Thursday, April 15, 2010

Cheap, Sensible, and Simple

Not only am I trying to plan a cheap, sensible and simple wedding, I'm trying to live a cheap, sensible and simple life. Of course, wedding planning adds a certain imperative to the cheap thing. And wedding planning puts some extra oomph in my long-term sensible/healthy living efforts. And wedding planning (in combination with work, volunteering, life, and blogging) has made simple even more of a priority. And that's why, today I wanted to talk about oatmeal. Yes, oatmeal: the unsung hero of cheapo, lazy, wanna-be healthy bums like myself.

Some people might argue that peanut butter sandwiches are the ultimate end-of-month/post-tax reckoning/year-of-wedding-budget-saving meal option. In fact, several fellow budget-conscious women and peanut butter fans spent yesterday on twitter sharing peanut butter delicacy options (all of which made me hungry) including:
  • the old standby, PB&J
  • PB & Banana
  • PB & Banana & Honey
  • PB & Mashed Banana with Cinnamon & Sugar, grilled like a grilled cheese sandwich
  • PB & Bacon
  • PB & Bacon & Maple Syrup, also grilled like a grilled cheese sandwich
While reading this conversation, it wasn't the bacon references that got to me (though really? would this work with turkey bacon, which is the only sort of bacon we might ever have around?) it was the obsession with sandwiches as our cheapo food of choice. Because really, everything on that list would be just as delicious and a lot more filling, if it were in a bowl of oatmeal (minus the grilling, obviously. And I'll have to take everyone's word on the bacon).

As I try to move away from processed foods and towards filling, healthier, whole food options, oatmeal has been become a rockstar go-to staple. And no, I don't mean the instant packet crap swimming in sugar. I mean stick-to-your ribs, real whole grains, actually-cook-it, oatmeal. Because my lazy bum discovered that, if you have a really large bowl you can cook delicious oatmeal in the microwave in four minutes (stir once! and make sure the bowl is HUGE if you don't want it to bubble over and create a mess). And oatmeal is loads more filling than bread (unless you do homemade bread, in which case it's made of real ingredients and is actually filling. We don't have time to bake real bread, so I chose oatmeal.) And oatmeal is surprisingly low-calorie for such a filling option (seriously, you won't need to eat anything for hours and hours.) All this makes it a perfect running-late-for-work/didn't-pack-a-lunch/don't-want-to-spend-$7-at-the-local-food-joint healthy, filling, lazy-bum alternative. With half a cup of oatmeal, one cup of water, and a dash of salt, my cheapo-healthy-oatmeal options include:
  • oatmeal & pb & banana
  • oatmeal & banana & strawberry
  • oatmeal & strawberry & peach & crushed almonds
  • oatmeal & whatever fruit I have available & half a cup of plain fat free yogurt
  • any combination of oatmeal & fruit & dried fruit & PB & yogurt & nuts & cinnamon you feel like
And for dinner, I've been known to concoct oatmeal & salsa & scrambled egg. This makes me think the bacon girls totally have a viable option with oatmeal too.
 
Yeah, I could cook homemade meals every night and save money and keep myself healthy. Or, more likely, Jason could cook homemade meals and I could appreciate his amazing cooking and leftovers. But some weeks are rough. And some meals don't have leftovers.  And sometimes we just fail at keeping all juggle-balls in the air and finding time or energy to make dinner or go shopping. And on those days, instead of paying $7 for lunch (or dinner) near the office, I've been turning to the massive container of oatmeal I keep in the office kitchen. 

But for the days when oatmeal or PB&whatever sandwiches are no longer appealing, I was thinking some of you might have cheap, healthy, tasty, real-food, lazy-bum lunch alternatives too. Because frankly, I've been lazy a LOT lately, and my oatmeal concoctions are getting a bit old. So what are some of your fave I'm-broke-from-planning-a-wedding-but-still-want-to-be-healthy-even-if-I'm-lazy meals? If it requires real-real cooking, that's not precisely what I'm looking for. I have a fabulous lentil soup recipe and can make a whole chicken in the crock-pot, but I'm talking laaaaaaazy. Couscous level lazy. PB&J lazy. Because that's how I'm feeling this week.

