Eating for one: Optimizing for health, weight control, and convenience
January 4, 2021 4:00 PM   Subscribe

I want to figure out ways to feed myself where I can eat very healthy meals, in a way that is very, very convenient. Convenient for me means: Around zero to five minutes of active prep. Healthy for me means: lots of veg, fruit, fibre, etc, low on processed foods, sugars, bad fats, etc. It also means being able to have a reasonably good handle on how many calories I am consuming. I’m in Toronto, Canada.

What works for you do to this?

I am looking for:

a) Specific recipes or meals that fit this bill
b) Sources of recipes or meals that fit this bill
c) Ideas for other strategies (prepared meal services? Other ideas?)
d) Any other ideas, including the suggestion that I might in some way be asking the wrong question.

Right now: I have a few crazy-easy go-to recipes that I can do in under 5 minutes of active prep. (Breakfast is: defrost some frozen spinach, mix it up with an egg, cook in the microwave, make whole wheat toast. I love it. Or just: eat a banana and some nuts, which is pretty good). I’d be happy to find more.

I order a lot of meals off uber-eats: I like that because it is pretty much zero minutes of active prep time. But it’s hard to get a sense of portion control and calories though: how many walnuts and dried cranberries were in that salad, etc?

I’m not particularly sensitive to price, though all else equal I guess I’d be happy if I could reduce my pretty expensive uber-eats habit.

I mention that I’m in Toronto, Canada, in case that affects availability of any particular foods, services, etc.

posted by ManInSuit to Food & Drink (36 answers total) 84 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I don't know if a service like Freshly is available in Canada - the meals are shipped to you cooked, you pick them from a list that has nutritional values listed on it, you microwave most of them for 3 minutes and let rest for 2 and then eat.

But do also just get on your local services portal - in the US I tell people to check Craigslist and Yelp as both tend to return good results - for a "personal chef" or "private chef" as well as "meal prep". I know it sounds fancyyyy - oh, let me get a personal chef to go with my private jet please - but really it's just someone who cooks food and either drops it to you or you pick it up from them in take-out microwaveable boxes (and depending on local food laws sometimes you can even return your empties to them to reuse for you, which is great). A lot of the listings will be specifically oriented to personal fitness and so will be portioned and documented to your requirements.

A lot of people are keeping themselves alive doing this right now - trainers and fitness instructors who can't work at their usual gyms, furloughed food workers, people who've been doing it as a side hustle for ages. You may actually find some catering companies and/or restaurants doing it too, to stay afloat. It keeps the money local and spares you the MASSIVE amount of barely-recyclable materials it takes to ship meals to you. It's likely to be cheaper overall as well, though if you have been spending Uber Eats money it should be a deal no matter what.

There's really nothing easier than this - you don't have to do any of the work except maybe picking them up once a week. You can probably even just tell someone your general likes and dislikes and not even manage the menus each week except to give feedback like "more of that salmon, thanks" or "I don't love olives, actually".
posted by Lyn Never at 4:14 PM on January 4, 2021 [8 favorites]

d) Any other ideas, including the suggestion that I might in some way be asking the wrong question.

Well, I mean – "recipe" kind of implies more than five minutes of prep time.

But, here are some 0–5 minute foods that have worked for me in the past:

– ready-to-eat bagged salads (get precooked chicken or similar, if you want to add some protein)
– mashed avocado (with whatever seasonings you prefer) on toasted sprouted-grain bread
– plain Greek yogurt (good protein source) with fruit, nuts, granola, etc.

I always keep fresh fruit, precut fresh veggies, frozen sprouted-grain bread (the Ezekiel brand), and a big jar of salted/roasted almonds around. Grab a handful of each for a quick, easy, healthy meal.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 4:17 PM on January 4, 2021 [6 favorites]

I happen to love Premire Protein shakes. That's my breakfast everyday. It maybe more processed than you want though.

My lunch everyday is a container of greek yogurt, 4 tablespoons of chia seeds and a half cup of one of the Kashi protein cereals.

Rotisserie chicken is great to throw in a prebagged salad. Take off the skin.

