Avoiding processed foods

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One of my goals for this year is to cut back significantly on pre-packaged, processed foods. It’s partially to save some money—that stuff can get really expensive—but also because it was becoming a bit too much of a crutch. Granted, around our house, we used less prepackaged stuff than the average American, but we were still eating too many packaged snacks and relying on frozen meals (Amy’s, usually) for lunches. Plus, I just want to cook more.

So far, we’ve done pretty well. We still keep some Amy’s on hand for lunches when time is really tight and once or twice a week we’ll take a shortcut with dinner, but for the most part, we’ve been cooking more, baking more, and generally enjoying our food more.

One of the great things about running this blog is that I’ve gotten some killer cookbooks to review. And, of course, you can’t review a cookbook without trying a lot of recipes in it. Those nagging reviews really help encourage me to try out new dishes frequently and devote a chunk of time after work for “kitchen time,” preparing dinner. Our dog looks on with hope in her eyes, “Please can I have some broccoli? How about carrots?” (Yes, she begs for veggies.) She appreciates us cooking more, too, since that means there’s more stuff we can put aside for her to have.

One of the things that had kept us from preparing as many meals as we would have liked before was the thought that, “Ugh… I’ve got to pick out a recipe. Do we even have the ingredients?” It can be frustrating and daunting to pick and prepare a recipe after coming home from a long day at work. So, to combat that issue we’ve started doing two things:

  • Planning our meals ahead of time. Sunday we plan the meals for the week, write them on Webly’s calendar, and grab what we need from the store Sunday night. Having a plan helps, even if we occasionally deviate from it.
  • Building in at least one “improvised” meal. This removes the stress of coming home and wondering if we have everything we need. The idea behind this one is “a grain and some steamed veggies.” Like last night, I cooked up some quinoa which takes about 15 minutes, steamed some broccoli which also takes about 15 minutes, and added some spinach to the broccoli about three minutes before it was done. Drop the veggies on top of the quinoa, drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and there you go… a really easy, healthy dish with stuff that’s probably going to be be in the fridge and pantry anyway. I know I’m pretty late to the game with this, but by giving myself permission to not follow a recipe occasionally, the pressure’s off. (I think I feel this need to follow a recipe because I’m still learning so much about food and its preparation.)

Those two things have made a pretty big difference. The one thing we’ve always done, and continue to do, is to make 4-6 servings even though there’s only two of us. That way, we’re both covered for lunch the next day.

Do you have any favorite tips for making sure you eat well even when you get home late from work and just want to crash on the couch?

12 Responses to “Avoiding processed foods”

  1. Moominmama

    Just discovered your blog – I’m a newbie vegan – I totally agree with your philosophy re food labels. At this point I’m happy to cut out meat and dairy, and work on becoming animal-free gradually. I’ve found it really helps to cook double the amount of any grain or pulse/legume I happen to be using. That way I always have the base of a salad for the next day. And yeah, chuck that recipe book
    out the window for a bit. Chop up a bit of this and that, throw it together with a good homemade hemp-oil dressing and bingo! Homemade houmous is a good one too. You can vary it by adding harissa paste if you like spicey food for one day. You can even roll it into balls and bake or fry it (kinda like falafel). Homemade tofu spreads with miso are also great ways of getting yummy protein into your diet, spread it on wholegrain bread or crackers. I have also tried making nut butters at home too – almond, hazelnut etc, they’re yummy. Oh, and last of all SOUP. Make more than you need and freeze it.

  2. Chris

    We pretty much do the same thing (or try to anyway). My wife is pretty good at rummaging in the pantry and coming up with a good meal. I’m getting better at it, but I still like to plan.

  3. Shelly Burnett

    I think this is an excellent idea but for one thing: soy chk’n strips. My family loves them, and since I live with omnis, they make my life easier. It cuts down on the number of omni meals I have to make. They’ve gone along with me on many a vegan road, but when it comes to chicken, they balk. Having found a veggie substitute, I’m not likely to give it up anytime soon.

    But I do agree that the best way to cook vegan meals is to put your head in the fridge and see what’s there and work with it. I rarely resort to cookbooks.

  4. Catherine

    I portion leftovers into 2-cup plastic containers, date, and freeze. In seconds you have homemade microwaveable meals that will keep for about a month or so. They work well for both lunches and dinners!

    Other superfast suppers I love are: whole-wheat pancakes (I make a homemade mix by throwing together 6 batches of dry ingredients at once, and plopping the mix in the freezer,) with fruit and soy sausage or a tofu scramble, whole-wheat pasta with veggies and beans (and a little olive oil and/or jarred sauce,) and stir-fry (you can usually get one on the table in as long as it takes to cook some brown rice.)

    Good luck!

  5. Ryan

    Moominmama: hummus balls… I like the idea!

    Chris: after a few months of seeing your blog, I’d certainly say you guys are good at coming up with meals! :)

    Shelly: believe me — convenience foods are great, especially when you’re dealing with omnis or transitioning vegetarians. And, boy, soy chicken strips can be awesome. What brand do you like?

    Catherine — good idea with freezing a batch of whole wheat pancake mix!

  6. Dreena

    Ditto on the soup! Soup is my savior, esp in these winter months. Combines the best ingredients – veg, spices, beans and/or grains, and you can make big batches to freeze portions for days that you don’t feel like cooking. Put together a fresh salad and maybe add whole-grain bread on the side, and the meal is complete!

  7. Danielle

    Leftovers, leftovers, leftovers. I almost always have leftovers in my fridge. Sometimes, I’ll make a main dish, nuke a potato, and have some leftover veggies with it. It’s also nice when pilafs make big portions because you can have it for dinner one night, for lunch later in the week, for dinner again…

  8. Summer

    I try to make big batches of staple foods over the weekend. For instance, I’ll cook a big batch of beans that can be made into bean burgers or soup or burritos on the fly. I also make a large batch of different batches of seitan from “La Dolce Vegan” every week or so. Super easy to make those into a quick dinner by adding rice and a veggie. And pasta. I keep a stash of pasta and good sauce in the cupboard for days I don’t want to cook.

  9. Karen

    I love everyone’s ideas! I work late, LATE late, that is, but I like to have a snack when I get home just after midnight. I think I’ll definitely by using some of your suggestions.

    By the way, I LOVE THIS BLOG. Thank you for it!!!

  10. Shelly Burnett

    Ryan: we like Lightlife soy chik’n strips. They have a good meaty feel for my omnis and they keep a good while in the fridge. I just can’t leave them on the counter and turn my back or the dog will eat them!

    Summer: the big batch cooking is something I’ve started doing recently as well. I don’t like most commercial marinaras, so about once a month I haul out the cast iron bean pot and make about ten quarts and freeze it in containers. I also freeze dinner size portions of homemade bean soups, blanched veggies, mashed potatoes, and vegan chili. I grow my own organic salad fixings, so usually making dinner for me is about a twenty minutes to done deal.

  11. Jamillah

    I love this site an I just went vegan again. I like the idea of planning what you want to eat for the week and make sure you have the ingredients. This is good for me because I have a husband who is not vegan, but has cut back on meat dairy considerably and always eats what I cook. So recipes are a way to go for me to introduce so good vegan foods for us both to eat.

  12. Dr Al Sears

    An alarming report from Stockholm University raises even more concern about processed carbohydrates. The report found cancer-causing agents in a number of cooked foods. – Dr. Al Sears MD – Health and Wellness

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