up at the supermarket.
posted by Sara C. at 9:03 PM on June 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

I only like to go grocery shopping around once every two months. That makes it hard for me for similar reasons to you. I am also pretty busy, but also care about my health. Huge for me is: very shelf stable: very easy to make into a meal: very delicious and healthy.

Whole Wheat pasta and pesto is my easiest-yummiest 5 minute meal. Make the pasta, add the pesto, add some frozen precooked chicken and Parmesan.

If you can get gnocchi and some frozen dinner-style beef tips, and something green (like some frozen green peppers) that is another amazing 5 minute meal. You boil the gnocci for the package instructions, saute in butter for 5 minutes, then add the microwaved meat.

I have also been experimenting with Atkins brand frozen dinners as they seem to be a little bit more quality and a little bit less sugary than your average Frozen box.

Sometimes I do souped-up ramen where I add an egg and some frozen veggies and some frozen chicken. This one is pretty low on healthiness but high on deliciousness.

I like to keep some crackers and cheese and v8 around. Crackers keep longer than bread and it isn't bad for nutrition, and v8 fruity flavored juice fills the weird gap you feel like you didn't actually eat anything substantial. Look at the nutrition facts for the crackers and cheese and take a double serving of each, with a double serving of v8.

Sara C, that shopping cart looks the same as mine... If I had a Trader Joes... I have to make due with Meijer and Aldi :(

I too am intimidated by grocery shopping, that's why I like aldi. Easy in and out. Cheap. No decisions!
posted by bbqturtle at 8:19 AM on June 18, 2014

trail mix
posted by aniola at 6:00 PM on June 18, 2014

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