Replacing Ramen?
April 2, 2018 11:48 AM   Subscribe

So, this is maybe a silly question, but I am looking for a replacement for instant ramen. I eat it pretty frequently but I am looking for a healthier option. When I make it, I usually throw in some fresh veggies and an egg and whatever leftover protein we have around. I work from home, so it's nice to have for a super quick, warm lunch. What other meals will scratch this same itch?

Here's what I like about instant ramen:

Super fast/low effort to make. Just add hot water!
Can add various other things for a more complete meal

Here's what I don't like about instant ramen:

Crazy amounts of salt (1600 mg per package!)
More carb-heavy than I want to be eating
Super processed

Do you MeFites have any favorite super fast, tasty, healthy(-ish?) meals? I'm thinking about trying out some kind of couscous concoction and we can always microwave dinner leftovers. Any other ideas? I live in a city and have access to a pretty wide variety of groceries. I'd be willing to go to international/specialty markets if I can stock up on shelf stable things.

I did see this question, but it seems more about noodles than super lazy and warm.

Thanks in advance for your suggestions!
posted by chatongriffes to Food & Drink (32 answers total) 49 users marked this as a favorite
Rice noodles are just as quick to cook and weigh far less heavily. I get mine from a local Chinese supermarket. Unpackage, chuck in boiling water, cook for 2/3 mins, drain and mix with whatever.

Packaged miso soups are pretty good. You can add rice noodles, chopped veg, seaweed strips, hardboiled egg / tofu. Very nutritious and satisfy salty cravings without being too unhealthy.
posted by doornoise at 11:56 AM on April 2, 2018 [13 favorites]

If you make your own broth, you control the amount of sodium. What we often do is toss a chicken carcass or beef neck bones from the Korean market into the Instant Pot for four hours to make the most unctuous broth imaginable, and then fridge the broth and salt to taste. (Some people put the broth in ice cube trays and freeze 'em up in baggies for quick cups-of-soup.)

On the "i'm too hungry to prepare a meal" side it's still just add hot water, but you get to control how much and what kind of starch you add. I usually go for a half or third-cup of pre-cooked rice, add some shredded meat, a little soy sauce, hot sauce, etc. So good.

All the pluses of packaged ramen with just a little effort once every two weeks or so?
posted by seanmpuckett at 11:57 AM on April 2, 2018 [8 favorites]

They're not particularly cheap, but the frozen veg section at my grocery has frozen cauliflower rice that just takes a few minutes to microwave and then can go with whatever else you might normally eat with rice, but faster.
posted by Sequence at 11:57 AM on April 2, 2018 [5 favorites]

Steamfresh vegetables have been a game-changer for me, as a person who is not good at cooking vegetables. They're frozen vegetables you microwave in their bag and then dump into a bowl.
posted by Comrade_robot at 11:58 AM on April 2, 2018 [4 favorites]

Came in to suggest making your own and using a different noodle. If you can get Soba noodles (made from buckwheat flower) it's not only lower in carbs, but higher in protein. I make min in advance, I've got a handful of jars. I throw in noodles, frozen vegetables. In a separate container I have a sauce mix (soy, chilipaste, ginger, etc). I use the electric kettle to hea water, fill the jar, add however much sauce/flavor I want.
posted by FirstMateKate at 12:01 PM on April 2, 2018 [7 favorites]

my primary warm work-from-home meals are:

- fried rice/quinoa! just make extra grain with dinner and keep it in the fridge. heat it up in a pan with a little oil and an egg and some leftover veggies or fresh greens, maybe leftover protein if you have it. sprinkle on soy sauce. quick and filling and just one pan to clean.
- soup, often tomato or black bean, either canned/tetrapak or made ahead and frozen in servings. dump in saucepan. while it heats up, throw one or two corn tortillas in the oven. sprinkle on a little cheese and some veggies, fold them over, and they turn into mini-quesadillas to eat with your soup. lunch in about five minutes flat!

for both of these applications, i keep a bag of Cruciferous Crunch in the fridge; it bulks out either meal nicely, and is also great in stir-fries, or as a quick salad in warmer weather.
posted by halation at 12:06 PM on April 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Trader Joe's carries bags of frozen organic riced cauliflower for 1.99. Incredibly versatile but pretty much perfectly suited to your formula of add egg/random protein and season. A freezer staple in our house.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 12:19 PM on April 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

It doesn't solve the carb problem, but couscous is super easy and quick to make and you can toss all kinds of things in with it.

