My partner for Fall semester was my good friend Dave. Dave just moved to London after spending a year in San Francisco, and last night he sent me the following email "P.S.":
Hey - I totally forgot one of the other things I was contacting you about. I am trying to eat healthier and thought you would be a good person to ask for some input. I am having a hard time cooking for myself every night when I get home from work and a long commute - whenever I am tired/lazy I tend to resort to not as good food. Started making a fair amount of salads etc, but was wondering if you had any staple foods, meals etc that you like/resort to. I don't plan to go completely vegetarian but I don't think that should matter. I have been to a couple farmer's markets, but I can tell you it's definitely not California anymore so your local produce knowledge might not be too applicable. Anyway, any input that you might have would be greatly appreciated. Talk to you soon. Hope you are doing well.
Wow, Dave, you asked the right person.
I too am struggling with the balance of money, time and health. When I was doing the On Food Stamps challenges I felt like every waking minute was devoted to cooking or getting food. I had no time for socializing, exercising or painting/crafting. Now that things have calmed down a bit, I have found some really great foods that make it possible for me to eat well on a budget without spending all of my time cooking.
Here are a few suggestions:
Lentils are my best friend. I buy a week's worth of lentils for less than $2 and have found a million ways to cook them. Lentils work well with any of the following:
- curry or other traditional Indian spices
- coconut milk
- lemon, lime or any other flavorful citrus juice
- diced tomatoes in a can
2. DEPENDS HOW YOU CUT IT...Cut down on prep time by watching how you cut your food.
Working veggies like zucchini, eggplant or squash into the meal can be a real time drain if you try to chop the veggies into small pieces. Tonight I experimented with cutting large chunks of zucchini instead of small circles and it worked out great. By minimizing prep time you can create meals much faster.
Cutting pieces as you see above required only 2 cuts per zucchini rather than the 15-20 cuts required to cut the zucchini into even little circles. Major time saver!
3. OVEN vs. STOVE
Stove top cooking tends to require a lot of stirring and prep work. Baking or roasting dishes in the oven can be a lot easier. In most cases you can pop something in the oven and do other things while your meal cooks. And by the way, I am using the term "oven" loosely. If you don't have a working oven don't worry, I don't either! I have a great little toaster oven that I use for all of my baking and roasting. Since I am cooking for one person these days, the smaller oven really makes sense. I got the little toaster oven pictured below for free at a tag sale, and it has really been an awesome addition to my kitchen.
I suggest the following:
- SQUASH: Not sure about London, but the winter months in my corner of the world mean squash and root vegetables galore. I have found that cutting a butternut or acorn squash in half, drizzling some olive oil over it, adding some cracked pepper and popping it in the toaster oven takes less than 10 minutes. I can forget about this squash for an hour, and when I return it is ready to eat. Sometimes I put it in the fridge and save it for breakfast or lunch the next day.
- ROASTED VEGGIES: Similarly, I recommend getting comfortable with roasting vegetables. All it takes is a glass dish, and a little olive oil and basil over chopped potatoes, zucchini, eggplant, carrots and onions. Throw in some cherry tomatoes as well! I roast my veggies at around 450 degrees until they seem soft enough, usually 40 minutes or so.
This is a bummer. I love salad, but when I'm pressed for time I just can't make them, and I think that Dave is asking a lot of himself when he turns to salads for a healthy meal. Washing lettuce and chopping veggies takes a lot of time. Salads also tend to be pretty expensive to make - mixed greens are costly. I've had success lately roughly chopping veggies such as jicama, cucumber or carrots (any veggie that tastes good raw is great) and drizzling homemade dressings over them. I make dressings with oils and vinegar, soy sauce, mustard, herbs and fruit juices.These chopped raw vegetable concoctions are much like salad, but they incorporate cheaper produce and take me less time to prepare.
5. DESIGNATE 1 DAY PER WEEK FOR COOKING
It is really hard to get home from work and cook every night. I have found that establishing a "cooking day" each week is key to preparing cheap and healthy meals.
Sunday is my day, and I really look forward to it. On any Sunday around 4pm you will find me wearing an apron and dancing around my kitchen to great music. Most likely there are beets or squash medleys in the oven, lentils simmering in a pot, and broccoli or zucchini steaming away in garlic and spices all at once. I usually cook enough food for at least 75% of my week's meals during my Sunday cooking session. Its almost as if I make my own "TV Dinners" in a sense.
I rely heavily on my army of Tupperware containers to carry my pre-prepared meals to work. This system works out fantastically for me because once I am cooking one dish it doesn't take too much more effort to put a pot of lentils on the stove or pop some veggies into the oven to roast at the same time. Using containers to separate the cooked food into meal size quantities also helps me control my portions. It is all about being economical with your time.
Does anyone else have any food prep time saving techniques to suggest to Dave?