Everyone has to eat, but not everyone has a kitchen where they can make meals. For example, some student housing units don’t have kitchens, so students buy into campus meal plans. Other folks may live in single room occupancy hotels, temporary shelters or in camps with no kitchens. Whatever your living situation, having some low cost, no-cook food and meal ideas in your back pocket can help you eat healthfully when you can’t, or simply don’t want to, cook.
Without a kitchen, your options are limited to:
- Shelf stable ready-to-eat foods (like canned and packaged food products).
- Single servings of fresh, ready-to-eat foods. Without a fridge storing fresh foods or leftovers (foods that spoil quickly) is not food safe.
Shopping tips for lower cost no-cook foods and meals:
- Plan to shop every day for foods that need to be refrigerated like deli salads, sliced meats or cheeses and fresh milk.
- If your food storage space is limited look for single serving food options in the produce, bakery, deli and bulk sections of the store.
- You can enjoy fruits and veggies year round. Fresh, frozen, canned or dried – they all count. Buy in season fruits and veggies to help stick to your budget.
- Canned fruit, vegetables, beans, lentils, fish and meats have already been cooked and are super convenient. All you need is a can opener. Note: some canned foods are high in sodium, and for canned fruit, high in sugar. Look on the label for “no salt added”, “no added sugar”, “packed in water” or “packed in juice” – these are healthier options. Compare Nutrition Facts tables on packages and choose the option with the least amount of sodium and sugar.
- When buying deli meats, choose unprocessed meats like roast chicken or beef.
- Check out ‘Healthy Grocery Shopping on a Budget’ from Food Banks of Canada for more tips.
Add these lower cost, ready-to-eat foods to your shopping list and set yourself up for some simple no-cook meals:
- Fruits: apples, oranges, and bananas, dried fruit like raisins, and canned fruit.
- Vegetables: carrots, celery, peppers, avocado, small cucumbers and tomatoes; lower sodium canned tomatoes, corn, peas, carrots and beets; and bags of washed lettuce or deli salads.
- Grains products: whole grain breads, buns, tortillas, crackers or cold cereals.
- Milk and alternatives: powdered milk, canned evaporated milk, individual servings of plain milk, fortified unsweetened soy beverage, cheese and yogurt.
- Vegetarian protein-rich foods: canned beans or lentils, hummus or other bean spreads from the deli, nuts and seeds, nut butters like peanut butter, and tofu that doesn’t need to be refrigerated before use (look for Silken style tofu packaged in a Tetra Pak).
- Animal-based protein-rich foods: canned fish; slices of roast chicken, roast beef, or boiled eggs (if available) from the deli.
- Seasoning: garlic and ginger; dried herbs like basil, thyme or oregano; spices like cinnamon, cumin or coriander; vinegars like white wine or balsamic; oils like olive or canola; hot sauce and reduced sodium soy sauce.
*Note: Often single serving foods can be more expensive than larger portions so keep a close watch for coupons and choose sale items whenever possible.
Getting a few basic kitchen tools, like a can opener, mixing bowl, cutting board and small knife will open up more meal possibilities. Check back next week to learn how to put these ingredients together for simple, healthy meals you can make just about anywhere. In the meantime if you have any questions, comment below! Or call 8-1-1 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday to speak with a registered dietitian at HealthLink BC, or send an email.
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