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General Discussion => Welcome and General Discussion => Topic started by: LurkingMustache on June 01, 2017, 07:11:45 AM

Title: Ugh. FOOD help.
Post by: LurkingMustache on June 01, 2017, 07:11:45 AM
Hello!  I am hoping for some guidance on my continuing food 'problem' that I haven't been able to solve for.  I am just not happy with the amount of money that I spend either eating out or on groceries - and the thing is, I'm just a terrible cook.  I would love to hear from folks that may have started out at 0 and fixed their food issue.  I do have a crock pot, but have never been able to find anything to make that is remotely appetizing - and I also do a lot of jiu jitsu and like to eat protein heavy meals.  Unfortunately, my chicken typically turns out to be a dry, terrible mess and I don't have a grill. 

Anyways, my numbers over the last three months:

May -
Groceries $151.09
Eating out $473.05

April -
Groceries $167.81
Eating out $400.20

Mar -
Groceries $328.49
Eating out $304.10 (Funny looking at this.. Saved $100 and added 200 to my grocery bill - eye roll)

I'm open to any suggestions.  Favorite easy recipes, best ways you learned to cook better, anything.  :)
Title: Re: Ugh. FOOD help.
Post by: swick on June 01, 2017, 07:35:38 AM
Not sure if you are the logical type (a guess based on the usual demographics for the forum) but if you are and you are starting from zero experience, I would spend some time on the "Cooking for Engineers" blog. They have a ton on equipment and theory and all that, skip that for now and just go to the recipes. They are step-by-step with pictures and the layout of their recipes makes a lot of sense. Nothing worse when trying to learn how to cook and recipes are not written well.

http://www.cookingforengineers.com/ (http://www.cookingforengineers.com/)

The thing with cooking is it is a skillset that can absolutely be learned. If the above site doesn't work for you it might be worth it to sign up for some in-person classes, look up some youtube videos or find a way that matches your preferred learning style.
Title: Re: Ugh. FOOD help.
Post by: omachi on June 01, 2017, 07:38:54 AM
I have no help for you on costs, other than to note that groceries should produce more for less than paying somebody to prepare your food.

Cooking can be done by just tossing things together and applying heat until it's right, but that comes with practice and you don't have to do things that way. You can approach it like you would (should) baking, following precise measurements. My suggestion, get a temperature probe for meat you're cooking and use it. Cook only to the recommended temperature and take meat off heat (and the hot pan) when it beeps at you. One of my favorites is to lightly salt and pepper a pork chop, sear both sides for a couple minutes each in a hot cast iron pan, then transfer that to a 375 degree oven until the chop is 140 degrees. Simple but delicious. If you can set a timer for two minutes twice, set a temperature probe to 140, flip meat a single time, and can set an oven's temperature, you can do this flawlessly.

Beyond that, start simple. If your recipe has a bunch of steps with techniques you aren't practiced at, each one is a point that can be messed up. Build up skills by finding a few simple recipes that have one technique you want to work on. Maybe that's folding ingredients in lightly. Maybe it's mixing to a certain consistency. Maybe it's as easy as recognizing when an oiled pan is hot enough to add ingredients. Add complexity as you get more techniques under your belt.
Title: Re: Ugh. FOOD help.
Post by: Raenia on June 01, 2017, 07:40:29 AM
Hello!  My first question is, what do you think is the main reason you eat out so much.  Is it because you don't like to cook, are too tired to cook, or just are not happy with the food you do cook?  I'd suggest slightly different solutions depending - if you don't mind cooking but just aren't satisfied with the results and would rather eat something else, then a few good recipes and possibly some youtube tutorials or a good cookbook that explains the techniques and how to tell when something is done should set you up.  If you enjoy cooking and want to invest in learning techniques, even consider a cooking class to give you some confidence.

I'll rummage through my recipes when I get home this afternoon for a few to start you off.
Title: Re: Ugh. FOOD help.
Post by: LurkingMustache on June 01, 2017, 07:51:49 AM
Hello!  My first question is, what do you think is the main reason you eat out so much.  Is it because you don't like to cook, are too tired to cook, or just are not happy with the food you do cook?  I'd suggest slightly different solutions depending - if you don't mind cooking but just aren't satisfied with the results and would rather eat something else, then a few good recipes and possibly some youtube tutorials or a good cookbook that explains the techniques and how to tell when something is done should set you up.  If you enjoy cooking and want to invest in learning techniques, even consider a cooking class to give you some confidence.

I'll rummage through my recipes when I get home this afternoon for a few to start you off.

Well, it isn't my favorite thing to do - but that may be because I'm not good at it.  The primary problem is I'm not happy with how the food turns out and I feel like I either a) spend too much on ingredients that I won't use a lot (e.g. buying spices) and b) after spending that extra money I end up with something that just isn't good.  Turns out to be easier to go buy something healthy and I don't feel like I "wasted" on groceries that didn't turn into anything good.  Even though it's more expensive per meal.
Title: Re: Ugh. FOOD help.
Post by: LurkingMustache on June 01, 2017, 07:52:21 AM
Not sure if you are the logical type (a guess based on the usual demographics for the forum) but if you are and you are starting from zero experience, I would spend some time on the "Cooking for Engineers" blog. They have a ton on equipment and theory and all that, skip that for now and just go to the recipes. They are step-by-step with pictures and the layout of their recipes makes a lot of sense. Nothing worse when trying to learn how to cook and recipes are not written well.

http://www.cookingforengineers.com/ (http://www.cookingforengineers.com/)

The thing with cooking is it is a skillset that can absolutely be learned. If the above site doesn't work for you it might be worth it to sign up for some in-person classes, look up some youtube videos or find a way that matches your preferred learning style.

