Quick, easy, cheap, healthy, delicious
December 16, 2018 5:48 PM   Subscribe

I'm moving out on my own soon, and will need to start cooking for myself consistently again. Last time I had to do a lot of cooking for one, it kinda sucked. Help me build a repertoire of meals for one that meet all of the following criteria: quick, easy, cheap, healthy, and delicious!

I'm talking mostly about dinners here (I have breakfast and lunch pretty much solved) but I'm open to options for other meals as well if you have something great to share. I'm also looking for stuff I can make on the night of rather than things which I would make a whole bunch of in advance and then reheat as necessary—I'm interested in that stuff in general, but it's outside the scope of this particular Ask. This is about the stuff that you throw together on those nights when you just worked all day, didn't have anything planned, and maybe have to make a pit stop at the grocery on the way home. Recipes that lend themselves to leftovers are certainly welcome, however. My cooking skills are modest at best—I can grill things, I can make stir-fry, I can roast a chicken, that level of thing—so real winners are going to be things that only require fairly basic preparation.

What I'm looking for are your go-to easy meals, things that are simple and unfussy, don't generate a ton of dishes to clean (I will not have a dishwasher) and which can be slapped together in half an hour or less. They should also be inexpensive—think under $10 worth of ingredients, less if possible. If it's gonna cost more than ten bucks I might as well get takeout. Hunting for sales on food is a whole other skillset for me—right now I need stuff that I can just walk into a store and buy any day of the week without it breaking the bank. Also please bear in mind that if I have to buy a whole bunch of some fresh ingredient and then only end up using a small portion of it before it goes bad (cooking for one, remember?) that's a waste of both food and money.

I am also looking for things that are healthy; I'd prefer my staple dinners to be nice, light, clean-burning fuel for my body. Plant-based meals are welcome, although I do eat and enjoy meat so I'm open to pretty much anything. I'm hoping for a lot of lean protein and vegetables, although I'm definitely open to bulking out meals with things like rice and potatoes. I have no dietary restrictions and honestly few dietary preferences—I'll eat pretty much anything that other humans somewhere in the world also eat on the regular. This is New Hampshire though, so I'm pretty much limited to whatever you can find at a standard American supermarket. Processed, prepared, dried, canned, and frozen ingredients are cool with me as long as they can stand up on their own merits. I do have access to farmers' markets and there's a CSA that will deliver to my workplace, so fresh things that are especially good (and cheap) in season are great.

Also, it needs to be delicious. It doesn't have to be fancy, there don't have to be four different items on my plate or whatever, a simple bowl of yummyness is absolutely fine by me. But it needs to be something that I'll be happy to eat over and over again because I'm trying to build up a repertoire of ten or so meals that I can just kind of rotate through more or less indefinitely.

Alright, hivemind! Hit me with your workhorse meals for one that are quick and easy to make, cheap to buy, good for my body, and taste great. Thanks very much in advance!
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The to Food & Drink (37 answers total) 105 users marked this as a favorite
I got an 3-quart instapot and use it to make soup. No cooking skills required. Just add anything that looks healthy and like you really ought to be eating it that you weren't quiiite sure what to do with, add water, pressure cook for 20 minutes, and tada! Food!
posted by aniola at 6:02 PM on December 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I am actually already considering getting an Instant Pot, so Instant Pot-based meals are totally viable options. However I'm gonna need a shade more guidance than, "Just throw ingredients in and then eat!" If you've got specific combinations of ingredients, cooking settings, etc. that have worked well for you in the past, I'm down to hear about it. I should probably have been clearer that what I'm really looking for here is recipes that I can follow.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:10 PM on December 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

Nicole Cliffe’s “tilapia thing” Is a staple in my solo cooking repertoire. Lots of leftovers!
posted by rabbitbookworm at 6:10 PM on December 16, 2018 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I go to Budget Bytes a lot for my recipe choices, and I can personally vouch for her Dragon Noodles, One Pot Beef Stroganoff, and Italian Wonderpot.

