No salt, no spice, no fun food
March 9, 2021 8:36 AM   Subscribe

For reasons, I need to eat a diet of foods that are low-sodium, not spicy, and require minimal chewing for two weeks. What are foods that I can put on my shopping list for this period? Bonus if they require minimal preparation.

I've already stocked up on a few things that fit this bill: jello, Greek yogurt, protein shakes, oatmeal, stuff for PB&Js. It doesn't need to be a completely liquid/mushy diet, but nothing too chewy, crunchy, or hard. So, toast is OK but raw carrots are not. I'm also guessing I won't really feel like cooking much, so things that I can just toss into the microwave or oven with as little prep as possible would be great. I thought about canned/jarred soups but almost everything I looked at has a ridiculous amount of sodium in it, which is a no-go.

I'm afraid I'm going to wind up just eating the above five things for two weeks which is less than ideal. I can meal prep a little ahead of time, if possible. I have no major dietary restrictions, so meat, dairy, seafood, etc. is all in play. Help!
posted by Fuego to Food & Drink (46 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Hummus. Baba ganouj.
posted by aniola at 8:43 AM on March 9, 2021 [4 favorites]

Soups that have been pressure cooked.
posted by aniola at 8:44 AM on March 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Potatoes and sweet potatoes! Both can be cooked in the microwave, and both taste good with simple additions; butter, Greek yogurt, whatever sweet or savory spices you can have.
posted by JuliaIglesias at 8:46 AM on March 9, 2021 [3 favorites]

If you don't have an instapot, do you have someone who can lend you one for two weeks?

For the pressure-cooked soups, pre-chop vegetables if that's going to be an issue. Or buy frozen pre-chopped vegetables. Add white rice and fresh dry cannelli beans. Those are both quite soft. Sunflower seeds will melt in your mouth if you pressure cook them. Dump everything in the instapot with water. Throw in a couple of your favorite spices. Add something sour (such as lemon or vinegar) when it's done cooking.
posted by aniola at 8:48 AM on March 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

Oatmeal can get monotonous.
For breakfasts, cream of rice, cream of wheat, cornmeal mush (polenta), grits (hominy grits), or buckwheat/kasha can give you similar meals with a wide variety of flavors.

Polenta with a ragout would be a good lunch/dinner option.
posted by Seamus at 8:48 AM on March 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

I bought a massive eggplant last week because it was pretty. Sliced it up, put it in a baking dish, covered it with some jarred tomato sauce and topped it with some parmesan, and stuck it in the oven until the eggplant had no fork resistance. Prep was less than 10 minutes. I put it on top of pasta, but that's probably optional. But it was delicious and soft textured.

My point is though, bake anything for long enough and it gets plenty chewable. There's plenty of food out there you can eat.
posted by phunniemee at 8:50 AM on March 9, 2021 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Cheesecake.
posted by aniola at 8:51 AM on March 9, 2021 [5 favorites]

Beans and rice, in a thousand variations.
A pressure cooker/instapot makes cooking beans a much shorter task.
posted by Seamus at 8:51 AM on March 9, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Ice cream
Pudding (Rice pudding or bread pudding could be good for breakfast. And you could also probably make a savory version.)
posted by NotLost at 8:52 AM on March 9, 2021

There are a million ways to make mousse. Cocoa powder + honey + yogurt is one version I used to make a lot.
posted by aniola at 8:53 AM on March 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

Lentils, although you will want to watch the sodium in any broth you might use. I would suggest some spices for flavor, but don't have particular recommendations.
posted by TheAdamist at 9:03 AM on March 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I would want a leftover quiche in the fridge going into this, if I were you. It's soft and reheats great in the microwave. Frozen pie crust, fill loosely with grated cheese and leftover cooked veggies if you have them, mix together four eggs and 1 1/4 cups of half and half. Add a little garlic powder and pepper, since you're off salt. Bake at 375 for 45 minutes or until set.

I often eat leftovers at room temperature, or microwave a slice for 60 seconds.

