Wednesday, February 1, 2012


Tonight I went to to log my workout scores for today, & instead have ended up writing a new post.  The first thing I read in the recent comments was a question I used to have to answer for myself all the time:  how do you eat healthy when time & money are scarce?  
I have found that it is very hard to eat healthy & save money unless you make time to prepare your meals.  If you rely on grocery store or restaurant conveniences, you pay with money, calories, & food quality.  No matter how busy my schedule is, 99% of the time I make time to prepare healthy meals, just like I do for exercise. 

Below are some of the tips & meals I lived off of when I worked full time, went to school full time, had an hour long commute 1-way each day, & was trying to get out of debt (I'm glad those days are over!).  I still prepare meals in bulk & use many of these tips.  I know that I don't have all of the answers to this question & you may not like the limited tips/meals I suggest; if anyone reading this has ideas, please share them! 

1.  If you have a 1-3 hour bit of time available in your week, cook/prepare multiple meals in bulk.  This will save you money & time.  I used to cook during the 1-2 days a week I didn't have to work after class.  If you can, prepare more than one meal at once.  For example, two soups with the same base can be prepared & cooked at the same time.  You can also make salad bases while the soup cooks.  You can make 3 bulk meals in the time it takes to make 1 batch of soup.
2.  Try to plan meals with common ingredients.
3.  When meal planning, improvise with what you have....don't pick 5 recipes from a book, buy all of the ingredients, & end up with half-used items that go to waste.  Instead, get used to keeping healthy staples on hand that you use as a base for meals & accompany them with fresh produce/meat/protein/dairy.  
4.  If you are not a morning person, prepare as much of your breakfast & lunch as you can before going to bed.
5.  Wash dishes & clean up the kitchen as you go.  That will keep you from having a mountain of dishes to clean after marathon sessions in the kitchen.

Cottage cheese or yogurt + fruit + nut
I buy the largest containers of yogurt & cottage cheese because it's always cheaper per ounce than small containers. I spoon 1 serving into a 16-oz mug & add fresh/frozen blueberries, fresh/frozen strawberries, cantaloupe, or fresh/canned pineapple & a few chopped nuts (almonds, pecans, or walnuts).  I'm not recommending that you do the same, but I usually eat this in my car.

Oatmeal + liquid + fruit + nut
I love oatmeal, but not instant oatmeal.  I buy the largest container of old-fashioned rolled oats (5 min cooking time stove-top) or I buy them in bulk bins.  You can make a large batch of oatmeal stove-top & freeze individual portions, or make quickly each morning.   In the same mug mentioned above, I make this very often:
1/2 cup oats
1 cup liquid (I love vanilla almond milk, but use whatever liquid you want)
a little natural sweetener if you need it 
a little nutmeg ( or cinnamon, cloves, allspice...whatever you prefer) 
microwave the above for 2 min, then add in:
dried, frozen*, &/or fresh* fruit (raisins, currants, cranberries, cherries, apple, banana, pear, berries).  *If you are using apples, pear, or frozen berries, microwave with the oat/liquid mix.
a few nuts, chopped 

Hard-boiled eggs
If you like eggs, this is a great cheap protein.  I usually boil 6 eggs at once & use them over a few days.  Typically I will have 1 or 2 a day with my oatmeal or in a salad at lunch.  You can easily boil some eggs while you make dinner, prepare bulk meals, clean, or get ready in the morning.  Use a timer so that you don't forget about the eggs....I accidentally left mine boiling for an hour once.  :/
Here's the best technique I've found for hard-boiling eggs (Williams-Sonoma's Risotto cookbook) :
Bring the eggs & water to a boil, then turn off the heat.
Let the eggs sit in the hot water for 20 minutes.
Remove the eggs from the hot water & put in cold water with a few ice cubes.  You can put them like this into the fridge, or drain from the cool water & store in the fridge.  I drain them & store in an airtight container.

A piece of fruit + nuts &/or hard-boiled egg(s)
This might be the simplest on-the-go breakfast of all

Bread of choice + nut butter of choice + fruit

Breakfast smoothie
Smoothies are quick, easy, portable, & are flexible in ingredients & quantities.  Here is my favorite smoothie recipe, which I make in a 16-oz Magic Bullet blender cup.  
1/2 cup oatmeal
a few nuts
yogurt (1/4 cup) or milk (6-8oz)
+/- 1 cup frozen fruit 
A handful of fresh spinach
fill the rest of the cup with water

Fruit, cheese, nuts, vegetables, white bean dip, yogurt & berries (a small portion), granola, tea (I keep nuts, tea, & coffee at work.)
In a 16 oz Magic Bullet cup (or food processor of choice), add the following:
1 can drained & rinsed Cannellini Beans (White Kidney Beans)
1 lemon, juiced
1-2 garlic cloves, peeled
1 Tbsp fresh rosemary
salt & cayenne pepper to taste
2 Tbsp olive oil
Blend.  You may need to add more liquid; I use water.
Enjoy with fresh vegetables  
(plan on brushing your teeth after eating this delicious garlicky treat!)