She has a whole list of one pot meals and fairly robust vegetarian and vegan options. There's also a bunch of slow cooker recipes, and Instant Pot options if you search for them. (The others have their own category in the menu up top)
posted by lesser weasel at 6:17 PM on December 16, 2018 [11 favorites]

You might be interested this question I asked a while back. My fatigue is better but I still refer to the thread.
posted by bunderful at 6:17 PM on December 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

I made this white chicken chili for the first time three weeks ago and ate it for five straight meals. And I've made it twice since then. I think it meets all of your criteria, but if you want to add more veggies to it, it would still be good.
posted by zoetrope at 6:23 PM on December 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

I feel like I'm constantly pitching these braised lentil variations at people, but honestly they're so simple and versatile and satisfying and cheap. All of them can be doubled because they all freeze beautifully, all pack super-well for lunches, and all can be augmented with a little meat or fish if you like (my latest thing is reheating some leftovers for breakfast the next day with some greens and a poached egg on top).

The variations really do taste different, despite the identical preps. For wintertime, I particularly like the parsnip version with a little cream (and sub in some apple cider for half the cooking broth, brandy instead of sherry). Add a pan-fried chicken thigh (bone in, with skin), a piece of salmon (skin-on if you can find it), or some crispy bacon or sliced sausage on top if you feel carnivorous. Steamed or roasted green veg on the side.

Speaking of chicken thighs, this turmeric/sumac/lime rendition is so simple and good. Serve with rice, or with roasted potatoes/sweet potatoes and green veg. If you do rice, make double, and then use leftovers for fried rice: it's very filling and versatile and quick, good for breakfast or for dinner. (Simplify that recipe by just cooking extra chicken thighs and using the leftovers.)

Another great quick meal: packaged gnocchi (often available for $2/pack or less). Heat up a pan of boiling water, throw it in, and it cooks in like two minutes. Toss in a few big handfuls of fresh greens (spring mix, arugula, kale all work, prepackaged is great) for the last minute of cooking. Drizzle with olive oil, add some red pepper flakes and walnuts (and a little grated parmesan if you like). The meat-eater version of this: cook up a pot of rotini pasta, use the same greens-at-the-end trick, and fry up a few hot sausages while the pasta cooks. Slice them up, add a little olive oil to the pan, and throw in half a pint of halved cherry tomatoes. Let fry until browned, stirring all the time, then add in the sausage and cooked pasta/greens. Add red pepper flakes. Dinner!

Quick, filling, also good leftover: sweet potato pinto chili. Nice with cornbread.

Root veg (carrots, parsnips, beets, potatoes) and broccoli are versatile and forgiving -- they go with everything, and they'll keep for at least a week in the fridge. Broccoli is the easiest vegetable in the world: basically, just chop it up roughly, and either dump a few handfuls into a pan of boiling water (boil uncovered for about three minutes or until vibrant green) or throw it on a baking sheet with some oil/pepper/salt and roast it at 400F until it's delicious. I also keep a bag of frozen green beans on hand at all times for vegetable emergencies because they're super-fast and go with everything.
posted by halation at 6:27 PM on December 16, 2018 [7 favorites]

My Hannaford sells quinoa in the bulk food section, it's more pricey in the rice section. But: 1 cup quinoa to 2 cups water, boil and then simmer for 15 minutes, and you probably have at least 2 servings.

I like to buy chicken breasts in 3-packs, if I can get them at a good price. Then I butterfly them, and freeze the rest, and use one for dinner.

So an easy dinner would be: sprinkle a butterflied chicken breast (which is now 2 portions, depending on how big it is) with lemon pepper, fry in the saucepan with a bit of oil or butter, and serve quinoa on the side. Veg would be fresh sauteed spinach (wilt it in the same pan you did the chicken, while it's resting). I buy fresh spinach in the salad section. Or nuke some frozen spinach. I find the fresh spinach in those square blister packs lasts at least a week, and I can toss whatever I need into a sauce pan and it cooks in a minute or two.

