Budget banquet
January 2, 2006 7:12 AM   Subscribe

What do you think is the cheapest, healthiest, tastiest, easiest meal to prepare?

Cf. this question, but actual recipes are awesome.
posted by grrarrgh00 to Food & Drink (35 answers total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
A banana.

On special occasions, dipped in Nutella.
posted by ba at 7:31 AM on January 2, 2006

Warm salad! Toss mushrooms and red onions into a pan, and saute. Blanch some asparagus and green beans using boiling water from an electric kettle. With together in a bowl with diced avocado and throw in baby spinach leaves. Squeeze a lime and throw in some black pepper: voila! You've got dinner. Add protein of choice: tuna slices, grilled haloumi, tempeh, grilled chicken, prawns. Olives and fetta add a piquant accent. It's easy, delicious, really good for you, and takes a grand total of ten minutes to prepare.
posted by hot soup girl at 7:43 AM on January 2, 2006 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Pasta, tomato sauce, hummus, lentils or other protein. Ready in ten minutes.
posted by greatgefilte at 7:45 AM on January 2, 2006

One cup of dry rice plus two cups of water in a big, glass, lidded, microwave-safe bowl. Nuke it on high for five minutes; add some butter or margarine and nuke on 50% power for another twenty minutes or so. Add your choice of:
  • A packet of frozen mixed vegetables (my favorite is the "Oriental blend" of onions, mushrooms, green beans, and broccoli);
  • A can of baked beans and a can of kidney beans;
  • A can of diced tomatoes and a can of black beans;
  • A can of corned beef hash (sounds weird, I know, but I liked it)
Add some spices or Tabasco or whatever you happen to like and nukerate on 50% power some more -- ten or fifteen minutes or so depending on what you've added and how powerful your microwave is.

Very cheap (canned beans and vegetables are usually two-for-a-dollar or less at Wal-Mart), very easy (no need to hang around in the kitchen keeping an eye on things), healthy (unless you're on Atkins, I suppose), tasty (plenty of ways to mix it up so it doesn't get boring).

A slightly less lazy recipe that's another favorite of mine: Slice up a package of kielbasa or similar sausage (not breakfast sausage) into pennies, and brown them in a pan with a little vegetable oil (no lid, medium heat). Toss some frozen hash browns in the pan (any variety -- the little square patties, the O'brien style, doesn't matter). Heat and stir a little until the potatoes are mostly unfrozen, then dump a packet of those frozen mixed vegetables on top of the whole thing (again, I'm partial to "Oriental blend." Stir until the whole thing is hot, making sure not to burn the veggies. Delicious, healthy (especially if you pick low-fat sausage), simple, relatively cheap.
posted by Gator at 7:49 AM on January 2, 2006 [1 favorite]

When I feel lazy, I am partial to steamed frozen peas and corn with a mini-baguette and butter. With adequate preparation, soup can be fast and perfect, but that assumes you made it ahead of time.
posted by dame at 7:57 AM on January 2, 2006

Good bread, pesto, mozzerella (or another cheese, ideally something soft), a fresh tomato, and a glass of wine.
posted by klangklangston at 8:00 AM on January 2, 2006

Cook some lentils in vegetable broth.
Meanwhile, saute an onion in olive oil. When it's nicely caramelized, toss in some kale, or chard, or spinach, or whatever leafy green you like, and saute that until it's soft but not wilted.
Toss the onion and greens with the lentils, and season with salt, pepper, and (my vote for #1 spice) tons of cumin, maybe some hot pepper flakes.

