Budget Paleo

I wanted to post something today, but felt uninspired.  (It was long day of work, which extended past my gym hours, booooo.)

But then I got a question via twitter from @musicmotionfarm, and it got my brain wheels going.

The question is:

I am a law school student looking for #paleo freezer meals. Suggestions? Having a hard time finding #SimplePaleo on a budget.

Oh how I love a problem to solve!  I’ll do my best.

Law school started for me in August of 1999 (GASP!), and I was far from paleo then, but I still remember what it’s like to be a student on a budget.  The habit of frugality (maybe “thrift” sounds better) has persisted.  Paleo folks on a budget DO have a slightly harder time, since the “3 packs of el cheapo Ramen noodles for a dollar” deal just does NOT work for us.

The question is for “freezer meals” which I take to mean Heat-n-Eat style microwave dinners.  Yes, they are convenient. Yes, they can be economical. But of course if we turn over the package to look at the ingredients of a standard supermarket’s frozen dinner, we’ll find a long list of ingredients, chemicals, high fructose corn syrup, gluten, a starchy veggie, and it will be decidedly NOT paleo.  If there is a more “paleo-friendly” brand out there, I have not seen it yet (and while I have not actively researched this, I do cruise the aisles at Whole Foods, checking out new items…. I inherited my dad’s habit of grocery-shopping-as-a-hobby).

If anyone has seen a more acceptable frozen dinner option, please let me know.

In the meantime, here are some thoughts for student cooking, and budget meals, with the quick/easy “frozen dinner” idea in mind.

  1. Make your own, by preparing a larger batch of whatever you’re eating, and dish it into meal-sized containers. I’m thinking something like this.  Refrigerate or freeze.  You’re not going to want to eat these weeks later, but freezing will extend past the couple of days that leftovers keep in the fridge. This may take some trial and error to figure out how to make sure your food re-heats into something that’s appetizing. Here are some tips I found which might help.   
  2. Frozen veggies in bags. Yes, ideally you’re living on a farm and eating tomatoes right off the vine.  In real life, frozen veggies are a time-and-money saver.  They can be heated on a stove top (or hot-plate, etc.), or the microwave (if necessary).  Heat up your veggies, and top them with a pat of Kerrygold or other pasture-raised-cow butter, if you do dairy. Or a little sea salt and drizzle of olive oil if not. And yes, splurge on the good butter.  And avoid ANYTHING pre-sauced.  It’ll be more expensive, and full of junk.
  3. Frozen protein.  When I go to the grocery store, I scout the section of the seafood department that sells vacuum-packed fish. At Publix, these go on sale frequently. There are bags of shrimp, scallops, and individually-packed tuna steaks, cod loins, salmon, etc.   The pre-frozen fish is cheaper, and is convenient when cooking for one person. Even though the package recommends defrosting before cooking, I know from first-hand experience that if you pop that filet (or a few shrimp) out onto a TOASTER OVEN PAN lined with aluminum foil, you’ll be eating your dinner in 15 – 20 minutes and you can study in the meantime.  You can add a bit of coconut oil, squeeze a lemon wedge, add a little dried dill or other shake-on seasonings, and it’s almost fancy.
  4. Yes, I said a toaster oven.  I have a trusty DeLonghi convection toaster oven (a little fancier than the standard “strictly toast” 20-buck model, but totally worth it).  Over the past 10+ years, I have used my toaster oven to bake cookies, roast beets, make beef jerky, bake sweet potatoes, roast squash, and roast an entire 4lb. standing rib roast. I’ve made countless other meals in that thing. You can do multiple fillets of fish, chicken, etc., but if you only want to cook ONE you don’t feel bad about heating up a giant oven, and it’s easier & quicker.  Note: the “convection” function is important, because the fan moves the heat around and helps the food cook more evenly.
  5. Tinned meats. OK, we’re getting away from frozen food now. But let’s talk about canned tuna fish. It’s not glamorous, but it’s good to have on hand for protein.  If like me you’re snooty about the cheaper “chunk light” tuna then wait until the “fancier” tuna goes on sale and stock your pantry.  For something fast, I like chilled tuna, mixed with a little lemon juice, olive oil, and herbs (dried is OK), over greens (with whatever pre-chopped veggies I have on hand).  I also like tinned skipjack, sardine filets, and kippered herring. These go on sale, but a paleo gal must be very careful and read the labels, as many contain soybean oil, lots of added salt, etc.  Packed in water or extra virgin olive oil is best, but you’ll pay more for the EVOO.
  6. Eggs. If you have access to a hotplate or electric skillet, eggs are fast, cheap (even the pasture-raised chicken eggs, when you break them down per-meal), and delicious. Boiled eggs travel well for lunches on the go.  If you don’t have a hotplate or skillet, you can make microwaved eggs and omelettes, though personally they’re not my favorite.

I could go on and on, but it’s past midnight and I have an early workday tomorrow (depositions, wheeeeee).  So, I’ll pick this up another time.  There are some good Budget Paleo books out there, although if you’re living out of a dorm or efficiency, the common paleo tip that goes “buy half a cow and freeze it” is not going to be an option.  🙂

I hope my late-evening brain-storming made some sense.   I am going to keep thinking on this issue and will post other ideas as they arise.   Thanks so much for the question!

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