Nutritionally Dense Ingredients That Cook Quickly
June 4, 2020 11:22 PM   Subscribe

Help me make the most of my money buying nutritionally dense ingredients.

Payday is coming soon and I would like to set myself up for the upcoming month with healthy, nutritionally dense groceries.

I work from home and have full use of the kitchen but I would like to cook, eat and clean up within an hour and get back to work after lunch. This means no complicated recipes that require a lot of chopping or take a long time. Some people have suggested slow cookers previously but I do not have time to set things to cook in the morning. I usually have a hurried breakfast of cereal and then start working immediately.

So far I have:
chia seeds
canned salmon
canned sardines and tuna
frozen spinach

Am thinking of buying cheese, avocadoes and canned beans as well. In general, I am pretty good at getting carbs into my meals but I tend to have a problem with getting enough protein and fresh vegetables. So easy high protein items will be especially helpful, especially since carbs tend to make me sleepy after lunch when I'm supposed to be working. Grass-fed meat is not easily available where I am and quite expensive. I do like vegetables but washing and chopping them takes time.

I take a women's multivitamin every morning to fill gaps in my diet and am pondering if it is necessary to add fish oil though I do eat fish once or twice a week. know Mefites are awesome foodies and will have more suggestions. Thanks!
posted by whitelotus to Food & Drink (22 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
On the slow cooker, can you throw together the ingredients, leave to marinate over night in the fridge, then dump in the cooker in the morning?

Freezer veggies. Actually not that bad for you, better than not eating veg at all. Tinned beans.

Bacon, used sparingly. Sausages are good when cooking for one, you can freeze the ones you don't use.

Omelet for quick lunch, one or two eggs, chopped cooked meat (left overs, bacon, ham, etc) veggies, frozen grated cheese.
posted by freethefeet at 11:29 PM on June 4, 2020 [2 favorites]

Chickpeas. You can throw a can of chickpeas, a can of tomatoes, and some spinach (from frozen if you like) together, microwave and eat by itself or over rice. Season however you prefer.

Cottage cheese is also good for protein. You can eat it on crackers, or on split baked potatoes, or stir it into fruit or rice or beans or scrambled eggs.

I agree about the slow cooker. If I'm going to cook a slow cooker dinner I usually put the ingredients into the pot that goes into the cooker the night before, keep it in the fridge, and then all I have to do in the morning is set the pot inside the cooker and switch it on.
posted by lollusc at 12:49 AM on June 5, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I don't think all frozen veggies are equal. Some, like carrots, get a weird taste from freezing. Carrots keep for a long while in the crisper drawer of the fridge though.
Frozen peas are really nutritious, often taste better than fresh and have tons of uses, many of them fast and easy. A pasta with bacon, peas, garlic and chili is a good quick lunch.
Frozen or canned sweet corn are good too, but shouldn't be eaten as much as the peas.
Frozen string beans are nutritiously good, but you need to buy the very best quality for taste and texture. Fresh beans keep well in the fridge, too. Steamed, and with a vinaigrette and some bacon cubes on top, they are a meal in themselves. Bread on the side. Or right now, a few new potatoes. You can steam the beans over the potatoes, while you chop a shallot and make a vinaigrette, and fry up the bacon cubes. Skip the bacon if you want less pans to clean up.
Frozen spinach is genius.
Here, frozen duck breast and duck legs are cheap and widely available. If this applies to your area, buy a few breasts. They make a great salad topping or sandwich filling. A salad: on a base of lettuce leaves, spread slices or cubes of apple and orange, croutons and a mustardy vinaigrette. Top with thinly sliced duck breast. (So apples and oranges are good to have in your fridge, too).
Cabbages store well. I like to have a pointy cabbage because it is so versatile and easy to use. You can steam it, and mix with a sauce or dressing and avocado and maybe some seeds. Or you can use it raw in a soba noodle salad.
Obviously, you need a variety of alliums.
I like having some shellfish in the freezer for making shellfish pasta.
Maybe you could batch cook something like a Spanish tortilla and/or ratatouille. They keep well and are meant to be eaten at room temperature, even though they are nice warm, too. Or just cook enough of something like that for dinner, so you have leftovers for lunch. I feel the same way about a lot of Turkish meze, like stuffed bell peppers or eggplants.
A minestrone reheats well and is a good simple lunch.

