Budget-Friendly Meals for When You *Really* Don’t Feel Like Cooking

A few years ago I wrote a blog post called “What to cook when you don’t feel like cooking.” I pull it out when brainstorming with clients who are struggling with a lack of time and energy for cooking.

Lately though, some have said that they’re not up for even that much time in the kitchen. Heart disease, depression, other health conditions, and/or decades of cooking for a family can add up to serious cooking fatigue, even before adding the impact of COVID.

I developed the list below for a patient who wanted quick meals for one, without breaking the bank. They all come to less than $6. You can eat for even less if you buy in bigger quantities or cook more from scratch, but when you’re not up to it, these are some options. They’re less expensive and healthier than fast food or takeout, and easier too, if you have the ingredients on hand.

The portion suggestions are just there for the cost comparison, and because I crunched the numbers to ensure sufficient food energy and protein, with reasonable added sugar and sodium.* But if you need more (or less), adjust as desired, of course! You know best how hungry you are.

I’ve linked to the products I used for the cost and nutrition calculations. Those are fine choices, but there are tons of comparable products. As always, nothing in this post is sponsored. Just like to share our favourites to help make food less stressful for you!

1. Peanut butter and banana wrap, $1.15**

I included a version of this in the Vegetarian Entrees chapter of my 30-Minute Heart Healthy Cookbook (affiliate link), but my editor wasn’t buying it. We moved it to the snack chapter, but I still say if you round it out with a glass of milk or a yogurt and this is a fine meal!

You can do this on bread too, but a wrap is so easy and portable. Tuck in some sliced strawberries or chopped walnuts if you like.

2. Eggs with avocado and toast, $1.94

Photo by Daria Shevtsova from Pexels. Spinach and pepper flakes optional.

Switch the avocado for cheese if you don’t have one on hand.

Any whole-grain bread will do, but I like these sprouted grains because they’re a little higher in fibre and protein. But they’re heavy! Some people love them, some not so much. Best toasted.

3. White bean salad, $2.02

Regular whole-wheat bread is fine too, and less expensive than sprouted grain. You’ll get lots of protein and fibre from the beans and cheese.

(Worried that cheese isn’t heart healthy? It’s fine, in moderation. I wrote a deep dive about it here.)

4. Well-dressed whole-grain cereal $2.72

Breakfast foods are simple, relatively affordable, and just fine to eat for dinner too! Include some fruit and nuts or seeds if you want to bump up the nutrition.

Need more low-sugar whole-grain cereals? Take a peek here.

Photo by Foodie Factor from Pexels

5. Yogurt, granola, and fruit, $2.98

Look for a relatively low-sugar granola, and for heart-health, one that doesn’t use coconut oil. Controversial I know. Here’s my two cents on coconut oil.

6. Canned chili, $3.07

Canned or frozen prepared foods can be lifesavers. There’s no shame in reaching for them when you need to.

My only concern with this canned chili is the sodium, which is why I’m suggesting just half the can at a time and combining with the tomato and a dollop of yogurt. (You can do similar combos with canned lentil soup or baked beans.) It’s still higher than my 600mg target (the whole meal clocked in at 738mg sodium), but that’s still not bad.

7. Hummus, cheese, and crackers, $3.08

Did you know that swiss cheese is one of the lowest in sodium? So if if you like it, it’s a great one to combine with a higher-sodium food like hummus.

8. Tortellini with veggies and cheese, $3.27

Just toss the frozen broccoli into the pasta water for the last minute or so of cooking. Easy peasy.

9. Wilted spinach with chickpeas and rice, $4.22

This one is only 57mg of sodium! If you need more flavour, salt to taste or sprinkle with grated cheese. Warm the chickpeas and rice in olive oil first, then add the spinach and garlic.

This brown rice is great if you are short on time, but relatively expensive. If you have 20 minutes, you can make parboiled brown rice for more like $0.20 a serving.

Image by Karolina Grabowska from Pixabay. Pomegranate optional, but it sure is pretty isn’t it?

10. Chicken avocado salad, $5.95

You can get more chicken for the dollar by buying a rotisserie chicken, (less sodium too), but some people don’t quite want that much chicken or carving, so this is an alternative.

Bonus: Frozen meals?

And for those really low-energy days, it never hurts to have a couple of frozen meals on hand. Some are better than you might think! (Examples here and here.) Read the labels, watching for sodium especially, and combine with a piece of fruit and/or a yogurt, because they’re often not enough on their own.

So there you have it. From these ideas you can create countless variations. Pick up these ingredients if you need a break from cooking or a serious jumpstart, and trigger an upward spiral today.

Photo by Zen Chung from Pexels

What are your *really* low-energy go-to meals? Do you secretly love cereal too? Chime in on Facebook.


The fine print

* Each meal provides at least 400 calories and 20 grams of protein, with less than 600mg of sodium and 8 grams of sugar except where noted.

** Prices are from April 9, 2021. I chose items that were on sale when available.

Nutrition and cost calculations available upon request.

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