General Question

Jerikao's avatar

What is easy to cook, healthy, cheap AND easily available?

Asked by Jerikao (286points) March 29th, 2010

I am currently working on changing my diet and improving my general health. This has involved eating smaller portions, eating less (basically no) junk food, and getting back in the habit of exercising regularly.

The problem is, I really like to cook. And… Unfortunately, most of the things I like to cook tend to be a little on the unhealthy side. Heck, I don’t even know how to cook things that are healthy that don’t just come out of a box or bag and get microwaved or baked.

I have no idea where to begin, when it comes to preparing a healthy dinner. I like meals that aren’t just.. Out of the box. They are boring. Any suggestions will be loved, thoroughly.

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40 Answers

njnyjobs's avatar

Fresh veggies and whole grains are good starting points in your quest for the healthy lifestyle. Without necessarily going vegan/vegetarian, there are quite a number of recipes you can try out to suit your own particular cooking ability and epicurian taste. Check out for quick and easy recipes.

crystalvegan's avatar

Here is a link to a TON of healthy recipes. I’ve made a few things from here and everything has been delicious. Bookmark the site and go back to it everyday to find something new. It has food for all tastes.

Jerikao's avatar

Hmm @njnyjobs & @crystalvegan : Thanks a lot for the links. I always welcome new cooking sites into the fold.

Any suggestions for different recipes that involve tofu and/or chicken specifically? I realize that @crystalvegan ‘s name implies she is well.. A vegan. But I figured I would ask anyways. : )

malevolentbutticklish's avatar

If you are in a rural area there may be a place near you where you can purchase a live chicken, turkey, duck, etc.

njnyjobs's avatar

@Jerikao search the site with keywords you’d like to see, (i.e. tofu, chicken) and it will list the various recipes that make use of the item.

jaytkay's avatar
“You can eat healthy, delicious food for an average of $1.12 cents a meal per person, based on grocery prices from January 2010. Every lunch includes a snack to be eaten when you like. Every day includes at least one dessert, two servings of fruit, and plenty of fresh vegetables. You can take this same menu and cooking plan green for just $1.89 a meal: less than six bucks a day per person using mostly organic, sustainably grown, and kindly raised ingredients.”

And another vote for

WestRiverrat's avatar

A simple way to reduce calories and cholesterol is to change the meat you use in your recipes.

Instead of beef, use bison/buffalo. Instead of processed chicken, get it from a farmer’s market, or use pheasant.

caribou/reindeer meat is one of the best for high protein, low fat, low cholesterol.

Bronny's avatar

frozen spinach!!! with some margarine and a little lite italian, it’s fabulous!!! for an extra treat, cut up fresh tomaters and white mushrooms

crystalvegan's avatar

@Jerikao – The first thing I did when I changed my diet was go out and get some cookbooks. I bought every cookbook that Isa Moskowitz had written. She has a total of 4 now. I go to them every week to plan meals for myself and my husband who is also vegan. Her stuff is unbelievable. I especially LOVE her chickpea cutlets which can be found here -

Another place I frequent is – A girl that lives in Boston started a blog one day and she’s kind of famous now. She actually just wrote a cookbook so I’m literally in heaven now.

My third and favorite recipe haven is

When I find a recipe I like, I just print it out and stick it in a folder next to my cookbooks.

lilikoi's avatar

Depends where you live. What is locally available and in season is your best bet. When you go to the grocery store, only buy things from the periphery – skip the middle aisles where all the processed crap is.

crystalvegan's avatar

@Jerikao – PS. I was once told that the best way to grocery shop is to get 90% of all of your groceries around the perimeter of the store. It’s the aisles that kill ya…

Jerikao's avatar

@crystalvegan Don’t I know it. And thanks again for those wonderful sites. They have all been bookmarked and I am presently going through each site and scanning recipes.

@lilikoi Funny that you should mention the exact same thing as @crystalvegan right below you. That was cute. I generally do that anyways, though. Overall, I buy pretty okay groceries. It’s just the way I cook them that tends to be less than great. Afterall, I was raised by white trash and rednecks for the most part.

But anyways, I really like a few of these recipes and conveniently, we need to go grocery shopping fairly soon. : )

anartist's avatar

Try cookbooks by Sheilah Kaufman for lots of easy, healthy, largely vegetarian things—
Simply Irrestible: Easy, Elegant, Fearless, Fussless Cooking
Sephardic Israeli Cuisine
Turkish Cuisine
and abut 35 more

Also Molly Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook, an oldie but a goodie

gailcalled's avatar

Brown rice, black beans and corn..Throw several spoonfuls of salsa on top.

