healthy quick meals for the brokity-broke
January 24, 2016 10:26 AM   Subscribe

There are loads of similar questions already out there in the ether but I'm asking again because I have some dietary snowflakes and I'm the world's worst cook...

I am broke. I am not working at the moment and am not collecting unemployment. I have significant savings in the form of cashed out stock options, general savings, an untapped-into trust fund, and a cash inheritance from a deceased relative so I am able to support myself for at least two years if all goes to hell and no one hires me.

I had a major mental health crisis at the end of last year and while I am better now, most of my money now is going towards medical bills, prescriptions, therapy, and rent/utilities. I don't want to go crazy dipping into my savings because having the 2 year cushion is important to me. I have maybe $200/month that I want to allocate towards groceries (I will not eat out or get delivery). How can I best stretch this money and also have healthy meals that don't require hours of cooking time? Ideally I want to spend no more than 45 minutes cooking, start to finish.

Dietary considerations: I don't eat pork. I am okay with most vegetables except kale and spinach (I started taking Metformin recently and for some reason the combination of that medication and kale or spinach means disastrous GI distress 20 minutes later). I would like to avoid pastas and rice and other refined carbs if possible. I don't eat a lot of beef generally but it's not verboten. I don't eat a lot of chicken either but again, not verboten. I like cheese. I like hummus and chick peas. I like eggs. I like salmon. I like shrimp and clams. I sometimes like sea bass. I don't like tuna steaks but I do like canned tuna. I do not like any other types of fish. I like spicy food but really only in the context of Mexican or Indian seasonings and textures/flavors. I generally also like Italian and Mediterranean flavor profiles. I don't really like most East Asian cuisine (I like it in restaurants but I cannot duplicate it at home and it turns out gross). I like fruit, but not dried fruit. I like nuts. I have no food allergies that I know of. I really like mushrooms. Dairy is not a problem for me.

I live in an area where I have access to good grocery stores (nicer than Stop and Shop but nothing as fancy (or as pricey) as Whole Foods) and local farmer's markets. There is no Trader Joe's near me but I am more than willing to take a couple of hours to get to my nearest one if you think anything they have would be helpful for me.

I have a Cuisinart, a Nutribullet, a toaster, a microwave, a gas range and oven, many pots and pans, a good knife and a crockpot. Assume that I know how to use all these things but that I am kind of clumsy and forgetful and most of what I attempt to cook turns out weird or burned. I haz no cooking skillz.

Given my parameters can you please suggest easy/fast/healthy meals for me? If my parameters make this impossible, feel free to let me know as well - I'd like to hear some alternate suggestions if that is the case.

Thank you!
posted by thereemix to Food & Drink (31 answers total) 63 users marked this as a favorite
You should explore the world of lentils.
posted by jbenben at 10:54 AM on January 24, 2016 [4 favorites]

Assuming that by "quick" you mean minimal preparation time, I have a few suggestions. For cheap and healthy, soup is your friend. Lentil, split pea, and so forth are both cheap to make and difficult to ruin. You can pretty much follow the recipe on the bag and end up with a tasty result. There is also my favorite:

Cabbage Soup

1/2 head cabbage, chopped
1 pound ground beef (the leaner the better)
6 cups water
1 onion, chopped
3 T sugar
2 T Worcestershire sauce
1/2 T salt
bay leaf
2 6-oz cans of tomato paste

Combine all ingredients (except tomato paste) in a pot. Bring to a boil and simmer one hour. Add the tomato paste and simmer 15 minutes longer.

For non-soup dishes, I'm a big fan of a crustless quiche. The possibilities for fillings are endless. I often just use up whatever little bits of meat and veggies are left in the refrigerator. Your beloved mushrooms would be excellent in a quiche, but they'll need to be sauteed first to get the liquid out of them. Aim for about a cup of shredded cheese (1/4 pound) although that can certainly be increased to taste. Into a greased pie pan or baking dish, spread out the cheese and whatever fillings you want. Then mix together 1 cup evaporated skim milk, 1 cup Eggbeaters (or 4 whole eggs), a little salt and pepper, and pour it over the fillings. Bake 15 minutes at 425F, then another 30-35 at 300F, until it no longer wobbles in the middle. Let it set for about five minutes before cutting.
posted by DrGail at 10:56 AM on January 24, 2016 [4 favorites]

Very quick healthy meal: Apple slices with a serving of sliced sharp cheese (slice finely, eat with apple slices) and a serving of peanut butter; dip apple slices in peanut butter; big handful of baby carrots (get the five pound bag, they keep). Celery stick or sliced cucumber or some other vegetable that you like. Apple slices are also good with cheap chevre.