If you're serious about portion control, I suggest getting a kitchen scale, measuring cups and measuring spoons. I weigh and measure almost everything I eat. If I don't, I find my guesstimating is often way over what I think it is.
posted by kathrynm at 4:21 PM on January 4, 2021 [2 favorites]

What about doing your own prepared meals? I do this since cooking like 6 servings of chicken breasts or okra takes hardly any more time than 1 serving and I only have to clean dishes once. I leave them plain, so I can spice them individually so they don't taste the same, and keep some in the freezer and some in the fridge. I store them in plastic take-out style containers which is also what I eat them in so I don't even have to wash an extra plate. My whole dinner process this evening was putting a container in the microwave for 2:30 and then washing a fork and plastic container after I ate. Probably less time than it would take me to order something on Uber eats lol
posted by ToddBurson at 4:23 PM on January 4, 2021 [4 favorites]

I am about 98% ovo-vegetarian, count calories, and love fast meals. Some of my standbys:

* Instant Pot to make a pound of dried beans (Rancho Gordo!) or just open a few cans of dried beans, add some spices & sauce (good olive oil drizzle, hot sauce, pesto, whatever’s on hand). This technically takes like 45 minutes but the time you’re actually cooking is very low. Can pair with good bread & butter.

* With fresh or leftover rice (usually brown for me), I scramble 2 eggs in a pan and dump the rice directly in with it so it all scrambles together and is more egg than rice. Sometimes I’ll cut up a medium white onion and fry that in the pan with some oil before adding the eggs and rice. With hot sauce or sriracha or whatnot this is pretty great.

* Spinach + chickpeas (canned & drained is fine). Cooks really fast, as you know, and you can add tomatoes and whatever spices.

* Hodo flavored cubed tofu. It’s marinated in the bag. Usually I don’t like marinated tofu, but these are good. Can briefly heat it in a pan and add to a wrap if you have some veggies around.

* Hummus & pita with a tomato cucumber salad (tomato, cucumber, red wine vinegar, salt, pepper) is a good lunch or snack.

* We have a lot of frozen dumplings on hand. Usually you fry them for a couple minutes on each side, add some water and cover, and eat 5 minutes later. Sometimes I’ll cut up a cabbage or some mushrooms or whatever’s in the fridge and stir fry in the pan before doing the dumplings, then combine them all together after cooking dumplings through, add some soy sauce and sesame oil and white pepper, and eat.

* Tamales from the grocery store. They have the calories listed on them. You can buy some salsa or guac to go alongside, maybe add some steamed or stir fried veggies.
posted by stoneandstar at 4:25 PM on January 4, 2021 [9 favorites]

Oh, and my favorite breakfast before I stopped eating breakfast was just raw oats with some raisins and plant based milk. I did measure, because it’s easy to eat way more calories than you think with things like cereals. But it was good!

Avocado toast as mentioned above— mashing the avocado directly on the toasted bread saves steps.

One of my favorite salads is just some nice lettuce and a French-style vinaigrette. Dice a shallot, soak in red wine vinegar for 10 minutes, add some Dijon and olive oil and salt. You can make a big batch and have lettuce salads along side soup, or cheese + baguette. We did that all the time when I started my diet and really enjoyed fancy things in small portions.
posted by stoneandstar at 4:31 PM on January 4, 2021 [3 favorites]

I use aged, syrupy balsamic vinegar, La Tourangelle avocado oil, Maldon salt, and fresh cracked pepper for my salad dressings, which is usually baby arugula or baby mixed greens. Add whatever protein and veggie I have that's chopped up, and that's my 5 minute lunch. Tastes better than a $21 salad I paid for once in SF Financial District (seriously.)

(I am a grad student, if that counts.)
posted by yueliang at 4:48 PM on January 4, 2021 [2 favorites]

If you don't mind doing prep ahead of time, some meals freeze quite well – so you can make a bunch on the weekend or whatever, and have it ready to microwave when you need it. Soups and chilis are good for this. Again, if you keep fruit, whole-grain bread, etc. around, then you can easily round it out into a full meal.

Fresh spinach cooks very quickly (like, two minutes), and requires zero prep (since it's usually washed and ready to use when you buy it). Good with pretty much anything, but especially nice with eggs.

Do you mind unattended cooking time? Because you can toss whole sweet potatoes, beets, etc. into the oven, do other things while they're cooking, and then just take them out and eat them.

(Don't throw away beet stems and greens! They're very tasty and nutritious. Give 'em a quick chop, and braise for just a few minutes in a flavorful liquid – I like a bit of vegetable stock and some crushed red pepper.)

