Sometimes when I’m in the mood, I will watch cooking shows on PBS, usually Martha Stewart Cooking Class or America’s Test Kitchen. The idea that I would attempt to make anything they demonstrate is absolutely laughable, partly because it’s usually far too complex for me but also because some of Martha’s ingredients are more than a little pricey! Also, where the heck am I supposed to find candied lemon rind in my podunk town?
While America’s Test Kitchen’s recipes are still too involved for me, they will let us know where we can skip a step or what we can use in place of a more pricey or hard to find ingredient without seriously bungling the recipe. When you go through all the steps to put together some of these recipes, the last thing you want to do is waste all that time and money!
Time and money are usually the biggest excuses when it comes to eating healthy. We have this idea that making healthy food is complicated and expensive, but in reality, it’s like anything else: we can make it as hard or as simple as we want it to be.
Example: my dad and I both love home-made enchiladas but making them the way my grandmother made them was an all-day job, so I figured out a quicker way to do without too much difference. Granted, they weren’t quite as delicious as my grandmother’s, but they only took about an hour or so to do and it was good enough for us two!
I know from experience that we can google healthy whole food recipes that will take all day and require a long list of ingredients, some of them more than you want to spend on a weeknight dinner. Whether you are looking at dinner for one or two or even a family of four or more, a cart full of healthy whole food groceries starts looking more like a major investment!
I’ve seen the “it costs too much” excuse used a lot on My 600 lb Life. Rather than buy whole food groceries, they run through the drive-thru. Listening to what they order, the cost of that fast food meal can run from $10 to $30 (for two). That’s not particularly cheap either! My groceries routinely include a $5 box of salad greens, bottle of salad dressing ($4) and package of meat which usually runs around $6. The box of salad will last me at least five meals; the salad dressing about 10 meals and the meat at least two. That means if I increase the meat for another three servings, I’ve got dinner for about five days which would run me about $24. That’s less than five dollars a meal! Yikes! That’s expensive–NOT!
What’s the real difference here? I had to make the dinner myself. That means I took out the skillet, put the meat on to cook, cooked it for about twenty minutes or so and then I dumped out the salad greens into a bowl and poured on some dressing. Dinner usually takes me 30 minutes or less to make at home. Granted, I eat pretty simply. If I added some other veggies to my salad, it would obviously cost more, but even adding a few tomatoes, radishes, mushrooms or cucumbers, the cost per meal might go up as high as $7 dollars a meal! (Seriously, how many cucumbers do you put on a single salad?)
I eat pretty cheaply mainly because I like simple food (see that Martha Stewart remark above!) I get the box of salad greens because it’s cheap and it’ll last me until Friday. I buy my meat in the Manager’s Special section of the meat department. This is the meat that has a “best by” date in the coming week, so it’s been discounted by 30-50%. Since I either eat it or freeze it by the date, it’s no problem for me! Sometimes, I do spring for the tomatoes, mushrooms or avocados on my salad, or I opt for Brussels sprouts instead but the cost still isn’t exorbitant. Even if the meat isn’t ‘grass fed’ or ‘organic’ it is still fresh and even organic grass fed meat isn’t much more expensive than the ‘regular’ stuff if you know where to shop. (I like Trader Joe’s and Sprouts for good bargains on those!)
There is also something else that usually gets missed in comparing cheap eats and whole foods. How much of them do you eat in one sitting? One of the more interesting details about human anatomy is our satiety signals in our digestive tract. These are the hormones our bodies release to let us know that we have eaten enough. We have signals for protein, fat and fiber but none for carbohydrates. That’s why I can eat half a bag of Brussels sprouts and feel like I can’t choke down another bite but could easily eat the family sized bag of Ruffles potato chips without even slowing down. Unfortunately, the only “sensor” we have that we’ve eaten too much ice cream, chips, crackers or cupcakes is the actual discomfort that comes from an overstuffed stomach! I am way too familiar with that one!
The Cheezits, chips, bread and rolls might seem cheaper but we don’t stop to think that we finish them off way more quickly than we do the whole foods. That box of salad greens isn’t any bigger ounce-wise than that family size bag of chips I used to polish off in one or two sittings, but there’s no way I can eat the whole box of spinach and butter lettuce at one go without throwing up! That’s because those whole foods aren’t just more ‘nutrient dense’– they are just plain dense! Let’s compare that bag of Brussels sprouts to that bag of Ruffles potato chips: The sprouts are 10.8 oz (Birdseye Steamfresh) and the chips are 9.5 (Ruffles Family Size). There’s four 3/4 cup servings in the sprouts and ten in the bag of chips ( ~1 oz) but seriously do we only eat one ounce of chips at a time? Although they are about the same size, after eating about a cup and a half of sprouts, you would be getting the “stop eating” signal because your nutrition needs would be met. How long before your brain would tell you to stop eating the chips? Odds are, you’d be probably three fourths of the way through the bag before your stomach would be feeling full, and if you are me, you’d be polishing off the bag!
Honestly though, there are things that are missing from the sprouts: like preservatives, sodium and extra carbs, plus the vegetable oils that are fast coming under scrutiny. On the other hand, they do have lots more vitamins and fiber (that’s the stuff that makes you feel full!) I know for a lot of people, foods like sprouts, salad greens and other whole foods can taste pretty blah without all kinds of sauces to ‘dress them up.’ That’s because we have gotten so used to eating those additives and flavor enhancers in processed foods. Those are the additives that don’t actually have to be made from food to be called “all natural.” Most pre-shredded cheeses have cellulose added to them to keep the cheese from sticking together. Cellulose comes from wood pulp but because it comes from trees, they can call it “all natural.” Yummy!
It’s all a matter of taste and budget: you don’t have to eat as simply as I do, but think about what you are really buying. What is really in that burger and fries you ordered? It might be fast and it might be convenient, but what is the real price we pay for cheap eats?