Wow - this is an awesome resource.  I'll start digging in, thank you.
Title: Re: Ugh. FOOD help.
Post by: Laura33 on June 01, 2017, 07:52:44 AM
www.cooksmarts.com

You have two issues:  cooking itself and efficient menu planning.  Cooking will not save you money if you cook five different kinds of meat each week and throw out a bunch of leftovers/unused produce. 

Cooksmarts addresses both of these issues: it is a menu planning service that comes with very detailed instructions and video tutorials; the recipes are simple to make and reasonably tasty (although I find the sauces/seasonings too bland and so make adjustments by doing things like not cutting the soy sauce with water).  They also have paleo versions of the recipes (or sometimes I just skip the starch or substitute something else).  It is efficient and provides good menu-planning, because you will do things like cook extra chicken on Monday to use in a soup for Wednesday.  The thing that I find most helpful is they give you a grocery list, so you can check off what you have in your pantry and know exactly what and how much you need so you don't over-buy.  Oh, and they are also about to offer a self-paced summer online cooking class, if you want more training. 

I think their normal service runs $4/mo; don't know about the summer cooking class thing.  I know at least one non-cook who taught herself to be comfortable in the kitchen just by following their recipes.
Title: Re: Ugh. FOOD help.
Post by: prfrazier on June 01, 2017, 08:02:10 AM
I think the thing most beginning cooks have trouble with is not having the right equipment.  You can’t fry anything well if you have a cheap, thin frying pan and a stupid thick turner.

For you, since you know no technique, I would suggest sheet pan dinners. These are meals you make on a single pan and cook in the oven. They usually take 30 minuts or less. They typically call for a protein and one or two vegetables. There are tons of these recipes on the web. As for equipment get yourself a 12” x 15”  or so heavy sheet pan and a roll or sheets of parchment paper.

Easy to cook because you only have to put it on a pan and turn on the oven. Easy clean up, only one pan to clean. Easy recipes to follow because the only prep is cutting up some vegetables.
Title: Re: Ugh. FOOD help.
Post by: LurkingMustache on June 01, 2017, 08:38:34 AM
www.cooksmarts.com

You have two issues:  cooking itself and efficient menu planning.  Cooking will not save you money if you cook five different kinds of meat each week and throw out a bunch of leftovers/unused produce. 

Cooksmarts addresses both of these issues: it is a menu planning service that comes with very detailed instructions and video tutorials; the recipes are simple to make and reasonably tasty (although I find the sauces/seasonings too bland and so make adjustments by doing things like not cutting the soy sauce with water).  They also have paleo versions of the recipes (or sometimes I just skip the starch or substitute something else).  It is efficient and provides good menu-planning, because you will do things like cook extra chicken on Monday to use in a soup for Wednesday.  The thing that I find most helpful is they give you a grocery list, so you can check off what you have in your pantry and know exactly what and how much you need so you don't over-buy.  Oh, and they are also about to offer a self-paced summer online cooking class, if you want more training. 

I think their normal service runs $4/mo; don't know about the summer cooking class thing.  I know at least one non-cook who taught herself to be comfortable in the kitchen just by following their recipes.

I really love this, too.  I'm going to check out their pricing plans - creating a better plan for the week would be helpful as the farthest I get is making a huge pot of Chili and hard boiled eggs and eating that for 5 days.  :)
Title: Re: Ugh. FOOD help.
Post by: LurkingMustache on June 01, 2017, 08:39:22 AM
I think the thing most beginning cooks have trouble with is not having the right equipment.  You can’t fry anything well if you have a cheap, thin frying pan and a stupid thick turner.

For you, since you know no technique, I would suggest sheet pan dinners. These are meals you make on a single pan and cook in the oven. They usually take 30 minuts or less. They typically call for a protein and one or two vegetables. There are tons of these recipes on the web. As for equipment get yourself a 12” x 15”  or so heavy sheet pan and a roll or sheets of parchment paper.

Easy to cook because you only have to put it on a pan and turn on the oven. Easy clean up, only one pan to clean. Easy recipes to follow because the only prep is cutting up some vegetables.

Thanks!  I hadn't heard of this either and it seems simple enough for me.
Title: Re: Ugh. FOOD help.
Post by: Lis on June 01, 2017, 08:53:32 AM
On the topic of your slow cooker - that's the easiest small appliance to use (in my opinion). Sure, you can still mess stuff up in there, but if you look at recipes, I think the slow cooker is much harder to mess up than a stove top or oven. Honestly, for a decent meal, you can use just three things - meat, liquid, and seasonings. My favorite meal has just five ingredients - beef stew. ~2.5lbs of chuck roast cut into 1 inch pieces (just cut, don't measure, who cares if it's even), an onion or two chopped, a carrot or two (or, if you're lazy, a small bag of baby carrots), 2 bay leaves, and enough beef broth to fill and leave ~2-3 inch gap from the top (for my slow cooker, it's about 3 cans). Dump it all in, set it on low, and enjoy in 8-10 hours.

A friend of mine will throw a couple of chicken breasts in with a jar of salsa. Boom, done.