Salad + protein
Salad doesn't need an elaborate description.  If you have time, buy fresh lettuce & vegetables; wash/dry/store it yourself.  If you do not, buy bagged lettuce or spinach, carrots, etc.  I used to make 2-3 days worth of salad at a time.  In containers, I pack the "dry" ingredients (lettuce, carrots, green beans, green onion) separate form any "wet" ones (tomato, cucumbers).  Here's cool idea for storing salads ahead of time from (not my title). For protein, I use low-sodium nitrate-free deli turkey, eggs, lean steak, tuna, or salmon, but mostly turkey or eggs.  Choose whatever you like.  I use olive oil, balsamic vinegar, & spices for dressing.  Sometimes, I eat leftovers on dry salad for lunch.
My Favorite Salad (at the moment)
3 large romaine lettuce leaves, washed/dried & torn into pieces
a handful of spinach, torn 
1 green onion, chopped
3-4 baby carrots, cut into matchsticks
1/2 apple, diced (I do this right before I'm going to eat the salad) 
3-4 raw or toasted pecans, in small pieces
4-5 raw green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
4oz deli turkey (or roasted turkey, or chicken if you prefer that)
balsamic vinegar & olive oil (a little of each)

Soup is one of the most economical bulk meals to prepare.  An entire pot can feed you for several days, & you can freeze containers for easy grab & go meals.  Homemade soup tastes much better than canned, & has a fraction of the calories.  As a broke student, I used to frequently make turkey chili, black bean soup, chicken & vegetable soup, split pea soup, & navy bean soup.  I never followed a set recipe, but I did use the same base for most soups:
Basic soup base
1 onion, diced
2-4 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
2-3 celery stalks, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
liquid (broth or water)
a little salt & pepper
Sauté the onion in olive oil until translucent.
Add the garlic & sauté for 30sec-1 min
Add the carrot & celery & sauté for a few minutes

Here is my recipe for Split Pea Soup
My aunt taught me to make this soup.  It's easy, healthy, & fairly flexible.  This is great with crusty bread or croutons.

1 bag of split peas.  I think the standard bag is 16oz.  Rinse the peas & inspect for stones
1 onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced (I tend to use more...4+)
2 celery stalks, diced
2 large carrots, diced
olive oil
2 quarts water (I would use some broth for the meatless version) 
seasoning of choice*
Ham hocks*

*I usually do not make this with meat.  For meatless soup, I use kosher salt, smoked black pepper, & cayenne pepper to taste.  For soup with ham, I would add seasoning to taste after cooked to make sure it's not over spiced.   When I have added meat, I didn't cook the peas with the ham hocks, I just added cooked ham to the soup after it was pureed.    If you want a quick & easy seasoning, Tony Chachere's Cajun seasoning is good, but really high in sodium.

There are many seasoning variations.  I always use just salt, pepper (smoked for meatless), & cayenne pepper. has many recipes with other seasoning combinations.


1.  In a med-large stock pot (4qt+), sauté onion & garlic in olive oil about 1-2 min or until the onion is soft & translucent.  Don't let it brown.
2.  Add the celery & carrot.  Sauté about 2 min.
3.  Add the peas, water (or broth), & ham hocks.  Bring to a boil, then simmer 1-1.5 hours.  Stir occasionally so the peas don't stick to the pan.
4.  Remove the ham hocks from the pan.
5.  Using either an immersion blender or a regular one, puree the soup.  Remove a little soup before pureeing if you prefer a textured soup, and then add it back to the pureed mix.  
6.  Dice the ham & add it to the pureed soup.  If the soup is thinner than you prefer, you can thicken it with potato.**
7.  Season to taste.

Leeks would be good in this too...dice them & sauté along with the onion/garlic.

**If it turns out too thin for you, boil a potato or two, mash, then puree with the thin soup.  Add the meat after this correction.  You could also start with less liquid & add boiling liquid as needed if it's too thick.  

I plan to post more soup recipes in the future; click this link to see the most current collection of soups on my site.  If you choose to make a bean soup, buy dry beans & soak them yourself rather than using canned beans.  You will get more for your money, & avoid eating extra sodium.  Of course, canned beans are okay to use if you are rushed & need a quick meal.  Here is a link to my delicious, budget-friendly, navy bean soup.

Meat/Protein of choice + vegetable + grain
Fish, chicken, turkey, & lean red meat all can be prepared very quickly in a skillet or on a grill.  You can start brown rice or quinoa, for example, then season meat & cook it.  While the meat cooks, steam some vegetables.  A dinner like that example could be done in 25-35 minutes.  Driving to a restaurant or waiting for delivery takes longer!

If you find yourself buying many of the same items at the grocery store over & over again like I do, you may like a pre-printed grocery list.  I have one with the items I buy most often, grouped by area of the store.  It saves me time because rather than writing out a grocery list each time I go shopping, I highlight items as they need to be replaced on the pre-printed list kept on my fridge.  A little neurotic?  Maybe, but it saves me time!
Here is my list:

I realize that these tips & recipe ideas are very specific to my tastes, but I hope that I gave you some ideas to help you figure out a routine that works with your schedule! 

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