How to Eat Real Food:
1) go to the fridge
2) take out a carrot
3) scrub the carrot
4) eat it.
Okay, okay, it’s not as simple as that. But it doesn’t have to be much more complicated.
I normally eat a lot of whole grains and vegetables, and usually cook from scratch. A couple of weeks ago, I was sent on training for work, though, and was forced to eat my lunches at restaurants. All of a sudden, I had terrible heartburn, all the time. Like sleep-sitting-up heartburn. I know heartburn is common during pregnancy, and just figured it was another new symptom to contend with. Except….
Except that a week later, after reverting to my normal eating habits, I don’t have heartburn anymore. Even after eating a (home-made) refried bean burrito with sour cream, extra cheese, and super-spicy salsa. I can have a cup of coffee in the morning if I want. Chili doesn’t make me suffer. It appears that I am safe, as long as I avoid restaurants or pre-packaged crap. Not too difficult, for me, and better for my (and baby’s) health anyhow. I wish I knew what was in those soup-and-sandwich lunches, though…
In discussing this with friends, though, I get the usual refrain: “Oh, that’s awesome, but I don’t have time to cook”. Or, “It’s too expensive to eat healthy like that”. Not to put too fine a point on it, but bullshit. This is a real pet peeve of mine.
I’ve been doing this for, oh, more than a decade. Creeping up on two, as a matter of fact. My mom cooked like this, as well, even as a single working mom raising two kids. It’s not that hard. Nor that expensive. It’s just that people hear that, then start to repeat it to themselves, without ever really checking the math.
There are a couple of secrets that make it cheap and easy to eat real food.
1) Cook lots
2) Use meat as a seasoning, if you use it at all.
3) Eat seasonally
When I cook, it is usually in my stock pot. It’s a big pot – it probably holds a couple of gallons. I rarely fill it less than halfway. It takes almost the same amount of time to make a pot of soup for twelve as it does to make a pot of soup for four. So, in a household of two, I cook for twelve, then I cook much less often. When we were both working full time, I normally cooked a big pot of soup or chili on Saturday, a big pot of pasta on Sunday, and something simple and easy like stir-fry or pizza or veggie burritos once or twice during the week. It worked out to cooking every other day, or less. The other days were leftover days.
Those big pots of stuff I cooked on the weekends would be divided in half – half went in the fridge for leftover days, and the other half were portioned out into lunch-sized containers, which I took to work and re-heated in the microwave. I was always eating a week or two behind my cooking dates, so I was having chicken soup and spaghetti and meat sauce for lunches, even though that week I’d cooked beef stew and chili for the weekday meals. I had plenty of variety. Based on my co-workers, who spend about ten dollars (on average) for lunch, I figure I am saving around $200 per month on lunches alone. That makes it pretty easy to justify buying organic apples and yoghurt, and also makes me wonder how people can possibly think that it’s ‘too expensive’ to cook from scratch. Most of my meals probably cost a buck or two per serving, tops.
Use Meat As Seasoning
Yes, it is going to cost you a fortune to cook from scratch at home, if you expect to eat steak or roast or boneless skinless chicken breast at every meal. But that’s not necessary. In most of my meals, a pound of ground beef would serve at least ten or twelve. For instance, when I make chili, I use easily double (maybe triple) the amount of beans that most people might, and no-one ever notices. Not even my (then) hardcore carnivore husband. Likewise, when we make shepherd’s pie, we add 50% vegetables (peas, carrots, onions, corn) to the meat, then smother it in potatoes, making a pound of beef stretch into a large meal. In my favorite vegetable chowder soup recipe, I use about six strips of bacon in a pot of soup that would heartily feed a dozen people. Meat does not have to be the main attraction. In fact, meat may not even have to put in an appearance. Probably half of our favorite meals are vegetarian. There are dozens of pasta recipes that use no meat. I love to eat roasted root vegetables served over couscous. Refried bean burritos make regular appearances on our dinner table. We do eat steak, but rarely. When $5 worth of ground beef makes ten or twelve servings, it’s pretty hard to argue that cooking healthy meals at home is expensive.
Last week, when I went to the grocery store, I noticed that blueberries cost almost $5 for a little clamshell package with maybe a handful of berries in it. Back in August, I was buying them for just over a dollar a pound. Right now, carrots, apples, and cabbage are cheap, and strawberries, spinach, and watermelon are expensive. Guess what we’re eating lots of right now? Of course, having had a big garden, we’ve got lots of ‘winter veggies’ in our root cellar, but that is also a good measure of what’s seasonal here at this time of year. For us, eating seasonally means root veggies, cabbage, and squash in winter, and peas, green beans, and corn in the summer.
Of course, you can get around this, too, if you’re willing to invest a bit of labor. In the fall, when the sweet corn was ripening, we bought six dozen cobs from a guy down the road. We brought it home, blanched it, cut it off the cobs, packaged it in one- and two-cup bags, and froze it. I think it worked out to something like 40 cents a cup, for local, probably organic, sweet corn. Now, in the dead of winter, we’re making corn chowder with it, and it’s fantastic. I have no idea what a bag of organic frozen corn costs these days, but I’ll bet it’s not that cheap. We also froze a lot of blueberries back in August, which we use to make smoothies now, in the middle of winter, rather than paying that outrageous price for fresh ones. It does take some time – that corn took the two of us most of an afternoon – but that’s a trade-off we’re happy to make. It was an afternoon of chatting and laughing, despite the work involved.
This is not rocket science, but a lot of people have never done the math for themselves. It takes me as long to slap together a stir fry as it would to run out for fast food, even when we lived in town – I can whip up a decent meal in half an hour. It often takes me longer to think up what I’m going to make than it does to actually cook it. Now, I’ve been cooking from scratch for a long time, and practice makes it all go faster. I remember Hubby taking for-ev-er to chop an onion back when we first started dating – he was out of practice. Now, it takes him seconds. Even accounting for that extra time, though, it was more economical, in time and money, for him to make spaghetti at home than to go out for a pizza. It makes me shake my head when someone tries to assert that cooking from scratch is too time-consuming, or, worse, too expensive, to bother with.