The whole thing takes maybe 20 minutes and is very tasty and very healthy. And more or less foolproof. Not as cheap as, say, a can of beans, since fresh greens cost a few bucks, but if you make enough, you can get several meals out of ingredients that cost maybe $6 total.
posted by Dr. Wu at 8:01 AM on January 2, 2006 [1 favorite]

We often enjoy sliced sweet peppers, onions and garlic, sauteed in olive oil over fettucine. Darn cheap and easy to make. Prep time (slicing the peppers, onion and garlic) can drag on for, oh, 10 minutes or so, but it's good conversation time.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:02 AM on January 2, 2006

Best answer: Also: Crock pot recipes are great for cheap, healthy, tasty, and especially easy. If you don't have a crock pot, get one -- they usually come with a little recipe book.

Beef stew: Throw a package of stewing beef into the crock. Add a can of sliced or diced potatoes, a can of mushrooms, a can of sliced carrots, a packet of onion soup mix, and whatever spices you like (rosemary is great with beef). Pour some cheap red wine over the whole thing until everything's covered, stir it up, turn on the pot (low or medium heat), and forget about it for the rest of the day. About a half hour before you're ready to serve, mix up a few spoonfuls of cornstarch in some cold water and pour the mixture into the pot to thicken up the gravy. Fresh vegetables like onions and celery make it even better, but it's best not to add them until later because they tend to get soggy otherwise.

I also make chicken stew the same way, except I use white wine instead of red, chicken bouillon instead of onion soup mix, and I add sliced up chicken or turkey sausage to make it interesting.
posted by Gator at 8:05 AM on January 2, 2006

Good bread, pesto, mozzerella (or another cheese, ideally something soft), a fresh tomato, and a glass of wine

This is neither the cheapest nor the healthiest meal I could think of off the top of my head, which got me to thinking:

Tasty, healthy, cheap and easy. Pick two.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:19 AM on January 2, 2006 [1 favorite]

Not quick, but dead easy and healthy: Lentil/rice casserole. In the casserole, pour 3 cups of chicken or veggie broth. Add 3/4 cup of lentils, 1/2 cup uncooked brown rice, 3/4 cup chopped onion, 1/2 teaspoon basil, 1/4 teaspoon oregano, 1/4 teaspoon thyme, and 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder. Stir it all up and bake covered at 300 degrees for an hour and a half. I like to put 1/2 cup of cheddar on top for the last 20 minutes of cooking.
posted by JanetLand at 8:19 AM on January 2, 2006 [5 favorites]

Lentils + boullion + produce of your choice. For example:

Saute an onion in olive oil. Add a little cumin for just a few seconds until it pops. Add lentils, water, chicken or veggie boullion, and a can of diced tomatos (better if you can get fresh ones cheap), and cook until it's soup.


Saute chopped leeks (or onion would be cheaper) and chopped mushrooms, add green lentils, water, chicken or veggie bullion, salt and pepper and cook until it's soup. Parsley or dill makes it better (depends how cheap you want to be).

Both reheat well for a few days and can be made in big pots and reheat well for a few days.

Also, chick peas. Drain a can of chick peas, squeeze a lemon over it, add a little olive oil if you want to, salt and pepper.

I make a mean chicken noodle soup that isn't that healthy because of the noodles but it's fine from time to time. Saute chopped onion, celery, and parsnip. Add water, chicken bullion, and dill or parsley (or dried bay leaves would be cheaper). When it comes to a boil add orzo or broken up spaghetti, and boil until the pasta is cooked. Squeeze a lime over it before serving.
posted by leapingsheep at 8:28 AM on January 2, 2006 [1 favorite]

