Feed me
October 19, 2014 3:32 PM   Subscribe

I am poor and sad. What can I make for dinner?

I am poor, a graduate student living off of savings. I am also sad (this question isn't about this, but if you look at my last question it'll be rather obvious why, so not looking for any solutions).

All my attempts at eating dinner since the sadness started have not gone well. I used to buy everything from scratch, but I don't have the will anymore to chop a hundred vegetables, or cut my chicken into perfect portion-controlled pieces. Sure, I could buy it that way, but I'm poor so that doesn't work either.

I live alone, and have no friends or significant other or family nearby.

Things that have worked:
-roasting meat
-making one big batch of something to make over a couple days
-anything I can bake and forget
-frozen or boxed meals (I'd like to eat healthier but I like that I don't have to gather a ton of ingredients, and they aren't that finicky about time)

Things that don't work:
-lots of steps
-lots of chopping/cutting/mincing
-chili/soups (I like them, but even simple ones have too many steps and I just give up)
-side dishes
-snacks (I don't have it in me to be preparing multiple things a day)
posted by Aranquis to Food & Drink (61 answers total) 101 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Tuna and rice is what I've been mainly subsisting on since my recent period of sadness started. I normally season the tuba with balsamic vinegar and boil frozen broad beans if I have the energy for that.
posted by ambrosen at 3:37 PM on October 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: When I'm poor and needing comfort food, a baked potato with some good stuff on it is the cheapest and most comforting thing. You can steam/roast whatever other vegetable is on sale that week and have a pretty good meal.
posted by mudpuppie at 3:38 PM on October 19, 2014 [13 favorites]

I like to make rice cooker kedgeree. Put rice and water into cooker according to directions, except substitute lentils for about a third of the rice. Break off some chunks of a cauliflower and throw them in. Cut some small potatoes into chunks and put those in too. Like carrots? Peas? Wheat berries? Cloves? Hot peppers? Onions? Green beans? Put some of those in too. Works great with frozen veg, or even frozen boneless chicken - just toss it in there, no need to thaw. Push the COOK button and go take a bath. In half an hour, it has cooked itself. Eat plain or with yogurt, hot sauce, chutney, whatever. One of these is two meals for me; I don't bother to make bigger batches because it's so easy and lazy to make it fresh.
posted by moonmilk at 3:42 PM on October 19, 2014 [9 favorites]

p.s. if you don't already have a rice cooker, get the smallest one you can find that has a nonstick pan. It'll probably cost less than $30 and take 30 seconds to clean.
posted by moonmilk at 3:43 PM on October 19, 2014 [4 favorites]

Shepherd's pie!

Cooked ground beef and onion for the base. Add carrots, peas and/or corn for the middle layer. Mashed potatoes on top (we use Costco's instant mashed potatoes). Bake for 30 minutes. Enjoy all week long.
posted by lukez at 3:43 PM on October 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Boxed stuffing is cheap, tasty, and filling.
posted by bleep at 3:44 PM on October 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: One of my fav poor comfort meals is buttered toast with a can of beans-in-tomato-sauce over it.

Bean salad: A can of black beans, 2 cups frozen corn, 2 cups frozen peas, mixed with apple cider vinegar, olive oil, and Tex-Mex seasoning. Add cheese if you have some.

If you don't mind cooking the pasta, various pasta salads can be yummy. I like one I think is from moose wood that has grated cheese, some mayo, a bit of mustard, frozen peas. I would add olives for the last few bowls.

For me soup of any kind, even just a thing of stock with egg noodles, lentils, carrots, and celery seed and Italian seasoning (although if you can chop aromatics, even better.)

Baked/nuked potatoes topped with grated cheese and black beans or chopped broccoli or....

Homemade nachos aren't super healthy or cost effective in the way some things are but they always make me smile a bit.
posted by warriorqueen at 3:45 PM on October 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

Well it's not the healthiest thing in the universe but I find boxed mac and cheese with sliced up hot dogs or tuna fish for protein to be super-comforting, cheap and easy when I am poor and sad, which is all too often.
posted by zeusianfog at 3:45 PM on October 19, 2014 [13 favorites]

Make a taco salad! It isn't too expensive and can get some veggies into your diet.

Basic directions: 1. Cook ground beef (or ground turkey/tofu/etc) with taco seasoning. 2. Chop some lettuce (or use a bag of salad), add some peppers or tomatoes if you feel like it. 3. Throw on some salsa, cheese, crumbled tortilla chips. 4. French dressing! (This sounds gross but its actually amazing.) 5. Mix all together and consume.

I usually can make this once and it will feed me for a few days. The key is to only assemble a portion right before consumption. Otherwise it gets nasty and soggy.

Hope things pick up for you soon. :)
posted by KMoney at 3:48 PM on October 19, 2014

Do you have a crockpot? I can recommend recipes that start with a crockpot, cheap cuts of meat, and packages of prechopped mixed frozen vegetables (not actually more expensive than other frozen vegetables, and usually cheaper than fresh). There are a lot of good crockpot threads already on metafilter that you can look at, and this would also satisfy your "big pot of stuff I can eat over several days" filter. This opens up plenty of soups, stews and legume dishes with meat flavor that you can supplement with a bit of bread or some kind of vegetable on the side if you feel up to it. Great for fall and winter, easy for low-motivation once you understand the basic liquid to solid ratios and time required for your crockpot.
posted by deludingmyself at 3:55 PM on October 19, 2014

Best answer: Eggs are helpful for low-effort cooking. You can toss them with rice in a frying pan and possibly add whatever easy vegetables or meat you want. The rice can be made like once a week in a huge batch and stored, if you're just going to fry it up anyway. (If you have spices lying around throw them in there.) Also, adding an egg (and maybe some frozen broccoli or something) to instant ramen just as it stops boiling makes it a lot better. If you leave out or reduce the MSG powder, it's quite healthy, but I wouldn't.
posted by vogon_poet at 3:56 PM on October 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: - pour two tablespoons of vegetable oil into a pan
- put the pan on low heat
- crack two or three eggs into a bowl
- sploosh some milk or cream in with the eggs
- mix the milk and eggs together
- pour the milk and eggs into the pan
- let it cook on low heat until the top of milk/egg mixture is firm.