If you have freezer space, I like lentil soup as something that's easy to make a big batch of and eat for lazy lunches.
posted by Candleman at 12:20 PM on April 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

Canned beans
Precooked whole grain rice stored in the fridge or freezer
Precooked lentils, stored in the fridge or freezer
Single serving pre-cooked plain rice packets (1 min in the micro)
Pre-cooked healthier noodles, such as whole grain durum, stored in the fridge or freezer


Instant low sodium broth concentrate "Bovril"
Pre-made bone broth, stored in the freezer in single size servings, ready to defrost
posted by Jane the Brown at 12:33 PM on April 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Corn tortillas keep well in the freezer. You can toast them in a dry pan to get a nice texture on them and top like a tostada, or grill like a quesadilla with fillings. They're great with cheese of course but consider tortilla rollups with veggies inside, dipped into fried eggs. Or tortilla strips toasted and sprinkled into tomato soup or onion or mushroom soup. Beans of all varieties, too, which you can smush and use kind of like cheese for its topping-stabilizing properties.
posted by Mizu at 12:38 PM on April 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

Also, a pressure cooker or slow cooker enables a ton of dishes where you can just toss some protein, vegetables, and a sauce in during a morning break in literally two minutes and have a healthy lunch waiting for you when you're ready.
posted by Candleman at 12:40 PM on April 2, 2018

Fried rice. It's a classic clean-your-fridge dish, and a piece of cake to make. You can make it as hot and salty and garlicky as you like, vegetarian works as well as meaty, and so on.

...and you can swap in pretty much any grain, really.
posted by Sunburnt at 12:41 PM on April 2, 2018

DIY Noodle Cups!

When I make these, I usually use low sodium better-than-bouillon, which is about a third of what you're getting right now. I often throw together 4 jars of one type over the weekend, and then take them for a quick, easy, tasty lunch.

Sub in any noodle you want here for lower-carb options, and once you get the basic idea, it's really easy to go to international food market of your choice, and start making some variations of your own.
posted by damayanti at 1:03 PM on April 2, 2018 [8 favorites]

Here are some easy-ish combinations (still carb-y though):
Trader Joe's frozen brown rice (microwaves in 3 minutes) + egg + veg + gochujang. I like this sesame gochujang sauce that I buy at Whole Foods

Trader Joes's Farro (boil it for 15 minutes. You can premake it at night and store it in the fridge)
Heat up farro in microwave. Toss cooked vegetables in lemon, cumin, and cilantro, mix with farro. Also good as a cold salad with feta and nuts.

Soba noodles + sesame oil + egg + veg

My quick lunch is often quesadillas - corn tortillas, whatever cheese and hopefully an avocado. Egg tacos too.
posted by biscuits at 1:08 PM on April 2, 2018

I enjoy Tasty Bite or similar Indian packets. Quick, filling and very tasty.
posted by goggie at 1:26 PM on April 2, 2018 [4 favorites]

I use 5 minute oats as a substitute for congee, and it is definitely my preferred substrate for vegetables and an egg.
posted by batter_my_heart at 1:47 PM on April 2, 2018

Definitely Tasty Bite packages. You can find them at the grocery store on the shelf in the "ethnic" aisle. Also at Trader Joe's under their house brand, and at Costco. They microwave in 1 minute, or heat on the stove for a few minutes. Add some [insert related ethnic bread item here, e.g. naan] on the side.
posted by radioamy at 2:19 PM on April 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

My go-to fast meal is eggs and toast. You can add veggies, beans, a little cheese to scrambled eggs to make them more interesting and/or nutritious. If you're using watery veggies like greens or zucchini, sautee them first, it'll just take a minute, then you can just crack the eggs into the same pan, scramble them in the pan, and voila. Or even better, use little bits of leftover veggies or meat you have in the fridge.

Here's my order of operations for maximum efficiency: 1. gather everything you're going to put in the eggs (if you have veggies that are already cooked/diced, awesome. If not, dice em quickly and start sauteeing them in oil). 2. put the bread in the toaster. 3. Once your veggies are ready, crack a couple of eggs into the pan and scramble so the yolks break. Once the eggs are starting to set, add any other ingredients (like cheese). 4. Your toast and the eggs should be done around the same time. Butter the toast, plate the eggs, and eat!

This takes 5 minutes and it is a great meal. Also, working from home, I find taking a few minutes to actually make something easy in the kitchen (like this, or a sandwich) is a nice chance to stretch my legs and get out of the work-from-home tunnel vision that can develop.
posted by lunasol at 2:39 PM on April 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

My partner's go-to work-from-home lunch is broiling a fish fillet and serving it on top of a tortilla to make it a taco.
posted by tofu_crouton at 3:07 PM on April 2, 2018

I just now blended up a couple of carrots (until they were in chunky little bits, not juiced), chucked them in some V-8 along with some frozen peas, and heated the whole thing. You could do the same with a lower-sodium broth as well. It was tastier than I'd expected, and satisfied the same urge to have something in the broth that I'd usually satisfy with noodles.
posted by DingoMutt at 3:50 PM on April 2, 2018

When I make med-carb ramen at home, I split one package of noodles between us and pad the rest with zoodles and spiralized cucumber, thin-sliced cabbage, carrot shreds. I often make rice-type protein bowls with either the actual riced cauliflower or just frozen cauliflower microwaved.

