What’s for Dinner?

The importance of cooking at home and meal planning.

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You may have taken notice that obesity and diabetes have been on the rise in the USA over the past few decades. One of the principal reasons for this is due to overly processed foods laden with high-fructose-corn-syrup, salt, fillers,  transfats, and preservatives. Traditional home cooking started moving to the ‘back burner’ in 1954 when Swanson Foods began promoting it’s ‘T.V. Dinners’ to tired housewives as an easy alternative. Just pop it in the oven and 30-45 minutes later dinner is served right on a disposable aluminum dinner tray. No fuss, no mess.  Decades later with the introduction of the home microwave, these ready prepped pre-packaged dinners  were re-designed with plastic containers for microwave use.

Add to this, changing gender roles during the 1960’s (a side effect of  its so-called Sexual Revolution), kids cereals with secret toy surprises, fast-food restaurants, and cheap junk food and we’ve created a generation that knows zero about home cooking. I remember an incident within the past five years when a friend was making a omelet for her boyfriend and  ‘googled’ instructions which were totally off base. Fortunately I was around to save the day. It just blew my mind that a thirty-something had never made an omelet. She was equally surprised that I, a GUY, knew how to cook. She does make an awesome baked mac-and-cheese however, so I’ll let her slide.   

My mother was a ‘talented’ cook. I say that because she was the only person I knew who could burn water.  Imagine my surprise the first time I discovered that scrambled eggs were NOT supposed to be black and crunchy. Once when I was driving cross-country with a friend, he asked if we could stop at the next restaurant. I agreed. When I drove right past the next diner without stopping, he said “Why didn’t we stop?” I asked him if he noticed the sign that read “FOOD JUST LIKE MOM USED TO MAKE” and told him I was doing him a favor.

Knowledge is power!

There is NOTHING un-manly about cooking. The finest restaurant chefs around the world are predominantly men. My favorite celebrity chef is Gordon Ramsey. I don’t tend to watch many cooking shows because I don’t eat animals, and many of the cooking shows demonstrate recipes that are not vegetarian friendly.    

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So yes, there was a great need for me to learn how to cook at an early age.  My first cook book was the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book. I was in college, and furnishing my first apartment, so I made sure to have everything I needed for the kitchen, including a how-to book. Real men READ the instructions before they attempt the project, and cooking is no different. It’s just knowledge, technique, and mastering the skills.  The internet was still in its infancy,  so googling anything was not an option. Add to the fact that that I became a vegetarian in college, and suddenly I had to learn stuff about cooking that was NOT in Better Homes.  I remember the first time I make my own soy milk. What a mess.  

You get what you pay for!

As you probably know, eating out is expensive. Cooking at home is cheaper, and can be healthier for you IF you learn to cook healthy meals.  You can also save money by planning menus for the week, and eliminating waste from spoilage.  You may be tempted to save money by buying cheap groceries. Avoid this mistake, or you are risking your health. So what if you can purchase packages of Raman noodles for  only 13 cents each ,  and you figure you could eat three square meals a day of Raman noodles for an entire year for just $142.65. Do you want  to eat the same thing every meal for a year? I sure as hell don’t.  Such monotony is not only unhealthy, it’s a little bit insane. And have you ever read the ingredients on a bag of Raman noodles? They contain a food additive called Tertiary-butyl hydroquinone (TBHQ), a preservative that is a petroleum industry byproduct. They’re also incredibly high in sodium, calories and saturated fat.  If this is the only thing you can afford to eat, I feel sorry for you. You may have saved money, but you’re ruining your health in the process.

Try to plan meals using fresh healthy ingredients. Have a supply of non-perishable kitchen supplies like olive oil, flour, spices, baking soda, etc. Just as long as it’s stuff you need and use. Honey lasts forever! And only use 100% pure maple syrup, throw away that Log Cabin pancake syrup it’s bad for you. Buy whole spices and grind them as you need them, they will keep longer. You can even set up a window box of herb plants to harvest your own basil, thyme, parsley, cilantro, or rosemary to add fresh herbs to your cooking.  Canned foods can be healthy IF they are organic, and contain a few preservatives as possible. Alternately you can learn home canning and can your own healthier foods.  I have canned my own jars of the hottest hot peppers known to man because the store brought hot peppers were not hot enough for me. Plus because they only use vinegar and kosher salt as the preservatives, they are much better than what you buy in the store. I have also made my own ketchup, with NO corn syrup or chemicals, just a  couple of healthy ingredients.