Seconding cottage cheese. A fast lunch of cottage cheese with a small mixed salad is great.

I swear I've seen something where a professional cook demonstrates how to make fresh vegetables last longer in the fridge, but I can't find it. I did find this, though: The Food Lab: How to Organize Your Refrigerator for Better Food Storage

Maybe if you do the chopping once a week, and store in little containers, making vegetable foods will be easier. BTW, after I have accepted that chopping stuff is an inescapable part of life, and begun to sharpen my knives every single day, I no longer find it as problematic. Or time consuming.

You don't need fish oil supplements if you eat tinned fish twice a week. Can you get smoked cod liver in it's own oil? Maybe it is an acquired taste, but to me it's great with grated horseradish and some lemon juice on a thin slice of rye bread, and it's very healthy.

Finally, I'm not a fan of the slow cooker, but a pressure cooker is a great thing. There's a whole cult about the instant pot. I've found that I don't use it a lot when I am alone, but if you enjoy a freshly cooked hot meal for lunch, maybe it's for you?
posted by mumimor at 1:31 AM on June 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

How would you feel about cooking during the weekend, then eating the result in servings during the week?
posted by amtho at 3:14 AM on June 5, 2020

Best answer: The kids just made a shakshuka, cooked, eaten and cleaned up in less than an hour while I was out on an errand, and I thought of your question because it is very easy to make and rich on protein and other nutrients depending on how many eggs you use. You can add beans and feta too, there are hundreds of variations, many based on pantry staples.
The recipes google found are made from scratch and my daughter chopped up an onion, some garlic and a red bell pepper and used a can of tomatoes. But she has worked as a line cook, her approach to chopping up things may not be yours. You can just use a jar of organic giardinara sauce, or use bell peppers marinated in olive oil and frozen chopped onions with the can of tomato, there will still be a fair amount of vitamins, minerals and fiber.
posted by mumimor at 3:16 AM on June 5, 2020 [2 favorites]

Here in the USA, food stores carry a wide variety of refrigerated, fully-cooked sausages. Many are chicken-based. Pretty much ready after a quick trip through the microwave.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:00 AM on June 5, 2020

If you ever have leftover rice, vegetable fried rice is a meal I have made at lunchtime.

Oil in pan on medium, 1/2 c to 1 c of rice, crack two or three eggs in middle, cook until not runny, if you like add soy sauce and oriental five spice, add mixed frozen veggies to heat.

Avocados are great for breakfast smoothies - avocado, spinanch, yogurt then something sweet - choose one or two: banana, frozen blueberries, apple sauce, jam (apricot jam in smoothies is my favorite). Jam is nice to substitute for fresh fruit if you don't always have it.
posted by typecloud at 5:02 AM on June 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Oh and since you said chia seed, this

All you really need is a can of coconut milk, a glass jar, and chia seeds. I use jam to flavor when eating. It lasts about 5-6 days and is very filling for breakfast.
posted by typecloud at 5:05 AM on June 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

I eat a lot of "salad with stuff" for lunch. For instance, greens + chickpeas + tomatoes + salad dressing + nuts/seeds was a recent one. Also, greens + taco beans + peppers/onions + salsa + cheese + guac.

I don't enjoy cooking, so I tend to make extra of the mains for dinner and put them on salad for lunch the next day.

+1 to shakshuka.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 5:13 AM on June 5, 2020

The most nutrient dense foods are leafy greens, starting with kale. You can buy them frozen and already chopped. I live on bean soups and add leafy greens to them. You can also throw them in with pasta or rice.