If you feel up to it, you can put some pepper and/or cheese on top. Pre-grated mozzarella is convenient that way. When you are feeling better, you can try including diced veggies, diced meat, and maybe some hot sauce.

I get sad sometimes, too, and it hurts. I'm concerned about you. I do hope you feel better. Feel free to memail me if you want to talk or anything.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 3:59 PM on October 19, 2014 [9 favorites]

Best answer: For now, make your goal just getting enough calories. You sound like me, and when I am hungry, my sadness gets super bad and everything snowballs after a while. Forget portions, forget a diet. Just eat.

I also recommend: baked potatoes, rice & beans, PB&J, apples, nuts (almonds are good and cheap usually). Frozen soups are excellent; Amy's or Tabatchnik brand soups are extremely delicious and really soothing, not to mention healthy as hell so that's a good boost.

And hang in there. I know how this feels and it sucks when you're just too damn over it to make anything more than cereal. Hope you feel better soon.
posted by Hermione Granger at 4:02 PM on October 19, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: How about cheaters' chili? Dump some canned beans (anything: pinto, black, garbanzo, white, even one can of refried mixed in with the others) into a pot. Dump some taco seasoning into the pot. Dump any inexpensive salsa into the pot, or a can of tomatoes/onions/peppers. If you feel like it, add whatever cooked meat you have on hand. Simmer. Top with cheese and/or sour cream.

Cheaters' stir-fry: Cook any kind of meat in chunks or buy any kind of sausage, cut in chunks, and cook till browned/hot. Buy a big bag of stir-fry mix or any kind of greens that you like, cook, season with soy sauce and sesame oil (red pepper flakes if you like it spicy) or any inexpensive stir-fry sauce, combine with sausage, serve on egg noodles (these cook up really quickly!) or rice.

I don't know what your local cheap grocery store is (Aldi?), but some of those places have fairly acceptable prepared entrees (frozen pizzas or pastas, boxed soups, for example). Combine with inexpensive bagged salad.

See if you can get some yogurt that you like, dried fruit, kimchi, and other flexible, no-prep things that you can keep around and tack on to make a meal more filling and healthy. (For me, I usually need to either add protein--jerky, cheese, yogurt, nuts--or fruit and veg, such as kimchi, salsa, frozen green beans, broccoli, carrots, mushrooms, shredded cabbage, etc.)

I also hope things get better soon. Cooking when you hardly have the emotional or physical energy to blink really sucks!
posted by wintersweet at 4:03 PM on October 19, 2014 [6 favorites]

Do you like macaroni and cheese? A lot of the time the "good" stuff, ie: Annie's as opposed to Kraft Dinner, is on sale at reasonable prices, and I find it works a lot better for adding stuff to make it a whole meal.

I love frozen peas! They keep well and you can toss them into almost anything at the last minute and they'll warm through.

I think good paprika is totally worth the money and one of the most versatile spices you can have, so if you have the budget to get only one or two spices, get some paprika. Sometimes you can find it in the bulk aisle so you only need to pay for a couple tablespoons of it.

Tuna can be found on sale a lot, especially the four for five dollars kind of deal, and since it keeps forever it won't go to waste, and it's portioned for one person pretty well.

A thing I like to make is a tuna mac and cheese bake. Boil your pasta but take it out before it's cooked through. In your hot pan, mix the cheese sauce packet with the milk and butter, plus whatever herb extra you have or just some paprika. Drain and pop in your tuna, the pasta, and your frozen peas. Mix it all up and dump that into a baking dish. If you want to be fancy and you have them, put breadcrumbs on top, or more real cheese, but you don't have to. Bake it for a while on medium high heat until the top starts getting browned. This should be enough for a couple days. It actually freezes pretty great and reheats in the microwave easily. I have kind of hoity toity taste and never grew up with this, but I started making it when I, too, was very sad, and it's surprisingly delicious and comforting.

Other shopping things that are good:

Chicken thighs, which you can sometimes find in big packages that you just open and dump 2-3 in a ziplock and freeze, instead of cutting up chicken into portions, can sometimes be cheaper than buying a whole chicken. They work better in slow cooked and baked things than white meat, and are more forgiving.

Hard boil a couple eggs every time you can buy eggs, and write HB on them with a pencil so you don't get confused. That plus a carrot is lunch for me, sometimes.
posted by Mizu at 4:04 PM on October 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

Pasta is simple and fast to cook, once the water boils. (Angel Hair pasta takes 3 minutes, tops. Other types take 8 to 12 minutes).

Easiest: jarred sauce and lots of cheese on top

Easy: Have a bag of frozen vegetable medley defrosted and waiting for you in the fridge. Chop up one tomato. A scoop of veges and the tomato heat up in the frying pan while the water boils. If you have Italian seasoning, add it, otherwise just salt and pepper. Put the veges over the pasta and sprinkle with cheese.