Listen – if we're talking less than five minutes of prep time, then we're not talking "recipes". We're talking about very simple preparations that don't even require measuring. Fortunately, if you don't mind the fact that you're not eating dishes per se, this can be a really delicious, healthy, convenient way to eat.

The quick-cooking steel-cut oats that I use take seven minutes (ish) – but, again, just multitask while it's bubbling away on the stove. Add whatever mix-ins and seasonings you like – a chopped apple with cinnamon, half a banana and a few nuts, blueberries, etc.

You're gonna have to make sacrifices somewhere to get all of the features that you want in a diet.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 4:48 PM on January 4, 2021 [4 favorites]

Overnight oats are great. I prep them before I go to bed: steel cut oats, chia seeds and almond milk stirred together. In the morning I put a spoonful of PB and some fruit (sliced banana, or recently pomegranate) and eat up!

This is close to the recipe I've been following.
posted by chiefthe at 5:02 PM on January 4, 2021 [5 favorites]

I make big batches of beans and rice to eat for several days to fulfill this need. I don't like to spend much time cooking either so a lot of my recipes consist of dumping lentils (or soaked beans) in an Instant Pot with brown rice, water, maybe a can of tomatoes, and spices; that's less than five minutes of hands-on time. If I have more energy than that I'll take more time and start by sauteeing an onion/ vegetables/ spices before setting it to go; that adds another 5-10 minutes.

If you don't have an electric pressure cooker and don't mind letting something cook all day, you can spend an equal amount of prep time but then use a slow cooker, which someone you know will have malingering in their basement.

Frozen vegetables are a huge timesaver for me because they're washed and prepped. And frozen fruit is sometimes a money saver because I don't need to worry about it going bad.
posted by metasarah at 5:04 PM on January 4, 2021 [1 favorite]

I really like avocado toast with sliced tomatoes on top (optionally red onion too) and lots of salt and pepper. I don't bother mashing, just slice and spread out works fine. (yes I am a millennial)

Another favourite is saute sliced peppers and onions (I buy them frozen/precut or chop/freeze fresh ones in advance), toss in fresh or frozen spinach, then scramble in some eggs. Add whatever else you like too, I like adding canned black beans, cheese and hotsauce and turning it into breakfast burritoes.
posted by randomnity at 5:07 PM on January 4, 2021 [1 favorite]

d) Any other ideas, including the suggestion that I might in some way be asking the wrong question

If an alternative question is "how can I eat more chicken, a great lean protein, without having to deal with all the faff of cooking chicken?" then my answer for you is: buy an air fryer. It will take more than 5 minutes, but hear me out.

I have avoided eating chicken for YEARS because I hate cooking it and am also bad at cooking it. And then I got an air fryer a couple months ago and put some chicken thighs in it--the chicken thighs were way on sale and I figured let's give it a go despite my anti chicken stance. AND THEY WERE AMAZING. Perfect, almost no effort, done in 20 minutes.

So then I decided to see how far my laziness would get me. I opened a pack of chicken breasts, poured the goo out into the sink, and then unceremoniously dumped the chicken into my air fryer hopper. Threw on some salt and seasoning, set the temp and time, and 20 minutes later--BOOM, absolutely perfect chicken breasts. I did NO prep. I didn't even have to touch the raw chicken with my hands at any point!!!

And then once you have chicken, well, you can put it in anything! I have had other successes with my air fryer, but this chicken thing is the one that will make me go to my grave telling people to buy an air fryer. It is a total game changer. You get fresh, controllable, healthy, home cooked protein with no active effort from you. Amazing.
posted by phunniemee at 5:09 PM on January 4, 2021 [9 favorites]

Response by poster: These are all great! A few people have pointed out I am using the word "recipe" in a way that doesn't really respect the meaning of the word. It's true: for me "recipe" means "put a piece of salmon in the toaster oven and eat it when it's cooked". I guess I just mean "meal".
posted by ManInSuit at 5:13 PM on January 4, 2021 [2 favorites]

This baked steel cut oatmeal can be portioned and frozen, and you can add eggs or protein powder to the liquid to up the protein. It's a forgiving recipe that does well with different fruits and nuts. I eat this anytime I want something quick and hot.
posted by answergrape at 5:17 PM on January 4, 2021 [2 favorites]

I also really love oatmeal and eat it for breakfast and/or snacks. I buy the big tub of 1 minute quaker oats because when I want oatmeal I want it in ONE MINUTE, DANG IT! I don't know how overnight oat people have the patience.