32 comments:

  1. Well you said the one I was thinking of: couscous. It's food you make with a kettle - the best type! I think the humble omlette (takes as long as toast, lovely filling protein) is also overlooked as a beautiful quick meal. Lots of good things that can put into them, or for the best quick food hit ever: omlette sandwich. MMM.

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  2. This is my new go-to dinner when I feeling lazy/tired/overwhelmed. Takes 15 minutes tops, made with stuff I always have in the house and is super tasty: http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2010/01/omelet-with-white-beans-and-green-onions-recipe.html

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  3. I like cucumber and hummus sammies or egg sammies. Cheap and easy.

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  4. you know what is even easier than oatmeal? muesli! some days i am too lazy to microwave oats at work and just eat them raw instead (with sunflower seeds/nuts/dried fruit already mixed in), and then i realized that there is actually name for this and it is muesli.

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  5. Eggs! With whatever veggies you happen to have on hand, and some cheese if you're feeling fancy. You can even cook them in the microwave. When I am feeling particularly motivated, I'll hard boil a bunch of eggs, and then you have a portable snack!

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  6. ... although I suppose this isn't for people who are seriously concerned about cholesterol intake.

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  7. Hahaha, I have been on a big oatmeal kick for the last month. But I started so that I can try to lower my cholesterol. I have been tossing all kinds of stuff in it: wheat germ, flax seed, toasted almonds and walnuts, and maple syrup. Today though was wheat germ, flax seed, plain yogurt, crasins, and maple. :) Yum! And I have also been eating quinoa a lot recently!

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  8. I found a chickpea noodle soup on Fresh365 recently that I'm excited to try. Canned garbanzo beans are like 79 cents and we always have noodles handy (but STAY AWAY FROM THE RAMEN. it got me through the cheap days of college but now that I'm label-conscious I can't believe I'm not dead from that stuff!)

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  9. great cheapies: anything with beans. i love chickpeas and white beans. the white beans are great just cooked with spnaich, tomatoes and garlic. garbanzos are great roasted with tomatoes and garlic. ha ha notice a theme? also i love peanut butter sandwiches with sliced apples and cinnamon and sugar. also any of the 'eggs in hell' recipes aka eggs in spicy tomato sauce.

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  10. you know, I made granola from scratch (which is surprisingly easy, just time consuming for our tiny apartment oven) and now I love eating granola and yogurt for snacks.

    for an easy- healthy (ish) meal, we usually eat Annie's Organic mac and cheese LOL. I like to TELL myself it's healthy (er) (made with real cheese and you can get whole wheat pasta). and I completely adore their bunny pasta- cuz it's bunnies... i mean. come on.

    not sure if it's available in LA though...

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  11. @ Julia - how did I not think of that?! You've just given me at least another month of freedom from the oatmeal blahs.

    @eggy folks. Yes, I had a poached egg with spicy sauce this morning. Not sure why I always forget about eggs. Hmm.

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  12. I make this quinoa salad (with whole grain quinoa) and it lasts forever!

    http://www.self.com/fooddiet/recipes/2005/09/quinoa-salad

    it's also easy to change up, last time i made it with edamame, dried figs, and walnuts

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  13. Avocado and cheese bread sandwiches. Do you get out to the farmer's market much? I'm not sure if this bread company is everywhere, but they're at the Pasadena and Alhambra fms and they sell this DELICIOUS cheddar cheese bread (the ingredients are normal, wholesome bread ingredients! ;), and I like to scoop out half an avocado into the bread and eat it that way. Very filling (also a bit fattening, but still healthy if dinner is not so fatty) and delicious.

    Hummus is great, couscous is great (I stir fry some vegetables in olive oil with curry powder and soaked lentils and mix it in... not *really* cooking), and my go-to lazy lunch recipe (or dinner recipe, really) is to cook some rice in the rice cooker (can't get any lazier; I don't even have to time it) and eat it with steamed broccoli and soy sauce. If I'm feeling really adventurous, I'll fry an egg over hard and throw it on top with some chili sauce. It's kind of the best.