Macaroni and cheese would also work, though that's better fresh than as leftovers.
posted by gideonfrog at 9:09 AM on March 9, 2021 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I have a slow cooker, no access to an instant pot, unfortunately. Should have mentioned that I'm ok with the above list for breakfast/lunch (I'm not much of a breakfast person and only eat it when I wake up hungry, which is rare). Dinner options are more of what I'm looking for, would love to include some meat because vegetarian dishes often leave me hungry and unsatisfied.
posted by Fuego at 9:09 AM on March 9, 2021

Best answer: Baked fish (or pan fried fish) will be pretty soft textured. Do lemon an butter on top with garlic. Make with rice or a potato.
posted by AlexiaSky at 9:15 AM on March 9, 2021

Ground beef, especially if you make a point of breaking it down into smaller sizes, should work well with minimal chewing. Add a little dairy -- milk or cream -- during cooking to make it even more tender. So, something that would probably work well in your slow cooker would be rice and ground beef cooked in a mix of beef broth and milk, with whatever spices you want. Mushrooms would go well in that, or other small, soft vegetables like corn or pees.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:16 AM on March 9, 2021

Use your slow cooker to braise meat. My two go-tos are pulled pork and beef pot roast. The combination of the braising liquid and the long cook time make the meat so tender that it barely stays together.

In general, ground meat is easier to chew than whole meat, so you could do something like shepherd pie (ground beef and mashed potatoes).
posted by kevinbelt at 9:18 AM on March 9, 2021 [4 favorites]

any long cooked meat and vegetables will get soft.

Cut up some stew beef small, brown it (to build some flavor to compensate for the low salt aspect) and cook it a long time with potatoes, tomatoes, onions, wine and carrots if they're not too high sodium. Can prep this ahead of time and freeze in individual portions for microwaving.

if you look up recipes for real bolognese sauce you'll see they cook meat a long time, with milk for extra tenderness. Any of those should work and they freeze nicely.

also roasted veg. admittedly those are more delicious with salt, but lemon can do a lot to help. thoroughly roasted butternut squash is great and soft; ditto cauliflower. This is not as easy to freeze, but you can prep in the morning and stick into the oven 40 minutes before you want to eat. I believe cauliflower rice is commonly available frozen and unsalted.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:22 AM on March 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: would love to include some meat

Buy a sack of party meatballs from the frozen aisle. You can microwave them for 90 secs and throw them into nearly any food and they are perfectly edible. And very soft, made even softer because of the frozen/reheated thing.
posted by phunniemee at 9:23 AM on March 9, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: If you can do toast, you could do avocado toast--mush an avocado with a bit of lemon juice, put some fresh pepper on. Also goat cheese on toast dipping it in balsamic vinegar!
posted by foxfirefey at 9:24 AM on March 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Amy's low sodium canned soups are pretty good. I would add some pesto or sour cream to them to make them have a little more flavour.

I would be batch cooking some mild curries and soups and freezing them in individual portions. Then you can thaw them in the microwave, or over low heat in a pot with a splash of water or stock to get them started.

I'd also pick up some nutritional yeast for adding to anything you'd normally add parmesan to for lower sodium but still cheesy/nutty flavour.
posted by Sweetchrysanthemum at 9:25 AM on March 9, 2021

What about a baked ziti and meaatballs?
posted by notjustthefish at 9:29 AM on March 9, 2021

Best answer: Hard boiled eggs
Stone-ground grits - I like to top this with EVOO, a bit of cheddar cheese, and a lightly fried egg mixed in
Canned seafood in general - mussels, tuna if it's soft enough and low enough in sodium
Cottage cheese
Baked/mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes
posted by wondermouse at 9:38 AM on March 9, 2021

Swansons makes an unsalted chicken stock. It has 20 mg of sodium.
posted by kathrynm at 9:50 AM on March 9, 2021 [2 favorites]

Definitely see what your store has by way of prepped vegetables, like chunks of butternut squash, combos of stir fry veggies, etc. Also pick up some peeled garlic cloves if you find that fussy to deal with. You can roast most of these to get them a little browned and then store in the fridge. Microwave to reheat and they will rarely have much crunch left. You can also blend and make them into soups (winter squash is great for this) or simmer in a pan with other stuff to make a fast stew.

Frozen meatballs as suggested above might be too chewy maybe? If so, do ground meat of your choice in a thick meat sauce, which you can freeze into portions and top things with (like mashed potatoes, or risotto). Brown it in the pan with garlic and onion and herbs, your little bit of allowed salt, then dump in a slow cooker or put it in a covered pot in the oven with some liquids like wine or puréed tomatoes or stock, cook until delicious. Add some butter for richness, too. It’s probably too much prep but you can definitely do it just once and have plenty for a while.

