Monday, December 10, 2007

Save Money, Save Your Health, Save the Earth

Today's tip, do more cooking from scratch. When you use prepared foods, they are more expensive, filled with sodium, preservatives, artificial colors, sugar (in many forms, all unhealthy LOL), etc. AND all the extra packaging ends up in the landfills (or even if you recycle, it still requires resources to process the recycled stuff).

Some easy, healthy, meals from scratch that we enjoy:

Rice & Beans. I use dry black beans, depending on what else I'm doing that day, and how organized I am, I sometimes use the crock pot (need to remember to do this more often, it's the easiest option LOL), sometimes cook on the stove. I pretty much open my spice cupboard & add whatever strikes my fancy. About an hour before suppertime I start cooking the brown rice (brown rice is healthier (a whole grain) than white rice, and IMO tastes better (dh prefers white, but will eat brown), but does take longer to cook. I've heard you can soak it all day & then cook it for a shorter amount of time, but I haven't tried it. Then just serve it, people put rice on their plates, add beans on top, dh adds hot sauce, the girls & I eat it plain. It's filling, very inexpensive (if you shop around you can generally find both beans & rice for around $1/lb (or less) and our family of 4 probably eats roughly 1/2 lb of each, with some leftovers (I cook a full lb of beans, but freeze some for those days when I want black beans but don't take time to cook them) so, around $1 for a meal for 4, assuming you have spices on hand.

And a great lunch (or supper, but in our case, dh isn't a fan, so we make it for lunch while he's at work) the next day, assuming you have leftover rice, is fried rice.

If you have a bread machine, homemade bread is a snap, throw the ingredients in, push the button, and take it out when you're done. And again, cuts down on the plastic bags you use (since store bought bread pretty much all comes in plastic bags) and you avoid all the preservatives & such that are in storebought bread. Like with the rice, whole wheat is much healthier than white flour (but I'm not sure but what homemade white bread would be healthier than (most) store bought wheat bread since very little of it is truly whole wheat (it just has SOME whole wheat in it, but still has white flour too) and it still has the preservatives & such in it). Ideally, you should buy wheat & grind your own whole wheat flour. That gives you the highest concentration of nutrients from the wheat (when the flour is ground and left to sit for awhile it loses some nutrients over time), but I have no advice on the mechanics of doing this, I'm totally spoiled, my grandma has a grain mill (well, I think technically it's Mom's but currently resides at Grandma's house), so I just have to plan ahead enough to let Mom know a couple days ahead of seeing her, that I'll need flour, and she gets it from Grandma & gives it to me.

Along the same lines, we make homemade ww pizza, using the bread machine. Ideally, you can grow (or get at the farmer's market, or from neighbors & co-workers who have too much) tomatoes in the summer & freeze or can spaghetti sauce (or pizza sauce, I use spaghetti sauce for both) to use all year, but I'll admit that I haven't been that ambitious/organized yet (maybe next summer LOL), I generally buy jarred spaghetti sauce, but I read the labels to make sure there's no added sugar or corn syrup. You can also make your own sauce (adding spices & such) from canned tomatoes/tomato paste/tomato sauce, there are numerous online recipes.

In the winter, we generally have soup for supper at least once a week, and often I'll make a different kind (that dh doesn't like) early in the week and use it for a couple lunches during the week. This winter I'm hoping to try other kinds of soup & maybe even find some other ones dh likes, he makes it difficult by not liking tomatoes, and I try to limit the cream based soups because they're not as healthy (and milk and cheese are more expensive than tomatoes LOL).

A simple vegetable stir-fry is great when you don't have much time. In the winter I generally use frozen vegetables, in the summer, I use whatever is in season. I'm not very scientific about it, put a little olive oil in a skillet, add garlic &/or onions, then whatever other veggies you want. I've also been including soy curls recently. We're vegetarian, so this kind of replaces the "meat" soy curls are just dehydrated soybeans, so they don't have the preservatives & such that other "fake meat" products have. I just soak them in chicken flavored broth (I just recently made my own, haven't tried it yet to see how it tastes) for a few minutes, then brown them in the skillet. We serve the stir fry over brown rice (though on a night when I don't have an hour, I sometimes use Jasmine rice, which only takes 15 minutes). Lately we've been eating however much rice I make (since I make fried rice for lunch the next day & the girls can eat an amazing amount of that!) but when I can, I freeze rice to have for quicker meals.

Snacks, at home, one of our favorites is popcorn. BUT instead of microwave popcorn that is coated in who knows what chemicals to approximate the taste of butter & salt, and then having a plastic outer wrap, plus the paper (w/ a metal-ish something or other in one side of it) bag, to add to the landfills, we pop up a nice big kettle of good old fashioned popcorn on the stove, add a little salt (dh likes to add Old Bay seasoning) and chow down. No artificial anything, no waste (well, very little, a bag of popcorn last as LONG time LOL) and it literally costs pennies for a nice big kettle full. To be really decadent, make kettle corn once in awhile :) (& on a related note, I've always used white sugar for kettle corn, but having read this recipe for it, I'm going to try it with sucanet, so even healthier, and loving the idea of a carmel-corn-like flavor :)

Fresh fruit (I try to always keep SOMETHING in a fruit bowl (I use a pretty metal colander, it lets the fruit breath, and means I can always find a colander when I need one LOL) apples, oranges, or in the summer, whatever's in season.

Raw veggies, cucumbers are a favorite around here, the girls go in phases where they really like the baby carrots.

When we're out, we like the banana oatmeal cookies I've mentioned a couple times, they're healthier than alot of pre-packaged snacks even if they are called cookies. I also get just tomatoes ( freeze dried fruit (I run a co-op for them every few months so I don't have to pay retail LOL) to take with us in the car & such. It's JUST the fruit, no added anything. Nuts are a healthy, filling, snack as well, right now I have a big tub of cashews in the car that we've been snacking on for the last few weeks.

Breakfast is a big one. If you're like me, you just always kind of assumed that breakfast = cold cereal. But even the "healthy" cereals have preservatives and stuff in them, and are expensive. Lately we've been eating oatmeal alot. I prefer it made overnight in the crock pot (2 cups old fashioned oats, 6 cups water, a dash of salt, cook on low overnight) I've seen the suggestion of adding fruit & such to this, and it sounds YUMMY but dh doesn't like fruit (too sweet) and DOES really like oatmeal so since we only have one crockpot, I haven't been mean enough to cook a pot of it that he can't eat. Muffins are nice too. Cornmeal mush, cream of wheat and grits are other breakfast cereal options. Pancakes can be made ahead & frozen for quick meals.

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