Don't be afraid to use those Uncle Ben's microwave rice packs, some are healthier than others (if you're watching sodium). There's some basmati and jasmine and wild rice in there.

I also have done any plain white fish with lemon pepper and a little oil or butter. Fresh or frozen. If I'm being fancy, I melt a little butter and squeeze some fresh lemon and bake it while I'm cooking the sides. A little Ritz cracker topping might be good, but not necessarily clean.

If you like Mexican, grab some salsa verde, and top your chicken or fish with that, and use corn tortillas as the carb in lieu of rice or quinoa. You can also sub a thin beef steak and cut it really thin and make a quick enchilada dish. Throw in a can of beans, heated up, for nutrition and fiber.

Another thing you could do is buy some of the Barilla high protein pasta, make a bunch of that one night, serve with your protein and veg, and eat leftovers with it the next day. For instance, I'm going to do a shrimp scampi this week, serving with a smallish portion of the high protein pasta, mixed with a can of diced tomatoes. I buy the frozen shrimp at Hannaford (medium size) and thaw it under running water and saute it in the pan with garlic and butter (or oil) once the pasta is done, then serve it on top. It's done really quickly. You could save the pasta with tomatoes as your carb and veg for the next night, just add a new protein.

I've also made grilled cheese using high fiber oat nut bread, and then of course, tomato soup. Gouda, or even pepper jack, that makes it very tasty.

Tomorrow I'm doing a roast chicken, as it was on sale at Hannaford ($7), with a roast acorn squash, that will last a couple of days at least, and I'll be using the leftover chicken in a casserole, so that's not exactly in line with your question, but you could use it as chicken salad.

I think, for me, I tend to go in cycles of type of food, and then I go back again. You have to experiment and decide what your palate will tolerate. I personally love the salsa verde tomatillo sauce flavor, and I also love the richness of pasta (but I can't have too much, that's why I spend a little extra for the high protein stuff). I tend to do a lot of projects where I'll have leftovers for 2-3 days, but the above advice was from when I couldn't do that, so I get where you're coming from.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 6:29 PM on December 16, 2018 [3 favorites]

My quick and easy go to recipes are variations on the following. The key to cheap and fast cooking is having the staples on hand (long lasting seasonings, condiments etc which make them more exciting, and mean that your first-time cost is high, but ongoing is low. If you can grow cilantro and mint in a pot somewhere this all becomes even easier and cheaper). Posted recipes are more than 1 serving but can be scaled back to 2 easily:
- Vietnamese Noodle Salads, many meaty and non-meaty variations possible. Google rice noodle salads for infinite possibilities. Also can just as easily be noodle soups.
- this sweet potato dish, usually with some friend chicken breast in cajun seasoning, but some beans in seasoning would work just as well. I don't grill corn but thrown an ear on with the husk on in the same tray as the potato and sub the buttermilk dressing with sriracha mayo (homemade or store bought). Canned corn and store bought guac are easy substitutions if you can't get the fresh stuff.
- taco salads. Any protein cooked up with garlic and onion in mexican spice mix, in a bowl with whatever of lettuce, tomato, onion, peppers, corn etc I have in the fridge. Topped with greek yoghurt (subbed for sour cream bonus if you mix some lime juice into it), and some salsa or sriracha mayo.
- and finally, my go to "I don't want to cook dish" is 2 soft boiled eggs, on light rye toast (bread lives in the freezer) with sriracha drizzled on top. Tasty, and cheap if you keep bread in the freezer and about 10 mins in total.
posted by cholly at 6:53 PM on December 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

This might sound weird, but I love black beans and scrambled eggs in chicken broth. It's something I had in Mexico many years ago. Scramble eggs in a pan, then when halfway cooked push to the side and add drained black beans until those are heated through and the eggs are done. Keep separate and pour warm chicken broth on top. Total comfort food. I'm not vegetarian but my favorite broth is the jar of "better than bullion" no-chicken base.
posted by belau at 6:58 PM on December 16, 2018 [3 favorites]

Curries! There's a million kinds and they're all usually "kitchen sink" foods, whatever vegetables or protein you have in the fridge (or are on sale this week) + delicious sauce + rice. It's light on dishes, it's done in an hour including prep, and it reheats well.