I have a whole bin in my pantry devoted to the art of oatmeal. I have a few different nuts, golden raisins, prunes, these things my grocery delivery box calls "banana nubbins" that are just delicious, cinnamon, nutmeg, brown sugar, and chocolate bits. I mix and match depending on my mood.

Put a few spoons of dry oatmeal into a bowl, dump in some nuts and fruit, shake in some spices, stir it up, pour in some milk to cover, stir, microwave for 90 seconds. Done. The whole process takes me 3 minutes.
posted by phunniemee at 5:17 PM on January 4, 2021 [4 favorites]

Seconding the "advance prep" approach - set aside one afternoon a week (or a longer afternoon every other week, or an even longer one once a month) and make big batches of a few different things, divvy them up among single-serving containers, and sling them in the freezer; or if you're doing this once a week, just leave three or four big batches of whatever in the fridge, and then dinner becomes a matter of "hmm, I'll take a little of what's in this bowl and a little of what's in this bowl" or "I'll defrost and heat up a container of [x] from the fridge". Add a roll, plus a green salad (the way I do a "salad" is nothing more than a handful of mesclun greens on a plate drizzled with a little oil and vinegar).

I adopted this approach when I was still doing theater, and would regularly get home from rehearsals at about 10 pm and I was too tired to cook so "dinner" was often a bowl of cereal or an entire bag of Cheetos. Then one day I found a vegetable soup recipe that made a huge batch, and spent one afternoon making it and packing it away into about eight freezer containers - and for the first two weeks of rehearsal, it was such a relief to come home, throw one of those containers in the microwave and nuke it up, and have a healthy dinner with practically no effort.

You are also leaning towards the "healthy" side of things, so I'm going to recommend my old workhorse - the Moosewood Daily Special, which is nothing but soups, stews, and salads, most of them vegetable-based. They're all meant to mix and match with other recipes in the book to make yourself a little combo plate (you get to the bottom of one soup recipe, and there are suggestions for about four or five other stews or salads elsewhere in the book to pair it with), so it's easy to pick like three or four recipes each week, do them all up on a lazy Sunday afternoon, and then just eat away at them over the course of the week. If you're feeling especially hungry, you can use them as side dishes for a simple roast chicken leg (turn your oven to 425 farenheit, drizzle a couple drumsticks or a whole chicken leg with some oil, sprinkle it with salt and pepper, and then sling that into the oven on a small baking dish for 35-40 minutes).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:19 PM on January 4, 2021 [1 favorite]

Allow me to recommend those bags of mixed, frozen vegetables that you steam in the microwave. Add a starch and protein of your choice as needed (some will also include grains/legumes), and that's basically a reasonable one portion meal.
posted by eponym at 5:23 PM on January 4, 2021 [2 favorites]

I bake a big tray of potatoes and sweet potatoes to keep in the fridge for the week. You can eat them cold. You can microwave them and add salsa. You can cut them in fry shapes or wedge shapes or disc shapes, bake again at 400 for 20 minutes, and eat with BBQ sauce.

I usually have giant bags of pre-cut broccoli or cauliflower or brussel sprouts to steam up with one of those $8 steamer baskets and eat with potatoes. Sprinkle on garlic salt. Or throw some pre-bagged salad in a bowl with pre-cut purple cabbage and pre-shredded carrots and pre-cut green onions. Add some grains or beans you made in the Instant Pot.

Instant Pot - I just got one and it sat in the corner for a few weeks and then I tried to make something - Spanish style rice - and it was so freaking easy I made like 5 more things the next few days including a big batch of steel cut oats (to eat with frozen blueberries), red lentil stew, black bean soup (see below), batch of brown rice, batch of quinoa, polenta.
Besides cooking your own big pot of beans (as mentioned above) or grains, or to steam squash or potatoes, you can literally just throw stuff in the Instant Pot to make a soup or stew or whatnot.

Example: Black Bean Soup
One bag frozen onions/peppers and/or other frozen veg
One can fire-roasted tomatoes
One can tomato paste
Two cans beans (I like black beans and kidney beans)
One box low sodium veggie broth
If you can manage to chop a couple zucchini, great! But not required.
Season with what you like. Lots of garlic, cumin, chili powder, chipotle, black pepper
Pressure cook for 15 minutes, done*
Optional extra (every ingredient on this list is optional, fyi) but once you've opened the pot you can stir in some fresh greens (kale, spinach, etc) while the Instant Pot is on warm to get your greens in.