Also, a precooked chicken or chicken cooked in advance can be added to frozen veges or rice for a quick meal. I like to wrap leftover chicken in a tortilla with cheese and tomato (I put mayo on my chicken roll ups, and scallions if I have them). Easy to make, easy to eat, and minimal dishes to worry about.
posted by rakaidan at 4:04 PM on October 19, 2014

Best answer: Berry cobbler - preheat to 350, put 1/2 c butter in baking dish in oven to melt while you mix batter in a small bowl (1/2 c flour, 1-1/2 t baking powder, 1 egg optional, 2/3 c buttermilk (or milk), 1/4 sugar or to taste. Pull out baking dish before it Browns and add batter, then stir in 2 c frozen mixed berries. Back into oven and bake 30 min or till batter starts to set up and color. Yum - binge food.
posted by mmiddle at 4:05 PM on October 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

Oh yeah, in a pinch: cheapest oatmeal you can find + cheapest nut butter you can find + cheapest dried fruit (even raisins) that you can find = a filling and reasonably healthy meal, if you don't add too much sugar (or cheap maple syrup). And if you really need some comfort, throw in some chocolate chips.
posted by wintersweet at 4:05 PM on October 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Buy pre-chopped vegetables from the grocery store. Hummous or ranch dressing are pretty easy to make in the blender with no chopping - or buy fairly cheaply from the grocery store. That solves a snacking problem. I like casseroles and pasta bakes. They're comforting and not much chopping. If you make mac and cheese, you can throw in a bag of pre-chopped broccoli florets for instant balanced meal.

I'm sorry you're going through a really rough time but I'm glad you're trying to feed yourself!
posted by latkes at 4:06 PM on October 19, 2014

If you get bored of baked potatoes, baked sweet potatoes are great. I like them with bacon and cheese.

If you have roasted a chicken (or have another source of cooked chicken), boil bits of it up with water, Thai green curry paste and instant noodles. OK technically this is soup but it's cheater's soup.

Or fry the chicken quickly in a spice mix of some kind, dump in cous cous and boiling water, and stir it around until the cous cous is done. That's like five minutes to make the whole thing.

I normally season the tuba with balsamic vinegar

Or that.
posted by emilyw at 4:11 PM on October 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: When I am sad or overwhelmed I generally have no energy for cooking or planning even the simplest thing. I end up living off:
- Almonds (protein - they're expensive but I buy them in bulk any time they're on sale)
- Apples
- Spinach salad (baby spinach + a tomato + dressing, sometimes + feta)
- pita bread and hummus
- Mac and cheese, as per above
- spaghetti, with meat sauce (just ground beef in a pan with canned spaghetti sauce) if I'm feeling ambitious
- "casserole" - pasta + cream of chicken or mushroom soup + cheese, plus chicken chunks if I feel up to it, eat as-is or bake a bit as per above
- chips and salsa
- chips and salsa plus some melted cheese plus maybe some bean dip from a can
- canned soups on sale with bread/butter
- deli meat sandwiches (deli meat is sort of expensive so again, I do this if it's on sale)
- cheese and crackers

Most of this is not very healthy but it gets you through.
posted by celtalitha at 4:19 PM on October 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Baked potato with cottage cheese -- can be made in the microwave, green onions on top optional

Savory oatmeal -- add olive oil and parmesan

I am sorry you are sad.
posted by sockanalia at 4:20 PM on October 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My sad/can't be bothered/everything is too much effort meals are these:
- Rice in rice cooker. Season. Package of tofu chopped up on top. Usually this is pre-marinated tofu but I have also eaten plain. Or marinate your own. Usually I can chop up a cucumber and tomato too or nuke some frozen veg.
- Boil water. Cook pasta. Add pesto from a jar. Add sliced sun-dried tomatoes from a jar (amazingly, they are cheaper than the whole ones). Season. Stir. Add pre-shaved partisan on top. Not healthy necessarily but does the trick.

I'm sorry you're feeling so sad. Please feel free to Memail me if you like.
posted by Athanassiel at 4:22 PM on October 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Hummus, feta and ______ (I'm gluten free, so I just use Ruffles or Breton gluten free crackers).

Popcorn + apples.

Baked sweet potatoes or regular potatoes.

Crock pot pulled pork (this recipe is excellent, and I've used the low setting and just left it overnight - about 10 hours on low and it was perfect).

During my really down periods, I'd just throw meat in the oven - chicken legs, usually - with slices of potatoes or sweet potatoes and broccoli or whatever vegetable I had.

Hope that you feel better soon. My thoughts & prayers are with you.
posted by guster4lovers at 4:24 PM on October 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Shakshuka! It's basically eggs poached in tomatoes with some spices. You can use crushed canned tomatoes so it's super easy (you cook them so long that canned vs fresh doesn't matter). The only chopping is some onions, and even then it's fine to leave them out if you're not feeling it. It's a very hard dish to mess up.
posted by Itaxpica at 4:24 PM on October 19, 2014 [6 favorites]

Um, that was parmesan on top. Stupid auto-correct.
posted by Athanassiel at 4:41 PM on October 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My go-to meal when I'm feeling a little low and just have to cook dinner for myself is couscous (cooks in 5 minutes) and baked or ranch style beans from a can. Cheap and sort of comforting.

I'm sorry you're feeling sad. I'm sad too. I read your previous posts and know some people have Memailed you already, but Memail me if you want to talk.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 4:42 PM on October 19, 2014

Best answer: Grilled cheese and soup!

Look at the prices of the organic-y brand soups sold in aseptic plastic-lined cardboard boxes; they last a really long time and are several servings, so they may not actually cost much more per serving than Campbell's Tomato Soup, and that way you can get more flavors, like roasted red pepper or butternut squash. Some of the brands sell beef and vegetable kind of soups, which I don't like as much as the puréed veggie ones.