I like Golden Curry mix and add it to onion, garlic, carrots, potatoes, mushrooms, frozen corn or peas, broccoli, bell pepper etc. I don't have a specific recipe that I follow, I usually fry the mushroom, onion, and garlic in a bit of oil until they're translucent, deglaze with water or stock, add the root vegetables, and boil until they're almost done, then add the curry mix. I'll throw in any delicate vegetables I don't want to overcook at the end, like broccoli or snap peas, just for a few minutes to soften as the curry thickens, that way they still have some texture at the end.

The same ingredients mixed in with Aroy-D yellow curry paste and a can of coconut milk will taste completely different and also amazing.
posted by Feyala at 7:01 PM on December 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

"Basically" is an offshoot of Bon Appetit that features easy recipes, and I particularly like the 10x10 project that just wrapped up -- easy, everyday recipes with fewer than 10 ingredients, that can be done on a weeknight. They have a weekly newsletter that features a simple recipe, and the instructions are very clear and written for beginners.

The recipes aren't made for 1 person but my philosophy is cook once, eat several meals of leftovers.
posted by BlahLaLa at 7:21 PM on December 16, 2018 [8 favorites]

This Chinese egg and tomato dish is quick, low effort, and tasty. I usually add a little shaoxing and light soy to the egg mixture.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 7:34 PM on December 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

Here's a pressure cooker recipe for a chicken and lentil stew. While I haven't made this particular one, Kenji has never steered me wrong.
posted by O9scar at 7:39 PM on December 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

- Pasta puttanesca (spaghetti with your most tolerable commercially made tomato sauce - add fresh garlic & herbs if you have some - sardines, and parm)

- Roasted or boiled sweet potato topped with sautéed green onions, prosciutto (take the strip of fat off), and Greek yogurt

- Roast non-sweet potato with Greek yogurt and a bit of butter

- Eggs. Scrambled with tomatoes and feta. Or soft-boiled or poached over boiled asparagus (6 mins) with a bit of lemon juice. Or soft-boiled or poached on grainy toast with fresh dill and goat cheese. Or - saw this on the Blue, wish I could remember who shared it! - fried over rice with avocado and soy sauce. Or scrambled over smoked mackerel on grainy toast. Or super eggy French toast with feta or goat cheese and tomatoes

- Halloumi cheese low-key fried in olive oil with tomatoes and grainy bread

- South Beach red bean mash (google it) with your protein of choice

- Roasted chicken from a store (bought on the way home) with salad and a potato or boiled green beans (6 mins). Sometimes it’s KFC with green beans because I’m feeling that KFC vibe tbh.

- Fish and shellfish take a few minutes to defrost under cold running water: pan-fried trout with lentils and garlic. Shrimp and/or scallops quickly sautéed with garlic, lemon juice, paprika, with grainy bread

- Chorizo with lentils, garlic, splash of red wine

- Spaghetti bolognese when I’m HONGRY (ground beef, that tomato sauce, splash of red wine)

- Steak fried in butter with green beans and bread (not so much lately because I’m in a condo with condo-regulation vents over the stove :( ) Also for those hongry days

- I’m not a stir fry person (never manage to get the taste right) but lots of people do this, it is quick for sure.