The best thing about the slow cooker is that you can force yourself to prep a day or two before (or, prep a whole bunch of meals and throw them in the freezer), then just dump it in the morning and go. Honestly, it's a wonderful feeling to walk in after a long day where you're tired and don't feel like cooking, then the smell hits you and you remember you've been cooking all day and dinner is ready *now.*
Title: Re: Ugh. FOOD help.
Post by: anonymouscow on June 01, 2017, 09:20:22 AM
I like Alton Brown for how to cook things / recipes http://www.foodnetwork.com/shows/good-eats/episodes

My go to easy recipe is chili. Brown 1 lb ground turkey with an onion, add a green pepper, add one can tomato sauce, one can diced tomatoes, one can corn, three cans of different beans, add spices and you're done. You're just cooking ground meat so you can't really mess that part up. You can make it fancier by adding fresh cilantro, garlic, etc. You can also add or remove things, potatoes, carrots, whatever you have lying around. You can change the spices up, sometimes I use Indian spices or make it more of a sweet chili.

I keep stocked the basic low priced foods, eggs, rice (about 20 dollars for a 20lb bag), potatoes (sometimes on sale 2 dollars for a 10lb bag), onions, carrots, beans (canned and dried).

I buy whole chickens when on sale, separate the pieces and freeze them. Chicken breast usually goes toward stir-fry which is pretty easy to cook, the pieces are either cooked in a crock pot or on a tray in the oven. No real trick to cooking in the oven, just do not over cook them, throw either salt and pepper on them or bbq / wing sauce. Put foil under the tray as there will be fat drippings. I put cut up potatoes in the chicken fat the next day and cook in the oven. The carcasses are used for chicken soup. Boil them, take them out and pick the meat off, add onion, carrot, celery, dill, when that is done add egg noodles or rice.
Title: Re: Ugh. FOOD help.
Post by: Davnasty on June 01, 2017, 09:20:31 AM
The first few years of cooking for myself I definitely made some bad dishes but I think what actually helped me was forcing myself to eat it anyway (with a few exceptions). Knowing that wasting food wasn't an option gave me incentive to make sure it was edible. This might have the opposite effect if your alternative is eating out but it worked for me.

Or the opposite of this, maybe you could practice with super cheap ingredients like baking simple breads or cooking eggs and if they don't turn out you haven't wasted as much. Time spent in the kitchen, using the oven, measuring ingredients is all practice for being a better cook even if you're not learning a specific dish.

Title: Re: Ugh. FOOD help.
Post by: Davnasty on June 01, 2017, 09:35:32 AM
Another easy/cheap recipe - Chicken Tortilla Soup

Can be done stovetop or in a slow cooker but either way it's hard to mess up and freezes well.

1-2lbs boneless/skinless chicken thighs
onions
peppers
corn
beans
diced tomatoes
1 can enchilada sauce (secret ingredient)
any Mexican spices (cumin, chili powders)

The beauty of this recipe is how little the quantities matter and that you can use canned, frozen, or fresh. The enchilada sauce makes it taste good no matter what. Throw everything together and cook on low for a couple hours (longer in a slow cooker), check the chicken periodically and when it's done shred it and put it back in. Serve with cheese, sour cream and/or tortilla chips.

You can make it better with little changes like sautéing onion/peppers first, using dry beans, using bone in chicken (any part of the chicken works) but it's flexible enough that you can dump a bunch of cans and be done.
Title: Re: Ugh. FOOD help.
Post by: dreams_and_discoveries on June 01, 2017, 10:06:35 AM
Confession: I never used to be good at food and cooking, used to buy loads of processed stuff and waste loads.

Now I'm a different person, have learned how to shop, and how to cook things I really like. It's a lot of trial and error, and as they say practice really does make perfect. A freezer is essential as a single person in my opinion as well.

I'd start with cooking one simple meal once a week when you have free time, and repeat each week until you feel you have mastered it. Then you can gradually phase out eating out etc.
Title: Re: Ugh. FOOD help.
Post by: spokey doke on June 01, 2017, 10:12:37 AM
You said you have a crock-pot (slow cooker?).  This might open up some options:

https://www.amazon.com/Slow-Cooker-Revolution-Americas-Kitchen/dp/1933615699
Title: Re: Ugh. FOOD help.
Post by: DrMoney on June 01, 2017, 10:23:40 AM
Do you use a food thermometer? I am a horrible cook, but my chicken is no longer dry because I stop cooking it once it reaches the correct temp. Perhaps opt for a spice blend, rather than individual spices. Shop at Aldi. Good luck!
Title: Re: Ugh. FOOD help.
Post by: mm1970 on June 01, 2017, 10:42:03 AM
Hello!  My first question is, what do you think is the main reason you eat out so much.  Is it because you don't like to cook, are too tired to cook, or just are not happy with the food you do cook?  I'd suggest slightly different solutions depending - if you don't mind cooking but just aren't satisfied with the results and would rather eat something else, then a few good recipes and possibly some youtube tutorials or a good cookbook that explains the techniques and how to tell when something is done should set you up.  If you enjoy cooking and want to invest in learning techniques, even consider a cooking class to give you some confidence.

I'll rummage through my recipes when I get home this afternoon for a few to start you off.

Well, it isn't my favorite thing to do - but that may be because I'm not good at it.  The primary problem is I'm not happy with how the food turns out and I feel like I either a) spend too much on ingredients that I won't use a lot (e.g. buying spices) and b) after spending that extra money I end up with something that just isn't good.  Turns out to be easier to go buy something healthy and I don't feel like I "wasted" on groceries that didn't turn into anything good.  Even though it's more expensive per meal.