My favorite dish to make when I lived alone...relatively cheap, easy to make (5-10 minutes prep-time and about 30 minutes cook-time), tastes good, and not horribly bad for you. The only drawback is no veggies, but you could probably toss some broccoli or other vegetables into the mixture to no ill effect. You could probably even replace the potatoes with squash or leave them out altogether:
  • a salmon filet (I bought those cheapish frozen filets in a bag, about $8 for 4, i think).
  • one small potato, sliced thin
  • one small (or half) onion, sliced very thin
  • 1 tsp or more crushed garlic
  • misc spices (salt, pepper, basil, creole seasoning, whatever you've got)
  • a tablespoon or two of olive oil
  • a tablespoon or two of lemon and/or lime juice
Preheat the oven to 400. Thaw the filet under the tap while slicing up the potato and onion. Layer the potatoes and most of the onions in an earthenware dish (though anything with a top is probably fine). Place the salmon on top. Using a fork or wisk, mix up the olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, salt, pepper, basil, creole seasoning, etc. in a little cup (you probably want 1/4 cup of this mixture tops). Spoon a tablespoon or so of the mixture onto the salmon and rub it in, then add the remainder of the onions on top of the salmon. Drizzle any remainder of the olive oil mixture over the potatoes and onions. Cover and cook for about 25-30 minutes. Remove the cover and broil for a minute or two to carmelize the onions and crispify the potatoes.
posted by jenh at 9:06 AM on January 2, 2006 [1 favorite]

Peanut butter and banana sandwich on whole wheat bread. Whether it's cheap or not depends on your shopping acumen, but it's fast, healthy if you use natural pb, and damn tasty indeed. I live on these things when my wife's away.

On the fast, cheap, tasty but not all that healthy tip, try peanut butter, lettuce and mayo.
posted by schoolgirl report at 9:09 AM on January 2, 2006

To add to Gator's first post, Lipton sells a Rice Side packet that's a nice load of flavored styled rice (Mexican, Spanish, Garlic/Herb, Broc/Cheese, etc). Costs one buck.

Bag of frozen mixed veggies, appx $1.25.

Rip open Rice Side packet, dump in mid-sized resealable plastic microwavable bowl with 2 cups of water, stir around. Put in about a cup of the mixed veggies, stir around (no need to thaw), microwave on high for 4:44. Take out and let it set, maybe stirring some.

posted by vanoakenfold at 9:24 AM on January 2, 2006

dhal soup.
posted by davar at 9:31 AM on January 2, 2006

Buy a pressure cooker. You can buy stew meat, some stock, and some onions/carrots/potatoes/whatever, and throw it all in with some additional water. 20 minutes later you have delicious stew.

Also, remember that the cost of a meal drops significantly when you scale it. You could make an entire tray of lasagne, with fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, and sausage (or even skip the sausage) for under $20. Depending on how much you eat, that will give you 6-10 servings. Eat some, wrap and freeze individual portions of the rest.

A couple of notes on cooking cheap, based on the responses so far:

- Cheap wine. Be careful with this. Food cooked in cheap wine tastes like it's been cooked in cheap wine. I'm not saying to bust out the Bordeaux, but don't cook with Two Buck Chuck's.

- Be careful with canned food. It's often got a lot of extra salt and SUGAR.

- Cheese. I know I mentioned lasagne, but be aware of how much cheese you eat, as it's a common "cheap" filling. Cheese is very bad for you.
posted by mkultra at 10:14 AM on January 2, 2006 [1 favorite]

Best answer: A can of tuna, under a dollar (fifty cents at costco, you can also substitute leftover meat from the fridge). An onion, under fifty cents a pound. A cup of frozen mixed veggies, a dollar per one pound bag but can be found on sale for less. Your choice of: a box of house-brand macaroni and cheese (fifty cents) and a quarter cup of butter/margarine (cost depends on quality); or a bag of ramen (pay no more than ten cents, if you like better spicing throw away the packet and get into the spice cabinet); or a cup of cooked rice and whatever spices you like; or a bit of whatever pasta you have around the house and spices. Note that this is a pretty balanced meal, containing protein, veggies, and carbs. It scales to feed a family nicely, and should take less than a half hour start to finish if you begin with raw starch.

