Young, Broke, and Single

Ah, 22. That watermelon was probably the healthiest thing I ate that month
Ah, 22. That watermelon was probably the healthiest thing I ate that month

My 22 year old brother sent me a text the other day that read:

So I’m trying to eat healthier and cut fast food out. Any relatively easy recipes you’d be willing to send me? Preferably ones without a load of dairy, but I’ll take what I can get.

This goes to show that he’s already doing better than me at 22, since many of my meals at that time were either:

A) Special K red berries/chocolatey delight, with whole milk

B) A bowl filled half with warm queso dip (from a jar), half filled with salsa (duh, jar), and a bag of either Fritos or Tostitos scoops.

The rest of the time I was eating leftovers from going out with my boyfriend at the time, and thank goodness he made more money and could feed me. Such is life.

I thought it might help someone though if I posted exactly what I wound up sending him (minus family jokes), since it’s very simple and involves minimal kitchen equipment (no immersion blends in sight). So here it is, basic food for a broke, early twenties person living in a crappy apartment with roommates. We’ve all been there.

So, general tips:
  • If you live close to a Whole Foods, it can actually be really affordable for basics. We get most of our spices in the bulk section, and you can buy just what you need for one recipe for like $0.20, which also means you have fresh spices instead of ones that you’re pretty sure you’ve owned for ten years. Not that it’s ever happened to me. Also, the bulk section has things like beans, oats and even pasta. Again, you can buy just the amount you need for a recipe and not waste things, which is especially helpful when you’re single (Sometimes other grocery stores have bulk bins too, but it varies by location). Whole Foods has a great store brand (365, I think?). We’ve never had a bad experience with it and it’s a lot cheaper than other options. There’s also an organic 365 line that we use. The boxes of organic 365 cooked beans are GREAT. Especially the chickpeas
  • Learn to be flexible with recipes. The curry I’ve linked to below is a great basic formula. Instead of asparagus, we did half a head of cauliflower because we needed the other half for a different recipe. Saved us money, reduced waste, just as delicious. Potatoes would be great too. You can use this same basic recipe with red or yellow curry paste and seriously not have to change anything else (also, unless you plan to use rice vinegar a lot, don’t worry about buying a bottle just for this. The recipe will be great. You should, however, buy soy sauce, because soy sauce makes everything better. I might be married to an Asian.) As a prime example of how flexible recipes can be: I never ever put celery in anything, because I hate it. If a recipe calls for it, I might put in a little extra onion or carrot, but usually I don’t even worry about it.
  • On recipes that list garnishes: if you already have that stuff on hand for something else, great. If not, don’t worry about buying a thing of cilantro just so you can sprinkle a small bit on top of one thing. The waste will annoy you, and it will make your grocery bill more expensive for very little reason
Some good starter recipes (also, look at other recipes on these websites and see if any look good):
  • Thai green curry with spring vegetables– we don’t use brown rice, but you totally can. Whole Foods also has lots of rice options available in bulk
  • Rice and bean casserole with guac I never bother with the jalapeño in this one. Get yourself some bouillon cubes or buy a jar of Better than Bouillon just so you can always have broth on hand. Try to read the label and get one without too many scary ingredients, but don’t stress if you can’t afford the best. It’s still going to be healthier than fast food. If you don’t have any casserole dishes, Goodwill is actually a great spot for them. People get rid of that stuff all the time. Or ask Mom if she has an extra one. 
  • Overnight steel cut oats– Don’t worry about the optional milk. I never add it. You could make a double or triple batch of these at one time and just reheat some every morning in the microwave. Buy a bag of steel cut oats or get some in the bulk section. Add whatever you’d like on top. This week we’re adding coconut milk and diced mango, because mangoes were on sale. Often we add sliced banana and maple syrup. Really easy, cheap, and healthy.
  • Pasta con ceci this is one of our newer favorites. It’s kind of like a healthier, grown up version of Spaghetti-O’s. I almost always make a double batch and it reheats really well. I find this pasta shape in the bulk section, but I think any smaller pasta could work, like macaroni or little shells. Just test the pasta for doneness. This recipe is super easy, but it’s definitely one to have everything prepped and within reach so you don’t accidentally burn the garlic. Also, it says to peel and smash the garlic, but I always wind up slicing the garlic very thin instead. Just a preference thing.
  • Turkey white bean chili– okay, this one has a longer ingredient list, but it’s still super simple and SO GOOD. Sub in any ground meat if something’s on sale. Add whatever toppings you’d like, or none at all. Makes a nice big pot. I don’t bother taking the seeds out of the jalapeño because we like it spicy, but whatever
  • Eggs, greens, and couscous– This is more of a good general idea than telling you to follow this recipe (although it’s delicious and we eat it often). Just remember that: cooked grains+any greens sautéed with salt/red pepper flakes/squeeze of lemon+fried eggs (I never bother with poaching)= great dinner. This can also be a good way to clean out the fridge. Leftover rice from takeout, topped with that half a bag of spinach that’s about to go bad that you cook quickly in a frying pan, topped with an egg or two, and you have dinner. Always keep eggs on hand, assuming you like eggs.  
  • Dragon noodles– Great base recipe. We almost always add extra vegetables in at the end. Just make sure to cook them in a separate pan (or the same pan, and then dump them in a bowl to hang out til you need them). Snow peas are delicious, but seriously. Any vegetable you like is good in here.
  • Slow cooker pulled pork– So this does assume you have a crockpot (and we all know what assuming does…). If you don’t, I’m sure Mom would let you borrow one/steal one for you, or definitely look at Goodwill for one. What I really love about this recipe is all of the suggestions she makes about what to do with the meat through the course of a week. Last time I did it, I turned some into a tortilla soup, and then spring rolls, and some rice bowls with roasted broccoli and who knows what else. Honestly, her whole blog is great. Her recipes are always so delicious, and she has a bunch of meal prep posts that show all the stuff she makes on Sunday and how she uses it to feed her family through the week. That way you can start thinking about how to make the maximum number of meals with minimal effort on your part

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