Definitely upgrade your sauce to homemade - you can mix up several base sauces and keep in bottles/jars in the fridge.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:56 PM on April 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

I meant to add that lately I've just been buying whatever "superfood salad" my grocery store is offering, the kind that's cabbage, kale, brussels sprouts, maybe a chicory or other wild green, and either barely stir-frying/microwaving it or just not cooking it at all, and serving the rest of my stuff over it.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:59 PM on April 2, 2018

++ to the suggestion of DIY noodle cups. I make my soup cups on Sunday and have them in the fridge for the week ahead. I put a little Better Than Bullion in the bottom and some curry paste or gojuchang. I then add:
Chopped up tofu
Crumbled dried mushrooms
Diced carrot, celery, red and green bell pepper
Chopped baby kale
Cooked, rinsed unhulled barley

Grab a jar, add boiling water and wait a bit. Fantastic stuff!

And yeah - I spend a little time on prep on the weekend - but then I have easy, healthy food all week long.
posted by hilaryjade at 8:16 PM on April 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Plenty of awesome suggestions upthread, but You can make your own ramen noodles quite easily if you have a pasta machine (I've used ones like this, but he kitchenaid attachments make the work much, much easier).

I've used a half dozen different recipes, but have settled on the following:
600g higher-protien flour (bread flour or King Arthur AP works just fine)
175g water
20g Kansui

Everything goes into a mixing bowl, and gets kneaded up (paddle attachment on a stand mixer works great). It won't quite come together with the given amount of water; you'll want to add a tablespoon at a time until the mix comes together like wet sand, just enough to compress it and it holds together. Form it by hand into a disk, toss it in a zip top bag and let it hydrate in the fridge for at least an hour. Then roll it out, and cut it. I usually do 75g bundles, which is a little less than like top ramen or ichiban, but they honestly seem a bit more filling to me than those.

I wouldn't necessarily say they're carb-light, but they're soooo much better than the dried, packaged noodles. They freeze really well; I just place them in bundles on a baking sheet and then pop them off the next day and into zip tops they go.
posted by furnace.heart at 9:04 PM on April 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Making udon using frozen noodles and with your own broth is just about as easy as making a package of ramen on the stove, especially if you're already adding stuff to your ramen.

I keep a bag of frozen udon noodles in my freezer. I also keep wakame (dried seaweed) and dried shiitake mushrooms on hand. For the broth: instant dashi, soy sauce, aji mirin. Every once in a while I buy a steak, chop it up into individual portions, and freeze it; this I thaw under running water and slice. Sometimes I have fish cake, sometimes I don't.

I usually add a handful of greens (spinach, cabbage, bok choy all work), a sliced green onion, and either a softboiled or a poached egg. If I'm not poaching an egg, I can prepare the ingredients in about the same time it takes the water to boil. The mushrooms, depending on how thick, might take a couple of extra minutes so I put them in the water before bringing it to a boil.

Then I dump everything in more or less at once. Cook for 2-3 minutes and ta-da, soup. You can mix it up with different protein (tofu! shrimp! fish!) or vegetables (sprouts! carrots!) depending on what you have on hand.

The frozen noodles are really important here; they have a much better texture than the shrink-wrapped kind that you can sometimes get and taste much less chemically. They aren't exactly carb-lite (they're noodles) but to me it feels like a good ratio of carb to vegetables and protein.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 10:42 PM on April 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

My mom keeps telling me to just use half the packet of seasoning to reduce the sodium and it tastes the same. I don't know if I believe her, but I've been meaning to try that.
posted by like_neon at 2:35 AM on April 3, 2018

Response by poster: Thanks for all these great ideas, team! I bought some soba noodles at the store last night and I am going to try prepping some DIY noodley soup cups. You all inspired me to grab a bag of prepped kale + veggies mix to throw into things, too.

I like a lot of the other ideas in here and will be trying them soon, too! I get so tired of cooking three meals a day that it's a treasure to have lazy easy cooking ideas!
posted by chatongriffes at 11:27 AM on April 3, 2018

Someone mentioned rice noodles, but I like the heartier egg noodles that also come in packages of individual squares. I would cook them just like the Ramen noodles, add some OXO flavouring, and if I'm at home, I'll turn it into an egg-drop soup with a bit of green onion and an egg. Simple! Delicious!
posted by itsflyable at 12:53 PM on April 3, 2018

You can buy jars of various soup bases at an asian market. Cut up an onion, sauté it a bit, add soup base and water, perhaps egg, voila.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 10:17 PM on April 3, 2018

I use couscous as a quick easy meal. Add some frozen peas and feta, bell pepper and walnuts, cherry tomatoes and pine nuts, or anything else. Even if the instructions say otherwise, usually you can just pour water over it (1:1) and let it sit for 5min.
posted by cameleon at 1:19 AM on April 4, 2018

I know you found an answer, but one thing that is great about the ramen is there is no prep work at all. There's a few other meals that fit into that category, and one I would like to suggest is Soylent. Soylent is made by a company that is trying to make a protein shake as healthy as possible, as yummy as possible, and as cheap as possible. I really like the bottles of chocolate, but friends like vanilla.

It's not savory or warm, but it doesn't get healthier!
posted by bbqturtle at 12:58 PM on April 5, 2018

Figured I'd take a pic of my soup cups after assembly today - just in case a visual is helpful. They always make me smile, lined up in the fridge & knowing that I don't have to think about food all week.
posted by hilaryjade at 2:36 PM on April 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

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