Although some ‘doomsday preppers’ may recommend having a year’s supply of food in your larder, I think this is excessive. I recommend no more than three months supply of most non-perishables, unless it’s something hard to come by, like the hot peppers I pick in the field myself once a year for my home-canned jars of super-hot peppers, or the awesome handmade Pepper Jam I buy from  Jacky’s Jams and Jellies at the Annual Bowers Chilie Pepper Festival

Next, based on your family size, look up healthy meal recipes that suit your tastes on the internet.  Plan out the recipes for the week based on how long the fresh ingredients will keep.  Remember, organic fruits and vegetables have shorter shelf-lives because they are free from pesticides and chemicals.  After you’ve arranged the meals for the week, create a shopping list of all the ingredients necessary. Double check the recipes to ensure that you have everything you need on the list. You don’t want to find yourself in the middle of cooking a meal and suddenly realizing you’re all out of Pride Of Szeged Hungarian Sweet Paprika Seasoning Spice! By having a rotation of meals, you will never be bored eating the ‘same-old, same-old’. Remember to include special meals for birthdays and holidays in your planning. For example, for Christmas each year I make a vegetarian version of the traditional Christmas Lasagna that my late aunt Arleen always made each Christmas when I was a young boy. There was also another special baked pasta dish that she made me on my birthday, a baked spaghetti pie which I loved growing up, which I have likewise adapted to my vegetarian lifestyle.     

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Take your shopping list with you to the grocery store, and avoid impulse buying. Stores routinely place items they are  promoting in the entryway, on isle end-caps, and near checkout lanes to encourage you to buy sale items you really don’t need. These will destroy your budget. Stick to your list. If-and-only-if you see an incredible buy on something that you regularly use and need, and you can justify the purchase, or even double-down with a money-saving coupon, then grab that extra item. Beyond that ‘shopping emergency’, STICK TO YOUR LIST! If you don’t need it, don’t buy it. You do not want to be the person who went into a store for one quick item, yet departed an hour later with a filled cart.     

No good at planning meals, try a meal kit service!

Two months ago, I decided to try Hello Fresh. It’s a meal kit delivery service. They have no contract, you can cancel the service any time prior to the weekly ship cut-off time. I had a coupon and figured I would try it for a month. They had a vegetarian plan, (not vegan) that offered three weekly meals designed for two persons. I live alone, but this just meant that I could cook three times a week, and save half for leftovers so I was able to stretch my dinners to almost the entire week. The greatest thing about the meals are that everything is provided (except salt, pepper, cooking oil, or butter, things which should be in stock in every kitchen all the time, so no worries there).  All the meals come with color photo recipe cards and step-by-step instructions. They are pretty easy for anyone with basic cooking skills and a modest kitchen.  Each meal takes about a half-hour or so to make, typically runs from 500-700 calories per serving, and most (but not all) of the ingredients are organic, non-GMO.  Let me tell you, I have been cooking things like asparagus, artichoke hearts, farro, couscous, avocado,  arugula, zucchini, etc. These are items I would never have freely purchased at a store. And yet, because I know I can eat them, they have been shipped to me and I am committed to trying new foods.  Let me tell you, my meals have never been as varied and flavorful. There has been nothing I have received which I have tried and did not love.  Although Hello Fresh is not marketed as a weight loss plan, because the servings are always less than 800 calories at the most, and all healthy ingredients, I have been losing weight.   Some of my friends have claimed that $59.95 a week is expensive, but as I’ve said I did have a $30 off coupon that first week. I’ve also managed to win an online Hello Fresh photo contest  which got me a discount on two weeks of meals.

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I have a promo code which gives each new  user  $40 off their first week, while at the same time  gets me a discount as well for referring them.  Plus, by not needing to shop for all the ingredients, I’m saving time  so it’s so worth it. I’ve loved cooking these meals so much that I’ve been buying professional cookware, knives, and chef tools for my kitchen.  Plus I feel great, and feeling good about yourself is a cornerstone of happiness.  If you would  like to try Hello Fresh and live in the USA, you can get $40 off  your first purchase by using my exclusive promo code EXPRESSOM . If you live in Canada or the UK, I’m not sure if it works for Hello Fresh CA or UK, but if it does work, please let me know so that I may pass that information on.  If you’re committed to cooking and eating new foods, as well as feeling great, I urge you to give Hello Fresh a try. As always, I wish you happiness and success!      

Author: instantcoffeewisdom

I am a lifelong coffee enthusiast, a poet, and I am in the process of opening a cafe!

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