- Recently discovered a canned curry I like so sometimes do that with chicken breast (add spinach or kale, fresh or frozen) and uncle ben’s jasmine rice

- My favourite takeout that I see as relatively healthy (for hungriest, laziest days) is a chicken shawarma, lots of tabouli
posted by cotton dress sock at 7:49 PM on December 16, 2018 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I have two favorite staples in this vein. One is Smitten Kitchen’s pasta and chickpeas. The other is to put on the kettle, chop up asparagus and cherry tomatoes, sauté them with some garlic and a squeeze of lemon, use the boiled water to make couscous, put the asparagus and tomatoes on the couscous, and top with some crumbled feta. I memorized both of these recipes and their ingredients so I can shop for them without planning it in advance and can make them any night in 30 minutes.
posted by somedaycatlady at 8:31 PM on December 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

A few different recommendations - not necessarily specific entrees, just a collection of helpful hints:

- Bags of frozen mixed veggies make it a snap to prepare a healthy side dish to accompany any of the other recipes in this thread. My local grocery store has 6 or 8 different mixes. It's easy to get a few bags and pop them in the freezer for whenever you need them (and you don't have to worry about them going bad before you get around to using them). They can be can roasted, sautéed or steamed without having to thaw them first. Add salt and pepper and maybe some oregano or thyme, and they're ready to eat in just a few minutes with almost no effort.

- Rice and beans can be doctored into a happy variety of formats/styles and are a great base for all sorts of meals. Canned beans are handy and easy, all you have to do is drain them and heat them up.

- Make a big batch of rice during the weekend (in a large stew pot, Instant Pot, crock pot, etc.), then divvy it up into individual portions and freeze all but one or two. Heat it up and throw in some seasoning of your choice, and add an aforementioned can of beans, veggies, a meat or fish entree, or even just some cheese or sour cream (or yogurt) for a filling satisfying meal.

- Potatoes. Baked (russet or sweet potatoes), boiled, mashed, roasted, added to soup or stew. Hearty, delicious, filling, and cheap.

One dish I learned recently (apparently it's a staple of UK street food?): Bake a couple russet potatoes; heat up a couple large spoonfuls each of frozen peas, diced carrots, and/or corn; grate some cheese; open and drain a can of tuna; slice some scallions. When the potatoes come out of the oven slice them open, add some salt and pepper, sprinkle on the cheese so it starts to melt, toss on a few veggies and tuna and scallions. You can substitute sour cream or yogurt for the cheese if you want...really, this is an infinitely variable dish so you can add or subtract whatever you want/whatever you have on hand. Pop one of the gussied-up potatoes in a plastic container and put it in the fridge for another meal, then chow down on the other one.

- One word: Soup. Or stew. Okay, two words. Some water and chicken stock, a starch, some veggies, and maybe some leftover meat and you've got a one-pot meal with minimal effort.

- Sautéed onion, garlic, and celery (and salt, pepper, and a seasoning or two) can transform some blah ingredients into something you look forward to eating.

- Learn to roast a chicken. It's very easy, you can go as simple or fancy as you feel like and it's incredibly tasty and satisfying! There's lots of videos and recipes online to teach you how...the main trick to learn is not to over-cook it and dry it out. A remote-probe thermometer is your friend! And whole chickens are relatively cheap since they'll go a long way - you can slice the breast meat for sandwiches, tear it into bits and add it to (for instance) rice and beans or soup or pasta, etc. etc.

- Cook big batches of a couple different things during the weekend, then split them into meal-size portions and freeze or refrigerate them. It's a lot easier to heat something up on a hectic weekday evening than to start from scratch.
posted by Greg_Ace at 8:58 PM on December 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

This Pasta Skillet with Chicken Sausage has become one of my go to meals because it involves half a box of dried pasta, one package of chicken sausage, one container of baby spinach, one jar of marinara sauce, and some shredded mozzarella. Excepting the shredded cheese there is no perishable food left over to store (so wonderful) but there are plenty of leftovers you can freeze for later. It's easy to make, easy to remember what to shop for and satisfies a lasagna craving pretty well.
posted by Miss Matheson at 9:46 PM on December 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

