meals: budget friendly, healthy, easy to make (plus some restrictions)
October 25, 2015 8:54 AM   Subscribe

I am looking for ideas on budget-friendly, healthy and easy to make meals for a single person. See inside for details.

I need to crunch my budget and stop getting meals at delis and coffee shops and stuff. I am single, and want to make something relatively easy and healthy that I can eat for dinner and have as leftovers for lunch. Here are some of my requirements:

-no red meat (eggs, poultry and fish are fine; also fine if none of these)
-no wheat products(some gluten ingredients okay)
-minimal soy
-healthy, low sodium, low in sugar, minimum of processed foods

I was thinking of making some kind of rice and bean stew with added veggies and eggs, something vaguely Mexican. Or maybe chili and rice? I like all veggies and don't have any problems with foods other than those listed above. I also love Asian food and ingredients.

If you have any ideas for easy meals with those ingredients, or something new, that'd be great- maybe something I can make a big pot of and then have during the week. Also, inexpensive is important.

posted by bearette to Food & Drink (17 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
I find this recipe relatively easy, super delicious as leftovers and very healthy Chicken in Oaxaca Yellow Mole with Green Beans and Chayote (or Potatoes) by Rick Bayless.
posted by Requiax at 9:20 AM on October 25, 2015

Caponata, chili with lentils, and kimchi fried rice are all pretty easy and make great leftovers. Also, these are a few recipes that I haven't made in a long time, but I remember them being good: white chicken chili, arugula salad with chicken and avocado, chana masala (the yogurt is optional).
posted by neushoorn at 9:20 AM on October 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

You might get some inspiration from the Good and Cheap Cookbook - SLPDF
posted by bunderful at 9:40 AM on October 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

Nigel Slater's Chicken with Haricot Beans is a recent favourite in my house, and meets your criteria.
posted by HandfulOfDust at 10:06 AM on October 25, 2015

Do you have a rice cooker? If not, get a rice cooker. The American brands which cost about $20 are fine if your main goal is to make rice.

After that, find a basic vegetarian recipe for some kind of stew. Lentils are the fastest, but you can look for white bean or black bean stews if you prefer. Add a little bit more salt than you think you need-- it will make a difference in the final taste, and all recipes of this sort make a lot of food, so the per-serving salt content won't be outrageous. Toward the end of any stew recipe, you can stir in frozen spinach (or fresh/frozen kale if you leave more time for it to simmer), chopped fresh tomatoes, chopped bell pepper, pieces of cooked turkey sausage, fresh or frozen corn kernels, cilantro or basil or chopped arugula, etc. If you pick one or two of these additions each time you make your stew, you can vary things a lot while staying inside your comfort zone.
posted by yarntheory at 10:24 AM on October 25, 2015

I will often do a 3 pound batch of baked chicken with just something simple like garlic salt on Sunday night and turn it into various meals over the course of the week. I'll add it to salad, as sandwich meat, in tacos, added to pasta, etc. By using the sauces of each dish as the dominant flavor, it doesn't feel overwhelmingly the same while keeping my prep time and costs down.
posted by Candleman at 11:43 AM on October 25, 2015

I make a lot of Indian food in my crockpot (though you can also pretty easily do it on a stove). Daal (lentils), masala (tomato sauce based), saag (spinach or other greens). All amazing. Just cook up some rice or another grain, and you have meals for days.

Also, ratatouille. An eggplant, a couple of tomatoes, some zucchini or squash (or both), and whatever other vegetable you like. Onion, garlic, spices to taste. Cook down until everything sort of mushes together into a chunky stew. Serve over rice, grains, or even just on it's own, and it's amazing.

Any yes, getting a rice cooker makes a big difference.
posted by decathecting at 11:49 AM on October 25, 2015

Soups. Use canned beans or lentils as a base, add whatever flavourings and spices you like. Coconut milk Thai soups are great, but maybe not healthy enough for an everyday thing? Chicken stews are something you can make in advance that freezes well. A can of tomatoes, jarred Indian or Thai spices, aromatics, stew until soft. I also like to make hummus or bean dip and dip raw vegetables in it, in the summer.
posted by AwfulWaffle at 12:28 PM on October 25, 2015

Nthing a rice cooker. You can modify most any stir-fry recipe to suit your taste/restrictions--thinly sliced chicken can be subbed for pork or beef with the same marinade, for instance. If you are trying to avoid soy sauce due to soy + salt, look into Bragg's Aminos or other umami substitutes. You can also throw together a decent stir-fry using just a little bit of soy sauce and a larger amount of Chinese black vinegar (look for Chinkiang brand), if you don't mind the final result tasting a bit vinegar-y. Also garlic! Stir-fried greens with lots of garlic is utterly delicious as a side to pair with rice.

Also, what are you buying at delis and coffee shops? Can you replicate any of them using grocery store ingredients? I only share your dairy-free restriction and I have a hard time finding a full meal at delis and coffee shops that isn't salad.
posted by serelliya at 12:39 PM on October 25, 2015

I am also single and busy and have been trying for a few years to cook more.