I always recommend grated sauteed cauliflower and grated sauteed cabbage. I promise that you will be surprised by these. First, grate about half a medium head of your chosen vegetable coarsely, either by hand or machine. Heat a heavy pan while grating. Add enough olive oil or butter or other fat to coat the pan decently - you needn't fill the pan, but don't skimp either. I find that 1 T plus a bit works well. Add your vegetable and lightly salt. Stir. Let cook over medium-high heat until it tastes cooked - in each case, the vegetable will develop a distinct "cooked", nutty flavor. It takes 6-7 minutes for cabbage in a pre-heated pan on an efficient stove and a bit longer for cauliflower.

When it's done, season it - for cauliflower, you can use butter/salt/pepper, fat plus parmesan, crema or plain yogurt plus paprika or hot sauce or cumin/chili. You can also dilute about 1 T curry paste until it's pourable and cook it in with the cauliflower until the whole thing dries out a bit. For cabbage, butter/salt/pepper or crema/yogurt and spices.

I also like quasi-Greek potatoes. Buy some red, waxy potatoes. I usually use about 2/3 of a 3 pound bag or slightly less than half of a five pound bag. Cut them up longways, about six to eight slices per potato. Put in one layer in a large pan. Mix these ingredients to total 1 cup: 1/4 to 1/3 olive oil; tomato paste, the juice of 1/2 lemon, chopped garlic, white wine if you have it, a little bouillion paste if you have it (like Better than Bouillion). Top up with water if needed.
Pour over and mix with potatoes. Cook in a 420 oven for thirty minutes, then turn slices, then cook for thirty more. The first time you do this, check on them at thirty minutes and then again at forty five. They are done when they are either starting to brown or very brown. I tend to feel that these keep.

I also like butter beans in sauce: Drain and rinse two cans of Bush's brand butter beans (these are the best ones IMO). Finely chop a small onion or half a large one. Mince some garlic. Open one large can crushed tomatoes; you can get chopped tomatoes and blend them if needed. I feel that Muir Glen brand is nicest if on sale. Cook onion in about 1.5 T olive oil until softened and translucent. Add minced garlic, cook until you start to smell the garlic. Add the tomatoes. Add about 1 tsp fresh thyme (I get herbs in those little packs and keep them in the freezer - this is actually economical because you can use one packet over months.). Simmer. Meanwhile, take a couple of spoonfuls of the beans and mash them. Stir this well into the liquid. Add the other beans. (The mashed beans thicken the sauce.) I like to add a little white wine, too. Simmer for about 10 mins.

(In re wine: I like to buy a cheap bottle and freeze it - then I can scoop out a spoonful to add to sauces and soups as needed. Wine doesn't stay drinkable this way, of course, but the basic wine flavor stays good for cooking.)

I also like black beans and squash. Peel and cut up 1/2 a large or one small butternut squash. Saute a sliced onion in olive oil. Add two drained cans of black beans. Add squash and about 1/4 water. Cover and cook, checking every ten minutes, until squash is done. Season to taste with salt, pepper, hot sauce, etc.

Spaghetti squash is surprisingly good and easy, though not quick. You will need a big knife and a little care. I use my chef's knife and sort of ease the knife into the squash tip first, then saw it open. Get a spaghetti squash, half it and scrape out the seeds. Rub with olive oil then lightly salt and pepper. Cook in a 400 degree oven for about 45 minutes. I cook mine face up; some people swear by face-down. Some people add water to the pan. I have never found that any of this makes much difference. It will be done when you can run a fork around the cooked surface and the strands come away easily. You will not see the strands until the squash is cooked; it will look like regular squash. It's better to overcook than undercook. Scrape out all the strands. Toss with butter or olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. You can add parmesan, too.
posted by Frowner at 10:58 AM on January 24, 2016 [8 favorites]

