One of the biggest factors in cooking good food is using good food to cook. This is a point we stress over and over, with every kid that comes through our cooking program.
Not expensive food, not even "fancy" food (though that can be a lot of fun when you can swing it), but good, real, recognizable food. Start small, instead of buying that can of diced tomatoes, buy three Roma tomatoes (about the same price), dice them in a bowl, and sprinkle a little salt and sugar on them.
10 minutes later you'll have the same, but far superior tasting ingredient: diced tomatoes in juice...and really, was it that hard? (...and it doesn't taste like the can!) And I'm not even going to bring up the subject of the health benefits of freshly made food, vs. pre-packaged.
Now, let's take that one tiny step further...now that you have your diced tomatoes, is it really that much harder to dice up an onion, chop a little garlic, and squirt some olive oil in a pan? Saute (that means a low fry in a small amount of oil) for 10 minutes. Toss in some fresh herbs like basil, oregano, and Italian parsley (which you can now buy pre-packaged in small amounts in just about a produce section) and your diced tomatoes, and give a stir.
Throw some salt and pasta in a pot...spaghetti, linguine, angel-hair, whatever, and let heat and water work its crazy magic for you. (Here are some tips for cooking perfect pasta!)
Meanwhile, grill a chicken breast, or cook and crumble some ground pork, or saute some zucchini slices, or if you're feeling really crazy, poach a dozen little-neck clams in their shells with a little white wine...(don't flip the clams), and a generous sprinkle of salt and pepper...dodon't worry about a bunch of spices, see the what food tastes like first, and to quote a guy I know..."Bam!" you've got a dish of pasta that probably cost less, and certainly tastes much better than you'll ever get from that bottled muck on the shelves.
Why's it so darn good?
Not because it's harder to make (it really wasn't, was it?) Certainly not because it was more expensive...it wasn't, at least not much.
No, it tastes so darn good, because you used good food to make it!
Congratulations...you're a cook.
Now, the next big question...
Can I afford to eat healthily?
Okay, so if your local discount grocery prices there are anything like they are here in Oregon, you should have no trouble eating healthy, or at least, healthier, on $150/week.
Also, it’s very hard to comparison shop between stores, if you don’t have a grocery plan. You’ll have a much better idea of what’s a good deal, intuitively, and what isn’t, in a couple of months.
- You gotta have a plan. Going shopping without a plan (and a list) will add anywhere from 25% – 100% to your grocery receipt. To get an idea of what I’m talking about, download one of the sample menus from our site, it’s free, and includes a complete week of dinner menus and an itemized grocery list.
- To save even more, go up one level (if there are two of you, shop for 4 serving, if 4, shop for 6 serving), as it will give you great leftovers for lunch the next day, WAY cheaper that buying additional lunch groceries. We offer menus in all three, but I think the samples are all 4-serving.
- Eat a healthy meal, right before you go to the store (never, never shop hungry), and budget one “freebie” that’s not on the list, but looks good to you.
- Two reasons: A~Deprivation sucks, and even a semi-healthy goodie to reward your sticking to the plan, it better than the eventual binge. B~You might trade that 1 freebie a half dozen times as you go through the store, but whatever you end up with…you’re REALLY going to enjoy.
- It’s pretty amazing, actually, what happens when you have to trade a whole bunch of “good” for a little bit of “the best.”
- Unless it would drive you absolutely barking mad, don’t plan something completely different every night. If you look at the sample menu, you’ll see that we pick a “main protein” say, boneless chicken breasts, or boneless picnic pork ribs, ground turkey, etc, and we use that ingredient in 3-4 (very different) recipes over the course of the week. This allows you to save a LOT of $$$ by buying your most expensive ingredient (the meat) in bulk or “family packs”.
- Then, fill in the other three days with meats that are on sale, or in the markdown bin. Recipes are much more versatile than people think. Ground beef can almost always be swapped out for ground pork, or turkey. Most chicken recipes work just as well with a white-fleshed fish (and vice versa).
- Don’t be afraid to ask your butcher when the best time to hit the markdown bin is, and what to watch for, either. He WANTS to sell off all that stuff, and often, in our ‘TV dinner world” appreciates someone acknowledging his expertise.
- Also, don’t be afraid that meat. Typically, being in the markdown bin has nothing to do with food age, and everything to do with a big new meat order coming in, and nowhere for him to put it. Just take a look at it and make sure it still looks good. Remember what Tommy Smothers said, “Red meat isn’t bad for you. Now, “blue-green” meat? THAT’S bad for you!”
- Go shopping when hubby can’t, period (but bring him home 1 favorite snack, too). You’re trying to steer this ship in a new direction, and the last thing you need, no matter how much ya love the guy, is a saboteur aboard when you’re stocking the galley!
- (RE: budgeting) Photocopy your receipts and use a highlighter to mark the items that pretty typically end up in your cart. Next week, if you try a different store, you can take that receipt with you, and quickly compare prices.