Super Simple Meal Ideas/Recommendations. The following meal ideas are terrific for people in a hurry who want to get stuffed on quality food for cheap. Stock your pantry and fridge with a few particulars like beans (canned or dry, but pre-soak the dry), salsa, dark leafy greens, eggs, oats, and whatever fresh veggies are in season. Don’t forget the garlic and spices for upping flavor, reducing salt cravings, and boosting nutrition. I push cooking with coconut oil and butter for a lot of reasons, but number one is because they are stable fats at higher heats and thus ultimately far safer to ingest (and inhale, because that will happen, too). Plus, they taste damn goooood.
- Scrambled omelet – Two or three eggs (pastured if possible because they have far more nutritional value) cooked in butter or coconut oil over medium low to medium heat. If you want to add other stuff and still make it quick, sauté veggies like zucchini, shiitakes, onions, spinach, garlic, and after preferred level of doneness has been reached, drop your eggs in the pan and stir until ready. Add some small chunks of aged cheese like parmesan or prima donna for extra goodness.
- Eggs and greens – Sauté dark leafy greens (kale, bok choy, collards, etc) in butter or coconut oil, and plate with two eggs any style.
- Oatmeal – For those without grain sensitivities I recommend steel-cut oats because they are DELICIOUS and taste like they have cream in them even when they don’t. The key to making them more quickly is to place a serving in a pot with the correct amount of water and let it soak overnight. You will likely have to add a little water in the morning. OR – at night bring them to a boil, take them off of heat immediately and let sit covered overnight for an even faster breakfast. Reheat in morning and add butter, nuts, cinnamon, maple syrup, dried fruit, etc cetera [Butter will make you feel fuller longer and also aids in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, cinnamon is great for easing inflammation, maple syrup is loaded w/ B-vitamins, nuts have protein and quality fats].
- Healthy granola – homemade is great because you can make it how you like it. Recipes are easy to find on the web and easy to make, too, but there are plenty of good store-bought kinds, regular and gluten-free. Granola is always a better option than store-bought cereals, which are not good for you no matter how “natural” they claim to be. Sure, there’s a good bit of fat in it, but fat is not the enemy, sugar is. Try eating with coconut milk beverage (vanilla is my favorite), kefir (good for repopulating your gut bacteria), or Greek yogurt (I prefer 2% fat, and the brand Greek Gods is my personal favorite for its deliciousness and modest price compared to Oikos)
- Breakfast salad – chop up veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, zucchini, kale, garlic whatever you like, and toss in a pan with butter over medium heat. Cover for faster cooking. Add beans for more protein, fiber, and fullness. Drop an egg or two on the top when veggies are close to finished and stir in until done. The difference between this and the scrambled omelet is that the ratio of veggies to eggs is MUCH higher. Top with salsa or sriracha if you like.
- Pancakes – the key to making healthy pancakes is in what you add to the mix. I start with a gluten-free ready to go mix (Pamela’s is my favorite), but any reputable brand free of trans fats will work (avoid Bisquick, argh!!). For the oil I use coconut (always extra-virgin and unrefined). Add ground flaxseed (for Omega-3s and fiber), shredded coconut (awesome texture, taste, and good for you, too), pecans or walnuts, chopped fruit like peaches, bananas, or even thawed frozen blueberries (I thaw them in a cup of water or otherwise batter around them won’t cook), maca root for a superfood boost, and usually an extra egg and maybe a little more water than recipe calls for to balance out the extra dry ingredients. To top, use coconut oil or butter, maple syrup, of course, OR try greek yogurt, apple butter (amazing), applesauce, or fruit preserves. Some people even top with peanut or almond butter. Chime in with your ideas!
- Kale Ranchermus – start with a couple of spoonfuls of hummus on your plate, then top with sautéed leafy greens or raw, more tender greens, then two eggs over easy (or how you like), then topped with salsa or fresh tomatoes.
- The Breakfast Salad works for any meal, see above.
- Black bean tacos – sauté garlic and onions in a saucepan, add can o’ black beans and stir until hot. Put corn or flour tortilla in a separate skillet with a little butter and fry it up a little. Flip and add cheese while still in the pan, cilantro, peppers, and top with bean mixture. Wrap it up and EAT.