Cook and drain the starch. For macaroni and some other pastas, you can toss the veggies in and cook them together. Otherwise nuke them for a minute or three. Dice and saute the onion (or toss it in the nuke with the butter for 2 minutes). Mix everything together, spice to taste, serve.
posted by ilsa at 10:19 AM on January 2, 2006

stir fry with beef strips or tofu. beef strips can be bought pre-cut, for tofu cube it, put it in a pan with soy sauce and garlic, & sear it a bit. do the veggies in another pan & combine the two. little bit more work, but damn good.
posted by devilsbrigade at 10:20 AM on January 2, 2006

Food cooked in cheap wine tastes like it's been cooked in cheap wine. I'm not saying to bust out the Bordeaux, but don't cook with Two Buck Chuck's.

Oh, agreed. When I said "cheap," I was thinking of those seven-dollar glass jugs of Paul Masson burgundy or the like. Don't use wine-in-a-box or wine-in-a-can.

posted by Gator at 10:21 AM on January 2, 2006

Prepare instant cous cous with a little more water than the recipe calls for. Chop carrots and onions and add to the nearly boiling water before adding the grain. Stir in cous cous with a little bit of butter or oil, pinch of curry powder, salt. Cover pot, kill heat, 5 minutes later you have a tasty meal. I lived on it in high school.
posted by Scram at 10:32 AM on January 2, 2006

Slather a couple of chicken breasts with Grey Poupon, lay a few twigs of tarragon around it, place in a glass dish, cover with foil, bake in the toaster oven at 350 until done. Serve with rice and microwaved asparagus.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:59 AM on January 2, 2006

One pound of dry pasta (under a buck), cooked al dente, with a small package of frozen peas added to the boiling water (under a buck) a minute before the pasta is cooked.

Drain pasta and peas and return to the pot. Return the pot to the stove, with the heat off.

Add a few glugs of olive oil, a few slices of good lunchmeat-quality ham (chopped), pepper, a small spoonful of pureed garlic and a few sprinkles of grated parmesano reggiano. Stir through.

Total cost to you: under three bucks, and it will last a hungry person three meals or feed a family of four (with a side salad) and provide enough leftovers for at least one person the next day.
posted by solid-one-love at 11:45 AM on January 2, 2006

Best answer: man you guys have a weird definition of "easiest" or "healthiest".

Here you go. You can do this for about 2 dollars and it will feed you for an entire day. You'll be getting hardly any fat, tons of protien and fiber, and it tastes delicious.

1 can of black beans
1 can of diced tomatoes
1 can of corn

put it all in a saucepan. I add a boullion cube and whatever spice happens to be jumpin out at me. Of course garlic ginger cumin pepper all are fine. Or not. Heat it up and put it in a freaking bowl. Eat. Have energy. Lose weight. Make new friends. Get a promotion.
posted by glenwood at 12:18 PM on January 2, 2006 [12 favorites]

For a non dinner meal, then porridge is great. Porridge oats in a bowl, add some milk and water, microwave for two minutes, add some Splenda on top.. will keep you regular, has few naughty calories, etc.
posted by wackybrit at 1:43 PM on January 2, 2006

Chicken hot dogs, microwaved, served with whole wheat buns from Trader Joe's and a can of S&W Caribbean-style red beans. That's about as quick as can be expected around here. A green salad, with Romaine, fresh spinach, string cheese, surimi and avocado, is next on the quick charts and a lot healthier than the hot dogs....
posted by Lynsey at 1:48 PM on January 2, 2006

Bake up a bunch of chicken breasts (plain or in some sort of marinade - just about any salad dressing works well, Italian and Caesar are my favourites), freeze each breast separately. They can be defrosted quickly and can make up the main part of your meal easily. I like to chop them up into a salad.

Quick, healthy & inexpensive (especially when bought in bulk).
posted by deborah at 1:54 PM on January 2, 2006

Best answer: I second glenwood's suggestion, with the addition of brown rice or quinoa for some fiber, and spinach, scallions, or other green veg for more nutrition.

REALLY cheap and really tasty: one package hippie ramen. Cook, drain, discard 'flavor' packet. Mix noodles with tablespoon all-natural peanut butter, juice of 1 lime, chili-garlic sauce to taste, and 3-4 chopped scallions. Add other veg in season.