Look for canned tuna with no sodium. The stuff packed in oil is leagues better than the stuff in water, even minus salt. You might be able to find other no sodium tinned fish, too. If acid is okay for you, definitely dress with lemon or your favorite fancy vinegar plus the nicest olive oil you have. If the crunchiness of an apple is okay, dice some up super fine and mix it in. Grapes are also good in tuna salad I think. It’s also nice to mix in some diced boiled egg. Eat maybe on lettuce leaves? Normally I’d go for crackers and mix in pickles and celery.
posted by Mizu at 10:06 AM on March 9, 2021

When I got my wisdom teeth out, the best hot meal was mashed potatoes and I used the bags that just need water added. Check for salt content and get unsalted butter and some herbs for flavor. If you can find low salt bacon bits, they will be good. Even the dry kind should soften up in the potatoes, but you might want to crush them up before adding.

If you can't find unsalted broth, you may make your own in slow cooker. Annie's makes reduced sodium mac and cheese, but one box still has 1000mg. This recipe from Hacking Salt has turmeric and paprika in it. You could skip those and premake a few servings for freezing.
posted by soelo at 10:27 AM on March 9, 2021

Best answer: Soft pasta bakes will work, if you don't have swallowing issues. The salt issue unfortunately means you can't just buy family-sized Stouffer lasagna (it's very mushy) and eat that, but it does mean you can basically dump the ingredients into a casserole dish or slow cooker and call it a meal.

Any recipe that calls for jarred tomato sauce (too salty), just substitute a large can of crushed or diced tomatoes, or two regular cans (especially if you can get the fire-roasted ones), plus Italian Seasoning and maybe some extra garlic if that doesn't count as spicy.

Whenever you make a casserole-y dish, try to sneak in extra vegetables and legumes that have fiber in them - use frozen cauli rice or chopped broccoli, canned green beans, frozen or prepped butternut squash, zucchini, white beans or chickpeas, spinach, etc. You don't want gastric consequences of abruptly going low-fiber/roughage.

Yes to frozen meatballs - you can chuck them into a slow-cooker recipe or casserole dish with your pasta bake, and they will cook soft enough that a fork-press will mash them into pieces - but check the label for salt. You may just want to chuck several pounds of ground beef into your slow cooker, add half a cup of water or broth, and stew it with occasionally poking to break up the clumps for a couple hours. Drain and package that up in portions to add to things later. (Or, obviously, just get a big pan and brown it all, or if a friend asks how they can help, ask them to brown up several pounds of unseasoned ground beef for you.)

You can use these as base recipes to modify as needed:

Slow cooker luxury mac and cheese, you can either add cooked ground meat or frozen meatballs to this, or have it as a side with a protein.

Slow cooker "stuffed" shells (perfect for frozen meatballs), the giant shells will be soft enough to mush apart with a fork, but you can also use little shells if you prefer.

Here is a broccoli-rice casserole that doesn't use canned soup so you can control the salt, and this is a pretty nice companion to a flaky whitefish.

Get a box of instant mashed potatoes, but not the flavored kind you usually find in the packets. You want the ones where the ingredients are just dehydrated potatoes and maybe a preservative. This stuff is the secret weapon of soft-food diets because it's not just for making mashed potatoes - it's a more nutritionally-useful thickener for soups or casseroles (where you can kind of use it like canned soup is usually called for), a batter for fritters, plumps up veg purees, and makes food stickier if there's also motor control issues.

Herb-Ox brand makes no-sodium chicken and beef bouillon cubes that are often available in larger grocery stores and definitely online. It will help to have those on hand for improving the flavor of unsalted foods.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:29 AM on March 9, 2021

Pastina with egg, using low or no-sodium broth/boullion. You can add these after microwaving (usually available at Target).
posted by oflinkey at 10:36 AM on March 9, 2021

This sounds like the perfect time for congee. Soft, savory, customizable.
posted by daikaisho at 10:38 AM on March 9, 2021 [5 favorites]

Oh, also - slow cooker chicken congee, which you can dress up a million ways with extra steamed vegetables, and the chicken that cooks in it should come out soft enough to mash into bits, plus you get all the benefits of cooking with the bones.

Chicken breast version from Cooking Light.