- Beans with salsa and poached eggs and veggies – this one is a favorite standby, simple but makes you feel like you really done some cooking (though really, you barely have). Throw a can or two of whatever beans you’re in the mood for, half a jar of salsa give or take a few ounces, and throw chopped veggies and garlic in to stew with that for awhile. Season with cayenne and turmeric (both great anti-inflammatories), cumin, pepper, and stir until veggies are a little less than as done you like. Add an egg or two once mixture is simmering, and delicately fold bean mixture on top of eggs so they cook more evenly. When eggs are desired doneness, scoop and eat.
- Soup with shredded greens beneath – about as easy and fast as they come. Chop kale, bok choy, or collards into half-inch strips, fill up half a soup bowl with them and top with hot soup. Great way to make your soup way more filling and nutritious.
- Salad — sounds super-obvious but I had to make sure. Make a salad any freaking way you want to. The possibilities are virtually limitless. For the basic standard, start with spinach, romaine, arugula, or spring mix, and add the simple stuff. Red onion sliced thinly, pecans, walnuts, bell peppers, baby carrots chopped into little sticks, tomatoes however you can find ’em, garbanzo beans, sunflower seeds, hard-boiled egg, leftover chicken or pulled pork, bacon, I could go on and on. Salads can be a great way to clean out your fridge drawers before your next shopping trip. And if you’re out of decent salad dressing, emulsify some apple cider vinegar with olive oil (I do one part vinegar to 2 parts olive oil) and whatever random herbs and spices you feel like tossing in, maybe a splash of lemon juice to boot, and shake it up in a jar ’til well-blended.
Local Restaurant Tips (for Athens, Ohio). This is just where I happen to be a decent amount of the time, and I love eating out in this town because there are so many healthy, locally-owned restaurants with locally-sourced and sustainably farmed food. Start making your own list of easy meals on the cheap in your town. A lot of my favorite options are great because they’re one huge kind of pricy meal that becomes two perfect-sized cheap meals for two people. It helps to have an eating partner with similar tastes, of course. Most of the reason that meals in restaurants are so huge now is so they can justify charging a lot for one meal. Once they’ve made a meal, it’s not expensive to add a little more to it to persuade you it’s worth the bigger price tag.
- Pita Pit – get a salad with spinach and romaine, and meat if you want it. Get them to throw the meat on the grill with mushrooms and onions (mushrooms shouldn’t be eaten raw), and load it up with veggies! Don’t forget the hummus and avocado. This is a great deal for around $6.50 because you can stretch it out to two meals or be happy to be stuffed on mostly vegetables, the BEST kind of food to be full of. Add your own dressing if you’re taking it home (or brought it with you, crazy person) or try their SECRET SAUCE, which is apparently the banana pepper juice with oil and herbs. So much for secrets. I hope.
- Subway – similar as above. If they have spinach, though, and not all of them do. Tuna salad, which I think is great, on top of a spinach salad with all the veggies is about $5.50
- Casa Nueva – Taco Salad with vegetarian chili comes with cheese, tortilla chips, and micro-greens as well as a side of salsa, is $7.
- Village Bakery – soup and bread (or sub corn tortilla) for just $4. Sourced locally and great quality. Call ahead for soup choices.
- Fluff – same deal as Village, and they also have rice bowls for $6, as well as often locally-sourced ingredients. The flourless chocolate brownie may not be the healthiest option, but it’s rich and grain-free and utterly decadent at $2.50.
- Purple Chopstix – weekend brunch is a splurge at $15, but it is super-tasty, includes beverages and dessert, and is all vegetarian. I’ve only been once and I crave it every weekend I’m in Athens. Call ahead so they waste less.
- The Farmacy – also has soups from local sources, as well as tasty Turkey and Havarti wraps and homemade dressings, but their salads are the best bang for your buck (as in most places). (Coffee is also cheap at $1.29 and freaking good, too)
- Chipotle – go for the salad/naked burrito. Go light on the rice and cheese and skip the sour cream which they glop on, and you have a great bowl of beans, veggies, and all the salsas if that’s what you want, for around $6. They also claim their meat is happier than your basic standard, but it’s still a chain, so I kind of doubt it’s a huge step up.
- Jackie O’s – locally sourced amazing salad greens. The Greek Salad is the bomb, at $7 or $8. You can really taste the difference in the vegetables here from Pita Pit and Subway. The portions are somewhat smaller but damn, it’s great food. They also have local happy burgers.