Dried beans are your friends. Soak them overnight and create delicious low cost meals the next day. Here are a few good bean recipes to get you started.
posted by monotreme at 11:02 AM on January 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

Jack Monroe writes a blog called Cooking on a Bootstrap that has a lot of great recipes and they're extremely budget friendly. She's based in the UK so you'll have to do some translation (from C to F, and from courgette to zucchini, things like that). But it's very worth it. I love her falafel, bean burgers, and mushroom rogan josh. She also has some cookbooks out, but her blog has tons of recipes on it. Lots of beans and lentils, tons of veg, and very, very cheap.
posted by hazyjane at 11:03 AM on January 24, 2016 [3 favorites]

One chicken will feed you for all week.

Here's a great example but springboard off this to design your own plans for the bird: One Chicken 17 Healthy Meals $26
posted by littlewater at 11:05 AM on January 24, 2016 [3 favorites]

Budget Bytes has easy, cheap recipes.
posted by belladonna at 11:16 AM on January 24, 2016 [7 favorites]

NPR did a story on the "Cheap Eats" cookbook, which was developed to provide simple, healthy recipes on a budget of about $4 per day, aka for people on food stamps. The recipes are tasty, healthful and smart, and feature ingredients that you are likely to find at any supermarket. The cookbook is available for free here.
posted by BlahLaLa at 11:22 AM on January 24, 2016 [12 favorites]

Yeah, this is going to be semi impossible. It's the old "pick two" problem. You want cheap, easy, AND fast. Well, pick two. Cheap and easy, cheap and fast, easy and fast, or, crockpot cooking, ramen, and take out respectively. But on the upside you have good equipment already paid for, and there are many many coping mechanisms for the cooking-inept as long as you can take your time and not rush yourself.

My suggestion is to choose "cheap and easy" and learn how to make dried beans of all types into delicious protein with your crockpot. I strongly suggest soaking your beans overnight, which some people say you don't need to do when you are using a crockpot, but I have a finicky digestive situation and find beans are just better team players if they have soaked. Because you (we) are forgetful, set a reminder on your phone/device that says "DEAL WITH THE BEANS!!!" to remember to remove them from their soaking liquid and start them cooking. Here is a good page on how to crockpot cook dried beans from thekitchn.

Once you have your surprisingly huge amount of cooked beans, portion them off into 2-cup portions (which is equivalent to about one can of beans and often what recipes call for) and freeze them. They will last for ages.

There are two sorts of beans that are better cooked on the stovetop than in a crockpot.

Kidney and cannellini beans (white kidney beans) need to be brought to a rolling boil for at least ten minutes to break down a toxin that can actually increase if they're cooked at below-boiling temperatures for a long time (like in a crockpot.) This toxin can cause serious intestinal distress, like, sometimes emergency room bad. So you can either cook them on the stovetop, which means you need to pay occasional attention for the couple of hours they'll take to cook, or boil them for those ten minutes, drain them again and put them in the crockpot and proceed as normal.

The other kinds of beans that are better on a stove is lentils. But they're great because they cook fast and you don't need to soak them - in fact, they will turn to complete mush if you do. Lentils come in a rainbow of colors and different ones have different textures, tastes, and best cooking times. "Split peas" are also basically a type of lentil.

Things you can make with beans:

Chili of many types, which can be eaten as-is or used as a topping on things like potatoes, noodles, taco salads, or polenta (grits)
Hummus (much cheaper made at home, in your blender, than bought readymade, and more flavorful)
100+ varieties of bean soup
Refried beans, black or pinto, perfect for all manner of Mexican food exactly to the spice level you prefer
Light Mediterranean pasta dishes with beans and veggies in a garlic sauce (my favorite is white beans, kale, lemon, garlic. But you could swap the kale for any vegetable you like)
Chilled marinated bean salads (once you have your thawed cooked beans, add various marinade flavors and some fresh vegetables like celery and carrot for crunch, stick in fridge and eat over the next week)
Substantial seafood-flavored dishes made with a little bit of shrimp or mussels with tons of protein

The other thing you should try to practice getting really good at making is eggs. Scrambled and medium-boiled are probably the two most versatile and easiest ways to cook them, fried is harder but adds significant deliciousness to your food in the form of golden yolk goodness. Eggs are relatively inexpensive, quick to cook, and full of nutrition. But they do require some finesse and practice. You can do it! I believe in you!
posted by Mizu at 11:34 AM on January 24, 2016 [10 favorites]

I'm going to suggest soups and stews in your crock pot.