Don't forget to make some eggs to go with, and if you were going to treat yourself to any cooking equipment for getting through this, the Dash egg cooker is such a useful device, especially for softer eggs.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:38 AM on March 9, 2021 [2 favorites]

Any traditional stew should be fine. If they are cooked right you should be able to cut the meat with a spoon. You can make them in the slow cooker, but in my experience the oven at really low temperature is better. The slow cooker versions are more watery, and with low sodium you want all the flavor you can get out. How to cook the perfect beef stew.
As my grandmother got older, her teeth got worse and worse, not least because she was extremely afraid of dentists. And she didn't like spicy or salty food at all. She liked cooking a little Cornish hen or a squab in a pot on the stovetop. She just browned it on all sides, added finely chopped shallot and grated carrot (or you can just run both vegs in a food processor), let it bubble a bit, and then added wine or water and cream. Then cooked till the liquid coming out of the bird was clear, not very long. Fish up the bird and the pan sauce will be separated. She liked it that way, just whisked it a bit for finer fat-drops, but you can use some starch to thicken it up if you will. Add a bit of butter for shine and a rounder taste and a bit of lemon because you can add lemon to everything for brightness. Serve with mashed potatoes. This is something that would work very well with polenta or couscous, too.
Another dish from my bland food loving grandmother: you need fish filets, preferably from a flat white fish. Put them in a dish which you have prepared with a layer of butter. Now make a dressing of equal amounts of creme fraiche and whole cream, with a spoonful of mustard a little tarragon and some lemon juice and (salt) and (white pepper) to taste. There should be enough to cover your fish, so it depends on how many you are cooking and the size of your dish. For two big fillets in a dish where they fit, it could a cup each of cream and creme fraiche. Bake this in a medium hot oven for 20 minutes. Serve with rice.
posted by mumimor at 10:48 AM on March 9, 2021

Best answer: Honest to god, I would just live on ice cream.
posted by SLC Mom at 10:52 AM on March 9, 2021 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you for the suggestions so far. I'd like to emphasize the "as little prep as possible" part. Chopping, keeping an eye on things, mixing are all unlikely to happen unless I spend a couple of days ahead of time prepping. What packaged/prepared foods would be low sodium? That's probably the largest struggle here.

Ice cream and cheesecake are thusfar looking like the most likely possibilities.
posted by Fuego at 10:54 AM on March 9, 2021

yeah unfortunately the processed meat options like meatballs or nuggets are going to be high sodium... sometimes extremely high sodium.

You can buy ready-to-cook frozen beef burger patties (like this), and I think they tend to be unsalted - just appropriately shaped ground beef - so that might be a good option; just check the ingredients to be sure. Plus tbh I'm not sure how much thawing they need - it might be one of those things that if you want it for dinner, you need to remember to put it in the fridge the night before.
posted by fingersandtoes at 11:11 AM on March 9, 2021

Best answer: Nah, burger patties can be cooked directly from frozen. The plain ones are often just a markup on plain ground beef though, so if you’re doing anything besides searing it in a pan and maybe serving it with gravy and an egg loco moco style or on the traditional burger, just buy ground beef. Although they are more convenient for portioning.
posted by Mizu at 11:19 AM on March 9, 2021

Best answer: Do you have a steamer? If you're gonna be missing carrots, a bunch of steamed carrots (with zero prep, no peeling, no chopping) are gonna be darn near butter smooth. Toss a few quartered sweet potatoes, baby potatoes, and carrots into a steamer, steam for 12-15 minutes (the timing may vary based on your altitude and particular veg), badda bing badda boom. I had a broken jaw in my 20s and got very attached to this particular combination of steamed foods that still have a little yield but are completely edible without much force.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 11:35 AM on March 9, 2021

Best answer: Many, many vegetables can be prepared by steaming them for 5 - 7 minutes (depending on amount and on chunk size) in a microwave. If you can buy them pre-cut, that's super easy. You can them puree them to make a lovely thick creamy soup, or add them to mashed potatoes, or eat them as a side, or...
posted by Too-Ticky at 11:43 AM on March 9, 2021

Best answer: Super-simple pureed vegetable soups. You can make these yourself easy-peasy (my favorite squash soup is just some cut-up butternut squash thrown into a pot with a garlic clove, and just enough water to cover it over, and then you simmer that until the squash is soft and puree it in a blender; you can apply that recipe to any hard-ish vegetable you want), or just get some pre-made. If you get the pre-made ones, though, check the label to make sure they haven't thrown too much spice in there (people seem to really love throwing curry into squash or carrot soups).

