Twelve Cheap/Easy (and mostly no cook) Things to Eat

Can’t Cook but Need to Eat?

Ever have those days when for one reason or another you can’t cook a “real” meal?  No time, illness, or any number of things can put us in a position where we might break the bank to feed ourselves or our family if we run out for fast food or buy frozen dinners.

The Best Egg Salad Sandwiches
The Best Egg Salad Sandwiches

It’s great if you can pull something from the freezer, but what do you do if you have to wing it?

Here are a few of my standbys from items you might have at home or can grab quickly at the store – maybe they’re so basic they’re no brainers, but they work for me!.  They just take minutes to make, and have little to no cooking effort and very little clean up:

  • Peanut Butter Toast – seriously!  Peanut butter toast, or on bagels or English muffins. It’s warm, comforting and has a good amount of protein. Even peanut butter on crackers. Other nut butters are good, too. Take it to the next level with bananas or try a grilled peanut butter sandwich.
  • Crackers & Cheese – add some summer sausage or lunchmeat for your own “lunchables.” Make the crackers whole wheat and they’re even better. If you want to be a little fancy, do what my son does – he melts the cheese in the microwave.  For dessert? Jam on crackers.
  • Salad –  if your grocer has a salad bar, you’re set, if not grab a premade bag with all the fixin’s  – something I don’t normally advocate, but, hey, if it’s a choice between McDonald’s and a salad, I’d opt for the salad. Here’s my Salads Menu, everything from full meal to sides, easy to fancy.
  • Tuna Salad – open a can and mix with mayo; add some celery seed or garlic salt to dress it up. If you don’t mind chopping, add finely diced onion or green onion and finely chopped celery, perhaps some bell pepper. Put some cheese chunks in it or cheese on it and broil it open faced if you want to be “fancy.”
Healthier Tuna Melts
Healthier Tuna Melts
  • French bread pizza – slice the bread in half the long way, smear with pasta sauce, add cheese and broil.  You can do the same with English Muffins. You can add pepperoni or raid the fridge for complementary leftovers as toppings.
  • Grilled Cheese Sandwiches – always cheap and easy; you can go with the basic American style “cheese” and bread or use whatever you have and even layer in meats or vegetables. If you really want to be fancy, use your grill pan or panini press, or layer your sandwich toppins on bread, opened face, and make a broiled sandwich.
Open faced broiled sandwiches - Subway has NOTHING on this!
Open faced broiled sandwiches – Subway has NOTHING on this!
  • French Toast – even for dinner! Quick and easy. Try smearing it with jam instead of syrup, or serve with fruit to fancy it up. A sprinkle of powdered sugar can make it feel special. If you want to go high end, consider this variation of Tyler Florence’s Oven Baked French Toast, although it’s not as quick and easy.
  • Gazpacho – Here’s a simple Gazpacho. Just roughly chunk the vegetables and pulse everything in the food processor.  Great for a summer day. I normally remove the skins and wait for it to chill, but really, this is optional. Talk about cheap and easy AND good for you.
  • BLT:  Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato – bake the bacon in the oven for about 20 minutes and you don’t have to watch it and turn it.
  • Egg Salad Sandwiches:  The beauty of egg salad is that it’s great with just eggs, mayo and salt or you can dress it up any number of ways: red onion, diced celery, etc. Make extra eggs – hardboiled eggs are a super portable snack. (They’ve found the cholesterol in egg yolk is not quite the culprit we’ve thought they were. There is, however, still saturated fat in them…but not as much as say, a single chicken nugget.)
  • Crostini:  Drizzle olive oil on bread and broil till toasted, then layer on your toppings from whatever you have in your fridge and broil.  In a pinch we’ve even used hot dog/hamburger buns, spread them with garlic butter, sprinkled with cheese and broiled. We call this Parmesan Toast. An amazing Crositini topping can be made with vegetables you may have in the freezer – especially Lima Beans or Peas.
Lima & Pea Crostini
Lima & Pea Crostini
  • Fruit Plate or Smoothie:  Throw whatever you have on hand in the blender with some juice and/or yogurt and ice. Add some cottage cheese to the fruit plate for a little extra protein.
  • Oatmeal:  I nearly forgot oatmeal, one of my favorite foods. Don’t go with the processed, artificial packets, get real, generally labeled “regular” oatmeal and make it in minutes in the microwave or on the stove. You can buy a boatload of “regular” oatmeal for the price of a package of packets, and regular oatmeal has proven to be so good for you nutritionally, in many well documented studies over the years.  It is a whole grain, and much of the nutrients are destroyed when heavily processed.  Dress it up anyway you’d like, a bit of sugar or cinnamon sugar, fruit, milk, or eat it plain.  Add a teaspoon of jam if you want it “flavored!”  I even make larger batches and portion it out for several quick breakfasts – I just reheat in the microwave. Dirty little secret??? Regular oatmeal cooks in the microwave in two minutes.

What are your favorite cheap and easy meals to get on the table fast?  How do you dress up these simple meals?