I didn't really learn to cook until I was in my early 30's.  Before then, mostly I cut or burned myself if I attempted to cook.  I could do things like spaghetti, boxed mac and cheese, and such.

Because I'm old, back then - I learned to cook by watching the Food Network.  There was a variety of shows that were basic cooking shows.  I cannot even remember which ones - but probably Rachael Ray, Good Eats, a really good Saturday morning show with a blond woman, and a couple more.

Then I also discovered cookbooks by America's Test Kitchen.  They have some pretty easy recipes (some are hard too), but they all come out really good.

It was a lot of repetition.  You know, I learned to saute chicken breasts.  Then I learned how to bake them.  Then I made them that way for a long time.  Then I learned to roast a whole chicken.

I eat a lot of salad, so I found a few really good dressing recipes.

My diet is pretty repetitive.  I mean, I am versatile but I have a FT job and 2 kids.  So, I have favorite ways to make things, and that's how I make them.
I bake chicken
I roast brussels sprouts, potatoes, and cauliflower
I saute onions, peppers, zucchini, and mushrooms
I make kale chips
Lettuce, carrots, cucumber, baby peppers go into salad
Carrots, snap peas, baby peppers, cucumber are eaten raw with hummus
Carrots and celery go into soup
I saute shrimp
I use the crockpot for tri-tip or pork butt
I cook beans in the pressure cooker
I cook rice and quinoa in the rice cooker
Title: Re: Ugh. FOOD help.
Post by: Mtngrl on June 01, 2017, 11:34:37 AM
You have gotten some great suggestions here -- I know my SIL went from not cooking at all to being a great cook by watching the Food Network and copying the recipes and techniques demonstrated there. You Tube is also a great resource.

I would suggest identifying some favorite foods you like to eat and learning to replicate these at home. Learning to recreate your favorite take out at home is so satisfying and can go a long way toward eliminating that urge to eat out. You might have to try several recipes for the same dish until you find 'the one'.

I have had really good luck with recipes from Epicurious.com -- almost everything I have tried from that site tastes what I would term "restaurant quality."

Tip on spices -- don't buy whole jars if you're not sure you'll use them again. Find a place that sells bulk spices and only buy what you need for the recipe.
Title: Re: Ugh. FOOD help.
Post by: Inaya on June 01, 2017, 11:50:57 AM
spend too much on ingredients that I won't use a lot (e.g. buying spices)


Whole Foods' bulk section has been my savior for spices I've never used before and don't know if I'll ever use again. I can buy just what I need for 1 or 2 recipes. Pay a LOT less this way, and no wastage if you never cook with it again. If I end up liking it and know I'll use it, I go to the ethnic grocery to stock up. I've actually gotten free spices before because the scale couldn't weigh such a small amount.
Title: Re: Ugh. FOOD help.
Post by: Cranky on June 01, 2017, 12:24:55 PM
I've talked to a couple of people who said their cooking really improved when they subscribed to Blue Apron. It seems pricy to me, but it's definitely cheaper than eating out.
Title: Re: Ugh. FOOD help.
Post by: Inaya on June 01, 2017, 12:40:07 PM
I've talked to a couple of people who said their cooking really improved when they subscribed to Blue Apron. It seems pricy to me, but it's definitely cheaper than eating out.
It's not a terrible notion. Plus, you can always cancel once you feel your cooking skills have improved sufficiently. Honestly, there are so many of these meal services now, you could probably get pretty far on free trials alone.
Title: Re: Ugh. FOOD help.
Post by: Goldielocks on June 01, 2017, 03:21:34 PM
TFal optigrill.
If you cook a lot of Protein it is very easy to get perfect without any trying.

Buy a couple of Le Club mixed seasoning spices to shake over. Before you put on the grill
Add bread or rice, salad, etc. Dinner is done.   Beef chicken pork fish beef patties sausage all is great. The grill measures the thickness and temp and adjusts the time for you.  Also can cook from frozen.

Also get a digital thermometer.

Some people really don't like the crockpot foods and that is ok. If you are one you will love this grill
Title: Re: Ugh. FOOD help.
Post by: BrightFIRE on June 01, 2017, 03:41:39 PM
I've talked to a couple of people who said their cooking really improved when they subscribed to Blue Apron. It seems pricy to me, but it's definitely cheaper than eating out.
It's not a terrible notion. Plus, you can always cancel once you feel your cooking skills have improved sufficiently. Honestly, there are so many of these meal services now, you could probably get pretty far on free trials alone.

I did the trial of their service and was not impressed at the ingredient quality. However, they offer most of their recipes free online and they have technique videos as well. So you can just buy the ingredients yourself for less $ and still learn from them.
https://www.blueapron.com/cookbook

As for the crockpot, I use mine every week, all year round. I just made 5 pounds of pulled pork for the freezer yesterday and 3 quarts of yogurt 2 days before.

I literally added nothing to the pork butt from Aldi (it was packaged in a brine I drained off, but the crock usually doesn't need much liquid added). Just cooked it on high for 7-8 hours. It shredded itself when I stirred it in the pot and it already tastes great. I didn't season it now so that I can use it for a variety of things later. It will be used for making tacos, burritos, rice bowls, stir fry, noodle soup, BBQ sandwiches, whatever, and that's a future night I don't need to cook, just cut some veggies.

