Recipes and Tips for Healthier Living and Smarter Budgeting

Monday, November 26, 2012

Don't You Spend a Long Time Cooking?

This is a common question people ask me, so I thought I'd write a general response here.

In thinking about the best way to answer this question, I've decided I should ask back this question: "How long is a long time?" If you're used to spending a maximum of 30 minutes a day on food preparation, then yes, I do spend longer. On average, I spend about three times that--on those nights I cook.

But what is the nutritional content of your 30 minutes of preparation? And how important to you is your family's nutrition? It's one of my top priorities, which is why I:

  • Grind my own flour (See here for details on money saved with this practice);
  • Cook from scratch -This means no prepared items (or very few). In other words, no boxed or frozen dinners (I do use dried spaghetti and other pastas on occasion, but they're always wheat/whole grain pastas), and no canned soups (although I will use canned broth if I don't have any homemade broth) since they're full of MSG and/or sugars;
  • Use lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, thanks to the Bountiful Baskets program, which makes them plentiful at our house and very affordable.
Something else to keep in mind is that we eat simply. Good, healthful, hearty food, but simple: 

Breakfast at least 5 days a week is either hot cracked wheat ("mush") or oatmeal, which takes a total of 5 minutes to prepare--every other day, since I make enough for two days each time and we warm it up in the microwave. 

Lunch is sandwiches made with homemade 100% whole wheat bread (which I schedule time to make every two weeks) and maybe some fruit. This takes me 15 minutes at the most, depending on the type of sandwich: grilled cheese take longer to make than peanut butter and honey.

That leaves dinner, which is the only meal I have to plan each day. Since our dinners are based on the contents of our Bountiful Baskets, all I have to do is plan what meals to make those veggies into (since the fruit gets eaten quickly and with little preparation needed). And most days I spend a total of an hour and a half (90 minutes) cooking this vegetable-based meal. Nearly every time I cook dinner, I make enough for at least one night of leftovers, which means I'm not cooking 7 dinners a week. In fact, it's more like 3 or 4.

True, too, I will often make, say, a large salad one night as the main course (see Super Salad), and then pull it out another two or three (or more) nights as a side dish. So while I usually offer a main course and two side dishes for dinner, very often one or both of those sides was made for another meal (for example, if I made breadsticks or rolls to go with a soup that we've already eaten), I still have a bread item available to serve with a different main course, perhaps along with the salad I've previously made.

As Liz Edmunds, the Food Nanny, points out, good, healthful food often takes longer than 30 minutes to make, but that's not a bad thing. Just plan for it and make the necessary adjustments. Your family will thank you!

P.S.  A bonus to the time spent in food preparation (and this keeps me going because I don't love cooking) is that while I do it I can listen to a book on CD, to my daughter read to me, or to music. And quite often, one of my daughters will ask to help me, which means quality time together talking and learning.

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