Several of the blogs I read have been posting recipes lately (Girl's Gone Child, Cloud), which makes me wonder if their readers are requesting ways to improve the health and/or speed of their dinners. There's always room for improvement, but I feel fairly confident about both the speed and health of our family's diet, with the glaring exception of my meat'n potatoes husband. The lack of processed and non-home-cooked food in our diet is largely accomplished by a) leaving the lab earlier than most graduate students probably do at the end of each day and b) having enough money to buy (almost exclusively) local, organic meat and produce. I realize not everyone can do either or both of those things. We all make the best of what we have.
I leave the lab (almost) every day at 4:45 so I can meet my husband at our daughter's daycare and go home. Most days, we go straight home, spend 30 minutes or so settling in and/or arguing about what I want to make for dinner (because it's not typically meat'n potatoes), and then I start cooking around 5:30 or 6:00. As a family, we have to make dinner, eat dinner, clean up, and bathe the kiddo before bedtime around 8:00, so if everything goes like normal, this is actually fairly reasonable. In other words, I don't think it's crazy that I usually cook dinner from scratch 6 nights a week (we usually go out or eat with friends at least once a week), although a lot of people respond as if it is. "Cooking from scratch" does not have to mean a 4-course gourmet meal that took you all day to prepare and $200 worth of groceries. For what it's worth, I budget $100/week for groceries, which includes non-food items like paper towels, soap, etc.
Although I wish our meals were less meat-centric and more ethnically diverse, my husband is a creature of habit and I can only push him so far before he turns into a Grumble. There are few things worse than spending an hour dutifully preparing dinner only to have your husband wince every time he chokes down all of five bites before making microwave nachos. So. We compromise. I can make "weird things" for dinner (curry, risotto, enchiladas) about every other night, as long as I have something familiar (spaghetti, pork chops) on the other nights. Typically, I try to include a meat source, a carb source, and 1-2 vegetable sources, so even if we have fried chicken, I can at least make homemade mac'n cheese and roasted beets. The other compromise I make is that in the event that I make a meal where each component is not separate, there is usually a with-meat, without-vegetables option. For example, I made my Hapa version of pork fried rice last night and I served his before I added all of the vegetables. This also means that I have a huge stack of non-separable, non-meat recipes I've wanted to try, but have not been able to. If you'd like to come over for creamy butternut squash soup or fruit couscous, please let me know. To my husband's credit, he did not eat ANY vegetables (besides potatoes and popcorn; yes, these totally count) before we married and now he will eat a few. He will also eat Thai and Korean food with gusto, as long as he can pick out the vegetables and it's not too spicy. This is light years ahead of his childhood diet, which is also his parents' diet and consists mostly of Easy Mac, Lean Cuisine and Sonic. I put up with his obnoxious pickiness and in return, he puts up with the seven brands of Crazy I unleash without warning. MARRIAGE! If we both had our way, he would eat chicken fried steak all day and I would eat avocadoes. I doubt either of those diets would fulfill all of our nutritional requirements. We need each other.
In addition to making our dinners largely from scratch, I also bake all of our bread. This commitment is usually only a once-a-week necessity and can be largely owed to Michael Pollan's book "In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto". I highly recommend it (the book and baking your own bread) and it made me feel very differently about my purchase and consumption of food, but that is a blog post in itself. I make all of our bread because I put 6 things in it: flour, yeast, water, olive oil, sugar, and salt. Sara Lee fits in 24, and that's if you don't count the ingredients of the ingredients as separate. (Note that this is for their "Soft & Smooth Whole-Grain White Bread" and that the link is in favor of this miracle of food science. I am not.) I do not think I'm a Food Nazi and I will totally eat some of the grossest, artificial quasi-food you can possibly imagine.
|Something I totally ate. Not pictured: ranch dressing|
In fact, the quasi-food I like is just about as bad as you can get. I love me some stadium nachos and fried Milky Ways. I just try to not eat them very often and mostly eat "whole" food. Besides the not wanting to die of a heart attack at 25 thing, I also have trouble limiting my quantities. I love food. A lot. So I know that because it's difficult for me to stop eating something particularly delicious when I'm full, it's extra important for me to not habitually eat things that would kill me if I ate them in reasonable quantities.
I'm really hungry. I could use an avocado.