The ANDI score rates foods by nutrient density. The page I linked to indicates how the scoring is done.

Lentils keep forever, cook quickly, and are very cheap.

If you are getting enough calories, you are getting enough protein. Most Americans get too much, and that stresses your kidneys. The American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has this page on how much protein you need. For weird political and marketing reasons, Americans tend to jump to "I'm not getting enough protein" for issues that have nothing to do with protein. They also refer to certain foods as "proteins," even though some of those foods get most of their calories from fat (salmon, for instance, is 50% fat, and bacon is 68% fat).
posted by FencingGal at 6:06 AM on June 5, 2020 [3 favorites]

I'm a huge fan of broccoli. I find I can rinse, cut up, and steam a head of broccoli in like 20 minutes. I use a steamer basket in a saucepan. One head/bunch makes 2 servings and I either feed the other to my husband or pop it in the fridge for later.

To make it yummier after cooking, try drizzling/sprinkling on one or two of the following: olive oil, sesame oil, salt, soy sauce, basamic vinegar, rice vinegar, and/or lemon juice.

To be honest though, I leave the washing-up to the evening... but it's one cutting board, one knife, and the saucepan and steamer basket.
posted by heatherlogan at 6:06 AM on June 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

Fresh no-chop veggies like baby carrots, snow peas, etc dipped into hummus. Yogurt or cottage cheese combined with fruit (fresh or frozen) is another healthy instant meal.

Smoothies with frozen fruit and yogurt are quick, and you can add some spinach and/or protein powder if you like.

If you do want to cook, you can make an omelet/scrambled eggs with lots of nutritious add-ins like spinach, tomatoes, peppers, mushrooms, etc - these all cook fine from frozen so you can chop them whenever it's convenient for you, throw in the freezer, and use whenever. I usually have fresh spinach around but you can grate the frozen blocks into an omelet too.

I don't cook for breakfast or lunch at all during the week and usually eat leftovers from a big meal cooked at suppertime, oatmeal (instant, or steel-cut soaked overnight and microwaved in the morning), cheese/pate with crackers, fruit, or the things mentioned above.
posted by randomnity at 8:26 AM on June 5, 2020

Lentils cook in a rice cooker along with the rice.

Lentils + rice + olive oil + whatever spices, flavorings, or toppings you like is an easy-to-make meal.
posted by Jacqueline at 10:42 AM on June 5, 2020

There are zero-prep vegetables in cans, like green beans and green peas, and fancier veggies in cans and jars, like artichokes, hearts of palm, roasted red peppers, and olives.

For pre-chopped and pre-cooked veggies that would make good leftovers for a few days, it might be surprisingly affordable to order a couple of veggie sides from a local Chinese restaurant.
posted by Former Congressional Representative Lenny Lemming at 10:56 AM on June 5, 2020 [2 favorites]

Zucchini, yellow squash and mini sweet peppers can be eaten raw with hummus. If you have some time for prep during your off hours you can make your own hummus with chickpeas, tahini, garlic, olive oil and lemon juice.

Nut butters are versatile if not always interchangeable. Besides using in recipes, you can eat peanut butter with a spoon or dig out with ribs of celery. Add some raisins or grapes. Wash down with a glass of milk. Voila, protein, vegetables, fruit and calcium source. Bread or crackers if you to up your grain intake.

Don't underestimate the benefits of chocolate. Keep some powdered cocoa and chocolate chips on hand. Again, if you have some time to prep, you can make a pretty awesome chocolate hummus.

I'm also a fan of potatoes -- white as well as sweet potatoes. They can be baked in a microwave in 4 minutes or so. Top the white ones with cheese and salsa, cottage cheese or leftover chili. Add cinnamin and butter to the sweet ones, drop a few mini marshmellows on top and you've got dessert. I also like mixing in a spoonful of orange juice concentrate to up the vitamin C.
posted by Gino on the Meta at 11:09 AM on June 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

Lentils, and eggs!