SUPER BONUS: things like roasted jarred red pepper, roasted canned hatch green chiles, pickled jalapeños are good both on the sandwich and cut up into little bits in the soup for texture!

corn chowder + hatch chiles or pickled japapeño + sandwich with cheddar or monterey jack

black bean soup + hatch chiles or pickled japapeño + sandwich with cheddar or monterey jack

roasted red pepper, sweet potato, or tomato + roasted red pepper + sandwich with provolone or cheddar or whatever you want
posted by Juliet Banana at 4:50 PM on October 19, 2014 [4 favorites]

sorry, I just thought of this one: sun dried tomatoes or olives would also work really well on the sandwich. and you can throw lunch meat on there too, obviously.
posted by Juliet Banana at 4:53 PM on October 19, 2014

Maybe check out the beautiful Good And Cheap (PDF) cookbook featured in this NPR story for inspiration.
posted by novelgazer at 4:58 PM on October 19, 2014 [5 favorites]

Eggy burrito is a go-to quick meal for me. Fry some veggies, pour scrambled egg over them, and if you slap a soft tortilla on top before the egg sets, it will all stick to the tortilla. When the eggs have cooked through, peel it off, roll it up and toast it a little more from the outside in the same pan. You can add cheese, avocado, salsa etc before you roll it up if you want. Sometimes I chop up bacon and add it to the veggies in the first step. Very quick and satisfying.
posted by transient at 5:30 PM on October 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

I have this issue too, sometimes.

I like to hard boil a bunch of eggs for the week- filling and healthy. Scrambled eggs thrown in with veggies are good too.

I also like the "soup in a bag"- dried lentils and other things sold together in a bag- healthier than canned soup but still easy to make, just takes longer.

I buy corn tortillas and put stuff in them like hummus, veggies,eggs.

Good luck and take care.
posted by bearette at 5:34 PM on October 19, 2014

Best answer: Toast bread. Spread with peanut (or other nut) butter. The hot toast makes it all melty and gooey. If you like the Elvis thing, put some sliced up bananas on there too. Open-faced or as a Sammy.

When I was in a really bad mood, sometimes I'd add mini chocolate chips, and they'd melt along with the peanut butter. It was like a Reece's peanut butter sammich. Not very healthy, but super comforting and really low effort.
posted by mon-ma-tron at 5:52 PM on October 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

Here's a reddit-famous post about eating well on the cheap, written by the "New Yorican" reddit user /u/electric_sandwich.

It's the top-rated comment in a thread for cheap eating, following an appeal by a user who has to stretch $13 for about 10 days of food, so you'll find some other gems in that thread.
posted by Sunburnt at 5:53 PM on October 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

That reminded me of some other cheap, low-effort stuff that I used to make:

Toast 2 pieces of bread. In a small skillet, melt a tablespoon or two of butter. Crack 2 eggs in and fry. When eggs are done, slide them (and all the butter) out onto the toast (1 egg per piece of toast). Salt 'n' peppa. Cut into yolk so it runs all into the toast. Eat with a glass of OJ. Breakfast for dinner!

Can of black beans - drain and rinse off as much of the goop as you feel like and dump into a bowl. Add canned tuna and Italian dressing, and any other veggies you have/feel like adding. Can also add cheese. Or whatever other type of dressing may appeal to you. Stir and let sit a little while for the dressing to soak in. Or eat it right away.
posted by mon-ma-tron at 6:00 PM on October 19, 2014

Easy soft boiled eggs

Put about 1/2 inch water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil. Put in two whole eggs in their shell. Put the lid on, turn down the heat, cook for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, put two pieces of toast in the toaster. When toasted, butter them and slice them into strips.

Crack the top of the egg off. Dip the toast strips into the yolk. Repeat with the second egg.

You can also cut the toast into little pieces and then scoop the eggs out on top of them. (My mother calls this `baby egg'. ) Good with salt and pepper.
posted by leahwrenn at 6:21 PM on October 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

White rice + fried egg + kimchi/jar salsa/frozen veg/whatever or lazy carbonara (cook bacon and pasta, throw an egg on it, stir it up)
posted by thirdletter at 6:32 PM on October 19, 2014

Best answer: I'm vegetarian/mostly vegan so modify this stuff as you need to.

I like the ramen/egg suggestion. Even the cheapo ramen isn't inherently bad for you. No, it's not particularly good for you either, but I was surprised at how "real" the ingredients were. I was using veggie broth as the water, adding in frozen spinach, sriracha, soy sauce and a bit of sesame oil, cook my ramen and crack an egg in at the end and stir all of that up. It's a bit disgusting but also delicious (I'm serious). (I didn't eat for basically a weekend and I went through this "OMG I NEED EGGS NOW" phase recently. I'm not the biggest egg fan -- and I'm back to them kind of grossing me out. But when I was eating this, it was the best food ever. I ate it for dinner for three days in a row.)

Pasta & jarred tomato sauce is also a good go-to -- you can add in easy proteins or whatever & more veggies. If the sauce is room temperature, I don't even bother to heat it up.

Rice is easy & versatile. I like doing a cheater "black beans and rice" thing -- rice, can of black beans, jar of salsa. Feel free to add in some cheese if that's what you do. (You could also wrap that up in a tortilla if you want and call it a burrito.)

