Have you ever thought, “I know cooking would be healthier and save me money, but I don’t have time/don’t know how/am bad at it”? Yeah, me too. All 3. That’s why I want to give you three easy ways to get started cooking at home. Because believe me, if I can do it, you can do it.
Side note: All of these can be gluten-free by substituting where needed – if you’re gluten-free, you’ll know what to do.
Keeping it simple
I was known as a terrible cook. Occasionally I’d make something decent and whoever ate it (including me!) would be truly shocked that it wasn’t horrible. And I really hated cooking. I’d rather spend my time doing so many other, better things.
Eventually I decided enough was enough. For my health, my budget, and my self-esteem (time to get on with this being-an-adult business) I figured it was time to learn.
So I started simple. Very simple. And went from there. Like with so many things in life, simple was the way to go. So we’re starting with simple.
These meals are all inexpensive because I’m the Nest Egg Chick after all. But they’re also healthy, because I value my health and yours. (I’m no nutritionist though, and everyone is different, so make sure you’re eating the foods that work for you.) Most of us include certain basics in any meal: vegetables, carbs, protein. Keep that in mind whenever you create a meal.
#1 Veggies, beans, and rice
This is one of those meals that looks harder than it is. Ah, just the way I like it. I posted this recipe in the Nest Egg Chick Facebook group recently, so if you’re in the group, you might recognize it. If you’re not a member yet, please join us!
~$6-9 in ingredients should produce enough for 4-6 meals.
- Boil water and add rice – follow the instructions on the bag or box. While that cooks, do the rest.
- Peel and cut up garlic, throw it in a pan with some olive oil. Use however much garlic you like – if you’re like me and you like a lot of garlic, use more (4-5 cloves.) Put on medium-low heat. (Don’t let the garlic burn.)
- Wash and cut up veggies. In this case I used 4 carrots, 1 summer squash, and 2 zucchini. Add to the garlic. (Hint: add the harder veggies first – in this case I put in the carrots and let them cook for several minutes while I cut up the squashes.)
- Let cook for a while. Stir every couple minutes
- Rinse a can of cannellini beans. These have lots of nutrients. Dry beans are even better, but we’re starting easy. When the veggies have started to turn soft and are almost done, add the beans. These cook fast.
- Add some salt and pepper. Add other spices you like (I used parsley.) Start with a little, taste, and add more as needed. This can mean you’ll do a lot of tasting – one of the best parts of cooking!
This was so fast that when the beans and veggies were done, I had time to read for a bit while I waited for the rice to finish.
#2 Eggs, avocado, toast, and veggies
Eggs are awesome. They’re inexpensive and nutritious. They’re also easy to cook and super versatile. You can poach them, fry them, scramble them, hard boil them, soft boil them, and so much more.
Today we’re keeping it simple:
~$2 for a meal.
- Put toast in the toaster.He
- at a bit of oil in a pan – not too much.
- Crack each egg into the pan. Don’t worry if the yolks break – as you practice over time, you’ll get the hang of it.
- Add stuff to the eggs. Sprinkle evenly over the top. I like to add some cut up garlic (1/2 clove), cut up scallions (2), a pinch of salt, a pinch of pepper, and in this photo there’s also parsley.
- Check the eggs after a few minutes (in the meantime, move on to the next steps.) When the bottoms are golden brown, put a spatula under them and flip them over. This takes some practice, but you’ll get it. Cook until the second side is also brown.
- Cut an avocado in half. Cover 1/2 with plastic wrap and put it back in the fridge.
- I like steamed veggies with this. Put the vegetable of your choice (frozen spinach works well) into a bowl with just a splash of water. Cover the bowl and put it in the microwave for 1 minute. If it’s not done, stir it and put it in for another 30 seconds. Keep returning it to the microwave until it’s finished. Add a bit of salt, pepper, or other spices if you want.
- Put the toast on a plate. Add the eggs on top. Scoop avocado on top of the eggs. Add the vegetables on the side. Yum!
This is a favorite of mine when I want something fast and warm, but without much effort. It also doesn’t involve many dishes, so cleanup is fast.
#3 Not your average salad
Wait a minute! I know I just used the word “salad” and you immediately pictured lettuce and tomatoes for lunch, but that’s not quite what I’m suggesting. That totally wouldn’t do it for me for a meal. No, my salads are a lot more. Here are my components:
~$2-6 for a meal.
- Vegetables. Throw in whatever you like. Lately I’ve been eating romaine lettuce, carrots, cucumbers, and snap peas.
- 1/2 avocado. This is healthy and filling.
- Protein. Sometimes I add nuts. Sometimes it’s tuna. Add cheese, chicken, tofu, or whatever else you like.
- Fresh dill. Trust me. (Warning: you’ll never want to eat a salad without fresh dill again.)
- Extras are fun. Add dried cranberries, apples, hummus, corn, sesame seeds, or whatever else you can think of.
- The dressing of your choice.
- Eat up!
- For a fork-free approach, wrap everything in a tortilla.
I eat a lot of these salads on the go because they don’t have to be refrigerated, aren’t messy, and can be thrown together fast whenever I realize I don’t have any leftovers handy. In fact, I’ll be eating one tonight because I’ll be eating dinner on the train. I’ll just throw a container of this in my bag along with a fork and I’ll be all set.
Also, they’re super healthy, which means I can eat more chocolate later. Wait, no, I didn’t mean that. Really.
Bonus: The easiest way to add chicken to dishes
Sometimes you want to eat something like chicken but you want it to be quick and easy. Maybe you want to add it to the salad above. Or a meal looks a bit light and you know that adding some chicken will totally do the trick.
Personally, I don’t like cooking chicken often, especially if I only want a single portion. It’s too much effort and besides, I don’t always have it in the fridge. That’s why I freeze it after it’s cooked!
Cook the chicken however you like best. Fry it, bake it, or use my method: the crockpot. I put 1-4 pounds of chicken in my crockpot (also called a slow cooker,) set the timer, and walk away. Hours later I have perfectly cooked, moist chicken.
Once the chicken cools, I shred it, then put it into ziplock bags in single serving sizes. You’ll have to estimate the amount here, and try not to do this when you’re super hungry. The last time I did this when I was hungry, my portions were huge! I put all of these individual bags into a freezer bag and into the freezer. Then, whenever I want some chicken for just one meal, I pull out a baggie of cooked chicken!
This has been incredibly helpful and again, it just makes things easier.
If you’re not in the habit of cooking, it can be hard to get started. Instead of saying, “I’ll get to it,” make it a priority. Put a note in your calendar right now. Choose one meal that you’ll prepare at home and block out time to make it. Go to the grocery store in advance so you have all of the ingredients that you need when you’re ready to start. Then enjoy eating healthy, inexpensive food at your own convenience!
Do this just twice a week and be amazed at how much money you save. As you cook more often, you’ll see bigger savings. Figure out how much you’re saving and put that amount into your nest egg account every week so you can be sure you’re putting it towards your priorities. I have seen clients save hundreds of dollars every month by cooking more for themselves.
And it all starts with making one extra meal at home. So what will you start with? Please comment with one of your quick, easy, or otherwise favorite dishes so we can all get ideas for new ones to try!