We're often told to eat five serves of vegetables and two serves of fruit a day, but sometimes that can seem an insurmountable goal. This easy-to-prepare-in-advance meal achieves half your daily vegetable goal in a simple lunch dish you can prepare in advance and heat in the office microwave.
This basic recipe is actually an evolution of sorts from food I cooked during the Mastercheap challenge a couple of years ago, where my weekly food budget was $25. Because of that, it makes for a very cheap office lunch (I estimate around 70 cents a serve for the basic version). But it was only when I read this article at The Conversation and was reminded that one serve of vegetables is around 75 grams of cooked veg that I realised this single meal — with over 200 grams of cooked vegetables — covered more than half that goal.
So here's what you do. The recipe makes up four quantities, so make it Sunday, have one the next day, and freeze the rest for subsequent use. Cook up 400 grams of pasta on the stove (that should take 10 to 15 minutes). While it's cooking, steam 200 grams of frozen mixed vegetables for four minutes or so in the microwave. Then added a 400 gram tin of diced tomatoes and a 400 gram tin (drained) of kidney beans, plus salt and pepper. I also add a sprinkle of chilli powder for kick, but that's up to you (plenty of other flavourings could go in at this stage as well). Stir and nuke for a couple of minutes and you've got your sauce.
Once the pasta is cooked, drain and divide into four containers, then pop a quarter of the sauce on top of each. I find it reheats more easily if you mix the sauce through, but that's up to you. Either way, you've got four lunches that reheat easily, and which you can also eat cold if you prefer. That's my preferred quantity of pasta, incidentally; I'm a big fan, so you might want a little less (or to use rice or couscous instead).
Total ingredient cost? Tin of diced tomatoes, around $0.70. Tin of beans, around $1.00. One-fifth of a packet of frozen veg, around $0.30. 400 grams of pasta, around $0.60. (These are all based on store brand pricing, but we're not talking ingredients that benefit from spending heaps more.) With a small allowance for seasonings, that's easily doable for around 70 cents a serve. (If you add grated cheese as well, as I sometimes do , the cost might rise marginally but you get calcium and more flavour and texture. Your call.) Eat a banana afterwards and you've covered half your fruit needs too.
Should you eat like this every day? Probably not. Variety is good, having vegetables with dinner as well is wise, and having fresh vegetables is also a good idea. If you ate both serves during the day, you would meet your vegetable needs, but that would represent a dull palate for most people.
Nonetheless, as the same piece at The Conversation points out, getting a good complement of non-organic vegetables is unarguably better for your nutritional targets and health than just one serve of organic vegetables — and it's definitely cheaper. For more lunch ideas, check out our listing of ways to make packed lunch more appealing. If you're tempted by lazy cooking, our guide to healthy eating for people who hate cooking has additional thoughts as well.