Scramble eggs in the microwave; add either some low-fat cottage cheese and dill snippets, or our friend, salsa.

mollypop51797's avatar

A healthy lifestyle includes exercising, eating right, and moderation. It’s ok to eat a little unhealthily once in a while, but don’t eat very little or a lot. However, pasta is a pretty easy task. What about making a pasta primavera? Just boil up some pasta, cut up some vegetables, and mix them all together. What about stir fried vegetables those are always yummy.

You can still keep to the same things you regularly eat so you don’t have to alter your eating preferences, but try to add a little less of salt, or butter. Instead you can use olive oil as a substitute. Good luck!

SeventhSense's avatar

I’m on the same page. I’m working out hard and watching what I eat.

Drop the sweets and the processed flours, cereals and add whole grain breads in moderation, whole grain pastas, veges and lean meat and fish. Careful with the regular pasta. It’s not much different than eating a bunch of white bread. Eat only whole grain. Ronzoni makes a good one that’s not gritty. Don’t overlook canned vegetables and fruits without added sugar as well. Often they can be quite affordable with the same nutritional content and they don’t spoil. Just remember to drink the water. Tons of vitamin content.

Replace the OJ with V8. You don’t need all that sugar and it won’t help the weight. Drink it once a week and have the V8 every day. And again you can buy bottled V8 in bulk unrefrigerated and it won’t spoil.

One of my favorites is chili. Uber healthy, tons of protein and can be made with or without meat. You can make a huge pot on a shoestring. Even with a pound of chopped meat or turkey you can make it for under 10 bucks and eat for a week. Here’s a really great Chili Con Carne recipe. It’s easy to make and delicious. A whole slew of others there that look quite promising as well. I’ll see you on the beach.

MoneyMakingMommy's avatar

Definitely plan in advance. That’s so important like @crystalvegan mentioned. Like her, I’m cooking for more than just myself – so the bigger the crowd, the more thought – at least with my family it does – so I plan each week’s meals. But I always include a salad with each meal (dinner). Always. Maybe it’s fruit salad, maybe coleslaw with a lighter dressing, maybe just a regular salad with lots of veggies, even bruschetta that’s not too fattening is nice to start a meal with if it’s fresh tomatoes, basil, a touch of olive oil – but that goes a long way to fill you up. And all the cutting and chopping is like meditation for me…and the kids can help too.
I recently saw somewhere that you should only eat “four-legged” animal meat ONCE a week. And I’ve been working my way to that for years. There is too much emphasis on a big ole honkin’ piece of meat being the MAIN part of a meal. We use meat like a condiment or seasoning a lot….not the centerpiece.
I wish you success – you will love the way you feel when you get away from tons of sugar and processed foods. It’s made a huge difference for us.

susanc's avatar

Check out the blog “BITTEN”, written by Mark Bittman, the food writer (not a restaurant reviewer but a cooking advisor) for the NYT. He’s very health-conscious, simplicity-addicted, and engaging.

Neizvestnaya's avatar

Cheapest beef or chicken meat to slice into strips
1 can of Rotel salsa
1 potato halved lengthwise and sliced
1 cup of fresh or frozen mixed bell pepper slices
1 sliced onion

In a large skillet, brown the meat, layer the vegies and pour the can of salso over the top and slow simmer for an hour. Stir everything up to mix the juices and wrap in a flour tortilla with minced salad greens and diced tomatoes.

thriftymaid's avatar

Steam vegetables and make a loaf of fresh bread.

WestRiverrat's avatar

@Neizvestnaya sounds good. I would use a halved leftover baked potato instead of the sliced potato. Cook the rest of the ingredients as noted and pour over the baked potato. Then you can eliminate the tortilla if carbs are a concern.