(I eat a low-calorie-density, starch-based diet with no animal products or oil. I don't count calories or measure anything because that makes me crazy and it never worked for me for more than a few months here or there, and in any case was not sustainable. For me.)

*The Instant Pot takes time to heat up and/or come up to pressure, so the overall time can be 20 minutes longer but your own direct action is very minimal
posted by Glinn at 5:26 PM on January 4, 2021 [4 favorites]

Turkey sandwiches with cheese avocado mustard and tomato. Open faced to use only one slice of bread.
Cottage cheese with fruit (berries) and tablespoon of ground flax seed.
Drink bottled kombucha when you’ve got the munchies but don’t want so many more calories.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 5:34 PM on January 4, 2021

We prep/cook ingredients in bulk. Meats, rice, onions, potatoes, squash, broth/soup base, hard boiled eggs, etc. Veggies get chopped and frozen or fridged or dehydrated. When a meal is needed, all the pre-cooked, pre-prepped ingredients are assembled (in some combination) with a few fresh things like herbs or lettuce etc, and then heated in the microwave to create a hot meal in about five minutes.

I don't like to cook when I'm hungry. I just plate some stuff depending on what my body wants, add sauce and spice, and nuke it and chow down. For breakfast I usually have a frozen fruit and almond milk smoothie and then dried dates/figs, plus cheese and a few oz of salami/ham/whatever. No cooking/heating at all, just blending and plating.

We do not create complete frozen meals that are already combined/spiced, that limits variety. Just prep/cook ingredients so they're ready to mix, heat and eat.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:36 PM on January 4, 2021 [3 favorites]

I make "bowls" (tupperwares) with quinoa at the bottom, some greens, sliced cucumbers, grated beets and carrots, sliced smoked tofu and hemp hearts and pumpkin seeds. I prepare these in advance and slice avocado and add commercially prepared tahini dressing the morning I am going to eat them.

The prep work involved is about five minutes of chopping and grating the veggies and tofu, the time it takes to dump the quinoa in the pot, and five minutes spent assembling a couple of days' worth of these in advance.
posted by unstrungharp at 6:02 PM on January 4, 2021 [3 favorites]

Oh, and this is a good idea for something that can either be a quick snack or something to eat with a vegetable dish.

Get two slices of bread and put them on a baking sheet right next to each other. Preheat the oven to about 425 farenheit. If you have time to grate 4 ounces of cheddar cheese yourself, great; if not, then just use pre-shredded. Beat an egg, then dump in the cheese, a bit of mustard, and maybe a shake of cayenne. Spread that across both slices of bread, and sling that into the oven for 15 minutes and bake until puffy and golden brown.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:24 PM on January 4, 2021 [5 favorites]

If you're keeping an eye out for protein to include in stir frys and stuff, I just tried MorningStar Farms Popcorn Chik'n, which is new at my store, and liked it better than most other mock-chicken vegetarian products I've had.

A general bit of advice I'd give is: develop a taste for pickled and fermented and preserved foods from all cultures (virtually-zero-calorie pickled vegetables being of more interest than the cheese or salted duck eggs end of the spectrum, but higher-calorie stuff can be a positive influence too if used sparingly) and incorporate them into your meals and snacks. I particularly like snacking on a mixture of raw vegetables and Texan pickled okra, which one particular Walmart near me carries; the seeds in the okra pop in your mouth when you eat them, quite reminiscent of flying fish roe on fancy sushi.
posted by XMLicious at 6:26 PM on January 4, 2021 [2 favorites]

Here is my kale salad plan:
Curly kale torn into bite sized pieces (I wash and de-stem a whole bunch at once and then keep it in the salad spinner which then goes into the fridge, spinner lid on, so I have extra already prepped).
Lemon tahini dressing - the internet is full of recipes for this but my method is thus:
1/4 cup each lemon juice and tahini;
two tablespoons of water;
one tablespoon of olive oil;
A pinch of salt
A generous hand with the garlic powder
Mix it all together with a spoon. This lasts for a week in the fridge and makes enough for maybe four or five big salad portions.

