Learning how to cook and prepare your own meals is one of the most effective ways to save money, giving you a little more disposable income to line your pockets or stash away a not more in your savings account. Starting out, however, can be a little daunting. You might find the idea of meal planning to be restrictive and time-consuming, or you might be nervous that you won’t be able to cook the kind of delicious and satisfying meals that you’re used to eating.
While there are a few people who are intuitive cooks, for most of us cooking is a skill. You may start off low on the learning curve, but the more you do it, the better you will get. This also means that cooking gets easier and faster as you go. Planning before your grocery trips will become a more streamlined process, and your cooking creativity and fluency will increase with every meal.
We’ve compiled a handful of healthy recipes that use inexpensive ingredients to help you pick up your chef’s hat and get cooking:
Quesadillas: They require tortillas, cheese, and then basically anything you have in your fridge, from vegetables that you can fry up to mushrooms, beans, spinach, and even deli meats when it comes to quick meat options. Using corn tortillas can make these a low-maintenance gluten-free option as well. Quesadillas can take 7-12 minutes to make.
Basic Stir Fries: They are extremely versatile since they can incorporate whatever you have in your fridge, from assorted vegetables, such as carrots and broccoli, to your favorite meat options, such as chicken, shrimp, or even tofu for a vegetarian protein addition. Cook in the oil of your choice and flavor with anything from lemon to fish and soy sauce. Serve alongside rice. Stir fries vary in time but generally take 20-30 minutes.
Chicken Macaroni and Cheese: Being an adult doesn’t mean giving up on macaroni and cheese, it just means adding more to it so that it becomes nutritious and hearty as well as delicious. Macaroni and cheese is a great way to experiment with interesting cheese combinations that you might have in your fridge. It also offers the chance to mix vegetables and proteins like chicken into this pasta favorite. Nutritious stove-top macaroni and cheese may take 15-20 minutes and baked macaroni and cheese will generally have a bake time of 45 minutes to an hour but can offer leftovers for the rest of the week.
Stuffed Bell Peppers: They offer a nice big space for stuffing and baking. Try it by stuffing the bell pepper with rice and ground beef and then boiling it in water on the stovetop. Or stuff it with a spinach and artichoke mixture and bake in the oven. Oven baking will take 20-40 minutes and boiling will generally take 30-45 minutes.
Chicken and Quinoa Salad: Quinoa is a whole grain with a distinctive, even fun, texture that can absorb and blend with any flavor it’s around. Easy to prepare and filling, chicken and quinoa make for a fun meal that’s off the beaten path for many cooks. Depending on your chicken preparation, this dish can take 25-35 minutes.
Protein-Packed Vegetarian Picks
Chickpea Curry: This can be made with canned beans and offer a protein-filled vegetarian, spicy option that hits all the bases with cauliflower and warm rice. Depending on how much spice you like, you can easily tone down this recipe or build it up using fresh peppers and chilis. This recipe takes around 30 minutes.
Stuffed Sweet Potatoes: They offer a filling comfort option that you can add beans for protein, as well as vegetables and tomatoes, and you can cook it in the microwave to make everything a little easier. This dish takes 20 minutes using the microwave or an hour in the oven.
Steamed Vegetable Pasta: This is a simple matter of steaming your favorite vegetables or whatever you have in your fridge and add them to boiled pasta, oil, and your favorite citrus and spices. Top with diced raw tomatoes and parmesan or goat cheese. This dish takes 20-30 minutes.
Cauliflower Baked Ziti: This (or non-vegetarian variations Shrimp Fried Cauliflower Rice, or Shrimp and Cauliflower Grits). Using Cauliflower as a filler in dishes is a great way to cut down the starch of some favorites, such as pasta and rice. This dish takes an hour and 15 minutes when baked in the oven.
Hummus and Grilled Vegetable Wrap: Wraps have become popular as a low-calorie way of eating a less messy sandwich. Hummus works as a protein-filled dipping sauce, made from crushed chickpeas and sesame paste. When paired with grilled vegetables in an easy wrap, it makes a wholly satisfying lunch option. This dish takes 10-20 minutes using a grill pan.
Easy and Refined Dinners
Skillet Chicken, Apples, and Brussels Sprouts with Rice on the Side: Using a skillet, cook chicken and apples in oil. Remember to use your favorite spices, such as rosemary and sage. Then add the brussels sprouts into the same pan and cook until tender. This dish takes 30 minutes.
Salmon: Salmon is an Omega-3 rich brain food that can be prepared any number of ways including the low maintenance baking with lemon and oil sauce, pan frying, or even wood plank grilling. Salmon pairs well with a salad, rice, or noodles. Salmon dishes will generally take around 20 minutes.
Roasted Potatoes and Rosemary Baked Pork Tenderloin: This is an easily bakeable all-in-one-pan option. Pop it into the oven and monitor every 7 minutes or so. This dish will take about an hour in the oven.
Lemon Parmesan Chicken and Asparagus: This is a classic dish that will make you feel dressed up without having to work too hard for it. One of the things that makes this dish delightfully simple is the fact that it all fits on one pan, making cleanup streamlined and easy. This dish takes around 40 minutes.
Beet and Shrimp Winter Salad: Salads for dinner can be hit or miss depending on whether they incorporate the different food groups and offer us a filling experience. This salad uses shrimp which offer a lot of protein, as well as barley to fill you up while you enjoy the greens. This dish takes around 40 minutes.
How to Improve Quickly
For those who want to speedily increase their cooking and meal-planning proficiency, setting up a brief notebook, digital or otherwise, will help you keep track of your success and favorite recipes so that you can replicate these without much effort.
Some helpful notes to jot down include meals that you plan, meals that you like, and methodology that gives you your favorite results. It also helps to compile a standard grocery list of items and ingredients that you always like to have in your kitchen. Additionally, you can find helpful planner templates for meal planning that will make brainstorming and organization easier.
These are some of our favorite recipes for getting starting cooking. We hope you found something you can make soon!