7 Cheap, Healthy Foods you can Cook for One without a Refrigerator

My second apartment in New York City, where I lived for about a year, was actually a closet-sized room in a lovely Queens home for $700/mo. Utilities, including heat and internet, were included, and I had access to a bathroom which I shared with two strangers who also lived in rooms on the second floor.

I loved that place. It was a well-kept house in a family neighborhood, newly renovated, the door locked, and my roommates were kind and considerate people. The landlord's large Chinese family all lived downstairs, and his mom, who didn't speak any English at all, would always smile and wave to me enthusiastically when I'd come home from work as she was sweeping the front steps.

The only downside was that I had no fridge, no microwave, and no pantry. Though I ate out more than I did before, cooking at home without a refrigerator or microwave was possible and I did it often.

So how do you live fridge-free?

You'll need a rice cooker or at the very least a hot pot.

Shelf-Stable Supplies you can keep at home:

  • Bread
  • Potatoes / Sweet Potatoes
  • Rice
  • Olive Oil
  • Onions/Garlic
  • Peanut Butter
  • Jelly Packets - no refrigeration needed until they're opened, so hoarding tiny sized jelly packets is a good idea
  • Condiment packets - Mayo, Mustard, Ketchup
  • Canned soup / Canned Beans / Canned Veggies
  • Dry pasta
  • Apples and Oranges (they last about a week)
  • Shelf-Stable Milk (once you open it, you have to use it up pretty quick, so have a plan.)

Buy on the day you plan to use:

  • Butter (not too much)
  • Small can of pasta sauce
  • Eggs
  • Berries, Fruits and Fresh Veggies

The life of these items can be prolonged by buying a cooler and some ice. However, if you're living fridge-free I'm going to assume you don't have space for that.

So What Can You Eat?

1. Boiled Potato with a side of Canned Peas

A bag of potatoes will keep without a refrigerator for a while, so this became a standard pantry item

I'm one of those people who, in the European style, doesn't think that butter needs to be refrigerated as long as it's covered. Nothing hits the spot like a boiled potato, or sweet potato, buttered nicely with a side of canned peas.

2. Buttery Noodles with Broccoli

Cook up some noodles, and add butter, salt and pepper, and chunks of broccoli. Canned veggies can also be dumped in if you don't want to race to finish a head of broccoli in the two days you have before it goes bad.

2. Oatmeal or Cereal with fresh fruit

You can usually find single-serving milk amongst the soda and sports drinks in any convenience store freezer, which makes cereal possible. Shelf-stable milk exists these days, so if you can drink the whole pack within a couple hours, it makes sense to buy it. Oatmeal is also a healthy staple, and fresh berries will generally last the day or two on the countertop.

3. Sandwiches with Ants on a Log

Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches can be enjoyed any time. If you pick up a small packet of meat and cheese, you can enjoy it within a couple hours, making sandwiches using your condiment packets.

For the Ants on a Log, cut up some celery and fill it with peanut butter. Then top it with raisins for a snack that's both high in protein and healthy fat, and takes you back to your childhood.

4. Classic Beans and Rice

Rice is a shelf-stable staple, so add a can of black beans, a little olive oil, salt and pepper, and adobo seasoning for a cheap, filling meal. Add broccoli or onions for extra flavor.

6. Veggies

Certain veggies like celery, cabbage, and broccoli are countertop-stable for a couple days.  Cook them in your rice cooker with a little water, olive oil and seasoning, stirring often.

7. Canned Soup

Never underestimate canned soup for the fridgeless crowd! It's generally healthy (look for lower-sodium varieties), comes in many flavors and is easy to store.

The key is not to overbuy.  Get used to shopping for fresh items on the day you plan to use them, and make portions you can eat all at once without needing to consume leftovers. You simply cannot buy in bulk like the fridge and freezer crowd can. If you're strategic, life without a microwave or a fridge doesn't have to be terrible.

Do you have any suggestions for living the fridgeless life? Let me know in the comments!

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