Terrific Points to Remember:
- Drink water. It’s good for you and it’s free, and often when you feel hungry you’re really just thirsty. It will take up room that food otherwise would. Sugary beverages are hands down the number one way to kill yourself and get pretty gross along the way, and fructose is the worst form of sugar for you. We’ll cover that in more detail later.
- Split your meals whenever possible. Halve your bill, waste less food, and leave less stuffed. Most restaurant meals are too big for just one person.
- Season your food. Turmeric and cayenne are great examples of potent anti-inflammatories and everyone can benefit from using them in as many meals as possible. Studies have been done that say 1/2 tsp. cayenne is an appetite-suppressant. A little pepper multiplies turmeric’s anti-inflammatory effects, which is a great example of synergy in action, which leads us to our next point –
- Eat whole foods as much as possible. Our bodies evolved alongside with every other animal, dependent on the sun and the rain and food from the ground and meat from animals. Our bodies do NOT know what to do with processed, fractionated, shelf-stable, homogenized foods. When we eat them our bodies compensate for what those foods lack by causing you to crave other foods, i.e. we eat egg whites, our body craves the yolk that goes along with it. This may not manifest as a craving for egg yolk, but will show up as a craving in some area.
- If you eat fruit, try to eat it as a meal unto itself, not with other foods. Fruit skips some of the beginning steps of digestion that other foods have to go through to break down, so when you combine it with other foods, the fruit has to wait around until everything has to move through. This can cause bacteria to attack and indigestion to set in, resulting in gas as well as in food that is now blowing your belly up instead of moving through normally. Also, fruit has many benefits, like antioxidants, anthocyanins, and compounds we don’t even know about yet, BUT it still has a lot of sugar. Try to keep fruit consumption low in the first place, and aim for the most nutritious ones of the bunch. Avoid fruit juice altogether. Once it’s pasteurized it loses almost all of its nutritional value, plus it has none of the fiber real fruit has to slow down its entry into your system. BOOM, insulin spike, stressed liver, chaos reigns and diabetes is crushing you. Well, not exactly, but over a few thousand similar events combined with other food stressors, sure.
- Cook with stable fats. Extra virgin olive oil is fine for salad dressings and low heat applications, but isn’t stable enough for higher heats, and more and more articles are coming out exposing vast amounts of “olive oil” as not olive, i.e. cheap and crap. Avoid letting your cooking fat of choice ever reach its smoking point. Most oils say on the back of the bottle what temperature the oil can reach before smoking. Use butter, coconut oil, sustainably harvested palm oil (i.e. not from a clear-cut rainforest), bacon fat (from pasture-raised pigs), or lard. Trust me. Also see my “Fat is Fantastic” blog. There I give a long list of reasons to embrace saturated fat and why to mostly avoid vegetable oils (and thus fried foods from restaurants, too).
- Avoid homogenized dairy products. They enter your bloodstream as soon as you drink them and your body goes into freak-out mode, producing mucus to line your digestive system to keep the foreign proteins out. This is bad on multiple levels. Also, seek out slow pasteurized milk if you still feel compelled to drink it (and don’t have access to or don’t like raw milk). This process, unlike flash-pasteurization, is less likely to denature proteins and turn it into yet another factory product that your body doesn’t know how to handle.
- Try to eat fermented foods whenever possible. This is more difficult (due to availability) in the US than in most other parts of the world, and our guts show it. Fermented foods like kim chee, kefir, tempeh, and more keep our second brain (our gut) in good working order, meaning we digest and absorb our food more thoroughly. This translates into needing to eat less food because we’re getting more out of it, and becoming a whole lot healthier to boot, i.e. superhuman. I’ll talk more about this later. Check out this website and others for more info:http://akealife.com/blueprint-for-life/nutrition/fermented-foods/
- Buy organic when you can, but if you can’t, just eat as many damn vegetables as possible. An important point to remember is that insects also often go for the most nutritious foods, like kale, collards, bok choy, strawberries, et cetera, and that means that they are often the most heavily pesticided foods. Take advantage of your local farmer’s market if you have one. When you can’t buy organic, make sure you wash your fruits and veggies in a bowl full of water with a splash of apple cider vinegar, which is a natural, effective cleanser.