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?