Hi, I’m Lilly, a guest contributor for @ninniforlife. She has given me exclusive rights to post on her site, so I’m taking advantage of that. I want my first guest contributor post to be something useful, so I’m going to share some advice and ideas on food preparation. I actually started this post way back in December. I apologize that I completely forgot to finish it until now, but y’all haven’t been missing much – JUST AN INVALUABLE JACKPOT OF INFORMATION ON HOW TO COOK IN THE SIMPLEST WAY POSSIBLE FOR NEXT TO NOTHING. Yeah.
This is for those of you who hate spending money on ingredients, feel guilty about eating out a lot, and/or just don’t have that much time to make a fancy meal. ahem, college students
I recently went on a trip to Austin, where I had to cook/prepare food quite a bit, unfortunately. I was obviously excited to try out the cuisine in Texas (which lived up to its legendary standards), but one must save money, you know. Therefore, I made use of a dining game plan which I formulated using 3 categories; no effort, slight effort, and effort. Depending on your skill level, what fits into these respective categories might surprise you. However, adjustment can be made according to your experience in the kitchen. What fits into these categories are simply reasonably healthy ideas that can give you the inspiration to feed yourself (as opposed to eating out), when you previously had not the gumption to for lack of ideas. AND, this is all done taking your level of laziness at the moment into account.
Let’s limit this present post to “no effort” eating. This is a category where you might have to, at most, open a can, press buttons on a microwave, use the stove a bit, or have to slice something up. The following are 7 ideas if you have the munchies and want to put in just about zero effort.
- Fruit salads. Fruit, although sugary, is GOOD FOR YOU and easy to make. Why neglect it? Trust me, you’ll feel a lot better about yourself after snacking on grapes than after smashing a big mac. If money is an issue, go for the low-hanging fruit (bad joke?). Apples, pineapples, and the big ones like cantaloupe, honeydew, and watermelon, can all be found cheaply… great bang for your buck. This is just to name a few fruit options. When traveling, it is a good idea to stop in at a grocery store to grab some produce for a picnic instead of paying triple at a restaurant where you inevitably order something carb-alicious. When you’re on the road (and have no home base) grocery stores don’t immediately come to mind, so remind yourself to keep this open as an option. Also, you are free to include as many varieties of fruit in a fruit bowl as you choose, so you can spend very little time on this lovely dish.
2. Soup. No, you don’t have to get your Rachael Ray on to do this. I’m talking about the kind of soup dinner where you go to the store, grab some cans of soup, dump them in a bowl, heat the stuff up in the mike, and enjoy. Who doesn’t love a nice, big, homemade pot of soup, but we all need to face reality. Ain’t nobody got time to prepare made-from-scratch soup most days. If you pick and choose your cans, you can eat dinner for under a couple hundred calories, smile over spending $1-$2, and have spent zero effort on the meal prep. I utilized this quick-fix quite a bit in Texas, I admit (between visits to taco stands). Oh, and try to go for the low-sodium alternative soups if you can.
3. Eggs and toast. Come on, admit it – cleaning the pan after you’re done is what makes this so hard. IF you’re up to doing that, this is an effortless meal. Okay, yeah, you have to multitask when you’re trying to get the eggs and toast hot at the same time, but this is basic stuff. For fried eggs and toast: 1) You throw some butter/oil in the bottom of whatever size pan you want. 2) You set up some bread in the toaster to be popped in at “the crucial moment.” This bread can be whole-wheat or downsized to just one slice for a healthier option. 3) You crack an egg into the pan and have the option of putting a lid on for that perfect film over the top (assuming you don’t break the yolk, you oaf). 4) A short while after the egg has started to cook, you pop the toast in. 5) Now you wait. When the toast pops up, go ahead and butter it and put it on a plate. 6) If you’ve timed it right, the egg should be cooked to perfection by now. Slide it just so onto the plate. 7) Enjoy your homemade breakfast, lunch, or dinner (eggs are most definitely not just breakfast food, in case you didn’t realize). You really only need a minimum of three ingredients: eggs, bread, and butter. Super easy. Add some salt and pepper to taste or garnish with bacon, sausage, or avocados if this becomes too boring. You also have a multitude of ways to cook an egg to choose from, like poached (don’t even have to fuss with a stove), but fried eggs are my personal favorite.
4. Dip and dippers. Dip refers to salsa, hummus, cheese, thick salad dressing, Tostitos queso, sour cream, or guacamole. Dipper refers to chips, random vegetables like carrots or celery, bread, crackers, or triscuits (I don’t even count these as crackers – we all know they’re a different breed of food). What could be easier than taking a miscellaneous dip-able food item and dipping it in a semi-liquid of your choice? I would like to include a tiny disclaimer at this point in this post:
THESE SUGGESTIONS ARE PRETTY MUCH COMPLETELY BASED ON WHAT MY OWN TASTE IN FOOD IS
Back down to business. Contrary to what you might think, guac is just not that hard to make. At most, you mash up some avocados and throw some random other stuff in there like tomatoes, onions, cilantro, lime juice, garlic, cayenne, salt, black pepper, sugar, cumin, juniper berries, a couch, and a polar bear. Yeah, too much work. Completely unnecessary, which is the best part. There is a secret when it comes to this recipe: guacamole tastes just as good when you add lemon juice and salt to mashed up avocados… Add a half pound of couch for extra tang. As for the dippers for this dip, pretty much anything tastes good covered in guac. I tried dipping chicken in it the other day. Needless to say, it was lovely. However, for you run-of-the-mill people, I would suggest yellow corn tortilla chips.
