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Eating Healthy, Even If You Hate to Cook! August 9, 2010

Posted by Jen in Budget, Healthy Eating, Motivation.
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This past Sunday morning I did what I normally do: I cooked. I usually cook a bunch of healthy goodness up on Sunday mornings so I have food for the week. This Sunday I sliced and baked sweet potato rounds, roasted veggies (eggplant, tomatoes, garlic, onion, and zucchini mixed with EVOO and spices), made coconut butter (you must try sweet potato with coconut butter…to die for), cooked millet, and steamed edamame (which are awesome!)

(Source)

All of this prep, including cooking and cleaning, probably took under two hours. Honestly, I enjoy this process so much I don’t really notice the time passing. Which is probably why tonight, when I prepared dinner, I also did some prep work for my breakfast and snacks and lunch tomorrow, and even decided to prepare some stuffed tomatoes to cook for dinner tomorrow night. (No, I don’t have a recipe for stuffed tomatoes, I just gutted them, chopped up some veggies I had on hand, mixed in some tempeh and cooked millet, and added some spices. Hopefully it will turn out tasty.)

Again, the time flies for me when I’m in the kitchen. I actually find it reasonably easy to eat whole foods because I simply love preparing them! But I got to thinking, what about people who can’t stand to be in the kitchen? How can they get themselves to a place where they’re eating healthy, whole foods, too? I haven’t actually thought of anything yet, but let’s hope I do by the time I get to the next sentence.

How to prepare & cook whole foods, even if you hate to cook:

  • Plan ahead. If you write-up a rough meal plan for the week to take with you when you grocery shop, it will not only help your budget, but your ability to stay on track with healthy foods. Think about it: If you’ve already outlined that you’re going to have brown rice with stir-fried veggies and chicken on Tuesday night, and already have all the ingredients sitting in the fridge staring at you, you’re more likely to prepare the meal than call out for pizza. Or at least more likely to think about preparing the meal.
  • Pick a chunk of time and DO IT. If you really, really hate the kitchen, schedule a section of time on the weekend or a slow night and just get it done. Since you’ve planned your meals for the week, it’s easy to look over your list and do things ahead of time. Plan on having that chicken stir fry? Chop of a ton of veggies now and store them in an airtight container. (Harder veggies like carrots, onions, garlic, and peppers can all go in the pan at the same time, so you can keep them together. Veggies like tomatoes and snap peas just need a short time to cook – keep them in a different container.) Want to have quick and easy snacks for the week? Chop up a melon, peel and slice carrots, bake sweet potatoes or hard squash like butternut, and portion out homemade trail mix into baggies or Tupperware. This is also a great time to get a whole grain ready for the week. Make a huge pot of rice, millet, quinoa, or other whole grain. Stick it in the fridge and dole it out as necessary.
  • Freeze it. While you’re doing all that work on the weekend, might as well go ahead and make some stuff to freeze. Bean and veggie burgers usually freeze really well, and work great as a quick mid-week dinner. Make a pot of soup or chili and put it in small one-or two-serving containers and freeze it. If you’ve bought a large portion of meat, portion it out and freeze it so it stays good.
  • If you’ve got the money, spend it on prepared whole foods, not junk. Already prepared health foods do exist, for a price. If you’re more likely to eat fruit that’s already cut up, buy that fruit tray at the store. Same goes with washed and pre-cut veggies for salad. Buy some baked tofu or prepared organic meat. Buy instant brown rice so you can make it really quickly after work one night. Sure, it costs more than making it from scratch, but having heart disease and diabetes cost a lot more. Also, if you stop spending your money on potato chips, soda and fast food or restaurant meals, you may have some extra money to spend on healthy foods that are also convenient.

Well, how’d I do? Do you have any tips for eating healthy even if you hate to cook?

Eating Well On A Budget July 22, 2010

Posted by Jen in Budget.
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Although it’s very important to me to eat a mostly healthy diet, it’s also very important to me to eat well on a budget.

You, too?

How about some tips for eating well on a budget, then?

Make it from scratch whenever possible. Making things from scratch that other people buy pre-made is a huge way I save money. Last night, for instance, I made whole wheat flour tortillas from scratch. They were cheap, delicious, and, bonus!, had only a few ingredients in them: King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour, baking powder, salt, olive oil, and water. Other things to make from scratch:

  • Cook beans from dry instead of buying canned
  • Make your own bread and pizza dough
  • Buy grains (such as rice) that need to be cooked the full time as opposed to those that are already par-boiled (the minute versions are so much more expensive!)
  • Cut up potatoes and bake your own oven fries instead of buying them pre-cut
  • Instead of buying rice and pasta dishes that are pre-made and pre-seasoned, do ’em yourself

Focus on whole grains, veggies, and fruits. We all know meat and dairy are super expensive, and some vegetarian faux meats are just as bad. However, if you make a meal around beans, whole grains, and veggies, your grocery bill will be much lower! A bag of kidney beans at my grocery store is about $1.31. If I cook those with a can of diced tomatoes, some spices, a chopped up onion, and some garlic, I’ve got a nice big pot of chili for just a couple of bucks. I can pour the chili over homemade polenta or brown rice and serve with a salad, and I’m good to go!

Make a budget and stick to it. Even if you still want to buy the cheap and fast versions of things, and even if you’re buying your meat come hell or high water, setting and sticking to a budget will save you lots of money. Think about it: How many people plan what they’re going to spend on groceries? Most will make a list, throw some extra things in the cart, and pay with plastic. And some people (okay, I’m guilty, too) will go to the store multiple times per week if they want something special or have run out of an ingredient at home. However, if you pick a budget (mine is $40 a week, and that feeds just me, not both of us!), take the cash out of an ATM machine, and only spend the cash designated for your groceries, I promise, you’ll save money.

Now, when I want something in the middle of the week I think extra hard about if I really need it. If I’m out of cash I can’t get it and make due with what I have, but if I have the cash I consider if my purchase will get me the most bang for my buck.

What do you do to save money?