After the kale is dressed i like to add one or more of the following:
Roasted and salted sunflower seeds
Hemp seeds
Yeast flakes

But really you could go crazy here with add-ins. Once the initial prep is done (washing and spinning the kale, making the dressing) throwing the salad together is super fast. Sometimes I stir in canned tuna and call it a meal.
posted by janepanic at 6:27 PM on January 4, 2021 [2 favorites]

Ah, it sounds like you're asking about how I would eat if left to my own devices. (My partner prefers more laborious foods and as long as he's happy to cook it, I'll eat it.)

Seconding the strategy of weekly batch of stew / starch + throw in some frozen vegetables and microwave the whole bowl.

I also think quick oats with an egg, cheese, and kimchi / fish sauce / other pickled vegetable stirred in is valid food, but others disagree. You could replace the oats with a tortilla and make a variety of scrambles / fusion jianbing.

For changing it up: buy quick-cooking noodles (buckwheat, maybe). it's as fast as packet ramen but not pre-fried, but you treat it like ramen in terms of improvisation -- electric kettle some water, pour it on a single bundled portion of noodles until the noodles bend (this lets you use a smaller saucepan, which is less to wash).

In about 3-5 minutes, remove noodles and add pre-washed or frozen greens and an egg / whatever cooked protein you have to the noodlewater; boil open until cooked. Throw in stock (i.e. anything from your own frozen chicken stock concentrate to a bouillon cube) if you want. Season with soy sauce and vinegar.
posted by batter_my_heart at 6:41 PM on January 4, 2021 [1 favorite]

It's less than five minutes' prep to drop frozen chicken and seasoning in the Instant Pot, and use that chicken in salads, sandwiches, and rice bowls. I like the pot-in-pot method for oatmeal. Instant Pot has an air fryer lid as an add-on to the 6-quart pot, but here's an 8-quart version + specialty lid set.
posted by Iris Gambol at 7:32 PM on January 4, 2021 [1 favorite]

Make 2-3 cups of rice at the beginning of the week and store in fridge.

-Quick fry egg in a bit of oil - no need to worry about getting it perfect or not piercing the yolk.
-Add a scoop of cooked rice along with a big handful of chopped kale (or some other green like it). -Stir and chop it up with the egg, and add in a squirt of soy sauce or liquid aminos, and a shot of sriracha/garlic chili sauce.
-Add pepper, salt, sesame seeds (or rice flavoring mix) to taste.
-When it's all hot and mixed together, eat!

Can't take more than 3-4 minutes! Super easy and really good, plus so few and simple ingredients that it's easy to track.

Also I can Nth the "combine your week's 5 minute preps into one" and make a simple whole-ingredient stew that you can chow on all week. Once you get the basics down, a stew practically makes itself after 5-10 minutes of chopping. For example, off the top of my head:

4c broth of choice
1/2c lentils
3 sticks celery (sliced)
1 small onion (diced)
3 carrots (sliced)
2-3 cloves of garlic (diced)
8-16 oz lean stew beef (proportions yours to choose)
1 tbsp dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste

Brown the beef quickly, toss in the onion and garlic, saute for a few minutes, then drop in the rest of the ingredients and broth, cover and let cook on low, stirring frequently for five-ten minutes but then every half hour for... a couple hours. You don't need to be anywhere near it. (proportions more for a few days than a week but you get the idea)

Start it in the afternoon, you'll spend 20 minutes actually doing stuff, and it'll be ready at dinner time, with plenty to stick in containers for later. Freezes well, may even improve after a day! Toss extra veg (leeks, crumbled cauliflower, diced potato etc) to bias it further towards that side.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 7:43 PM on January 4, 2021 [1 favorite]

I'm going to share my breakfast/snack strategy, since that's my only self-prepared mealtime (i've got other arrangements for other times), and I don't have a fridge yet in my side of the house:

1. powdered ingredients esp herbs & spices
2. freeze-dried foods.
2a. frozen veges & purees.
3. fermented condiments for flavour and nutrients
4. dry goods for my bulk (either curbs or vegetable protein ie soy or lentils)
5. a vacuum flask or mini slow cooker.

As you can see my compromise is, as a single person, is not having fresh whole foods as my first choice because of the storage and capacity to eat issue. Nos 1 & 2 makes more sustainable and shelf-stable solutions, and since you're in Toronto you might have as much success as sourcing them like me, because fwiw healthy food landscape in East Asian food market includes a lot of freeze drying whole foods in small batches and turning them into powder. Both for the adult food market but also baby food especially. And for the fermented condiments, if you want something with not too much distinct flavour profile, unless you're like me and you love kimchi daily or anything with that soy sauce taste, I really love adding some nutritional yeast as well for the glutamates.

