Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Real Food for Folks with Little Time or Resources

Someone asked me for ideas about how to sub in real food for people who don't have the time or resources to do a lot of scratch cooking. Here are some options ...

* Snacks are often an easy swap. Fresh fruit or mixed nuts are things you can just grab and stuff in your mouth. Certain veggies make great snacks with little or no prep, such as carrot or celery sticks with dip; hummus or yogurt are healthy options if you choose brands with few or no additives.

* Some grocery stores sell precut ingredients such as chopped celery or everything you need to make a pot roast. This is somewhat less safe and a lot more expensive than cutting your own, but if it makes the difference between cooking real food or heating ultra-processed food, it's worth considering.

* Look for things that cook quickly and can be dressed up in different ways. My lunch is customarily hot cereal, such as oatmeal or muesli. You can put sweet (pie spice, fruit) or savory (egg, onion) toppings on those. Eggs make a great base for all kinds of veggies or meat in an omelette or scramble. Quesadillas are just whatever filling you want and cheese to glue it to the tortilla. Chia pudding takes all of 5 minutes to mix up: chia seeds + delicious liquid, or chia seeds + base liquid + flavorings. Chill for several hours or overnight until set, like standard pudding.

* Some items stand alone especially well. One of our fall-winter staples is baked acorn squash. Half a squash, pat of butter, brown sugar, spice -- that's supper. It does take a while to bake but you can do other things while it cooks; the prep time is about 5 minutes.

* Using leftovers saves time. We like to make big hunks of meat occasionally and then dice the meat to use in quesadillas, omelettes, skillet dishes, etc.

* Spice blends also save time for anything you use frequently. Most are relatively quick and easy to make your own, or you can buy them. If you want to sample cheaply, Spicely sells little boxes of blends and simples from around the world.

* Certain appliances work really well for healthy cooking. Many crockpot recipes are dump recipes: add your meat, vegetables, cooking liquid, spices, and ignore for 4-6 hours. If you use single ingredients they tend to be healthy. Crocks come in everything from fondue to my size-queen 9 quart. We have a George Foreman grill that cooks most meats (pork, chicken, fish) in 5 minutes, or beef in 2-3 if you want it rare as we prefer. It will grill fruit as well as meat -- I did pineapple slices once.

* Look for single ingredients you can combine to make different things. Dry egg noodles, quinoa, canned mushrooms, tomato paste, frozen mixed vegetables, and shredded cheese are some of our stock items. Here are some healthy pantry staples.

* Similarly, shop organic if you can afford it. Healthy foods like nut butters, hummus, yogurt, etc. can be made unhealthy by putting commercial crud in them, but stay healthy if the ingredient list is kept short and processing is minimized. If you're especially lucky, you can find real flash-pasteurized milk instead of the ultra-processed dairy beverage commercially sold as "milk."

* If you try a recipe and it takes too long, think how you can simplify it. I usually use raw onions in meatloaf because browning them takes an extra 15-20 minutes. A great big fuck no to that. If you don't like al dente onions, then dried onions work great and only take a minute or so to reconstitute before using.

* If you can clear half a day or a day for cooking, you can make your own convenience meals. We do this with spaghetti sauce and sandwich filling, because the store brands are mostly high-fructose corn syrup now. :P Once the stuff is made, it only takes a few minutes to heat a carton. Depending which crock I use, that's 6-12 cartons each of which feeds both of us supper plus lunches for Doug. If you boxed the same amount as single servings it'd be 2-4 times that many.
Tags: food, how to
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