As I've mentioned before (multiple times), I am a lazy cook. If I can afford to go pick up the meal, I'm probably gonna go pick up the meal.
Of course, when one is trying to eat healthy, picking up a meal that's healthy-ish and cheap is a near-impossible feat! Good for you food fast tends to be more expensive; seriously, getting a meal-sized salad or adding a side of steamed veggies is more expensive than just eating the fries that come with most meals!Of course, when funds are limited, that's not an option, either. So what's left to do but order the cheap, bad-for-you option? Especially when cooking just takes sooooo long...
I've found that, for myself, the less time I have to spend prepping, the happier I am to cook from home. One thing that saves prep time is to buy cheap shortcuts, such as frozen veggies and frozen sides like rice; I try to avoid processed sides like Carb-A-Ronis because there's so much unknown crap in them! Even cheaper is to buy the stuff fresh and freeze it yourself, which I'll do when I can with things like rice or beans.
Here's three of my favorite quick meal ideas for when I want something fast, tasty, and don't want to eat from a fast food restaurant!
Parmesan tilapia + brown rice + frozen veggies
I use this recipe, and it is so tasty! It's also super-duper easy. I love seafood, and tilapia is a fish that doesn't taste "fishy" if you're not usually a fish person. Plus fish cooks fast, which makes it ideal for quick meals! (It also defrosts fast in water if you forgot to throw it in the fridge to defrost!)
Changes I make to the recipe is to add a little garlic powder (because garlic is awesome), and to bake it at 400 degrees F for 15 minutes - works great every time. (My oven sucks at broiling, hence the change.)
I buy Trader Joe's frozen pre-made brown rice (although I'll be making the effort to cook big batches of brown rice in my rice cooker for the foreseeable future and freeze it in 1-cup servings), and warm up some broccoli or other frozen veggie in my microwave steamer, and BAM. Dinner is done in about 20 minutes (not including defrost time if the fish was frozen).
"Baked" Potato + Chili (canned or frozen pre-made) + salad
You wouldn't think this would be so darn filling, but it really is - and yes, it's fast, too! How can it be so fast? Well, "baked" is in quotes because when it's late and one is hungry, it's time to just microwave it. Scrub it good, poke it with your fork a few times, and pop it in the microwave for 6-8 minutes (the bigger the potato, the longer the time needed). Russets work best for this. You sacrifice the crispy skin of the oven, but personally I feel the flesh being soft is more important in this case. (Of course, if you're not in a hurry, throw 'em in the oven for 45-60 minutes while you get other stuff done!)
I don't even warm the chili from the can beforehand - I just cut the potatoes, dollop as much chili as I want on them, then toss them in the microwave for about 30-60 seconds to warm it up (the hot potato will help with this also). Throw some grated cheese on top of the chili potato (or nacho cheese if you want to make it insanely delicious), and whatever else you like on baked potatoes, and serve it alongside a big green salad so you're getting SOME veggies in your system. ;)
I only need one potato half, because I tend to buy big potatoes, plus the beans in the chili have all that delicious fiber that fills me right up! I don't mind canned chili, but if you have a recipe you like, you can make it on the weekend when you have the time, then save some for a quick meal like this during the week!
Who doesn't love a good soup? I loooooooove soup! I would eat it in the summer, even, except it's so darn hot. However, taco soup is my exception to this "no soup in summer" rule. For one, it's really thick and doesn't come across as "soup", but there is a great broth with it! For another, it's FREAKIN' DELICIOUS. It also makes a TON, is a one-pot meal, and freezes beautifully. The best part? 30 MINUTES, START TO FINISH. Even less, if you can't stand to wait when the smell of it hits your nostrils. Mmmm... Ok, let's share this darn recipe so you can get to cookin'!
1 lb. ground meat (beef, turkey, chicken, etc.)
1 packet of taco seasoning (or 3 tablespoons of homemade taco seasoning!)
1 packet of ranch dressing mix
1 15oz can of chili beans (pinto beans are fine if you can't find chili beans, you'll just miss out on the chili sauce - but it's not super-essential)
1 15 oz can of black beans
1 8 oz can of corn
1 cup of water
(Some people like a can of diced tomatoes in their versions, and pour the whole can in, juice and all - if you want to do this also, the can & juice should replace the cup of water)
Toppings: grated cheddar cheese, sour cream, avocado slices, salsa or hot sauce, crushed-up tortilla chips
In a big pot, brown the ground meat, and drain off the fat. Pour in all the other ingredients - don't drain them! You're using the liquid to create the soup base. Stir it all together, and bring to a boil. Once it starts bubbling, turn it to medium-low and let simmer for 20 minutes minimum. Spoon it into bowls, add your preferred toppings, and NOM NOM NOM NOM NOM. Instead of crushing up tortilla chips, I'll actually use the chips as my spoon. YUM SO GOOD. This is also amazing on top of a bunch of lettuce as a "taco salad" filling. Oh man, I need to make this soon, I'm craving it now!
So here's three of my favorite quick meals - they're easy, and in the case of the Taco Soup,the ingredients are shelf-stable (and freezer-stable, i.e. the meat) so it's always there as a back-up. A busy weeknight shouldn't deprive you of a tasty and better-for-you-than-fast-food meal!