You can probably also obtain or make black bean soup with similar ease.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:46 AM on March 9, 2021

Be aware that even plain chicken can be very high in sodium. This is because it is common industry practice to soak raw chicken in a salt bath in order to increase the weight. The only article I found about it is old, but I don't know of any reason to think this is no longer the case.
posted by FencingGal at 12:11 PM on March 9, 2021

Best answer: Canned low sodium/no salt added food is your friend here. Most things in cans have been over cooked, and canned food is often aimed at an older generation who are now being firmly told to avoid salt.

Canned fruit, such as peaches or mandarin oranges, with ice cream or yogurt.
Canned veggies, such as green beans
Canned beans or chick peas boiled on the stove until they are falling apart, drain, sprinkle with onion powder.
Canned low-sodium soup
Chicken livers fried at a very low temperature so they remain soft. Basically you poach them.
Rice pudding.
Cottage cheese, depending on the salt content, with apple sauce.
Check out the various soft cheeses for no salt added varieties.
Baby carrots, boiled or steamed in a pot on the stove until tender enough to mash. Or try frozen carrots. Cook with plenty of water so you don't have to watch them closely.
Over ripe avocado
Soft boiled eggs
Farmed Atlantic salmon - they are raised in small cages and get no exercise at all so the flesh is ready to turn to mush. Poach and drain.
Sticky rice. Look for the kind that is good for sushi or get arborio rice. Add a little extra water when you cook it to ensure maximum soft stickiness.
Frozen spinach.
Shredded wheat cereal, prepared by pouring boiling water over it and then draining any excess.
Frozen raspberries.
Baked potatoes.
Baked squash. Cut it in half before you bake it so it won't explode and wrap it in foil. Put it on a cookie sheet as it may leak out of the foil.
Ready to eat cups of pudding or applesauce.
Vegetable cocktail such as V8 or Clamato if it is labeled low sodium.
Couscous - add boiling water and let sit. Use a little more water than the instructions call for and let it sit a few moments longer.

Look for condiments that don't contain salt that you can add to the things you make, such as onion power (presumably not too spicy?) or basil, or cinnamon (potentially too spicy?) It might be worth getting a couple of sticks of unsalted butter. This can be added to boring stuff like baked potatoes or squash or to over-cooked macaroni and make things more interesting. Would a mild salsa be low sodium enough but not too spicy? A jar of that in the fridge might be convenient.

Look for a low sodium section in your grocery store. Some places have a shelf full of such things.
posted by Jane the Brown at 12:19 PM on March 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: When I had a really restrictive diet (no acid, nothing spicy, fatty or “rich”) I ate a lot of poached eggs, because they’re high nutritional return for minimal effort in little silicone egg poachers. I prefer them this way to hard or soft boiled, personally.

Also: avocados mashed on soft toast. You could put the poached egg on top.

A tip from the late Laurie Colwin—if you’re not on any acid restrictions, lemon juice can give the illusion of saltiness. I actually found with my restricted diet, it was the removal of acid that made food taste bland, not as much the removal of salt.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:26 PM on March 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

vegetarian dishes often leave me hungry and unsatisfied.

In that case, I recommend not living off ice cream and cheesecake, which will also leave you hungry and unsatisfied if you're anything like me.
posted by aniola at 1:51 PM on March 9, 2021

Make a load of home made pate, soup, risotto, and freeze it. Liver pate, mushroom pate...

Make bread and freeze it in individual slices

Buy a variety of soft cheeses - goat cheese, marscapone, ricotta, cream cheese.

Potato salad keeps for quite a while in the fridge.
posted by quacks like a duck at 1:56 PM on March 9, 2021

There's a soup recipe I copied from the Guardian, actually it is barely a recipe. Anyway, you take a pack of frozen garden peas (I think 600g) and a can of coconut milk. Heat through then blend. I think the original recipe included some olive oil but I don't bother with it. I put some seasoning in generally but works fine without, it is ridiculously easy but tastes good and really comforting.
posted by ElasticParrot at 2:28 PM on March 9, 2021

Best answer: Ensure or other nutrition shakes are relatively low in sodium (however, what this means can be different for different diets) and they are basically drinkable meals. They taste better cold. Meal preparation consists of pulling one out of the fridge and opening it.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 3:20 PM on March 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Egg noodles with butter are the nicest and most comforting thing, if butter is okay.
posted by capricorn at 6:13 PM on March 9, 2021

The Naked juices with protein in them are really good
posted by Jacqueline at 11:47 PM on March 9, 2021

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