But I also agree that some "comfort" foods can be pretty good for you if you buy the ones with better ingredients. If you want a frozen pizza, don't buy the ones that are 10 for $10. Buy the ones with good ingredients. Buy a good tomato soup (non-condensed) and good cheese for you tomato soup and grilled cheese. Buy a nicer boxed mac and cheese. Usually, these aren't that much more expensive than the cheapo versions.

If you do like cooking (although I lost all interest in cooking the last time I was depressed and that was a major sign to me I was) and have some spare time on the weekends, it can be great to spend the time and make up batches of things. Put half of what you make in the freezer. So the next time you just can't be bothered, you have something to eat you can thaw. That has saved me many times.

Good luck to you, though. I know how tough it is to be depressed, poor and have to feed yourself.
posted by darksong at 7:00 PM on October 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: peel a banana.

banana in the freezer.

or puree it with soy/rice milk first then in cup then in freezer.

It's yummy like banana ice cream. Really creamy and filling like a special treat.
posted by bananaskin at 7:13 PM on October 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

Seconding grilled cheese and soup. Grilled cheese and tomato soup is so much my comfort food staple,that once when I was unpacking some groceries after a stocking-up trip, my then-roommate came home, saw I had two cans of soup, and hugged me and asked "what happened?"

Colcannon is another good one - it's an Irish dish that's just mashed potato with some chopped kale mixed in. I go an extra step and put it in an oven- safe dish, put grated cheese on top and pit it under the broiler to melt.

Another Irish thing, Dublin coddle, is also good hangover food - onions, potatoes, bacon, and sausage. One onion and one potato sliced up, maybe half a package of bacon and half a kielbasa oughta do it. Slice the vegetables, chop the bacon, slice the sausage, and dump everything into a pot, pour enough water or chicken stock in to just cover it, bring to a boil and then simmer for an hour.

Then there's pasta carbonara - for one person, you'll need like three strips of bacon, a quarter pound of pasta, a handful of grated Parmesan cheese and one egg. Start cooking the pasta, cut the bacon up and fry it in bits like that. When it is done, just turn off the heat, but do NOT drain it out of the grease yet. (You WANT the grease this time. ) Beat the egg in a big bowl with the cheese. When the pasta is done, drain it and then dump it into the big bowl, and dump in the bacon WITH the bacon grease and mix it all up. The heat from the pasta and the bacon grease will cook the egg and melt the cheese into a sauce of happy.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:51 PM on October 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Mac 'n' cheese 'n' fish 'n' trees: boxed mac with a can of tuna and some frozen broccoli.

Fried egg sandwiches with cheese and ketchup and lots of pepper.

Can of refried beans (vegetarian black beans) mixed with salsa + chips. Not far from pita 'n' hummus, honestly, plus salsa has vegetables!
posted by linettasky at 9:16 PM on October 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

Baked chicken thighs, lentils and barley, stir-fried cabbage

Buy: 5 lb family pack of ten chicken thighs, 1 lb lentils, 1lb barley, 1 head red cabbage
Pantry: salt, pepper, garlic powder, all optional. Oil, not optional.
Equipment: 9x13" baking pan, oven, 2qt pot or slow cooker or rice cooker, stove

- Coat chicken thighs in salt, pepper, garlic powder, and oil, and bake at 450F for about an hour until a meat thermometer says it's done or, less reliably, until a deep cut produces only clear juices.
- Meanwhile, simmer lentils in 1 qt water for 45 minutes or until you've got a soup of soft but intact lentils in thick liquid
- When the chicken is done, add to lentils the barley and chicken drippings (grease and juices both), hold at a boil for ten minutes scraping the bottom frequently, and then incubate in the residual heat of the oven for an hour until the barley absorbs all the water to give a thick lentil paste studded with chewy grains of barley
- Meanwhile, quarter the cabbage longitudinally, slice it into thin shreds, and stir-fry it with more oil and garlic powder.

One-sixth of the lentil-barley-schmaltz mix is a hearty meal for me: 850 kcal, 30g fat, 30g protein, 34g fiber. Each chicken thigh is another 300 kcal. The cabbage is basically just fibrous water, but it provides some important micronutrients (vitamin C being the most immediate concern).

If you can't be bothered to roast the chicken, you can substitute butter for the drippings. You can also substitute oil, at the expense of flavor. If you're really broke, you can substitute brown rice (half the price per lb where I live) for the barley, but brown rice will just meld into the lentil to give a uniform paste instead of the textural variety of individual chewy grains of barley.
posted by d. z. wang at 9:19 PM on October 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

EmpressCallipygos, I am so excited that someone else has heard of colcannon!

The general technique of mixing a chiffonade of vitamin-rich leafy greens (kale, collards, mustard, red cabbage) into a calorie-dense paste (split pea soup, lentils, mashed potatoes) has been very useful in my search for Soylent.
posted by d. z. wang at 9:24 PM on October 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

When I don't have the will to cook but I want something tasty, I do eggs and greens. Ideally something hearty like collards or kale, but really any cooking greens will do.

I like sauteeing the greens in coconut oil and maybe some harissa paste from a tube. Maybe yellow curry powder. Salt. Once the greens have cooked, make a little nook in them and crack an egg in there. Cover and cook on somwhat low heat so the egg sorta poaches with the moisture of the greens. If I'm feeling it, after that I sprinkle some shredded cheese on top and broil to finish.

If I don't have the energy for cooking greens: rice, canned tuna, sesame oil and a soft boiled egg with a dash of soy sauce on the yolk. drop some spinach or something on top to wilt in the rice.