Mind you, I'm a big fan of stews and soups of indeterminate character. So I make my stew the night before and bring them to boil and immediately pour it into the vacuum flask for it to finish overnight so I have something ready and not too hot.
posted by cendawanita at 8:54 PM on January 4, 2021

Oh, also do a search for "sheet pan suppers". People reminded me of this during my own last AskMe, where I was asking for simple dinner ideas for a somewhat different reason - but those are indeed dead easy. Most of them involve nothing more than chopping some vegetables, dumping them on a sheet pan, plunking a protein on there as well, drizzling olive oil over everything and chunking that in the oven. Most of the recipes you'll find online will probably be "serves four", but these recipes will be VERY easy to scale down to a single serving (a quarter pound of potatoes instead of one, two sausage links instead of eight, etc.), and the fact that you're cooking just for one will also cut down on the prep time (you'd only have to peel one carrot instead of six or whatever).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:33 AM on January 5, 2021

I rotate various strategies, depending on what I have available, what perishable ingredients need to be used up ASAP, and what I feel like eating.

I also like cooking big batches of soups, stews, tomato-based pasta sauces, etc., and freezing most of them in small containers (about 2-3 servings, so enough for 1-2 days, depending on what else I'm eating).

I have limited freezer space, so I avoid freezing full meals with rice or pasta -- it's much more efficient to store dry starches dry and either cook a small batch for multiple servings and keep it in the fridge (rice) or cook a single serving at a time (pasta -- even ordinary pasta doesn't take that long to cook, and I like to finish it with a sauce and pasta water in the pot).

There are starchy sides you can cook very quickly, like instant noodles (minus the flavour packet) or couscous or bulgur wheat.

Sometimes I just eat sandwiches, especially if I have made my own bread. In a similar vein, I really like salad wraps -- I pre-shred cabbage, carrots, etc., in small batches to use as a base for the filling. Too much at a time and it will dry out a bit, but I don't want to cut vegetables from scratch every single time.

I like roasting a whole chicken -- that can turn into a lot of different things. I usually eat the legs and thighs with a side, save the breasts for sandwiches or wraps, or to add to pasta, and save the carcass for stock. Stock can be frozen, and later be used as a base for various soups and other things. The meat can also be frozen if you aren't going to go through it quickly.

I also keep some frozen peas, corn, and mixed veg -- they can be microwaved for a near-instant vegetable side.

Fish can be frozen raw, quickly defrosted in a water bath, fried or grilled, and kept in the fridge for a couple of meals. Similarly you could make a batch of schnitzels, grilled chicken breasts and the like.

Eggs are great -- they can be a meal by themselves, or an addition of protein to something else.

You can make a batch of crepes or pancakes, keep them in the fridge, and eat them with sweet or savoury toppings (can be handy if you want a sandwich-like meal but have run out of bread).

Stir-fries are best prepared fresh, but are still tractable if you prep batches of cut vegetables and freeze raw meat (chicken breasts or thighs, etc.) in single portions that you can defrost one at a time. The actual frying doesn't take long.
posted by confluency at 5:41 AM on January 5, 2021

For Toronto specific - I order meals from Fresh City Farms and have always been pleased with them. You can also get a mix of meals and groceries delivered, which I find very useful.
posted by hepta at 6:20 AM on January 5, 2021

I'd say get an air fryer and one of those pressure cookers (Insta-Pot) and start cooking your own stuff. Those take no more than 15 minutes, but you do need to be prepared.
posted by kschang at 12:00 PM on January 5, 2021

Will you marry me? Just kidding. I eat the way you eat.

- Slice avocado, dump on some canned beans and a bit of salsa. Trader Joes Cuban Black Beans are the best for this.

- Apple and two mozzarella cheese sticks is a great breakfast. Moz is the "lightest" cheese.

- Hard boiled eggs - I eat them with Sweet Chili Sauce. They sell pre-cooked ones most places now or you can get an egg cooker.

- If your grocery store carries prepared tuna or chicken salad, dump a scoop in an avocado and flavor with Tobasco. (Btw, chicken and tuna salad freeze fine so you can buy a bunch at once.)

