Notes on feeding oneself

Since moving out, I’ve been trying to plan out low-effort but nutritious meals - a sort of strongly utilitarian mealprep.

My goals are:

  • I don’t want to have to think about cooking or eating
  • I’m happy to eat fairly bland food if it’s healthy, inexpensive, and doesn’t take long to cook.

Once, while chopping onions for a meal, I realized: there’s almost certainly a machine that can chop 100,000 onions per hour. I recognize that a lot of people derive pleasure and relaxation from cooking a delicious meal (indeed, I’m probably one of them). But, at this time, I’m barely coping as it is, and if I don’t have a quick meal prepared I just as often don’t eat at all (or I eat e.g. a whole box of granola bars).

With this in mind, and the Meal prep does not seem like the best use of my time.

it’s unfortunate that the fruits of industrialization.
most precooked options seem to be less healthy - high salt, trans fats, etc.

Groceries are one of my largest expenses. In fact, I accidentally spent $600 in groceries one month - I’m still not quite sure how.

I tried eating vegetarian for a while (legumes). I was just on the edge - it’s actually not inexpensive to do so.

I am not a diet expert! I have no guarantee that this will not harm you.

Ground rules

No coupons. I think I should be able to make this work at the base price - if a can of beans costs $2.00, if I coupon hard and get it for $1, this seems tragedy-of-the-commons and ultimately unsustainable. The economics of ‘price-matching’ and coupon-ing seem pretty wild. Ultimately I don’t want to eat cheap at the cost of e.g. employee salary or quality-of-life.

Oh no, I have no meals

  1. Co-op roast beef sandwich $6
  2. Subway ($12)
  3. USask ag cafe

Desk pantry

keeping a desk pantry i think a good idea. I don’t seem to have time for breakfast most days, so I get a bit fuzzy by mid afternoon. The vending machine is expensive nowadays and the food is not the best.

Things i’ve used at the desk pantry



Granola / energy bars

Great but fairly expensive and not really satiating. I once ate half a box in one sitting! I feel like there’s way too much sugar in almost all the options for this to be worthwhile.

There’s a lot of fancy brands that come in smallish boxes - however usually on the bottom shelves there are typically big bulk boxes. Got a lot cheaper once I noticed that!

Canned soups

This is great stuff - reasonably filling (though only a few hundred cals per can) and saves time and money if i forgot to pack a lunch on a certain day. Since it needs heating, though, not an instant snack. It’s also a little impractical to walk down the stairs at work with a brimming bowl of soup. Need a can opener unless you get a pull-tab can.

Lots of different brands.


Was looking for non-perishable food I can keep at work. Soups were getting a little old, and besides it’s only a few hundred calories per can. Here’s another option, basically equivalent to ramen noodles:

6-month expiry date. These sachets are 2/$6 at Walmart. Lots of different flavors.

I also put some tuna in my drawer for a pinch.

Cuscus is another storable, quick-to-prepare food - I just use the work kettle. You need to be able to put a lid on whatever container you use to cook it.


Peanuts and almonds. Walmart carries big jars of peanuts.

Cookbooks and resources

Frugal Vegan: Affordable, Easy & Delicious Vegan Cooking

on a suggestion from Stuart (read via Kindle, Amazon Kindle: Your free personal library you can take anywhere).


Also has a blog:

Economy Gastronomy: Eat well for less

food budgeting | UNL Food

Recipe Central | UNL Food

It’s awesome to see the similarities between cooking and science.

The local library is a great way to find new, curated cookbooks.

Ingredients I like

Pre-cooked frozen meatballs

This brand caused some gastointestinal discomfort however.

Ground beef

This has come out of the rotation in favor of ground turkey, because:

  • A large amount of grease comes off when frying, even extra-lean beef, which is tedious to keep soaking up and draining off. Ground turkey doesn’t seem to have this problem and is about the same price. Turkey has a solid amount of Vit. B12 as well.

Inexpensive way to get good calories. I fry it in a pan or skillet.

Ground meat seems to be difficult to evenly cook once frozen. I’ve found it much more convenient to cook immediately after buying, then freeze, or just keep in the fridge for a couple of days before cooking.


chick pea mixed bean seasoned cans are actually a hundred and fifty calories per 125 mL, more than just .


Bought two Value Size flats of refridgerated (not frozen) chicken from safeways - 1.8 kg. $33 each. Froze both.

A single-size (two or three breasts) flat of chicken can simply be unwrapped (the paper absorbant can be easily peeled off while frozen) and put directly in the instant pot together with two 710 mL tubs of water. Essentially no cleanup and no sanitization required. The “pressure cook” setting with 10 minutes duration suffices.

Here, however, breaking the long, stuck-together chicken was not so easy. I had to run hot water over the middle chicken breast, which is totally unsafe.

Unless there’s…~$15 savings in buying a large flat of chicken, I don’t think it’s worth it. Should buy many single-flats instead.