And since you mentioned it, I was once a depressed graduate student. It was a combination of school stress and family crap. I joined a support group my school's counseling services ran for graduate students and it help immensely by giving me tools I needed to cope.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 9:49 PM on October 19, 2014

Gallo pinto is cheap, filling, healthy, and keeps in the fridge for a good long while.
posted by contraption at 10:26 PM on October 19, 2014

Best answer: One can black beans. One can corn niblets. Open (drain if you have the inclination), douse in hella balsamic vinegar, hella black pepper, hella cumin, olive oil, salt. Consume. So delicious, so easy. Protein-y and comforting, and sometimes when I'm sad getting protein helps.
posted by c'mon sea legs at 11:23 PM on October 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you aren't even up to making grilled cheese, you can make cheese toast - stick bread in toaster until dry but not heavily colored, put cheese on top, shove under broiler until cheese bubbles (don't wander off or you might incinerate it). Accompany with salted sliced tomato for a balanced-ish meal. (If you skip the toaster step the bread might be a little soggy on the bottom. It's not a huge problem though.)

I'm sorry you're having such a rough time. Be gentle with yourself.
posted by gingerest at 1:05 AM on October 20, 2014

At the risk of repetition,
- Bean and cheese burritos: throw 1/2 a can of refried beans & preshredded cheese on a tortilla, nuke it, put some sour cream or Greek yogurt in there, done.
- Tuna or ham & cheese sandwiches for lunches.
- Get some dried sausage and put a bit of that into omelettes, pastas, and soups for more protein. I do it with prosciutto too. (I think if three squares get you full, it might be easier than having to fiddle with snacks.)
- Similarly, 1/2 a can of beans mixed into a canned soup makes it heartier & more filling.
- Easy spaghetti bolognese. I don't bother with celery or carrots: brown an onion, garlic, & ground beef (you don't need lean, you can drain medium ground, cheaper), a can of tomatoes, 1 bay leaf, basil, oregano, & let that puppy cook for ages. Bit of red wine if you want to, not necessary. You can make a kind of sloppy jo sandwich with it if you don't feel like spaghetti again later.
- Another black bean chili recipe.
- Pasta with pesto, cherry tomatoes, & prosciutto (or sausage). You can just throw the last two in at the end.
- Pasta with egg & garlic.
- Jamaican beef patties are cheap and really filling imo.
posted by cotton dress sock at 1:57 AM on October 20, 2014

Best answer: One of my favorites when I want to make something easy is black bean quesadillas.

Just put a tortilla in a nonstick pan, spread shredded cheese over it, spread whole canned black beans over the cheese, then put another tortilla on top. Cook on medium, and flip it when the cheese melts. Then cut it in wedges and dip it in sour cream.

Depending on how much energy you have, you could add jalapeños or salsa or whatever else you like too.
posted by thebrokenmuse at 4:21 AM on October 20, 2014

A few ideas..

Soups! Soups of all kinds! There's chopping involved, but for most soups it's not really important to be careful about it. Just whang about with a knife and you're good to go. I just made French onion soup on Friday that fed me and my neighbours that night, and has fed me lunch and dinner through the weekend plus lunch today (so, 8 meals) for a total expenditure of $20 ish (about 12 without the cheese). Is that within your budget? If so..

- Slice up a couple pounds of onions. Nothing fancy--chop off the root and the stem, discard them and the peel, and slice however you feel like. Maybe 10 minutes work.

- Throw into a slow cooker (if you have one; I only have one as a gift) or a large pot over low heat with 1/4lb butter and leave it alone. Stir once in a while--this is the kind of thing you can leave brewing all day while you're writing or grading papers or whatnot. If it's in a slow cooker you can just leave it alone, period.

- Once the onions are cooked to wherever you like (I prefer caramelized but hey, whatever you like! darker means more flavour and more satisfaction though) add some beef stock--3L in my case. I'm a chef and I can't be arsed to make my own most of the time so no judgement at all if you buy tetra packs off the shelf--that's what I did on Friday. Simmer for an hour.

- Taste, season if you need to change anything. If you'd like to indulge yourself, get a cheapass baguette and some Emmenthal or Gruyere. Slice the baguette, put on top of the soup, top with shredded cheese and under the broiler for a few minutes until bubbling. Meal fit for a monarch! To make it a balanced meal, have a supersimple salad alongside--some greens (whatever's cheap), maybe a tomato, some olive oil and vinegar. The further you cook the onions, the less important the cheese is--it'll be nice and satisfying on its own.

The basics of soup: take pretty much any vegetable you like (e.g. potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, parsnip, carrots, broccoli) and simmer in milk/coconut milk until soft. Puree in a blender--be careful, hot foods will jump; hold the lid down with a towel, fill only halfway, pulse once briefly then turn on the speed--until smooth. Season as you like and eat. Poverty trick: powdered milk sucks to drink, but it's pretty much fine for soup. If you want to get fancy, sautee the vegetables for a little with whatever spices you like before adding the liquid. A clove or two of garlic won't hurt, neither.

Self link: quick-ass pasta. NB: pasta sucks for large batches mostly, but is good for quick meals. To make that recipe even less work, skip the tomatoes and just heat up a jar of pesto instead.

Quick macaroni & cheese. This is a little spendy--not out of a grad student's budget but maybe more of a treat.

500mL 35% cream (you cannot use milk for this, it won't work)
250g shredded cheese (whatever you like really)
1 clove garlic, crushed or sliced or minced, whatever's easiest.
macaroni to feed you

Put on a pot of water and cook the macaroni to package directions, minus about two minutes. In a pan, sautee the garlic. When it's golden, add cream and reduce until thick--if you drag a spoon through it, it'll coat the back of your spoon. Stir in the cheese until melted, toss in the pasta and cook for another minute or two. Done. If the sauce splits (separates), remove from the heat and stir in a little more cream until it comes back together. Voila, elevated mac and cheese from a box. If you want to be extra fancy, mix breadcrumbs with melted butter until moist, maybe add some thyme or something, put on top of the mac and throw under the broiler. Not required, this is fine on its own. Extra super fancy: have a salad on the side with arugula, sliced apple, and a dressing of 3:1 olive oil:lemon juice. The sharpness of everything there will cut through the richness of the macncheese.