I used to eat this every day for lunch. It's got grain, protein, vitamin c, etc. And it's yummy.
posted by miss tea at 2:13 PM on January 2, 2006 [4 favorites]

Red Beans and Rice, baby.
posted by atchafalaya at 3:44 PM on January 2, 2006

If you're talking healthy then you should consider skipping the tuna -- some varieties are freaking loaded with mercury, and present label laws are designed to make it difficult/impossible to tell if you're getting the high-mercury or low-mercury varieties. Don't wanna damage the fishing industry, ya know.

The Chicago Tribune recently ran a series on this subject, and basically came to the conclusion that if you're feeding children or expectant mothers it's probably best to just skip tuna altogether. And for the love of god stay away from the swordfish.
posted by aramaic at 4:26 PM on January 2, 2006

Go to Costco (with a friend who's got a Costco card, if necessary). Buy one of their enormous bags of frozen mixed vegetables--whichever kind looks tastiest to you--some cooking oil (not olive oil-something lighter, like peanut or safflower oil), some soy sauce (Costco's containers will last you YEARS) and a bag of jasmine rice. Then go to a grocery store and get some extra-firm tofu, cheap-ass ginger powder, cheap-ass garlic powder, and bulk nutritional yeast.

Cook a whole lot of the rice by boiling it in an enormous vat of water--cook it the same way you'd cook pasta, basically--then drain it, recover the vat and let it steam until it's done. Scoop it into Ziploc bags and stick it in your freezer. You now have microwaveable rice.

Now, when you want dinner: Microwave the amount of rice you want (or reheat it quickly with a spoonful or so of water on the stove). Chop up a pound of tofu into 3/4-inch cubes. Saute 'em in 3 Tbsp. of oil over a very hot flame until they're lightly browned on a few sides. Turn the heat down a little, and add a teaspoon apiece of ginger powder and garlic powder. Stir a little. Add 2 Tbsp. of soy sauce. Stir a minute or two. Add 1 Tbsp. of nutritional yeast. Stir, scoop out the tofu, and dump in some frozen vegetables to cook in the leftover (gingery-garlicy) oil. Stir-fry until they're done. You now have several servings' worth of protein, rice, vegetables, and a whole lot of flavor, and there's still an enormous amount of rice and vegetables left in the freezer.
posted by 88robots at 4:51 PM on January 2, 2006

glenwood wins.
posted by grateful at 6:16 PM on January 2, 2006

Beans and wieners. Here's how I make my beans fantastic:

I often dice up a chunk of onion and fry it up in the pan beforehand, or with the sliced up wiener/sausage.

I use beans in tomato sauce, YMMV, one can to two/three wieners. I have a pack of frozen wieners in the freezer and just break a few off with a knife, then slice them up in 1/4 - 1/2 inch pieces.

add a teaspoon of yellow mustard (not powder but prepared mustard).

add a teaspoon of bbq sauce

bring to a boil and keep stirring until the beans are mushy. I like my beans to be pasty. If you want something more substantial, toast a slice of bread and spread the mixture on top of the bread.
posted by furtive at 7:19 PM on January 2, 2006

Chipolte Pasta:
1 or 2 chipolte peppers in adobo sauce (from the can)
~3 tbsp of nuts
~3 tbsp of olive oil
cover with grated parmesant cheese.
Blend together in a handheld mini-blender, just a bit, you don't want to destroy the nut's texture.
Pour and mix on some aldentee spagetti.

It tastes like: oh my god it's hot! but god it's good! but damn it's hot! but so good. etc
posted by gmarceau at 7:21 PM on May 13, 2006

A cheap and simple side dish is frozen vegetables that have been heated (or fresh vegetables if you're real smart) with a cup of salsa added to them.
posted by furtive at 4:12 PM on June 5, 2006

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