Neizvestnaya's avatar

Yes, baked or fresh, the potato breaks down and makes “gravy” from all the juices. I used to save leftover bits of steak for making this.

lilikoi's avatar

@Jerikao Oh! I call jinx! I always eat oatmeal for breakfast, with raisins mixed in. If I’m feeling fancy I might add some nuts or other dried fruit or bananas or berries. Lunch I’ll eat leftovers or just graze on various fruits/veggies. Dinner I tend to make a large variety of stuff. Chili is a good one, spaghetti is the easiest thing ever, pizza (can be a LOT healthier than delivery!!) is also pretty easy especially if you don’t use yeast, baked salmon is quick – I serve w/ rice, seared ahi, poke and rice with some poi…hope that helps. Dessert I don’t always feel the need for, but sometimes I just crave yogurt and berries. Smoothies are also quick and easy and delicious (use frozen bananas or other frozen fruit which negates need for ice cubes; bananas provide all the sweetness necessary), then add other fruit, maybe some yogurt, and juice of choice.

SeventhSense's avatar

Portions are really everything too. We all need to get used to eating normal portions again. We don’t need to eat until we feel like we’re THANKSGIVING DINNER stuffed. It’s normal to feel like there’s still some room left in the stomach after a meal. You want the body to burn fat after all.

If you look back over the last 50 years people are sometimes surprised that people ate the types of food that they did but we seem to have more of a problem with obesity now. Well if you look back at some of the portions they were nowhere near what they are today. A Coke used to be 8 ounces back in the day and then it went to 12 ounces and then it went to sixteen ounces and now it’s a bucket with free refills. And diet soda is even worse.

The French are an excellent example of eating in moderation. They eat extremely rich food of every shape, texture and food group imaginable and they are not fat. But they have normal portions and they are satisfied with ONE chocolate truffle and maybe one croissant with coffee. It doesn’t have to be layered with sausage, eggs, cheese and dipped in honey and deep fried.
Of course this type of eating will wreak havoc on your sugar/glucose levels and your metabolism. It will just get stored and stretch the old adipose tissue. I find it’s best to space my meals as well. Sometimes I really feel that portion size is not enough but if I eat it slow and then a couple of hours later eat a handful of almonds or some carrots, maybe celery with natural peanut butter I don’t feel deprived. There’s a real scientific basis to keeping the metabolism revved up.

Neizvestnaya's avatar

@SeventhSense is right about portions being so important. I have a hard time cooking for just two people and have a tendency to put too much food on my partner’s plate because I want him to “have enough”. Now I’ve been using the salad sized plates to serve on or at least eyeball the food would fit on there before laying out on a dinner sized plate.

SeventhSense's avatar

I like the salad plate idea.

mrrich724's avatar

Ratatouille is fantastic. I just had it at work today. And it’s all veggies.

Neizvestnaya's avatar

Ratatouille is great! It’s even better when the .99 cent stores where we live put a bunch of squash and bell peppers on sale. I serve it over wide egg noodles, rice or slices of toast.

SeventhSense's avatar

I just thought of another:
Onion Soup. Cheap easy to make and onions are good for the blood.
Easy to make as well.

simpleD's avatar

Bulk beans & grains and fresh produce. I’ve recently tried to get back to that after too long a time buying prepared foods. On my last trip to the co-op I stocked up on bulk items. I ended up with 5 bags full for $100 – half the cost of what I would normally pay for 3 bags.

For less than $8 I made 5 bean & vegetable chili in the crock pot. Served it for dinner for 3 and still had enough to freeze for another dinner and 2 lunches.

Yesterday I made the Moosewood’s Lentil Soup recipe, with spinach added. Again, under $10 for 6 servings.

WestRiverrat's avatar

Another way to get cheap ingredients is to learn what grows wild locally. Then you can gather or harvest your own for just the time it takes.

I have mushrooms, asparagus, wild onions, dandelions and cattails as well as several nut and berry bushes/trees readily available.

SeventhSense's avatar

Eat the right mushrooms and you won’t care what’s for dinner.

WestRiverrat's avatar

@SeventhSense You are right. I just picked my first morels of the year this afternoon.

SeventhSense's avatar

What part of the world are you in?

WestRiverrat's avatar

South Dakota

jeanmay's avatar

If you have a Korean market near you and you fancy trying something different, check out this lady’s recipes. Korean cooking is so simple, healthy and delicious! These recipes are easy to follow and include advice on finding the appropriate ingredients.

YARNLADY's avatar

Raw, fresh fruits and vegetables and nuts – forget ‘cooking’.

Kardamom's avatar

Cooking Light magazine has tons of great recipes you can check them out at this link

Vegetarian Times is another terrific magazine full of recipes, check it out here

And Prevention magazine has a section just for healthy recipes. See it here

Go to the book store and check out the cookbooks, especially the ones in the vegetarian and special diet sections. Bon Apetite!

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