DO NOT put chicken breasts in the crock pot. That's how you get dry, overcooked chicken. You want meats that can stand up to longer cooking times, like chicken thighs, pork butt/shoulder, chuck roast, etc.
Title: Re: Ugh. FOOD help.
Post by: gggggg on June 01, 2017, 03:47:06 PM
I have nothing to add, other than I'm the same. I spend about $400 a month, as a single guy (and never eat out). This is by far my worst spending category.
Title: Re: Ugh. FOOD help.
Post by: batemama on June 01, 2017, 04:30:25 PM
Budgetbytes.com has great recipes with step by step photos using inexpensive ingredients.  The more I cooked, the more confidence I built up.  Increased confidence led me to adapting recipes to what I had on hand.  That in turn helped to lower food costs.  It's a learning process, but as with most things, you get better with more practice.  The more you cook and grocery shop, the better you will get at judging what's a good price, which will also help lower costs.  If you have some place like Winco that sales in bulk bins, try to get your ingredients there.  You can buy just what you need for a recipe instead of giant bag or bottle.
Title: Re: Ugh. FOOD help.
Post by: Warlord1986 on June 02, 2017, 10:44:25 AM
Another easy/cheap recipe - Chicken Tortilla Soup

Can be done stovetop or in a slow cooker but either way it's hard to mess up and freezes well.

1-2lbs boneless/skinless chicken thighs
onions
peppers
corn
beans
diced tomatoes
1 can enchilada sauce (secret ingredient)
any Mexican spices (cumin, chili powders)

The beauty of this recipe is how little the quantities matter and that you can use canned, frozen, or fresh. The enchilada sauce makes it taste good no matter what. Throw everything together and cook on low for a couple hours (longer in a slow cooker), check the chicken periodically and when it's done shred it and put it back in. Serve with cheese, sour cream and/or tortilla chips.

You can make it better with little changes like sautéing onion/peppers first, using dry beans, using bone in chicken (any part of the chicken works) but it's flexible enough that you can dump a bunch of cans and be done.

Posting to follow and so I can come back for this deliciousness.
Title: Re: Ugh. FOOD help.
Post by: slappy on June 02, 2017, 10:58:39 AM
Another easy/cheap recipe - Chicken Tortilla Soup

Can be done stovetop or in a slow cooker but either way it's hard to mess up and freezes well.

1-2lbs boneless/skinless chicken thighs
onions
peppers
corn
beans
diced tomatoes
1 can enchilada sauce (secret ingredient)
any Mexican spices (cumin, chili powders)

The beauty of this recipe is how little the quantities matter and that you can use canned, frozen, or fresh. The enchilada sauce makes it taste good no matter what. Throw everything together and cook on low for a couple hours (longer in a slow cooker), check the chicken periodically and when it's done shred it and put it back in. Serve with cheese, sour cream and/or tortilla chips.

You can make it better with little changes like sautéing onion/peppers first, using dry beans, using bone in chicken (any part of the chicken works) but it's flexible enough that you can dump a bunch of cans and be done.

How soupy is this? It seems like it wouldn't have enough liquid.
Title: Re: Ugh. FOOD help.
Post by: bogart on June 02, 2017, 11:38:13 AM
Some good suggestions here, including some I'll probably try myself.

I don't like to cook or prepare food.  I've decided to embrace that as much as possible -- treat it as a feature, not a bug.

Here are things that work well for me, feeding a family of 3 (2 adults, 1 kid).  I surmise that you're a single adult household (?) so will try to focus on things that can be purchased in smallish quantities or frozen.

Buy a rotisserie chicken.  I can usually get 2 meals out of a single bird.  If there are leftovers, I freeze them and later thaw them and use them pretty much as is, e.g. on a plate + rice, or in a sandwich sliced thin.  You can also freeze the chicken before using it at all, then thaw it later.
Buy cooked frozen mussells, thaw/warm, eat.  Or buy peeled frozen shrimp, boil or saute if bought raw, melt some butter for dipping, eat.
Put a slab of salmon in the oven at ~350 degrees, warm up 1/4 cup soy sauce in the microwave, stir 1/4 cup brown sugar into it, once it's warm.  Drizzle over salmon as it cooks, eat.
Slice up and roast some combination of potatoes/beets/fennel/carrots (any or all).  Can be done in any quantity, once cooked, will sit fine in the fridge for about a week and can be eaten on a a serving-by-serving basis.
Cook up some ground beef and/or slice up sausages (fine to buy the already cooked kind or cook 'em) into chunks, add to (store bought) spaghetti sauce, cook spaghetti noodles, eat.  Freeze leftover sauce and uncooked meat, thaw and repeat as desired (the noodles won't keep once cooked, chuck 'em.  Or keep 'em and eat as leftovers with (a) the spaghetti sauce or (b) fry lightly in oil + garlic and sprinkle with parmesan as a side).  You can easily freeze and then thaw ground beef AFTER cooking it (and freeze in packages of pretty much any quantity, having cooked it) so you have it handy for this in a hurry.
Slice up watermelon (or buy pre-sliced), squeeze in small gobs of goat cheese, sprinkle with lemon juice and salt, add some fresh mint if you have it handy, eat.
I rely heavily on frozen veggies -- toss (frozen) into microwave, cook until thawed (no need to add anything, they'll basically steam themselves), top with butter/salt/pepper, eat.
You can cook asparagus (not frozen) and corn-on-the-cob (ditto) in the microwave the same way -- just toss it in and cook 'til done.  I usually cook the asparagus a few minutes at a time (add a bit of olive oil to the plate it's sitting on, cover with wax paper or another plate, upside down) until it's done.  Corn I just toss in straight, unpeeled, 5 minutes for 3 ears in our microwave, peel once cooked, way easier than the alternative.