- Frozen burritos are getting (somewhat) healthier than they used to be. Microwave with a wet paper towel over them, add salsa and/or shredded cheese (buy the pre-shredded stuff in a bag).

- Trader Joe's frozen Indian Food entrees, including Naan. I like the Saag Paneer best. Put Naan in toaster oven at 425; pop entree in microwave for about 3 minutes. When the microwave dings, the naan is also ready.

- Trader Joe's chicken salad with steamed brocolli (you can just steam TJs' brocolli in the bag and save half for the next day) and balsamic vinagrette dressing.

Flavorings I like best: Feta cheese, shredded mexican style cheese, parmesan cheese, Pace Restaurant Style Salsa, Various bottled and canned pasta sauces and salad dressings. Salad dressing is great on everything, not just salads.
posted by bluesky78987 at 2:48 PM on January 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I’m in BC and found a local meal prep service and it has changed. my. life.

It’s freed up time on Sundays that I used to spend doing hours of meal prep for the week. There is enough variety and they switch up the menu so I don’t have to eat the same thing for five days in a row. I’m actually spending less money on food, because I used to buy a lot of aspirational groceries (fresh fruit, fresh veg, high quality proteins) and they would go bad in the fridge whileI avoided cooking. THEN I’d order takeout.

My lunches & dinners are between $13-$15. I often make my own breakfast (I found a Hamilton Beach breakfast sandwich maker on kijiji, game changer) or order theirs which is $7. They deliver on Wednesdays and Sundays so the food is fresh.

I wish I had a Toronto company to recommend. The only thing I can think to suggest in terms of searching is “CrossFit + meal prep + Toronto”. I definitely do not do CrossFit, but that seems to be their target market. Calories and macros are listed which is great for me from a weight loss perspective.

It’s a tremendous privilege and I’m very thankful for it. I highly recommend if it works for you.
posted by nathaole at 9:51 PM on January 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

I’m surprised nobody has mentioned Hungryroot!

I’m single and cooking for one for the first time in my entire adult life. It seems silly, but between my separation and pandemic funk, I feel like I’ve forgotten how to shop for and cook actual meals. I have ADD and am pretty lazy. Hungryroot has been great for me.

It’s expensive for food delivery, but you’re paying for health + convenience. I like that it’s sort of a combination between grocery delivery and pre-made meals. All their stuff is designed to be mixed and matched, eg grain+veg+protein, salad+protein+dressing, pasta+protein+sauce. They have suggested recipes, but you can add/remove things as you like or make up your own. Everything but the veggies is precooked; it usually only requires heating 1-2 elements in a pan or microwave. Everything is pretty healthy (like Banza noodles, cauliflower rice, gluten free sweets, etc). They also have a lot of ready-to-eat stuff like bean salads, egg bites, snack bars, etc.

I honestly can’t say enough great things about it. It’s been a great way to make sure I’m eating actual real food and not just surviving on goldfish crackers while some broccoli rots in my fridge.
posted by a.steele at 6:55 PM on January 13, 2021

Response by poster: Came back to say:

a) Thanks for the millions of really great super-simple meal ideas! I love them!!

b) For me, thus far, the actual soloution for me has been the suggestion that I try meal prep services, and the tips in finding them. I have tried a couple of them here in Toronto. What i am finding is:

- The convenience is pretty much unbeatable. Ordering/planning a week of meals takes 5 minutes (presumably less once I'm in a groove). Prepping a meal takes less than one minute of prep time (put the thing in the microwave or, if I'm feeling fancy, the toaster oven)

- The nurtrition serves my needs very well. As others stated: Many of these services are really designed for people who want to really watch what they eat for one reason on another, so they all have really precise nutrition info. Being able to track my food intake (especially calories) is really important for me, so these are great. So far, most of the meals are a little lower on vegetables than I'd like, but I just fix that by eating some very convenient extra veg on the side (baby carrots, a red pepper or two, maybe steam up some pre-cut brocoli florets if I'm feeling ambitious)

- Taste is "good enough" for me. These meals are not amazing, but I don't really care. They are pretty good. For me: Like a really, really *great* airline meal, or a good plate of leftovers from dinner 2 days ago.

- Price is about $13 per meal (canadian). Will be less when I subscribe. This is expensive, I guess, compared to a home-cooked meal, but way cheaper than most restaurant meals and *much* cheaper than ubereats.

I am super-happy with these!!!
posted by ManInSuit at 3:34 PM on January 16, 2021

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