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  14. I can't believe that no one has mentioned salads!! In high school, I used to come home and make a salad on a tortilla, wrap it up as a burrito and dig in. And the best part: it is... healthy (based on what kind of tortilla you use, and dressing of course), fast, and it is so lazy proof, you don't even dirty any dishes!

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  15. Are you me? Because I keep a canister of real oatmeal at work, too. WTF.

    I'm going to limit my response to work-friendly lunch items, for that's what kills me every week (I never eat lunch out, ever). Trader Joe's Sesame Soba Noodles with Vegetables. Found in the frozen section. You can nuke it in its container for maximum ease, but I've been trying to get away from plastics, and you can totally just open the package and dump it into a regular bowl and nuke it that way. 250 calories, not a bad (read: chemical-laden) list of ingredients. Runs somewhere around $2-3 each.

    If you have a toaster, I like to get TJ's whole wheat pitas, toast them, and spread mashed avocado on top. Personally, I like to add smoked salmon, but we're staying away from meat here. I also love sprinkling pine nuts or almonds on top. Yum.

    Hmm. Let me think some more.

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  16. Quinoa! Its as easy as making rice and is better for you than couscous!

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  17. I stopped eating processed foods about a year and half ago. I can't begin to express how amazing it's been for my health and my body.

    Oatmeal is my go to breakfast of choice, but because I'm lazy and prone to run out the door instead of taking 5 mintues to make breakfast, I premake it. I make a big batch of oats (I use steel cut) and portion them out for the week. I stick to a 2:2:1 ratio of water, milk of some sort (regular, almond, coconut, etc) and oats then add a banana some vanilla and salt. Adding the banana makes adding any other sweetner unnecessary. Your savory oats ideas sounds yummy! Going to give that a try. It reminded me of this recipe from Mark Bittman.

    My cheap-o, lazy, non-cook(ish) meal is sardines and brown rice. I usually have cooked brown rice in my freezer (I make batches and freeze individual portions). I mix a can of sardines with chopped tomatoes, chopped onion (red being my favorite), and soy sauce and dump it on the rice. In fact this is going to be my dinner tonight since the boy is working late.

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  18. @kc you FREEZE your brown rice?! tell me more, please. Because I swear the time involved with brown rice has dissuaded me from many late-dinner cooking attempts.

    And I never add sweetener to my oatmeal. And I love savory oatmeal, and love it even more now that I know it's Mark Bittman approved. Vindication! I will have to send the link to J, who generally gives me a weird face about my oatmeal.

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  19. Brown rice (any rice really) freezes really well! In fact you can buy pre-made brown rice in the freezer section at WF if you want to skip the making process all together. I put individual portions in freezer bags. When I'm ready to use it I throw it in a bowl with a sprinkle of water and pop it in the microwave. In college my go-to cheap meal was brown rice, an over-easy egg, with a dash of soy sauce and Tabasco.

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  20. Savory oatmeal is kind of blowing my mind here. Will have to try that soon.

    I would love to really move away from processed foods, but I'm finding the idea a bit daunting; anyone have a good book/website/how-to to help ease into this lifestyle?

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  21. This might be more chopping than you're interested in, but drained chickpeas, a handful of Italian parsley, a clove of garlic and 1 whole lemon (juiced), a little salt and pepper and lightly mashed is delicious on whole-wheat pitas or on greens. It's like a better for you, lumpier, tastier, home-made hummus.

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  22. i. love. you.
    i'm all about lazy food. but lately i've been trying to make it healthier. and it's usually time-consuming and expensive. i've fallen in love with roasting. pretty much anything. 400 degrees, olive oil+salt+pepper for about 15 mins, even super picky fiance will eat it. stir fry too, thanks to jamie oliver's food revolution show, throw some meat and veggies in a pan with some herbs and sauces and it's done fast. one pan dishes are the best. saves clean up time.
    but on really busy days i've been known to eat spoonfuls of peanut butter or cheese and deli meat (i call it my protein shots!) keeps me going until I can get to a full meal.

    @margaret - seriously check out Jamie Oliver. he's brilliant!

