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Easy meals for a young guy on his own for the first time

I'm sure there have been similar threads before, but this might be a bit different.

My son has an internship in SF and is in his first apartment. He's been living on free meals from the tech company, frozen orange chicken and Mexican takeout. He's also made pasta with cheese from the green can. He eats lots of fruit and makes sandwiches. I'm not at all worried about his health. But suddenly out of the blue he emailed that he'd like his father and me to go grocery shopping with him (there's a huge Safeway a block away), show him how to cook dinner and then eat with him. I'm sort of touched but also not sure what to do. He also wants me to help him buy other stuff to cook on his own later in the week. His dad says, "Eh, get a rotisserie chicken, get tater tots," but our son actually seems to want to cook.

What are good ideas that don't need too much time (no marinating, not too much prep)? His kitchen is ok, but he has no spices, staples, nothing, though I could bring some from home. (We live across the bay.)

He likes spicy food -- Mexican, Indian, some Chinese and Thai. Maybe pizza, But very basic. He's 19 and not great at communicating exactly what he wants, but I would like to make this a good experience. I'd love to have ideas for three or four meals and a shopping list. Dinner is Sunday. Thanks!

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  1. Spaghetti, salad, garlic bread. Sto bought D-Zert

    1. Indian food is an easy way to go. Not too much cutting and fussing.
      Saute some onion, garlic and ginger, a tablespoons of Madras curry powder, throw in any combination of fish, meat and veggies of choice and perhaps half a can of coconut milk. It would be ready at the same time as the rice.
      When I was a student at college, I used canned tuna or mackerel with frozen peas - delicious!

      1 Reply
      1. re: winmeover

        I've never really not cooked, so it's hard to think back (my mother taught cookery before my parents married and she taught my sister and me very well). However:

        Yes, a very strong yes to Indian (particularly as he likes spice)! While I have much more complicated recipes, the default that I (still) use if I want a very quick no-brain curry is (for 4 - freezing the other three portions when cooking for myself): 1 onion, 1 red pepper, 1lb meat, 1 tin chopped tomatoes and/or 1 pot yoghurt - and that's it! Spice to taste as he cooks (e.g. curry powder, cumin, cardamom pods, coriander powder, paprika, but take your pick dependent on mood).

        Other quick and easy staples: Spaghetti Bolognese, Shepherd's Pie, Chilli Con Carne all follow the same basic pattern when you break them down - mince, onion, a few veg, some form of liquid, spice, carbs of some form.

        Get him into fresh fish, as well - it is hard to beat a simple salmon/trout/etc fillet with new potatoes and some veg.

        When you go shopping for him, setting him up with storecupboard ingredients and a moderate spice rack would be the most useful...

      2. Not for this particular meal, but for general ideas, he should check out Eric Ripert's "Get Toasted" blog. It contains good but not fussy recipes to be made in a toaster oven.

        There are many CH threads on cookbooks for beginners.

        I would start by teaching him to make soups. They are easy and economical but will enable him to learn what seasonings he likes, and how much to use. A bowl of soup accompanied by a sandwich or good bread/rolls (Panera or local bakery) is a healthy, filling meal. A pound bag of dry lentils, split peas, or beans will make 3 qts of soup. I keep Better than Bouillon base on hand at all times. They make reduced sodium versions of the beef, chicken, and vegetable.
        I prefer these, and they are still plenty salty. Their quality is good, and they are more practical than lugging home containers of supermarket broth, then having to use up or freeze a partially-used container. I usually start 3 qts of soup with 4-5 oz of diced kielbasa that I sear before adding onion, broth, legumes, and after cooking that for an hour, other veggies like carrot and celery until they are tender.

        1 Reply
        1. re: greygarious

          +1 on the Better than Bullion! Those are great!

        2. Are there are any meals that you make that are among his favorites, that are relatively simple and don't use a lot of ingredients? If so, I'd teach him to make one of those dishes, perhaps simplifying a bit.

          When our son (now 25) started out on his own, he used to email or call us for recipes -- sometimes directly from the store when he was shopping. Among the first things that he learned to make from the family repertoire were chili, fish tacos, and red sauce & pasta. For Christmas I bought him Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything," which he really appreciated. He's now a fairly accomplished cook.

          2 Replies
          1. re: masha

            Funny you should say that, he's texted me twice from the store asking "what should I buy?" I think he's overwhelmed. And also short on time.

            I may take him to Trader Joe's instead of Safeway, even though it's farther away, because he's used to food from there. Whole wheat pizza dough with plain tomato sauce and cheese was a favorite. Just showing him how to spread the dough, grate the cheese...how long to cook it, at what temperature ...that would be a start.

            As others have suggested, tacos and quesadillas are good ideas, too. I'd like to buy ingredients like cheese or tortillas that he can use for more than one meal.

            1. re: Glencora

              If he's short on time, it seems that taking him to Safeway, which is super convenient to him, would be more helpful in the long run. They are usually open long hours and if he forgets something, he can always run back. And they are pretty affordable.

              Basic roast chicken
              Slow cooker pulled pork (or oven roasted if he doesn't have a slow cooker)
              Sauteed ground beef and onions
              Pot of beans
              Frittatas (for the above)

              That he could turn into (maybe show him a couple variations):

              BBQ sandwiches
              pasta
              mu shu chicken/pork
              enchiladas
              tacos
              chilaquiles
              quesadillas
              pizza (even pizza crust in a box would be fine)
              chili

              http://www.chow.com/galleries/238/rec...

              ~TDQ

          2. Fried rice is a good first dish. If he can steam rice, the rest almost makes itself. He can use frozen vegetables and eggs for the quickest results, or step it up a bit by prepping some meat and/or fresh vegetables.

            Chilaquiles are another good easy meal, with canned or fresh tomatoes and chiles, salsa from a jar or made quickly in a blender (if he has that), and a little crumbled cheese.