I probably make this more nights than not, when I've come home from work and am starving and have to walk the dog and deal with everything at once...
Chop an onion and put it in a nonstick frying pan with a bit of oil (I use a spritz of spray oil). Add a big handful of frozen shitake mushrooms. Add 1/3 package of frozen kale. Any other veg you have around is good here. Shake in a shake of turmeric, any other seasoning. Then add either a few egg whites, if you're really feeling like a light meal, or better, a couple of eggs whose yolks will run deliciously into the veggies. if you're trying to keep your meals light, adding some of those tofu shirataki noodles to this is amazingly filling but adds hardly any calories. Sprinkle on some feta, goat or parmesan. Put it on a plate with a couple of corn tortillas, or if you can deal with dirtying another small pot, cous cous takes 5 minutes and can cook at the same rate as the main dish here, and is delicious under this.
posted by nantucket at 11:01 PM on December 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

My go-to lazy, cheap, healthy meal is a variation on this. Basically I just throw a pound of chicken into my instant pot and cover it with a small jar of salsa. High pressure for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, I cook about a cup of quinoa with some chicken stock till it's done.
I throw the finished chicken (now easily shreddable) onto the quinoa with some cherry tomatoes, avocado, cilantro and some canned corn and/or canned beans (but obviously the veg toppings are whatever you prefer or have on hand). Usually lasts me a couple days.

If I have some extra energy I'll blend together plain Greek yogurt with lime and cilantro for a nice creamy sauce but it's not necessary.
posted by thebots at 12:46 AM on December 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

Right. So my husband is the better cook- following a recipe. My skillset is in throwing together meals on those "oh fine I'll cook- yeah this" nights.

Things to have on hand:
Frozen stir fry veggies are more expensive than buying fresh, but for the two of us it's veggies that don't go bad when we don't use them. Also it's more variety! Carrots are good to keep in the fridge, they stay good a fairly long time.
Tins are great; they just sit there until you need them. Crushed tomatoes and diced tomatoes. Little tins of tuna, stock up when on special. Pasta- get something whole wheat?
Spices-beyond salt and pepper- again last ages. My husband bought a new one every couple of times he went to the store, so we have a few! Pick ones you like, I like to have: garlic, paprika, chilli, cinnamon, nutmeg, cumin, curry powder.

Shashuka is a great dish. It is very much a "put what is at hand in" dish (I read a recipe for it that described it as such.) Pretty much every step is optional except for the tomato and egg and it would still be kinda right. Fry a small onion in a bit of olive oil. Can of Crushed tomatoes. Tin of beans or chickpeas. Left over meat- chicken shredded up is good. Veggies. Grated carrot. Spices: paprika, salt, pepper, garlic, maybe chilli. Dried Basil. Basically if you think it would go, put it in. Simmer. A pinch of sugar or baking soda tones down the acidity of the tomato. A bit of water if needed. Crack an egg and poach it in the sauce. If doing the grocery store pitstop get a crusty bread to eat with it. Sliced up sausage.

Tomato, tuna, pasta and cheese.

Tomato, mince/hamburger meat, grated carrot and zucchini, pasta.
posted by freethefeet at 4:18 AM on December 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'm gonna need a shade more guidance than, "Just throw ingredients in and then eat!"

Here is a way to make a several different dal dishes in your instant pot. I usually replace the water with stock and make rice and something else on the stove top while the dal is cooking.
posted by shothotbot at 5:39 AM on December 17, 2018

>Shrimp and/or scallops quickly sautéed with garlic, lemon juice, paprika, with grainy bread

With chopped fresh parsley, sorry.
posted by cotton dress sock at 5:44 AM on December 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

I also came here to recommend Budget Bytes. My two stalwart recipes are the Chorizo Sweet Potato Skillet and Lemony Kale Quinoa Salad. These are both very quick, cheap, and easy, create lots of leftovers, and use up all of the ingredients that aren't shelf stable/freezable. I usually use the Trader Joe's Soy Chorizo in the skillet meal and an entire bag of pre-chopped kale in the salad.
posted by capricorn at 6:40 AM on December 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

So like for instance this morning I chopped up a couple onions and sauteed them in the bottom of the pan on the saute setting for 10 minutes, added a squishy turnip and a couple handfuls of beans, decided that wasn't really enough for a soup, looked around, reluctantly added some beet because it's good for me, and dropped some cabbage leaves in. Then it seemed like I had enough ingredients for an interesting soup, so I added water. Then at the last minute, I found the dregs of coconut milk in the fridge, so I added that, too.