So -- pretty much everything listed above can be bought in small quantities (one meal), or divided up if needed and frozen.  The exception is the root veggies, but they'll keep forever (more or less) in the fridge. 

Hope this helps. 

I find embracing the reality that I don't like to cook works much better than thinking I should learn to like cooking.
Title: Re: Ugh. FOOD help.
Post by: Warlord1986 on June 05, 2017, 10:36:09 AM
Another easy/cheap recipe - Chicken Tortilla Soup

Can be done stovetop or in a slow cooker but either way it's hard to mess up and freezes well.

1-2lbs boneless/skinless chicken thighs
onions
peppers
corn
beans
diced tomatoes
1 can enchilada sauce (secret ingredient)
any Mexican spices (cumin, chili powders)

The beauty of this recipe is how little the quantities matter and that you can use canned, frozen, or fresh. The enchilada sauce makes it taste good no matter what. Throw everything together and cook on low for a couple hours (longer in a slow cooker), check the chicken periodically and when it's done shred it and put it back in. Serve with cheese, sour cream and/or tortilla chips.

You can make it better with little changes like sautéing onion/peppers first, using dry beans, using bone in chicken (any part of the chicken works) but it's flexible enough that you can dump a bunch of cans and be done.

How soupy is this? It seems like it wouldn't have enough liquid.

I bought a giant can of enchilada sauce from Aldi. Like...32 oz maybe? It was fine. The whole thing was delicious.
Title: Re: Ugh. FOOD help.
Post by: Digital Dogma on June 05, 2017, 11:49:49 AM
I'd suggest starting by learning how to cook some basics, make batches of low cost food that last you for 3 days and re-heat them later in the week for side dishes.
For example, if you take a sack of potatoes and peel half of them, boil them till soft, then add butter, cheese, salt and pepper, and a little milk you'll have a giant heaping pile of mashed 'taters that will stay good all work-week. If you get sick of mashed potato by days 3 or 4, you can get a little fancy with a hot oiled pan by making mashed potato pancakes. Its a big step to do a bunch of food in one shot, but by using up all those potatoes and ensuring you've prepped something extremely easy to re-heat the next day, you'll lower the over-all cost of dinner throughout the week. When I do a giant batch of mashed potato like this, I'll make the second half of the meal easy and do something like burgers/steamed veggies so I can take care of the entire meal while the taters are coming to a boil.

Batch cooking is your friend, it will kill a couple hours while you're doing it but in the end you'll save time by being more efficient throughout the week. There are countless threads on here extolling the benefits of batch cooking for efficiency, weight loss, nutrition, and reduced waste. I took batch cooking to the next level in my condo by expanding my capacity to store frozen goods with a 3.5 cubic foot Costco chest freezer.

Kill that restaurant bill any way you can, even if it involves bringing home a few frozen pizzas, or freeze some hotdogs. For high protein prepared foods that are also cheap consider Costco vegetarian burritos and "madras lentils" microwave meals.
Title: Re: Ugh. FOOD help.
Post by: GuinnessPhish on June 05, 2017, 11:50:33 AM
This has become a weekly staple that I make.  Super easy, really good:

http://www.yummyhealthyeasy.com/2012/02/healthy-tuscan-vegetable-soup-easy.html
Title: Re: Ugh. FOOD help.
Post by: Lenify on June 05, 2017, 11:57:04 AM
Meal prep has certainly helped me. Make a batch of spaghetti, chili, tacos, etc and prep individual meals for the week. Eliminates lunch costs easily.
Title: Re: Ugh. FOOD help.
Post by: Digital Dogma on June 05, 2017, 12:03:29 PM
Do you use a food thermometer? I am a horrible cook, but my chicken is no longer dry because I stop cooking it once it reaches the correct temp.

This may be the best piece of advice in the entire thread, meats are often the most expensive part of a meal and ruining a good piece hurts me inside. I went with a "Thermoworks" instant-read thermometer which is a bit extravagant, but should last a lifetime.
Title: Re: Ugh. FOOD help.
Post by: SmallCheese on June 05, 2017, 12:46:49 PM
GREAT suggestions on here!

My biggest piece of advice: KEEP COOKING. Like anything, you will only get better if you keep doing it. Pick simple recipes so you don't overwhelm yourself. My favorite cookbook is Eating Well Serves Two. It has simple, but very tasty recipes and the serving sizes are perfect for  two people (so it works well for one person with leftovers) and the recipes scale up easily. Recipes available also on EatingWell.com.

To cut down on grocery shopping, try to plan meals that have similar ingredients for multiple days. For example one week I made salmon cakes and then salmon po'boys the next day, so just the sides were different. Rotisserie chicken is great for this as well. Quesadillas -> Chicken and Dumplings -> chicken soup or whatever kind of stuff you like.

Make stuff ahead and and freeze it!!
Title: Re: Ugh. FOOD help.
Post by: Inaya on June 05, 2017, 01:20:25 PM
I've learned a ton from Mark Bittman's books, particularly How to Cook Everything. His recipes are pretty simple and he explains steps very clearly. Anything you don't understand, you can Google or YouTube.