I leave the rest of the dip/dippers brainstorming up to you – there are endless possibilities, both insanely simple and insanely complex. Just make sure to fit Nutella and sour cream in there somewhere. I am trying to spread the love for these two favorites of mine.
5. Caesar salad. Okay, here’s a quickie: an enormous plate of romaine lettuce, parmesan cheese, creamy dressing, and a frugal number of croutons. I hate to rain on my own parade, but the caesar is not that healthy for a salad. Nobody cares about that though – salads are easy to make and super delicious. As we are talking about caesars in particular, I have to mention that the Cheesecake Factory has an enormous caesar salad that is the epitome of what a caesar salad should be. I am always one to scoff at ordering a salad at a restaurant (“Better to go to Safeway and buy a whole bag of salad for a gazillion bucks less.”). HOWEVER, I am never disappointed in the large caesar at the Cheesecake Factory. They are extremely generous in their portion size (it’s like a three-person meal) and their romaine is somewhere between sub-par and decent (which is saying a lot).
6. Simple sandwiches. You have some basics in this category – standard deli meat sandwiches with lettuce and maybe a tomato or two. What it comes down to is whether you’re a turkey person or a ham person. I have been avoiding these sandwich types lately because I realized that pounds of deli meat are sold like Pandora charms – just as expensive, but slightly more useful. Also, deli meat is packed with preservatives. Truthfully, I’m not completely sure what these are or how they preserve food, but they sound like something to be scorned. If you must partake of deli meat, try putting it on a toasted croissant. These babies are underrated. People queue up to order ham and cheese croissants at French bistros, but they just will not make that crucial decision to buy the croissant value pack at Costco. Such a pity.
I am including the PB&J in this section. Throwback to childhood when your parents were AWOL at dinnertime and you rounded up some dry bread (ends – all that would be left) and slapped on some old jelly and creamy peanut butter (you didn’t like crunchy because you were ridiculously immature at the time, and therefore didn’t know any better). If you want an easy snack, why not choose the cheap little PB&J and reminisce on childhood meals?
The last sandwich I will mention in the simple sandwiches section is “The Sandwich.” The best of the best. The ultimate late-night inspiration. The glorious Grilled Cheese. Who doesn’t have a crazy 4am memory associated with this magical combination of bread, butter, and Mexican cheese? If you don’t, you were either cheated out of a happy life or still have yet to make your grilled cheese memories.
7. Quesadillas. If you’ve got tortillas, cheese, and some kind of random meat, you’re gold. Come to think of it, if you’ve got tortillas and cheese, you’re fine. I regret to inform you all that this DOES require skillful use of an oven. You have to gasp preheat the oven (I have no clue to what temperature – 350 is a popular one though), and put your little quesadilla inside on a piece of tinfoil (best results are when this is torn perfectly into a lopsided rectangle). Unfortunately, after it’s in the oven, you have to keep tabs on your food until it’s crispy. If you are skilled enough to make grilled chicken (props to you), it will be a valuable asset to you in quesadilla-making.
The day after a chicken dinner, otherwise undesirable chicken leftovers can be diced up into an unsuspecting tortilla. Most importantly, when making this food item, keep it on the down-low. Everyone knows that quesadillas are cut like a pizza and anything that cuts like a pizza must be shared. Why should you have to share your beautiful masterpiece of a quesadilla? On a side note, if you’re willing to exert the extra effort, tortillas can make pretty good makeshift pizza crusts. Apparently some people put peppers and tomatoes into their quesadillas, so feel free to try this. Pairing sour cream is a must.
Bonus round: random little snacky supplements. Okay, these just vary based on your taste, but I am going to give you an idea of what these might be. Pickles. Tuna. White cheddar popcorn. Toll House cookie dough. Everyone has their go-to, zero-effort snacks. If you don’t have a few of your own favorites (highly unlikely), you need to find some. I find nothing more pleasing than taking down a jar of dill pickle spears.
If you have perused all 7 of the tips in this post, congrats. You may now have an improved idea on how to spend no effort and little money on providing food for yourself. If you prefer to live life wasting time preparing overly complicated meals, I regret to inform you that you’re a serious overachiever. If you prefer to live life spending an exorbitant amount of money on things like $75 bottles of wine and $8 mac n cheeses at Panera… I have no words. You better be making six figures. This post is meant to help put a stop to this kind of shameful behavior.
I have tons of other no-effort dining suggestions, but I just can’t muster the… effort… to write about them. Stay tuned for posts on slight-effort and effort in food preparation.