All soups are derivatives of stone soup. Follow that philosophy, and you've got soup.
posted by aniola at 7:43 AM on December 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

I resisted this for a while because it seemed too good to believe (also, I couldn't believe I hadn't come up with it myself): Kale Sausage Beans.

But it turns out to be everything it promises: quick to make (and you can make it when you want it, no prep ahead), adaptable, reasonably inexpensive, reasonably healthy, very tasty. Some notes on how to adapt for your requests:
-make it with a smaller amount of sausage (to make it heavier on the plants) OR make it with a plant-based sausage substitute of your choice
-serve over pasta or add some broth (to make soup) to stretch it over a couple meals
-switch up the beans--lentils or chickpeas would be great; we like it with bread
-switch up the greens--swiss chard would be good (just cook it a little less and maybe don't add the water), broccoli rabe would be awesome, could also try mustard greens or whatever greens your CSA throws at you
-use frozen greens (prechopped, no washing, you can just have them around!)
-use whatever ground meat you have around (or is cheapest) and add in spices (I'd start with pepper flakes at a minimum, plus garlic/onion powder, dried oregano or thyme)'
posted by CiaoMela at 7:50 AM on December 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

I like a premade veggie ravioli (I usually get either the mushroom or butternut squash ones from Trader Joe's, but plenty of grocery stores should have interesting options) and then I eat them with a red sauce or cheese. Sauce can be homemade, jarred, or made ahead and frozen in an ice cube tray.

I also like omelettes a lot (or frittatas, or whatever other egg-based dishes you prefer). Very versatile.
posted by mosst at 8:42 AM on December 17, 2018

Polenta! You can use an instant formula (Dell' Alpe brand is pretty decent) or a more traditional preparation; either way, you can get a polenta porridge on the table within five to thirty minutes.

Once you have the basic prep down, the dish is supremely accommodating: you can make it with water, milk, or whatever stock you have lying around, and you can toss in your choice of leftover chicken, sauteed mushrooms, bacon, spinach, sausage, flaked tuna, roast sweet corn kernels, roast plum tomatoes, sun dried tomatoes, chives, kale, frozen peas, any manner of Italianate herbs, almost any kind of cheese. If it seems to lack body or coherence, slowly stir in olive oil and salt until the flavors pop into focus. Finish with a drizzle of red wine vinegar. (If you still need flavor, then any sauce that works with pasta will usually work with polenta too.)
posted by Iridic at 10:24 AM on December 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

My go-to what's in the pantry meal is pasta with tuna and olives (or capers). It's easy to sub in ingredients you have (red wine vinegar) for those you don't (lemon zest).

I also really like making pot pie from rotisserie chicken leftovers. This is also a good pantry/fridge meal, since you can have broth in the pantry, potatoes and premade pie crust in the fridge, and peas in the freezer.

Love Your Leftovers is a great cookbook for inspiration on how to remake yesterday's food. I turn a lot of take out into fried rice.
posted by spamandkimchi at 1:30 PM on December 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

Something really quick, and with a decent amount of protein, is just ultra-cheap Top Ramen cooked with a tablespoon or two of tahini. I used to do this with peanut butter but I prefer the taste of tahini. Just three minutes, for when you get home hungry and without a lot of patience.
posted by Agave at 3:14 PM on December 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks so much for all this y'all, this is a huge help to me. If you've got more, I'm here for it.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 3:46 PM on December 17, 2018

More things to eat:

* Salads are really great, especially with an open mind as far as what constitutes a salad. Tonight I'm considering a salad of beets, goat cheese and walnuts, but I could do fennel and orange (or pear or apple) or roast sweet potatoes and broccoli with a tahini-lemon dressing

