In New York City, it’s easy to become beholden to the gods of delivery and take out (thank you, Seamless!). It’s also incredibly expensive, and despite our best efforts, mostly unhealthy. Much to the surprise of my friends and colleagues, I actually cook about 90% of the food I eat and do so at a cost of about $4-$6 per meal.
I’ve had discussions about how I manage a busy schedule, long commute, and yet always seem to have home-cooked meals on hand for lunch and dinner. Whereas I don’t have it down to an exact science, I do have some easy-to-implement tips to help you get off the Seamless train and back into your impractical, tiny New York kitchen. Teasing (but I know it’s often true). J
Tip #1: Cook BIG on the Weekend
On the weekends, I cook approximately two big meals which will last me anywhere from 8-10 meals (essentially all of my lunches and dinners). Now, this method has not always worked out for me in the past because by Wednesday, I’m really sick of these two meals and food often goes to waste, replaced by falafel from Zaytoon’s.
The solution? Mix and match. Make items that can you create different meal combinations with to reduce the chance you’ll get sick of your food and let it go to waste in the fridge.
EXAMPLE: Last Sunday, I made the following:
- Stewed lentils
- Vegan potato pie (vegetarian version w/ bread crumbs)
- Vegan veggie korma (I use Kimberly Snyder’s version which is cashew-free, but here is a similar recipe)
- Brown Rice [NOTE – as a general rule, I always cook up a large batch of grains whether it’s rice or quinoa to have on hand for meals throughout the week. It has served me well]
- Vegan cream of mushroom soup
*not the recipes I used, but I thought I’d provide links if this meal line up tickles your fancy
All in all, it took approximately 3 hours to make. That’s it. Food for the week and the ingredients for the items above cost about $65 in total.
Breakfast is very simple for me, as I typically just eat fruit, toast with almond butter, or maybe some oatmeal. This rarely costs more than $3 a day and doesn’t exactly require cooking unless you count heating up water for oatmeal or waiting on the toaster.
NOTE – I usually buy greens, onion, and tomato to prepare simple salads to go with my meals, though I also don’t consider this cooking so much as a three minute prep in the mornings before I head out for work.
Tip #2: Freeze What You Won’t Eat & Save
Now there are only so many ways you can mix and match the items above before feeling like you really hate callaloo, lentils, potato pie, veggie korma, and mushroom soup. If you don’t get “food bored”, you’re awesome. Skip this tip.
If you’re like me and can’t eat the same thing for more than a few days, then store and refrigerate enough to get you through the next few days. Place the rest in freezer safe containers and place in the freezer for a later time.
But you said food for the week! What’s this, just having enough for a few days nonsense?
When you first start cooking this way, it generally means making a third meal around Wednesday or Thursday. However, once it becomes a habit, your freezer becomes the source of meals for Thursday-Saturday.
Thought you’d go crazy if you ate another portion of black bean soup two weeks ago? This week, it’s looking mighty tasty again. Heat it up! Still got some veggie patties left over from the day you made a whole batch (yields about 8 or so). Grab some ketchup and mustard. It’s time for burgers, girlfriend!
Your freezer will be a big reason why you’re able to cook so economically. Cook big. Save and freeze. You’ll always have something awesome to eat. If you get really good at it, you can even start taking a week off from cooking (and grocery shopping). Oh heyyyyy!
Tip #3: Remix Your Initial Dishes
You can make smaller items to go with the food you’ve already prepared without spending more than $10-$15 or spending longer than 5 minutes in the grocery store after work. It’s all about getting creative.
ADVICE: Look at what’s currently in your fridge and see what you can make work without buying a ton of new ingredients.
I had brown rice and lentils from my big cook, but I was sick of the flavor combination. I had some tortillas and salsa on hand in the fridge. I bought some lettuce, an onion, a tomato and an avocado (I MAYBE spent $5 on this). I made “tacos” by using the lentils as “taco meat”, and then adding the other ingredients in.
From there, I saved the other half of my avocado and used it to make my favorite sandwich – avocado, chopped onion, greens, tomato, and a bit of lime juice on toasted gluten free bread for my next meal.
This little anecdote is just to serve as an example of ways you can keep your BIG COOK food from going to waste without force-feeding yourself the same meal five days in a row.
YOU GOT THIS!
Getting back on the cooking wagon takes time and practice, but is so worth it at the end of the day. Once you catch your chef’s groove, you’ll immediately start to feel better. That heavy, oh my god why did I order those burritos feeling that’s been dragging you down and placing you into food comas by mid afternoon will be a thing of the past. Give it a shot! Your body (and bank account) will thank you for it.