In any case, put huge flat in for 15 minutes rather than the usual 10. added enough water to cover the top of the flats

need to remember to set multiple timers when waiting to depressurize - it’s a big waste if you forget the pressure cooker

rice cooker

1 can of lentils is a side for 2-3 meals.

1 can of peas is about the same. mini can of corn, 2 meals.

had a timing issue in that the chicken wasn’t ready, but I had the rice ready. having the containers laid out already allowed me to put each ingredient in a container and into the fridge.

Rice did not turn out well. have not tried teriaki spice yet.

at least for my commute, buying a lunchbox for work was kind of a waste - it doesn’t even fit two containers, for lunch and work. I put everything in a plastic bag ‘secondary containment’ anyway so leaking juices don’t affect things.

Test #1:

$30 in chicken.
$3 large can tuna
$2.2 small can tuna
$2 4x noodles
$3 2 cans peas
$1.2 can of lentils
$1.2 can of mixed beas
$1.2 can of corn
$2 in rice

$48.8 for 7 meals

$7 a meal.

WTF? that’s crazy money. I can buy a subway for that much. I should have stretched it with rice. At two tubs or $14/day, that’s $420/mo.

I distributed a pressure-cooker full of rice over the tubs, in the hope that it will satiate me for longer.

Took about 2 hours, though I could probably have done it in half an hour.

Conclusion: it made a huge mess, cost an unstustainable amount, took too long (if I go through two tubs a day, it took an hour a day). Need more ‘bulking’ ingredients - pasta, cuscus, etc.

need to better plan how much of which ingredient will go in each tub. I just winged the chicken ratio, but I probably can re-distribute the chicken later, maybe add some vermicelli.

it all fit in the freezer - the freezer was pretty full already, can probably get 20 or so tubs in the freezer. Need to buy more

The rice section of Safeway has the little stir-fry noodles.

Forgot about frozen peas, frozen corn, and frozen green beans that I like. might be more cost effective.

thin vermicelli - fast to cook

pancakes: Ricemilk + egg + off-the-shelf mix

meh, okay, not too hard

Made another 9 meals. Took circa 3 hours - 5 hours total, of you include

  • $30 flat of chicken.

Double-flat of chicken came apart more easily this time. Needed hot water again to separate. Important: remove the paper backing while the chicken is still frozen.

With such a large charge of water, pre-heating the instant pot so the chicken isn’t sitting in tepid water would have been a good idea.

Again, rinsing the pot immediately is critical.

  • Half a large bag of fettuchini

All boiled in one big pot - at least three meals worth

  • 2 cans of lentils ($2.5)

  • a full box of cuscus ($~4?)

Quinoa might be an alternative

  • Pan-fried frozen veggies

Lots of olive oil makes this work. Put frozen corn, peas, and large veggies.

Fried halfway without a lid, then added a lid to cook the large chunks.

I made about 3/4 tub of this, it wasn’t quite enough. Should have made another batch of this.

  • Riced cauliflower

For the last three meals I needed more veggies, so I added another.

Need to dry everything better; most food was sopping wet. Putting ingredients in the fridge while others were cooking wasn’t ideal for quality.

I should probably do two “cycles” of this each weekend - that way I have more than enough quality meals to last the week.

I feel like I’m straying from my platonic ideal of instant, no mess meals. This preparation consumed a good deal of my weekend, high cognitive load for the time being.

Also, I find it hard to sequence these things. Using a gantt chart with the expected timing might be a good idea.

Last week was fairly busy, and the meals were fantastic. Lasted me the whole week. I’m doing the whole thing again with fairly minor changes this week. Two flats $25 in chicken, half a large bag of fettuchini, 2 cans of beans, 1 can of tuna (skipjack is half the money? It seems to be the same stuff!)

One variation I’m trying is, rather than pan-frying the frozen veggies, which has a limited volume per batch, putting them in the rice cooker to steam. I just threw a bag of frozen cauliflower and maybe a cup of corn and peas in with an equal volume of water and turned it on. we’ll see how that works. Recipes online recommend using a steamer tray - might be worth buying one.

flat turkey

3 cups rice

corn peas

Parboiled rice + margerine

1kg ground turkey is actually much cheaper than ground chicken!

boiling in instant pot works but it takes longer than chicken

Boiled 5 eggs for 10 minutes in the small pot. Unshelled them and mashed in a bowl with a fork.

Boiled pasta and string beans for 7 minutes with an egg.

Can previously frozen, thawed, and cooked food be refrozen? | Office for Science and Society - McGill University.

This isn’t related to the aim of this thread, quick and cheap meals, but I came across this recipe which I remember making with my mom. It tasted great.

allrecipes.com_Recipe-Tools_Print_Recipe.aspx_recipeID=9051&origin=detail&servings=6&metric=false.pdf|attachment (138.1 KB)

came across this a while ago.