Also, you'll really want to work on your knife skills. Cooking sucks when you're cutting yourself all the time, and proper knife skills make a huge difference. The Kitchn has a fantastic series of "cooking school" articles that starts with knife skills: http://www.thekitchn.com/cooking-school-day-1-knife-skills-the-kitchns-cooking-school-208639 . Also, always keep your knives as sharp as possible. I use this sharpener (http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/50289169/)--super simple to use and makes a huge difference. Even my crappy cheap knives are usable with regular sharpening (every few uses) and honing (http://www.thekitchn.com/did-you-know-this-steel-doesnt-actually-sharpen-knives-211855) between uses.
Title: Re: Ugh. FOOD help.
Post by: FIRE 20/20 on June 05, 2017, 07:44:06 PM
This has been an excellent thread.  The only things I wanted to mention have already been said, but I wanted to re-iterate them.  The three things that transformed my cooking were to just keep cooking, buy a high quality thermometer (Thermapen), and use really sharp knives.  The difference between dull and sharp knives is huge, and sharp knives really speed up all of your prep work.  A high quality thermometer gives you the chance to get food up to a safe temperature without overcooking it.  And the only way to get better at anything is just to keep doing it over and over.
Title: Re: Ugh. FOOD help.
Post by: GreenSheep on June 05, 2017, 08:13:08 PM
I cook a ton, love it, and generally do it alone, but one of my favorite ways of learning to cook better, or at least learning new skills or random little tips and tricks, is to cook with a friend. Everyone does things slightly differently, so it's a great way to pick up little things -- plus you have a lot of fun and then you get to enjoy a great meal together!

Even if you don't have any friends who are amazing cooks, it's fun to learn together. They'll also bring other skills to the kitchen, like my friend the engineer who helped me multiply a bunch of fractions by 9 in her head and convert teaspoons to tablespoons to 1/4 cups when I accidentally put 9 times the amount of nutmeg called for in some Christmas cookies. (I was too deep into the process to just throw away what I had and start over, so I froze 8/9 of the dough and had quick and easy cookies for a long time, but I am really, really sick of that kind of cookie now, and that was years ago!)
Title: Re: Ugh. FOOD help.
Post by: surfhb on June 05, 2017, 08:40:25 PM
Can I ask How much you save monthly, how much you make and when you plan to FIRE?

Its not a race and if you enjoy eating out (like me) but still manage to saving a good portion of your pay, I say you are doing pretty well.   

I spend about the same amount every month on food myself. 
Title: Re: Ugh. FOOD help.
Post by: a-scho on June 06, 2017, 06:03:38 PM
1. Always make something from a recipe that I found online and has at least a 4.5-5 out of five star rating. I no longer cook from books. Online I have access to other people's opinion of the recipe before I spend the money or time on it. I can peruse several similar recipes to see which one "sounds" like what I am after. For example, do I want the strawberry pie recipe that calls for reduced strawberries and arrowroot as the gelling agent or the recipe that uses Jello?
2. Make things I have had before at a restaurant or somewhere else that I know I already like. For example, I like lasagna. I've had it many times, many places. So, how about I make it?? If you find a highly rated recipe and follow it exactly, it will taste great. Print out a copy and keep it in a folder. Repeat with other things you've had before that you KNOW you like. Online, print, follow the directions, put in folder. Unless you hated it, then trash the printout and never use it again.

You say you like meat heavy meals. But, are you eating mainly steaks or higher priced cuts? you gotta try the lower priced, more collagen based meats. Steak isn't really used in recipes except for as...., well...., steak. Which is mainly heat, salt, and pepper. aka boring
Sure, steak is fun once in a while but, Mississippi roast or homemade broccoli beef is way tastier....and uses lower priced cuts of meat.
But, with cooking at home, you have to be okay with eating the same thing for several meals or for several days. Like, the lasagna will probably be around eight servings. I see this as a good thing. I don't have to cook everyday. But, if you want a totally different thing every meal, every day, then cooking at home, financially, will not make sense.
I find that everything can be replicated at home, except for maybe sushi and Korean bbq. too many ingredients and steps; I'd rather just fork over the dough at a restaurant.
It takes some practice where making food is more relaxing than totally stressful. But, once you get there, it gets difficult going to restaurants and having a meal that would cost me 1/4th the price at home.

Title: Re: Ugh. FOOD help.
Post by: Carless on June 06, 2017, 07:10:23 PM
My advice as a busy person; don't overcomplicate it.  We have a rice cooker, and most nights are cooked rice, veg from frozen (peas, beans or broccoli) and some meat.  Meat is pork chop, sausage, steak, or burger for the easiest nights.  No work involved other than loading the rice cooker and a bit of grilling.  I do this in a cast iron pan.  Put the pan on high, put into hot pan, flip once.  Don't know if it's done?  Cut it in half and look.  Eventually you'll learn the timing.  I don't use any spices other than salt and pepper.

Of course, I cook more complex stuff in batches and freeze, but even if you get to the point of buying a pack of burgers and tossing some leaves/tomato/cheese on top you'll cut down your grocery bill significantly.  Burgers and sausage are hard to mess up.  Fancy meals with sauces are very rare around here, but dinner is usually on the table within 30 min of coming through the front door.

If you use good ingredients lots of spices or sauces are not necessary.  Nice, sure.  But a nicely grilled pork chop is still a hit around here every time.  Besides, if you need a sauce there's a whole section of the grocery store.