You can get frozen 'starter' veggies at the supermarket and use them as a base. They're inexpensive (cheaper than fresh) and won't go bad waiting for you to deal with them.

I can get Mirepoix (cubed carrots, celery and onion), Cajun Mirepoix (cubed celery, onion and bell pepper), Soup and Stew. This takes ALOT of hassle out of prep for cooking.

So in the crock pot throw the Mirepoix and some dried green peas into the crockpot with water, (see amounts on the bag of peas) and turn on low. At dinner time you have lovely pea soup. Have a big bowl for dinner and put the rest in the fridge for the rest of the week, or freeze.

Again in the crockpot, put in the soup veggies, then add a can or two of cubed tomatoes (and juice) and a can of green beans (and juice). Throw a cup or two of broth in there and let it all hang out. Yum! Veggie soup! My mom adds pearled barley, but I don't. Again, healthy soup!

Chili. Pound of ground meat (chicken, turkey or beef) chopped onions (you can get these frozen), 3 garlic cloved chopped (or a teaspoon-ish of pre-chopped garlic), can of diced green chilies, 2 cans of chili beans, Chili powder. Brown the meat, throw in the onions and the green peppers, when it's cooked through, add the beans. When everything is getting together, throw In some chili powder. Notice, no tomato. You can add if you like, but I'm about getting flavor and color from the chili powder.

Do some egg, tuna and chicken salads to eat with salad greens. Salads and soups are hearty and provide lots of healthy veggies and protein.

If you have time, get into cooking, it's a skill that stands you in good stead for the rest of your life.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:55 AM on January 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

A meal only needs about a quarter of a chicken breast. Roasting chicken breasts is super easy. You put oil on it, put it in a roasting pan, and put it in the oven for 20 minutes. That's it! If you throw some carrots in there you have a veggie. Add some brown rice.

If you roast a few chicken breasts at once you have easy leftover chicken that you can put various sauces on, or put onto some lettuce for a salad type thing.

Lunchmeat with whole wheat bread (depending on your carb needs) is actually really cheap and filling. Add some cheap yellow mustard.

If you can have brown rice, a rice cooker is a great easy investment. They're like $20 on Amazon and they'll do a lot for you.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 11:59 AM on January 24, 2016

One overarching thing that I think is really important is to remember that cooking is pretty much like anything else, in that there are tradeoffs. There ARE tons of great cooking hacks, and you can have a healthy delicious meal tonight. However, in the long term, your results will depend on your priorities. There's no magical formula for making delicious, inexpensive, healthy, interesting and varied meals to sustain you every day without dedicating some time to it, and acquiring skills.

A lot of people give up on cooking because their results aren't as good and take longer than they expect, but keep in mind that it is an acquired skill. Sometimes (not always, but sometimes) recipes can take many times longer than estimated just because the people writing and timing the recipes are skilled cooks. So expect things to take a little longer at first, and remember that you're in the learning stage.

I get that you maybe aren't all that interested in developing cooking skills. I wasn't either when I started making myself learn, but after I'd been doing it for a while and was saving money and eating better, I started enjoying it. Stick it out and maybe, like me, you'll find yourself actually enjoying it. And even if you don't, you'll find yourself getting better and faster.

Also, don't try to master all cuisines right off the bat. Mexican and Indian foods, for example, use different seasoning profiles, and you need the spices for that, which is sort of a startup cost. So at first, maybe start out with Indian, get some decent Madras curry powder and fresh garlic and ginger (you can just put the ginger root in a sandwich bag and keep it in the freezer) and garlic and start cooking with those flavors for a while. If you were to buy all the spices necessary for a variety of different types of foods right now, it would get really expensive and some would probably go to waste.

I really like this dal recipe as a starting point because it's good, it's forgiving, and it's based on ingredients you can get in an American grocery store. It's full of spinach, but you can just leave that out. In fact, you can pretty much leave out or add in whatever you like. (Dal is lentil and palak is spinach, so I guess you should change what you call it if you leave one of those out.)