I like canned lentils because they are SO easy, but they're also easy to cook in a pressure or rice cooker or pot if you want to save even more money.

I don't even do anything special with lentils, I just fry them quickly in a pan with butter and salt and pepper, and sometimes top them with an over-easy egg or something, or just eat them.

Also, turkey bacon is good and lasts a LONG time in the fridge. Sometimes I chop it up into little strips and fry it with my lentils. Green lentils are my preference for just eating and frying but honestly all lentils are delicious.

Also, hummus! I make a bunch on sunday and eat it for lunch for most of the week with carrot sticks. It's filling and delicious and easy to make and you work from home so the garlic isn't a problem! you can also buy it but dried chickpeas are crazy cheap and premade hummus is crazy not, so I make it.
posted by euphoria066 at 12:16 PM on June 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Addendum: I forgot to say that due to the coronavirus, I only get groceries delivered once a week or every two weeks. Fresh vegetables do not last long, especially fresh leafy vegetables. I am constantly running low on fresh milk and yogurt. I have resorted to keeping yucky powdered whole milk around as a last resort backup.

ATM I'm out of bell peppers (though I would like to make shakshuka but they are only in stock at the local equivalent of Whole Foods) and even cabbage and am relying solely on frozen vegetables (spinach, peas and mixed vegetables). I can't even get my hands on frozen berries or organic frozen vegetables because they are all out of stock (people all WFH and cooking at home are placing enormous stresses on the grocery chain).

I was only able to secure (expensive and organic) canned tomatoes after buying them from a specialty grocer that caters to the well-heeled (I am not one). There are odd gaps in my pantry because of this and I end up prioritizing shelf stable foods.
posted by whitelotus at 6:42 PM on June 5, 2020

Best answer: Here is a link about storing vegetables safely and longer.
You don't have to have bell peppers to make shakshuka, you can just add a few red pepper flakes or a splash of tabasco or whatever hot sauce you have for some pepperiness. If I were you, I'd make a slightly hot red sauce, with tomatoes and garlic, and then also throw in a handfull of spinach directly from the freezer. When the spinach is thawed, add the egg(s).

Make a hearty soup with the mixed vegetables and a cupful of peas. Put mixed vegetables, peas and water to cover + two fingers in a pot. Add some butter or oil and season with salt and pepper. Bring to the boil and cook for 8-10 minutes (watch out that nothing gets mushy). Blend to your desired degree of smoothness. If you have a chili oil or parsley oil or something like, you can make a decorative swoosh on top of your bowl. Or you can add croutons.

I plan my meals around what I can get, rather than first deciding on the menu and then looking out for the ingredients. Here, the shortage of ingredients only lasted a few days, but I'm always trying to save money, so I look for what's on sale or just a good price. When I was buying online, I opened the weekly offers first and found stuff there, and then moved on to produce and looked which things were good value for money. Now, when I can go to the stores, I buy offers I can see are good, and I prefer that. I try to eat a lot of different things, and mostly vegetarian but not always.
Then if I don't have any ideas, I google or look in my cookbooks.

So if I can't find tomatoes on sale, I don't eat tomatoes till they come back.

I don't know where you are, but for instance one thing that is out there now in the northern hemisphere and will keep for a week in the fridge is cauliflower. For a single person, it's a good thing to buy this week, and there are so many entirely different recipes you can make with it. There are many different salads with raw cauliflower, you can make cauliflower cheese, aloo gobi, a blended soup, a cauliflower stir-fry. You will hardly think you are eating the same vegetable.