* This is kind of magical - Start with a slice of good bread. Swipe with dijon mustard. Layer on sliced tomatoes, season with salt, pepper, olive oil and vinegar. Then apply a layer of cheese and stick it under the broiler until the cheese is melty. Sometimes I add a side salad of simple greens or just slice an apple to balance it all out. I'm sure I could use other middle layers besides tomatoes but I like this so much I haven't bothered to branch out yet. Sometimes I toast the bread first.
posted by bunderful at 4:33 PM on December 17, 2018 [3 favorites]

1 cup quinoa to 2 cups water, boil and then simmer for 15 minutes, and you probably have at least 2 servings.

More like four servings. I like quinoa a lot in terms of being "good fuel" because it cooks up quick, stores easily, and has good protein and fiber. A lot of this stuff is going to be great assuming you have a microwave (i do not and it's a bit of a hassle from a dishes perspective). So my tasty-and-I-like-it meal is usually

- serving of quinoa - boil water, add quinoa, turn down to simmer. You can spice the hell out of it and I often do either with curry powders, chili powders, garam masala, minced and/or sauteed onions/garlic/peppers
- serving of lean meat - fry up in small cast iron pan with some salt, pepper and olive oil. Add other seasonings that complement whatever your quinoa is. You can use the same pan to sautee up some flavor veggies. I often use grilled chicken, chourico, some sort of delicious chopped up sausages or sometimes bacon/pork
- serving of veg - use a stovetop steamer to boil some water and in wintertime toss in freezer veggies and in spring summer and autumn toss in fresh ones

The pans can be rinsed and used again pretty easily
quinoa + meat goes in one bowl
veggies go in the other with parmesan cheese and salt/pepper

Good for you, low cal (depending) and very filling and protein rich.
posted by jessamyn at 5:57 PM on December 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

Fried rice is a good easy meal, especially if you've got cooked rice and other stuff left over from a previous meal. I usually do mine with fried ginger+garlic+onion in regular vegetable oil, then add rice + eggs + meat (often chicken) + veges (frozen veg is great for this) + soy sauce + chilli/sriracha + salt & pepper + sesame oil (which I put on everything). But every element of that is customisable.

Take out the rice and eggs and you've got a decent stir-fry, again customisable depending on what you have.

Roasts are really easy! Roots, tubers, or similarly hardy veg work great for this, just chop them up, toss them with some olive oil and herbs (you can get small packets or jars of them), lay out in pan, leave in oven for like 20-40 mins. Add cheese on them if you wanna get fancy. Sometimes I wrap some fish up in tinfoil with some seasoning (like that lemon pepper recipe mentioned upthread) and put that in the oven with the veg.

Instant noodles can be jazzed up easy. I've cooked them in miso (you can get them in packets - check the Asian aisle of your supermarket). You can add eggs, seasonings (esp if you skip the packet stuff), veges, maybe some fish (esp canned), and make it soupy or not.
posted by divabat at 6:16 PM on December 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

The nice thing is, by the time you get comfortable with the kinds of meals mentioned in this thread, you'll have developed the skills and sense of what works with what that will let you both build on these and branch out into even more and fancier recipes. And you get to eat your homework!
posted by Greg_Ace at 7:03 PM on December 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

These SUPER QUICK AWESOME GARLIC SPINACH SOBA NOODLES (recipe from MeFite Nothing... and like it, via MetaTalk) have been a staple for me for years.

I typically use arugula instead of baby spinach and leave out the red pepper flakes and lemon and salt because I get lazy; it's delicious even with five ingredients (soba, olive oil, garlic, greens, parmesan).
posted by kristi at 9:47 AM on December 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

Here to second Budget Bytes. Lots of variety, low cost, fairly simple recipes with lots of great step by step guidance for inexperienced (or forgetful) cooks. The woman who runs it is single IIRC and so she notes with all the recipes how well the leftovers keep and/or freeze and reheat.
posted by oblique red at 11:12 AM on December 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

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