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  23. @Margaret - I'm finding it easiest to approach it gradually, building up recipes and knowledge as I go, but cutting out the worst stuff right away (factory farmed meat, eggs and dairy primarily.) Once we agreed to buy organic for those, we HAD to cut back, based on affordability. We then tackled a few breakfast options we like, some dinners (using those for lunchtime leftovers) and some easy grab-and-go lunches (oatmeal, in my case, obviously.) Lots of beans, chili, soup, whole chicken, quinoa, vegetables, and fruit. For recipe ideas, I'm really liking http://www.101cookbooks.com/ with its focus on on natural, whole food ingredients and tastiness.

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  24. Lazy and cheap lunches, LOVE it. I'm a big fan of oatmeal (mmm, brown sugar), so that's a go-to. I, too, always forget about eggs, which is horrible; they're fast, easy, delicious, and healthy. My go-to for lunches is yogurt with granola or cereal, or a bagel. And I second the nomination for anything with beans-- they're hearty, healthy, and cheap. YUM.

    My biggest problem right now with food & finances: helping the fiance cut back on eating out. He has an allergy (milk/whey), he doesn't like sandwiches, he's not a breakfast guy, and he needs something FILLING (he's a big dude). The only lunch food we've found that's a winner for him is the big cans of Progresso Chicken Noodle Soup. I'd love to find some variety for the poor guy... and something cheap/non processed.

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  25. @Sarah: My fiance is tall and likes substantial meals too. He's been very happy with our cook-once-a-week options of: quinoa (and veggies, meat, sauce, whatever), chili (bison, bean-based, organic ground beef, whatever), lentil soup, cous cous with tomato, cucumber, chicken and balsamic (or whatever) and other forms of leftovers. Crock pots have saved our life. We can make hearty cheap dinners and use it for leftovers afterwards. Also, make our own burritos in one giant batch of 20 (do the fillings via the crock pot again), freeze them and take them to work. He can live on those for a few days, easy.

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  26. Wow, there are some really creative ideas here! Hummus with whole grain pita bread or the "Alternative" pita bread that has tons of fiber is one of my favorite lazy meals. I guess it counts as processed, but mini wheat cereal (not necessarily frosted) is very filling too, and takes all of 20 seconds to "make." Sometimes I'll just do cheese, turkey sausage, and crackers. These are all dishes that require no pots, no cooking, and about no more than 1 minute of prep time.

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  27. Don't know if anyone else is still checking in on this post (thanks for the tips!), but I wanted to share a recipe we tried today - super fast, pretty healthy and tasted *awesome* (i've never tried sardines before today):

    http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/sherried-sardine-toast-recipe/index.html

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  28. Oatmeal is definitely good cheap healthy filling food. I don't usually like walnuts, but I like them in oatmeal, with cinnamon.

    I've also heard of a way you can WAKE UP to the smell of hot, already prepared for you oatmeal. You can stick it in the crock pot on low to cook overnight! I haven't tried it, but it sounds like a fun experiment since you're looking to make it more interesting. Also, I've heard that you can make oatmeal with apple juice instead of water, and add cinnamon. No sugar needed. That sounds pretty good too, though I never tried it.

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  29. Fabulous idea about freezing serving-size portions of brown rice. I am so excited to try that because I almost never make brown rice because it takes so long and I don't plan ahead enough. I'm also interested in trying savory oatmeal sometime... :)

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  30. I like to make some cous cous (actually, I usually use leftover CC for this), put it in a pan and crack and egg into it. I throw this mix on top of a spinach and tomato salad with a little Amy's Roasted Red Pepper dressing. Delicious!

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  31. Wait, wait, WAIT-- frozen burritos?! Made from scratch?!? I think that might just save my guy, too. Details, if you please-- cook, wrap-- then what, tin foil? I'm so curious.

    As for the rest... sigh. Boy doesn't really like soup (!?!), wasn't a huge fan of chili the last time we made it (crock pot leftovers going BAD instead of getting eaten), and isn't a huge fan of chicken. He has expensive and picky tastes. OY.

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  32. I do cous cous with chopped tomato, onion, and garlic mixed with olive oil, salt, pepper and a little bit of lemon juice. I discovered it while throwing food together while camping, and now I make it all the time.

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