And whatever approach you decide to take, focusing on soups and stews is always a good idea They're relatively easy because don't require too much knowledge of advanced cooking technique, and they can be very flexible and inexpensive. And they're almost always as good or even better as leftovers.

(On preview: Now not one but TWO people have beat me to the tradeoffs argument. Harumph!)
posted by ernielundquist at 12:02 PM on January 24, 2016 [3 favorites]

If you can spare $20 for a rice cooker, I highly recommend making meals that way. My partner's standard meal is "grain, green and bean" cooked in the rice cooker. Pick any three foods that fit those categories, toss em in, hit "cook" and it'll stop when the grain is ready. It's very flexible and very easy. (And it's kind of "set it and forget it" too.)
posted by ocherdraco at 12:05 PM on January 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

Another great rice cooker meal is using a can of soup you like as the liquid for your rice to cook in.
posted by ocherdraco at 12:07 PM on January 24, 2016

Mujaddara is delicious, contains protein, and is so cheap it might as well be free. It is easy to make (although the onions take a while... don't rush them), keeps well, and is pretty hard to screw up.
posted by pheide at 12:31 PM on January 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

Veggie omelet? Salad with beans? Also, while you said less carbs, oatmeal is pretty good for you.
posted by LoonyLovegood at 12:33 PM on January 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

Balls. You said no rice. My bad.
posted by pheide at 12:34 PM on January 24, 2016

Lots of people have given you recipes and food suggestions so I will add this: Freeze the food in single-serving sizes. I use 1 cup mason jars which can be bought at kmart for less than a dollar each (and probably similar at other places). These are really about half a meal, at least for me, so I get to mix and match when eating them, or have one + a piece of toast. Then when you make a big batch of cheap-and-easy-but-not-fast food (as per Mizu) you can freeze it and have several meals out of it whenever you want, instead of having to eat a batch of Whatever for several meals in a row.

The food usually doesn't look so appealing in the freezer, but I am always pleasantly surprised when I thaw it, especially if it is something I made several weeks ago and don't really remember. Which reminds me: it also helpful to label the food if you want to avoid surprises (I don't mind 'em, as long as I can tell what general type of food it is - e.g. beans, soup, chicken). Sharpies on the lids work well, though after a while the lids get pretty covered with writing. Some kinds of sharpie seem to wear off/wash off better than others.
posted by 2 cats in the yard at 12:35 PM on January 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

For others reading this later who don't mind rice: seconding mujaddera. It would probably also be fine (though not quite as good) with brown rice.

Also, you can serve almost anything solid enough (i.e. not soupy or saucy) over or mixed with lettuce for added greens and texture.
posted by 2 cats in the yard at 12:38 PM on January 24, 2016

Came here to say Shakshuka. I am also cooking on the super cheap right now, and this is a go-to for me b/c all I really have to buy is two cans of diced tomatoes and eggs. I make a big batch on Wednesday night, and eat it for breakfast and dinner for the next two days...the flavor only gets better over time. Many recipes call for caramelized onions, which tastes amazing, but sometimes I just don't have the patience to push onions around for an hour. My quickest way of making this is by sautéing yellow onion in my cast iron pan, then throwing it in a saucepan with the diced tomatoes and tomato liquid, and a crap ton of spices. This week I threw in salt, pepper, turmeric, garlic powder, cumin, cayenne, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Feta is delicious on top, but sometimes I just forego it due to cost. I do the whole oven-poaching thing if I'm making this for a group, but for myself, I just make one egg over easy, then throw it on top of the tomato sauce. Although you said you'd like to avoid rice, it does go well with this, or sometimes I'll throw cooked chickpeas on top.

Roasted veggies have also become my friend. Brussel sprouts (I can get them on the cheap at our local farmers market), okra, sweet potato, and broccoli are my current faves. Throw them in some olive oil, salt and pepper, and stick them in the oven for 30-40 mins (broccoli is much faster). I put balsamic and feta on top of mine, put the veggies over brown rice I've pre-cooked a batch of, or mix with beans.
posted by gollie at 1:18 PM on January 24, 2016 [4 favorites]

I should add that my rice cooker suggestions work with all sorts of grains, so can be useful even though you're not doing rice specifically.
posted by ocherdraco at 1:21 PM on January 24, 2016

I started taking Metformin recently

Way to bury the lede here...if you have diabetes or pre-diabetes (the two major conditions Metformin treats) you should start with a nutritionist who knows about your condition (or at the very least, get your diagnosis and compare it to advice in diabetic food guides which you can get free from the library) to make sure you are not inadvertently hurting yourself.
posted by holyrood at 1:24 PM on January 24, 2016 [6 favorites]

Oh, rice and pasta substitutions.

