Sunday, February 21, 2010

Know thy dinner; know thyself.

Cooking your own meals is the easiest way to assure that you are eating both healthfully and ethically. It gives you a much greater ability to know where your food came from, how it was prepared, and the amount of nutrients and calories you put into your body come mealtime. And yet, many of us rely on restaurants to provide us with sustenance. A friend of mine, who eats out for dinner almost every night, tried explaining to me why he can’t cook for himself. The main problem, he said, was getting home too late. This seemed odd to me because it can take just as long to go to a restaurant and order a meal as it takes to cook. It took some time before I realized that his idea of cooking dinner started at picking a recipe and buying groceries. And he’s right; that just isn’t going to work. I can’t imagine anyone choosing to cook dinner if it means coming home from a long day of work and first having to select a recipe, then go buy the ingredients, and finally come home and cook the meal. What my friend is really lacking is not time to cook, but rather, a plan. Walking in the door after work cannot be the first time you think about what to cook for dinner or it will simply never happen.

For my household, the plan that works best is to sit down on a Saturday or Sunday morning, pick three recipes to cook for the week, create a grocery list, and then go shopping. If grocery shopping isn’t that convenient for you, an alternative would be to buy a lot of frozen or canned produce and freeze any meat or seafood in order to stretch the food you buy over several weeks and reduce the frequency of grocery store visits. Another produce option is to join a CSA (community-supported agriculture) program. In these programs, local farmers deliver a box of seasonal produce either to your home or a neighborhood drop-off location. The size and frequency of deliveries depends on how much you want to pay. If you can find a good CSA, you have the potential to receive organic, local, seasonal, fresh produce brought directly to you! Also, look for farmer’s markets in your area. There may be one on a weeknight close to your workplace, which can make picking up fresh produce (for your pre-planned dinner, of course) much more convenient. The goal here is to reduce the amount of last-minute food you need to acquire in order to cook.

A food plan also requires some idea of what you are going to cook. If you have a well-stocked pantry and freezer, you may be able to get away with less planning, but you will still need recipes. There are now many online databases for recipes (allrecipes is one that I use) although the shear volume of options can be overwhelming even if you have some idea of what you’d like to make. One great way to get new recipes, especially for an unfamiliar veggie that arrived in your produce box or somehow seemed appealing at the farmer’s market, is to ask your friends. I know it sounds very 1950’s, but you get the added bonus of relying on someone you trust and having someone to consult if things go terribly wrong. Of course, you have to have friends with recipes, but that is where you, dear reader, may be in luck. Since my switch to a produce-based diet, it has taken some effort (and the help of friends) to find recipes that are tasty, filling, and nutritious. As it turns out, even chard (yes, chard) can be delicious! To help you all on your journey toward an ethical, produce-based diet (or at least the few of you who may be considering it), I have decided to post some of my recipes so that you don’t have to rediscover all the delicious recipes I have already found. I’ll be sure to note quick versus long meals and whether most of the ingredients can be found in your well-stocked pantry/freezer or would require a lot of fresh ingredients. Look for a yummy recipe coming soon!

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