If you only shop once a week or every two weeks, still buy some fresh produce. Use the advice in the link above to make it keep. And if you find some things are getting a little tired, make a little stew for the freezer, that you can take out on a day where you are too tired to cook.
posted by mumimor at 11:45 PM on June 5, 2020

Frozen vegetables are great and supposedly at least as good nutritionally as fresh ones because they're frozen at optimum freshness. I'd get any and all kinds of frozen veggies.
Kimchi and other pickled vegetables can last a long time and be very healthy. If you have an Asian grocery nearby that delivers you might also find a broader selection of frozen and pickled vegetables.
Yams (and potatoes, but maybe those are less nutritious) can keep a long time and be made with minimal preparation: you can rinse them and put them whole and unpeeled in the oven, or chop them into big chunks and boil, or slice and microwave.
Bell peppers aren't critical for shakshuka imo; I'd add another vegetables besides tomatoes, but I think almost anything would work well.
posted by trig at 5:05 PM on June 6, 2020

Best answer: We are only shopping every 2 weeks and still eating a good amount of veggies and fruit. I buy a mix of regular produce that gets eaten or chopped+frozen in the first week and longer-lasting produce that gets eaten in the second week or later (e.g. bok choy, lettuce heads, carrots, sweet potatoes, citrus fruits, apples, and surprisingly cherry tomatoes all last 2 weeks or more). We don't get everything in each order but I request many different things and adjust to what we get. Stocking up your pantry whenever you can (including onions, garlic and ginger) helps a lot there. I also stock up on a few bags of frozen fruit/veg whenever I can get it, as supplies have been iffy here too. Yogurt lasts many many weeks if unopened (way past the best-by date) so you can stock up a little to smooth things out if the supply is inconsistent.

For frozen veg I try to always have at minimum some mirepoix (onions celery carrots), onions, mushrooms and bell peppers for all-purpose cooking and carrots/beans/peas/broccoli for side veggies. Having these ready to throw in a pan anytime makes meal prep way faster.

One of my new favourite cheap-n-easy lunch meals is butter chicken tofu - all it needs is a bottle of premade butter chicken paste, a block of tofu and some rice. Start the rice, cut up and fry the tofu then add the butter chicken paste while the rice is cooking, and lunch is ready in less than 30 minutes. You could probably also do a side pan of frozen veggies at the same time if you can multitask that well.

If you're on a budget, dried beans and other legumes have one of the best nutrition-for-cost ratios out there. If you have a slow-cooker or instant pot they take almost no "active time" to cook, only waiting time while you do something else.
posted by randomnity at 8:43 AM on June 8, 2020

Frozen asparagus is great (or at least the stuff I get at Trader Joe's is) and adds great nutrition to stir fries. I make a lot of stir fries using:

* 1-3 kinds of veg (frozen asparagus, fresh carrots, frozen brussels sprouts, peas)
* either pre-cooked noodles or pre-cooked rice
* either a scrambled egg or tofu (buy several packages of tofu, chop it into serving sizes, and chuck it in the freezer, then thaw however much you need for one meal)
* a bunch of sauce: just soy sauce is fine, but Trader Joe's gyoza sauce is even better; whatever grocery store you're ordering from might have some interesting jars of sauce

This takes maybe 15 minutes to cook, 15 minutes to eat, 10 minutes to clean up.

Also seconding randomnity on fresh fruit: I used to have a heck of a time eating up fresh fruit, but if you seriously make a point of eating some with every meal (or at least every lunch) you can get through a surprising amount of fruit - and you can always toss some cheese on your pear or some peanut butter on your apple for extra nutritional goodness.

Also, peanut butter is really good for you, tends to last a long time, and can be eaten both as peanut butter or added to stir fries and noodle dishes for some different flavors.

Good luck!
posted by kristi at 8:21 PM on June 9, 2020

Dried seaweed! Preferably local. It's absurdly nutrient dense, high in minerals, has a very broad spectrum of minerals, vitamins, essential aminos, fiber, antioxidants, anti-inflammatory, heck: it's where fish get their omega oils.

Plus, it's shelf stable for years, is surprisingly easy/quick to cook with and is really tasty. There's a fairly broad spectrum of flavors across the different species, but a common thread is umami, which can make just about any dish taste better.
posted by Text TK at 10:05 PM on June 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

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