Polenta is a really good choice for most sauces you'd put on spaghetti, and with Mexican style cooking for things where you'd usually use rice.

Quinoa is often good as a rice substitute.

Roasted cauliflower makes a good base for curries and other stewlike things.

Potatoes, too. Mashed or roasted or baked.

Also mess around with barley, bulgur, steel cut oats, and just subbing brown rice for white.
posted by ernielundquist at 1:27 PM on January 24, 2016

"I haz no cooking skillz."

You mentioned being distracted and sometimes clumsy in the kitchen... is that just the way you are, or do you not really know how to cook? If the latter, the best way to cook when broke is to be comfortable in the kitchen. If you're constantly worried about following a recipe to the letter and you're working with pretty humble ingredients, it's a lot harder. You could look at YouTube tutorials for specific dishes, or better yet, see if a friend or neighbor would teach you how to cook some meals that could be your go-to meals.
posted by chickenmagazine at 1:54 PM on January 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

I eat a low carb paleo diet, and I feel your pain about the cooking. It's sooooo much cooking. @ernielundquist and others have given you good advice -- the only way to making cooking cheap and easy is to spend some time developing the skills. Here's my suggestion:

Pick 8 recipes that look good to you. Just 8. No more, no less. You've gotten good suggestions in this thread, but other places to look are The Paleo Mama and Paleo Leap. I'm not pushing paleo on you, it's just that it sounds like what you might be looking for, and these are the food blogs I read.

Once you've found your 8 recipes, pick two to start with. Make a list of the ingredients you need to buy. If you need fewer servings than the recipe calls for, cut the recipe down. Plan to eat those two recipes every day for a week. Cook one the first day, eat the left overs the second day, then cook the second recipe the third day and eat the left overs the fourth day. Then make the first recipe again on day 5, and eat those left overs on day 6. Or depending on how much each makes, alternate them every day.

The point is to cook those two things several times until you feel more confident making them. The first time you make a recipe you might think it has too much or too little of something (too much cayenne pepper or too little of your favorite veg), adjust it the next time. Write notes on your recipe about what you did. The second time you make the recipe, do the same thing. After 3-4 times, you'll have the recipe dialed in. The next week, move on to the next two recipes.

If at any point you've tried a recipe a couple times, you've made adjustments, and you just don't like it, throw it away. But it's not a waste! While you were experimenting with it, you learned a bunch of stuff! You got practice chopping or dicing or sautéing or whatever. Great job!

Once you've worked your way through all 8 recipes, you'll have a couple that you have done solid, a couple that you want to tweak a bit more, and a couple you've thrown out. You will have spent 4-6 weeks learning how to make these recipes, and learning how to cook. You'll be healthier and proud of your new cooking skills.

You can just leave it at that, or pick out two new recipes and add them to your rotation. Eventually, you will have a set of recipes that work for you, that you know how to make, and that you like.

Here's some specific recipe recommendations: Italian Sausage and Cabbage Soup, Quick Crock Pot Chili, Orange Shrimp, Paleo Taco Salad.
posted by OrangeDisk at 3:41 PM on January 24, 2016 [3 favorites]

Your friends are beans, rice, pasta, and potatoes. I know you said you were avoiding some of these, but these foods are used around the world to make cheap and good food fast. Also, your cheapest, best bet for a grocery store is to start checking out ethnic, non-brand supermarkets. Otherwise, you are paying extra money for the branding and marketing of the chain. Think generally of what's local and in season, since those foods will generally be cheapest.

Cook large amounts of food ahead of time. Buy vegetables that generally have the same roasting time: 50 mins at 450 for root vegetables: potatoes, carrots, etc. or 15 mins for onions, mushrooms, peppers, cauliflower, squash, etc.