My stand-bys are:

- Stir fry (pick one meat/protein and two veg, and this is a good how-to; the keys are high heat and cornstarch in the sauce)
- Omelettes - good for using up bits of protein and veg you have in the fridge. Obviously doesn't result in leftovers though.
- Pasta with a sauce that has lots of substance. I like to sautee some veggies, brown a few chicken sausages, and simmer with a good store-bought marinara (Trader Joe's marinaras are good and not too sweet). My only guideline would be to stay away from brassica veggies (broccoli, brussels sprouts) as they can give the sauce a bitter aftertaste.
- Roast a bunch of veggies, mix with quinoa (that has been cooked with low-sodium chicken broth) and your favorite salad dressing. Makes a great, filling quinoa salad. My favorite veggies to roast are peppers, onions, and zucchini.

I also buy pretty much the same staples every week for my weeknight dinners (as well as keeping some pantry items on hand), which keeps costs down and ensures I'll have what I need for my standby dinners.
posted by lunasol at 12:59 PM on October 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Blogs with tasty, inexpensive veggie/vegan recipes:

Budget Bytes (vegetarian and vegan)
Chef and anti-poverty activist Jack Monroe
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:46 PM on October 25, 2015

Here's the one I make. I found this recipe in a book on how to lower cholesterol without meds. It works (along with the rest of the diet plan). I make chili with ground Turkey. Turkey is lower in fats and cholesterol. The beauty of this is that Turkey can become a minor ingredient. In my case I buy three lb packages of Turkey about 2 1/2 times a year. So with this my meat intake is I think significantly below the American norm but I do eat steak dinners and occasional cheeseburgers.

I fry the approx 1/2 lb of Turkey and flavor with garlic and onion salt as I fill my 8 quart pot with diced tomatoes, three or four varieties of beans, olives, green peppers and sometimes corn for starch. Besides chili powder and cumin I use a mix of spices. I don't use salt because I think it's a taste hog and I get plenty of it elsewhere. The original chili recipe I found was called Superbowl (for the NFL party deal). That one called for chocolate and a bottle of beer. Perhaps that option will appeal to you.

My pot lasts close to a month. I do make fresh salads for practically each lunch and dinner. Lunch by the way is usually chicken salad sandwiches. I break my uncooked Turkey into equal portions by eye and freeze them. As noted I only have to buy the Turkey 2 - 3 times a year. For breakfast I buy oats in bulk and make oatmeal with lots of fruits, cinnamon and brown sugar. My food budget is roughly $120.00 a month mostly purchased at an employee owned discount grocery and fresh ingredients price shopped for lowest cost.
posted by Jim_Jam at 4:26 PM on October 25, 2015

Love this question! I am newly dairy free and soy limited for the bby and am finding meal planning tough.

My current go-to is variations on a massaged kale salad. Wash/cut kale, and mash in some avocado and lemon juice with your hands. This softens the kale and the lemon keeps the avocado from going brown. Add in whatever sounds good - I've done chicken, nuts, and apples, or chicken, peppers, and tomatoes, among other options. It keeps well in the fridge for around 4 or 5 days.
posted by marmago at 6:30 PM on October 25, 2015

This Mexican quinoa is delicious, inexpensive (I skip the cilantro, and it could be even cheaper if you used dry beans and buillion), reheats very well, and uses only one pot to make.

Seconding Budget Bytes - great stuff there.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 6:35 PM on October 25, 2015

I'd heartily recommend 101 Cookbooks, if you have a sense of what ingredients are expensive and which are a good deal. There are tons of great things that'll freeze well.

I just made her Red Lentil Coconut Curry soup tonight, and it was bangin' -- and made enough for at least 4 or 5 more meals.

I also second the recommendation of Budget Bytes, though I sometimes feel like she sacrifices health for money savings. (but still, mostly good!)
posted by sazerac at 6:50 PM on October 25, 2015

Here's my current vegan single person go-to

Roast an assortment of vegetables of your choice. Most recently I did cauliflower, broccolini, and chickpeas. Cook up some brown rice in a rice cooker. Before roasting the veggies when mixing the veggies with olive oil for roasting, add spices of your choice. I added a great Vindaloo spice mix I picked up recently, just as an example.

Once everything's ready, just build your bowl. Brown rice at the bottom, veggies on top. I also like to squirt a fresh lemon slice all over the top just for some more flavour.

I usually roast three different things at once and this usually lasts me about 4 meals. It is insanely easy and lazy and delicious and I love it for weekday eating. It is also pretty cost efficient.
posted by raw sugar at 9:57 PM on October 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Dhal is crazy cheap and tasty, and reheats well. It's at it's best with a lot of salt though. Add a dollop of pickle or chutney for interest.

Thai red, yellow, green curries are great (just follow the recipe on the jar), though taste best if at least some of the veg is freshly cooked (I pour boiling water on broccoli, wait for ~3 min, and then stir it through that reheated curry. Can also be zapped in the microwave for a couple of minutes if you don't have boiling water at work).

Probably best for summer, but mason jar salads are pretty nifty. In winter I like a serve of (homemade) vegetable soup and a toasted cheese sandwich.
posted by kjs4 at 6:51 AM on October 26, 2015

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