Other advice; keep notes. If a recipe was good but salty, make a note for next time. 
Title: Re: Ugh. FOOD help.
Post by: AliEli on June 06, 2017, 07:48:37 PM
Just wanted to add my 2 cents worth ☺

There are a lot of cheaper options than meat when it comes to looking for a high protein meal to cook at home. Legumes, dairy, and eggs will give you more protein bang for your buck, and can be more forgiving ingredients while you are learning to cook. Combining these ingredients with seasonal vegetables will really cut the cost of your meals.  Are you heading in to summer? Pan-fried haloumi cheese on a salad of lettuce, tomato, red onion, olives, and a can of brown lentils with some balsamic vinegar and olive oil is amazing. It's tasty, cheap, and full of protein and fibre. It's so easy to make too ☺

My other suggestion is to find one meal that you make every week. That way, you will learn some skills and practice them over and over regularly. It will help you to build confidence in your ability and over time the prep will become routine. You will also have less wastage bc you will regularly use the same ingredients.
Title: Re: Ugh. FOOD help.
Post by: TabbyCat on June 06, 2017, 08:07:16 PM
This is kind of specific advice, but is a great trick for easy cooking and easy cleanup that we use a lot. Try cooking chicken breast wrapped in parchment paper (not wax paper!) it keeps the moisture in and comes out perfect every time. You just put one chicken breast (or a single portion of another cut) in the middle of about a 12" piece of parchment paper, season (salt and pepper, lemon slices and tarragon, taco seasoning, whatever you want), and roll the top edge up, then tuck the sides under the chicken so the weight holds it down and cooks inside the parchment wrap. You can also add veg to cook with the chicken. I generally cook at 400 for about 22-25 minutes for a regular sized chicken breast, and do a separate pouch for multiples.
Title: Re: Ugh. FOOD help.
Post by: kimmarg on June 06, 2017, 08:11:26 PM
Easiest slow cooker chicken:

1 family pack chicken breasts (or thighs) (about 4 lbs)
1 package frozen peppers and onions
1 package taco seasoning spice mix.

Put peppers and onion on bottom. dump chicken in and sprinkle with spice. Cook for 6 hours and then shred the chicken.
Title: Re: Ugh. FOOD help.
Post by: Lis on June 07, 2017, 07:44:52 AM
Try cooking chicken breast wrapped in parchment paper (not wax paper!) it keeps the moisture in and comes out perfect every time.

LOL the time I mixed up parchment paper and wax paper may not be worthy of that cooking failure thread that's around... but yes, there IS a difference between parchment paper and wax paper, and NO, they are NOT the same thing.
Title: Re: Ugh. FOOD help.
Post by: onehair on June 07, 2017, 09:18:29 AM
Cooks Illustrated , TipHero online and don't laugh Woman's World have recipes ranging from simple to elaborate.  Tip Hero is my favorite since a lot of them are really easy plus Tasty from Buzzfeed. Good luck finding what works.
Title: Re: Ugh. FOOD help.
Post by: golden1 on June 07, 2017, 09:32:29 AM
Cooksmarts looks fantastic!  I may give the free meals a try this week and see if I like them.
Title: Re: Ugh. FOOD help.
Post by: LurkingMustache on June 07, 2017, 02:55:55 PM
Can I ask How much you save monthly, how much you make and when you plan to FIRE?

Its not a race and if you enjoy eating out (like me) but still manage to saving a good portion of your pay, I say you are doing pretty well.   

I spend about the same amount every month on food myself.

Blown away by the responses in this thread, I haven't had time to check on it recently!  I'll have to work through them all.  I save about $2,000 a month after taxes / retirement savings.  About another $1,400 if you include monthly 401k contributions. 

I would definitely agree that I'm doing pretty well, but would like to see if I could up my savings to 2,500/mo.  I can get kind of fanatical about these things though so maybe I should t push so hard.  :)
Title: Re: Ugh. FOOD help.
Post by: Financial Ascensionist on June 07, 2017, 03:29:28 PM
Others have covered the cooking part pretty well.  I will just reinforce that you do not need meat to have a very protein-rich diet.  I just did a body scan and my fat percentage is low enough to qualify me as an athlete (in terms of body composition).  Like you, I get there by eating a lot of proteins, unlike you, I definitely do not get there by eating chicken since I am vegetarian.  I eat a lot of beans and lentils and I find playing with Indian and Thai spices helps a lot make recipes that scale well.  Work for 2h and get 8 meals that freeze perfectly out of it.  Nice!  I also consume a fair bit of whey powder, which is a very cheap way to get proteins as long as you buy in large enough quantities. 

I almost entirely skip eating out since I never get the right macro-nutrients balance for me at a restaurant.  Preparing your own meals is the easiest way to gain control on your body composition.  Do not outsource it to people who do not care about your long term goals.
Title: Re: Ugh. FOOD help.
Post by: YourPlaybookForToughTimes on June 08, 2017, 12:41:44 AM
A few good resources:

https://www.budgetbytes.com/

https://www.365daysofcrockpot.com/

http://cheaphealthygood.blogspot.com/ (more or less dormant site, but the archived recipes are just what the blog title suggests)

Food scholar Leanne Brown created “Good and Cheap,” a cookbook based on the SNAP budget of $4 per day, and has made the first edition available as a free PDF download (http://www.leannebrown.com/)

Good health and good eating to you.
Title: Re: Ugh. FOOD help.
Post by: kite on June 08, 2017, 04:53:00 PM
Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler transformed my approach to cooking and meal planning.  Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flynn was another that gave a strategy and technique for doing what needs to be done to get palatable and healthy meals on the table.  If you need total handhold ingredients, Leanne Ely has a Saving Dinner book series that provides shopping lists and a schedule of seasonally inspired weekly menus.

If your chicken is dry, it may simply be over cooked or it could need brining.  I like the "don't outsource" comment above because you can absolutely become a great home cook if you want to.