Some recipes:

Any soup: Cut vegetables, cover with water, boil, simmer until soft, mash half, add a tablespoon of vinegar or lemon. Add cooked beans or rice or pasta and/or meat.

Chipotle: Roast 15 min vegetables, add cooked beans and rice. Add cooked meat. Put it in a tortilla with hot sauce and sour cream (if you want to).

Bitman has a bunch of recipes that are very pliable like this: google his stocks recipes, his soups, salads, etc. His recipes are likely at the right cooking level for you.

Tip: Did you know you can microwave an egg for a minute and a half in a bowl and it will come out perfectly steamed?

Tip: I generally find sausages to be the cheapest form of meat. Open them and cook the loose meat in a skillet and they go great with anything.

Tip: Get a slow cooker. These things are amazing. Just dump a bunch of stuff in them the night before, turn it on, and they'll be done in the morning. Work very well for the tougher, cheaper cuts of meat like brisket. You will not regret this purchase.

Tip: Don't buy juice. Juice is as bad for you as soda. However, if you must have juice, buy frozen juice and only use a quarter of it per pitcher. I generally don't notice a taste difference and its far more healthy.

Tip: Keep nuts, popcorn, energy bars, apples, something around to snack on. This will make it a lot easier to avoid ordering take out. Put some in your car too.
posted by xammerboy at 4:38 PM on January 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

Hi quickly want to jump in to say that I am neither diabetic nor pre-diabetic, my doctor (who is also an endocrinologist) has put me on Metformin prophylactically because I have a family history of diabetes and I am chubby - this after a slew of non-medicinal approaches to knocking 50 extra pounds off my frame have failed (and I need to take the weight off if only because it's causing knee and back pain now). I have also spoken with a nutritionist (part of the non-medicinal approaches to weight loss) and as a rule try to stay away from refined carbs and more towards a high protein high-ish fat diet. The Metformin is helping but it does cause GI issues so I've made note of which foods in particular don't play nice with it.

Thank you everyone for the suggestions so far and please keep them coming if you have more! This is very helpful and is giving me some good ideas for my next grocery trip.
posted by thereemix at 5:06 PM on January 24, 2016

Oh and I do know how to cook but I am clumsy and distracted in the kitchen. I started cooking for myself when I was 7 because my mother was very ill and have basically been winging it ever since. I know basic concepts and I can use a knife without injury, but I'm bad at timing, and at seasoning, so things just come out weird and/or burned. I know a large part of this is cultivating the patience to try to follow cooking instructions carefully without rushing but it's a big learning curve for me and I get upset when I spend money on ingredients only to end up with something inedible. :(
posted by thereemix at 5:09 PM on January 24, 2016

Metafilter recently convinced me to buy an electric pressure cooker, the Instant Pot. Does similar things to a slow cooker, except fast. What I'm unexpectedly loving, though, as the mom of an infant and a preschooler, is that you set the time (which you are given in a recipe or a table) and it does its thing and then goes into warming mode. So I do not need to give brain space to it anymore. If I wander off, or am dealing with a crying child, no problem -- nothing will be burnt. In fact, I can know that dinner will be ready soon, and it will be tasty! Soups are a weeknight meal that I can do with a crying baby, because they are done that fast and I only need 10 minutes of chopping time.

Not free, but you needn't get the most expensive version... And it makes beans so easy, I think we will be saving a lot on groceries.
posted by wyzewoman at 6:08 PM on January 24, 2016

Poor Girl Eats Well does a really great job of putting together healthy, inexpensive meals. She also gives you the cost per serving breakdown of all of her recipes. Her recipes are straightforward and unfussy. I also always used to read about her $25 shopping cart for inspiration. She helped me figure out how to eat decently for a week for <$30.
posted by batbat at 6:34 PM on January 24, 2016

Do you have an Aldi nearby by any chance? My husband and I shop there almost exclusively (along with a produce share basket from the local organic store) and we are pretty much able to eat like kings on the USDA Thrifty Budget.

I'm still working on the healthy/cheap/easy nexus thing myself so I don't have to much else to add except: don't be ashamed to keep a couple convenience meals on hand as being tired and hungry is where you run into danger of breaking your budget by ordering in or going out to eat.
posted by Jess the Mess at 7:47 AM on January 25, 2016

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