Not-quite-risotto: cook short grain rice according to package directions, but use canned tomato soup (diluted 2:1 water:soup) instead of water. Grate in some parmesan or grana padano (the latter is the exact same cheese just not made in Parma, and is about 2/3 the cost) when it's ready, and you're good to go. This is definitely something you can make a large batch of and reheat for a few days; just add a little water and stir around a pan.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 4:46 AM on October 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: (Meant to add: I know you said soups have too many steps; French onion is the most complex and only has three; pureed soups only have two. Unless you want to be fancy, in either case. Mostly it's just leave it alone until things are cooked.)

And I didn't mean to add but should now: tuna casserole. Cook enough noodles--macaroni, fusilli, rotini; something small--to almost fill a casserole dish. Stir in a couple cans of tuna and some frozen peas and/or carrots and/or corn, and bechamel or a can of mushroom soup + one can water. Breadcrumbs on top, bake in a 350 oven until golden brown and bubbline.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 4:55 AM on October 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Poor sad person protip:

If your grocery store has a salad bar, it is usually pretty cheap per ounce (cheaper than buying packaged, for sure) to buy a scoop of grilled cubed chicken and a scoop of cheddar cheese. Don't put in any dressing or any heavy veggies like tomatoes, just the chicken and cheese.

Go home, microwave-bake a potato, salt it and butter it and dump your chicken and cheese on there.

Super comforting, cheaper and easier than buying all the parts and making them yourself.
posted by phunniemee at 5:37 AM on October 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

250g of couscous, pour over 500ml of chicken or veg stock with some tomato puree stirred in. Leave for 15 mins and fluff up with a fork.

I then like to add roasted veg, cooked chicken, sausage, tinned corn, peas, whatever you fancy. Mix it all through, season to taste.
posted by jontyjago at 5:48 AM on October 20, 2014

Miracle mac & cheese -- you boil the pasta in milk, then add cheese and stir. About $3 for a whole big pot.

Spicy noodles with egg. $1 per serving.

That web site is great, and she also has several "make a big batch and freeze" recipes.
posted by mgar at 5:59 AM on October 20, 2014

Best answer: Ok, first off, fuck that "not so healthy" noise. The demonization of processed food can just fuck right off, as far as I'm concerned. If you line up 10 diet gurus, you're going to get 10 different answers about what constitutes a healthy diet, ranging from super low fat to 70% of calories from fat, and from vegan to mostly animal products. You do not need to add to your reasons for feeling bad by guilting yourself over eating generic boxed mac-n-cheese rather than the Annie's organic grass fed version.

If you happen to have an Aldi in your area, it's a great place to save some money, and it may also make grocery shopping a little easier when you're struggling to put one foot in front of the other because it's got a narrower selection and fewer decisions about brand/size, etc.

Here are a few Aldi-specific suggestions that are cheap and super easy: they've got a turkey ham that's less than $2.00/lb and that is very easy to cube up and add to mac and cheese or instant mashed potatoes. Add some frozen or canned veggies of your choice and there's a < 5 minute meal. Aldi has a new kind of instant mashed potatoes that comes in a packet rather than a box and is just-add-boiling-water easy and pretty tasty.

Canned three-bean salad + 1 can tuna is a two-can no-cook drain-and-stir meal.

"beanie weanies" is another easy one: large can baked beans + sliced up hot dogs, baked at 375 for 30 minutes. Peas or french-cut green beans make a good vegetable add-in.

If you like spicy, toss 1 can rotel-type diced tomatoes, drained, in a sauce pan, then a couple eggs. I usually just scramble them up rather than trying to keep them intact. When most of the excess liquid has cooked off, toss in some shredded cheddar cheese and eat that wrapped in corn tortillas.
posted by drlith at 7:04 AM on October 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

My best "poor and sad" tip is dehydrated minced onions and garlic powder or paste. They are not as good as fresh, not by a long shot, but they are a hell of a lot better than not eating because you can't face cooking. Also they are cheap as chips and unlike fresh stuff they don't go off. One of my best broke meals is as follows:

Dehydrated minced onions, garlic powder, curry powder, 1 can chickpeas, 1 can chicken, 1 can coconut milk (if you have a place like Trader Joe's or an ethnic grocery store where you can get it cheap, otherwise 1 can of tomatoes). Dump in frozen peas or green beans or butternut squash if you're worried about vegetable content. Simmer until the onions quit being crunchy.

Along similar lines, my corn chowder recipe, though it's very slightly more involved: cut 2 strips of bacon into bits, sizzle in the bottom of a pot over low heat until they are crispy. Add the minced onions, the garlic powder, 2 cups of frozen corn kernels, and 2 cans of evaporated milk. Cook over low heat stirring semi-frequently until enough starch comes out of the corn kernels to thicken it up a bit. You can add a can of chicken to that too, or slice up already-cooked sausage. Or you could even start it out with sausage instead of bacon.
posted by KathrynT at 8:06 AM on October 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Kroger has frozen recipe veggies. These are a GODSEND!

Get chopped onion, chopped green peppers, mirepoix. Get some peas and other frozen veggies.

