Nourishment for High School Graduates: Upgrading Your Cheap and Easy Meals
Welcome to the fourth installment of the Nourishment for High School Graduates series. In the first post, I laid out several of the challenges that young adults face when first leaving home and how these challenges affect nutrition. In the second post, I talked about planning balanced, satisfying meals using some basic patterns. And in the last post, I talked about planning balanced, satisfying snacks to help you get between meals and perform at your best all day (or night) long. In this week’s post, I’ll talk about how you can make the most of the inexpensive and convenient foods that most of you are likely to eat.
Cheap, processed food is going to happen (and that’s ok)
Obviously not every meal is going to be ideal. Your cooking skills, money, and time will probably be pretty limited in the beginning. Even if you intend to eat nutritious and fresh meals all the time, you won’t always be able to. Sometimes ramen noodles and PBJs will be on the menu out of necessity or just because you like them. That’s no reason to abandon good meal planning principles. Even the most humble food is better than no food at all and there are a range of options that you have to improve these meals both in terms of taste and nutrition.
Here are a few of my favorite strategies that I still use in my cooking to help make ordinary food a little bit better for me and more interesting. You don’t have to use every single idea at every meal. Experiment and see what works for you as you.
- Throw frozen vegetables into your soups, pastas, and casseroles. They’re convenient and already cut-to-size. They’re also nutritious! Since they were frozen right after harvest, they often retain more nutrients than the fresh vegetables that have been shipped half-way around the world.
- Put fresh or canned vegetables into your soups, pastas, and casseroles.
- Put a handful of spinach in your smoothies.
- Stack your sandwiches high with vegetables.
- Put extra vegetables on your pizza.
- Eat a salad on the side.
- Use beans instead of meat.
- Mix your meat or chicken with beans.
- Use salsa as a condiment.
Add Meat (or beans)
- Add chopped up leftover meat, chicken, turkey, fish, boiled eggs, or bean to soups, casseroles, pastas, baked potatoes, salads, and stir-fries.
- Put silken tofu in a smoothie.
- Top your nachos with some canned chili or refried beans.
Swap white for whole grain
- Use whole wheat bread instead of white (there are several inexpensive whole wheat options, just make sure that “whole wheat” is in the name of the first ingredient).
- Cook brown rice instead of white (just remember that it takes longer to cook).
- Use whole grain pasta, crackers, etc. (Some brands are better than others and suited for different purposes. For instance, I prefer to use whole wheat pasta in casseroles, but don’t like them so well as a plate of spaghetti. Experiment and see what you like!)
Use real cheese:
Yes, it’s a little more expensive. But it’s worth it if you can afford it. In my opinion it tastes better, so it satisfies my palette more. It is also full of protein, calcium, and other important nutrients that processed cheeses and cheese powders are usually very low in. It packs the flavor as well, so you shouldn’t have to use very much (the sharper the cheese, the more true this is).
- Make a grilled cheese sandwich with Cheddar cheese instead of American.
- Melt grated cheese over tortilla chips for nachos instead of using canned cheese sauce.
- Learn how to make cheese sauce from butter, flour, milk and cheese. Mac ‘n’ cheese will never be the same! (Admittedly, this takes more time, so it won’t always be an option. But it is worth it when you have the time.)
Spice it Up
- Add herbs, spices, and other flavorful ingredients to pump up the flavor, like cumin in your refried beans and basil on your pasta.
Examples of How to Enhance Some Common Meals
Macaroni and Cheese
Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich
|Add some tuna, chicken, or grated cheese for extra protein and flavor.||Chop up leftover meat or chicken and add to your bowl.||Make your sandwich with whole wheat bread instead of white.|
|Add a handful or two of your favorite vegetable, such as green peas or broccoli.||Add frozen vegetables while the noodles are cooking.||Use a generous enough amount of peanut butter to give yourself a decent amount of protein (think a couple tablespoons total). Then add a cheese stick, boiled egg, or glass of milk to pump it up a bit more.|
|Ditch the box and cook up elbow macaroni and a mean cheese sauce, then serve a salad or hot vegetable on the side.||Sautee some vegetables, scramble some eggs, drain the noodles, then mix them all together and toss in a little soy sauce for an easy stir-fry.||Grab some carrot sticks and apple slices (or whatever your most readily available raw vegetables and fruit are) and pack them to eat on the side.|
What are your favorite ways to add some nutrition and flare to simple meals? Leave your ideas in the comments.