Food is central to all of our lives. My own relationship with food has had its ups and downs over the years. When I was younger it could create wonderful memories, such as going to my grandmother’s and getting a slice of her homemade banana cake, complete with buttercream frosting. I still make that recipe.
Or it could be a punishment. I also remember when I was about 7 years old sitting at our kitchen table well past dinnertime, locked in a battle of wills because I wouldn’t finish eating my lima beans (I still won’t eat lima beans).
During my teens and early 20’s food was the only thing I seemed to be able to control in my life and it turned into an eating disorder. It wasn’t until a boyfriend checked himself into a rehab facility for alcoholism that I decided to face my own demons. It was an uncomfortable battle. You can live without alcohol but you can’t live without food and it probably took me a year to learn how to eat properly and listen to my body so I wouldn’t overindulge.
I’ve gone through many phases with food. Given what I now know about the relationship between what you eat and your health and information on how our food supply is being corrupted by greedy corporations, I am trying to be a more mindful consumer and cook. What I’ve learned along the way, and I’m sure I have more to learn, is that your food budget doesn’t have to skyrocket to eat healthy, fresh, unprocessed, home cooked meals and you don’t have to spend a lot of time in the kitchen preparing a meal if you don’t want to. I, however, find cooking relaxing and meditative and I love looking in my freezer and seeing the rewards of all of my hard work and none of it has an ounce of pink slime in it.
Here are some lessons I’ve learned along the way:
1.Learn to cook with the ingredients you have on hand. Look in your cupboard and fridge and my bet is that you can make a meal out of what you already have. I love sweet potatoes and wanted to do some baking with them. I often put them in waffles but decided to make some sweet potatoe burgers (which ended up being pancakes because I got a little too heavy-handed with the blender…) I bought 3 sweet potatoes figuring I’d throw them in the crock pot. What I didn’t realize is how much sweet potates I would end up with. I made the above mentioned pancakes, two different kinds of sweet potato bread and sweet potato muffins. I froze both loaves of bread for breakfast at a later date.
2. Use the internet. I heard about a website that will create a recipe based on ingredients you have on hand. Allrecipes.com is a great website, if not just for the comments section. When I have a leftover ingredient (such as the sweet potatoes), I’ll go on there to see my options. After reading the comments section on this site, I know how I can improvise the recipe to suit my needs or ingredients.
3. Figure out what your staples are and keep them on hand. If they go on sale, stock up. Staples for me are flour, olive oil, grains (rice, barley, quinoa, oatmeal) beans, pasta, vegetable stock, canned tomato products, eggs, butter, sugar (I cook alot of quick breads/muffins for my son for breakfast instead of the sugary breakfast cereals) and my go-to spices.
4. Plan ahead. It takes less than an hour to scope out the pantry and fridge to figure out what you have and plan at least a week’s worth of meals. Planning really helps cut back the amount of money you spend at the grocery store. I only have to feed two people but almost every meal we eat is home cooked. When I first started out I just assumed that my food bill would be high. Once I started planning out my meals and sticking to my shopping list, I found that I was able to reduce my food bill but it also streamlined my time in the kitchen.
5. Double the recipe or cook and freeze. I work full-time and usually do my grocery shopping on the weekend. When I come home, I’ll usually spend some time preparing meals in advance for the week such as mixing up a couple of batches of muffins for my sons breakfast, some will go in the freezer. Or I will double a recipe – have it for a meal that night and freeze the rest for later.
6. Use a crockpot. Talk about a time saver, just throw the ingredients in the morning and turn it on and come home to dinner. I love it for cooking potatoes and if it’s great for cheaper cuts of meat (if you gotta eat meat, that is).
7. Find meat alternatives. Beans, quinoa and tofu are all good sources of protein and less expensive than meat. They are also better for you.