Another thing you can do is buy a family pack of some meat, on sale. Ask the butcher to package it separately for you so you can freeze it. They'll do it for you, and they'll probably not grumble.

I'm also going to clue you into Dorot Garlic Cubes. They live in your freezer, take up no room and are pretty cheap all things considered. I get them at Trader Joes.

So to make a quick pasta sauce:

Handful of chopped onion
Splash of Olive Oil
1 Dorot Cube of garlic
1 Can crushed tomatoes
Splash of wine.

Done! It takes about one minute to put it together, and you can have it for 3 meals!

Other nice meals:

Ploughman's Lunch:

Wedge of yummy bread


Brie, baby carrots, grapes and crackers.


Tomato soup and cheese sandwich (grilled or not, your choice.)

Or Soba noodles, chopped Asian salad and splash of teriyaki sauce.

You get the idea.

It's all yummy, it's pretty easy and it tastes good and is good for you. Veggies. The answer is veggies.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:52 AM on October 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Quick-n-dirty Tex-Mex is my go-to for easy, cheap dinners when I care more about just getting food into myself than anything else.

Bean and cheese chalupas: Tostada shells. Can of refried beans. Bag of shredded cheese. Spread beans on shells, top with cheese, put in 350°F oven or toaster oven for 5-6 minutes, until the cheese melts to your liking. Eat. (If you can't find tostada shells, get taco shells and snap them in half before spreading them with beans.) If you're feeling particularly healthy or ambitious, buy a bag of salad and top the chalupas with some lettuce, or put sour cream and/or salsa on it before eating.

Nachos: Put foil on a cookie sheet so you don't have to wash the cookie sheet afterwards. You can rub the foil with a paper towel dipped in oil to make cheese release easily if you want. Spread taco/tortilla chips on it, cover with shredded cheese of your choice, bake at 350°F until cheese melted to your liking. If you want a kick, buy a jar of pickled jalapeño slices and put a few on them before baking. If you feel ambitious or want more protein and fiber, spread refried beans on the chips before putting the cheese on them.

Tacos: Buy a taco-making kit, or just get taco shells (or flour/corn tortillas if you like soft tacos), a pound of ground beef, and a packet of taco seasoning. Follow the directions on the seasoning. Add a can of diced tomatoes to the taco meat if you're feeling ambitious. Stuff in shells, top with shredded cheese, salsa, sour cream, and/or bagged salad.

Taco salad: Put leftover taco meat and/or leftover reheated refried beans on top of bagged salad, scatter taco ships on it, add sour cream/cheese/salsa as desired, eat. Squeeze a lime or sprinkle cumin on it for variety.

Frito pie: Put Fritos in bowl. Top with leftover taco meat. Top with sour cream/cheese/salsa/salad as desired. Eat.

Chili dogs: Top hot dogs and buns with leftover taco meat and shredded cheese. Eat, marveling at the feel of your exploding arteries after the Frito pie and then this.
posted by telophase at 12:11 PM on October 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Hmm, if that's the way we're going, how about...

chevre, marinara sauce, and a baguette

Reheat a jar of marinara sauce in a pot and a baguette in the oven. Pour the marinara sauce into a shallow dish and lay a log of cold chevre in the middle. Scoop it into your mouth with rounds of hot crusty baguette.

hearty bean dip

Heat some oil in a deep, heavy-bottomed pot and beat in a can of crushed tomatoes until the oil is incorporated. Add a can of refried beans, a can of pinto or black beans, a can of corn kernels, and diced jalapenos or hot sauce to taste. When mixture is heated through, optionally top with diced raw onions or diced cilantro. Scoop up with corn chips or tortilla chips.

spicy mango succotash

Combine in a large bowl a can of drained black or pinto beans, a can of corn kernels, the juice of a lime, salt to taste, and any subset of the following: diced jalapenos to taste, boiled quinoa, diced mango, diced bell pepper.

Caprese sandwich

Slice open a crusty roll or length of baguette and absolutely drench the crumb with olive oil or dark toasted sesame oil. Add sliced tomatoes, sliced mozzarella cheese, basil leaves, and salt. If basil is beyond your budget, you'll notice the absence but it'll still taste great. Note that a wad of mozzarella and a tomato are good for several meals, so this isn't as expensive as it sounds.

zero-prep snacks

- raisins and peanuts: combine raisins and peanuts in a bowl, mix with your hands before eating
- apples and peanut butter: stick a knob of peanut butter onto the apple before you take each bite (Nutella also works well for this method, but jam, jelly, marmalade, and Branston pickle do not.)
- Greek yogurt, Grape Nuts, and sunflower or pumpkin seeds: combine in a bowl before eating
posted by d. z. wang at 8:59 PM on October 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'm a fan of Zatarain's Jambalaya rice mix which is usually pretty cheap and drop-dead easy to make. Cook that with some polish sausage (look for sales!) or even hot dogs, and you've got a good-tasting, filling meal. I like replacing some of the water with tomato or spaghetti sauce, but that's optional. Store the leftovers in the fridge and you've got 2-3 meals easy.
posted by Aleyn at 9:45 PM on October 24, 2014

This post from Reddit might could help you:

$26 Grocery list, meal plan, and recipes for when times are tough. Feeds up to a family of four for one week:

This list assumes that you have basic staples like seasonings, baking powder/soda and oil/butter/shortening at home already. Hopefully you have a couple of onions and garlic cloves, too. If not, adding them to your shopping list won't increase the price too much.

The recipes are fairly basic and don't strike me as having too many steps.

I hope this helps, and I hope you're able to not be sad anymore.
posted by magstheaxe at 10:34 AM on October 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

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