It's time we stop paying someone else to look out for our best interests when it comes to our meals, because most of them aren’t. Fast Food and Processed/Packaged Food Companies are not interested in our health and well-being, they’re interested in keeping their shareholders happy.
That means getting us to pay as much as possible for something they spent as little as possible to provide. Is that really the philosophy you want your family’s health and nutrition-based in?
It’s time we stop trading this so-called “convenience” for our health and took responsibility for ourselves again.
The convenience food industry has worked hard (and spent a lot of money) to convince us that we can't afford to buy healthy (from scratch) ingredients and that we don't have the time to prepare them.
That's just not true.
Here are a few of my favorite tips on shopping for and preparing simple, healthy, affordable meals at home...
- 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 menu 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 than 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: 1-Deprivation sucks, and even a semi-healthy goodie to reward your sticking to the plan, it better than the eventual binge. 2-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 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!”
Also, always 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.
3 Tips for a Healthier Kitchen
Many folks, either when finally deciding to get healthy, or "gettin' back on the horse" have to do some major overhauls of the food they eat, and, therefore, the food they stock.
In my business, I plan very different menus and recipes each week and am often picking up foods or ingredients that I haven't worked with before.
I've learned (mostly the hard way) some tips to survive diet, menu, and pantry makeovers.
When changing up your pantry…
Don't go buy a ton of food you've never eaten.
Try to stick to healthier versions of what you know (1% milk instead of 2%, low-fat yogurt instead of full-fat, etc), and add 2-3 "new foods" each trip.
This will keep you from finding your pantry overflowing (and your wallet empty) in a few months with a bunch of stuff you don't like, and won't eat.
Buy new foods in small portions.
Based on tip #1 - if you like the ingredient, you can always go back and buy more, but a 25lb bag of brown rice takes up a LOT of space...especially if you won't eat it. The "bulk foods" section of your store, or your local farmer's market, can be a great place to get small portions!
Buy what you like to eat (referring to "real food"),
...and practice portion control instead of deprivation. A little butter is NOT bad for you...pouring half a cup of it on your "steamed" veggies is. A baked potato is NOT bad for you...a bag of frozen French fries in one serving is.
Portion control is key, you have trained your body and your mind to respond to certain "drugs"...you can't just expect to cut them off cold turkey (pardon the pun). In the long term, deprivation will lead to failure every time.
Don't be afraid to try new things
In fact, embrace new, healthy foods and ingredients. For many of us, variety and adventure are just as important as a discipline (maybe more so) when it comes to sticking with a healthy lifestyle.
I try to shop late at night and eat dinner just before going to the store, so I’m not shopping hungry (and I'm not fighting a crowd, which leaves me stressed and more likely to want to "reward" myself.)
there are tons of great fresh produce, meats, etc along the outside of the grocery store that you can experiment with. Try new fresh herbs and unusual fruits. If you see something that looks interesting, write its name down, and Google some recipes until you find one that sounds good, then add that item to your next shopping list!
I’ll tell you, a handful of chopped fresh Thai basil will rock just about anything!
Sample some cilantro (you’ll love it, or you’ll hate it), and find a good recipe for roasting your own garlic. Any of these will turn something as pedestrian as a Cup O’ Noodles into a satisfying repast, and turn a good recipe into a next-level one!
Personally, I think that, in terms of a general style of cooking, it’s hard to beat a great “traditional” (not Americanized) Italian cookbook for finding healthy, exciting new things to try (disclaimer: yes, I am Italian, and totally biased.)
Greek cooking is pretty amazing (and healthy), as well.
Brass tacks…if it’s something you love to do…DO IT…just find a way to do it right.
I think the biggest deal-killer to most folk’s healthy eating, is that they believe that they have to deny themselves to eat healthily. We are, all of us, narcissists and hedonists by nature, and a deprivation mentality is a one-way ticket to a "to heck with it" binge session. I speak from personal experience.
Make learning, exploring, and experimenting with healthy eating something you love to do…and then indulge yourself! Try something new at the grocery store…take a field trip to your local farmer’s markets…throw a “healthy (country of choice) dinner” for your friends or family.
Make it fun…make it something you want to do…and you’ll do it!
- Chef Perry