Even before the pandemic, I found myself losing steam partway through the week in terms of meal-prepping and planning. And now, having to prep every meal for weeks on end, it’s gotten even worse. Plus, because of the pandemic, my husband and I lost a significant part of our income (mine!) and had to rethink our grocery store and take-out strategy.
Here are three easy meals I come back to again and again that are both filling and affordable.
1. Instant Ramen with Vegetables
Ramen is a staple from my childhood. It’s always been a meal that can be made even heartier with a few additions. As an adult, sometimes I make a broth starting with white miso paste if I’m feeling fancy. Most of the time, though, I just boil some water. For those days, I figured out how to get closer to a fancier meal, with way less effort.
To prepare this meal, I just add in the frozen veggies when I pour the water over the noodles, letting them both soften at the same time. You could alternately sauté the veggies, if you prefer. Then I drain the water, add the seasoning I want, and it’s done.
I like to use soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, and Sriracha. You can also use the seasoning packets if you’d rather, but I like to control the sodium intake so I skip that part. To make the meal more filling, add protein by frying up an egg or two per bowl.
2. Garlic Butter Pasta
I mean, the name says it all. I have a girlfriend who used to make fresh pasta for a restaurant so she taught me tips for making and freezing my own pasta. Since I’m not as talented as her, freezing fresh pasta I buy from the grocery store has been my solution. You can also use dried pasta if that’s what you have. Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the packet.
For the sauce: mince up the garlic (as much as your family can handle, I do a head of garlic sometimes) and sauté it in several tbsps of butter (3-4). After a few minutes, you can throw in a leafy herb: parsley flakes, basil flakes, Italian seasoning (whatever you have). Right before I toss the pasta in the sauce, I throw in some crushed red chilies and the juice of a whole lemon. You can add some reserved pasta water to thin the sauce if needed.
If you have even less time, you can use garlic paste instead of fresh garlic. And if you have finicky eaters, you can adjust your amount of garlic and/or chili to fit the palates at the table.
Feel free to add your favorite easy protein and vegetables to this dish as well (frozen shrimp, frozen spinach, etc.). They’re best to add once the garlic is getting some color to it.
3. Lentil Soup and Grilled Cheese
As an Indian American, I grew up on lentils being a good alternative source of protein, especially as I’ve started moving to more plant-based meals. And also, as a born and bred Midwesterner, I would be remiss if some kind of cheese wasn’t in my fridge. So this soup and sandwich meal is a perfect combo of the two.
We keep an extra loaf of bread in the freezer and I always have a few cans of soup on hand for food emergencies.
Pro tip: squeezing lemon over lentil soup makes it even more divine.
I’ve really learned over the years how to rely on my pantry and freezer to get me through the leanest and hardest times. These easy meals help ensure we get full, cover the food groups, and keep our budget in check.