Cooking As A Means To Health, Not Frugality

I’ve mentioned on the blog before that I’m a big fan of cooking and an even bigger fan of eating. As a “personal finance blogger” (in name only, really), one would expect that my reliance on home cooking is mostly for finances, but I am here to tell you ’tis not so. I mean, saving money is great and all, but the real reason I cook most of my meals is for my health. The physical kind, not the financial.

I was nineteen when I suddenly and painfully became lactose intolerant. Without getting too much into it, it took a complete overhaul of my food intake to figure out what was going on. I tried various elimination diets. Through trial and error, I learned that, in additional to my lactose intolerance:

  • I cannot eat tomatoes for more than two meals in a row,
  • I cannot eat certain spices,
  • Non-fibrous carbohydrates give me drastic energy spikes and can greatly exacerbate my anxiety,
  • I am extremely sensitive to caffeine and other stimulants,
  • I have mild sensitivity to wheat, and
  • Chocolate makes me break out.

You know how much American fast food contains one of: dairy, non-fibrous carbs, or tomatoes? Like, 95% of it.

So, out of necessity, I started cooking all my meals myself. Obviously from my food spending, I don’t cook everything still. But, I’ll cook most of what I eat. And given my new diet, I figured out what I could make that would not only taste good, but make me feel good.

At this point, I have everything down to a system. I eat 150 kcals of almonds or cashews each morning, offered free at my workplace. Sometimes I’ll drink tea in the morning, but only once in a while since multiple days of green tea can literally keep me awake and jittery at night. Each week I get a delivery of my vegetable CSA, each month a delivery from my meat CSA. Once a week, I break out my podcasts and let myself flow into cooking. This week I set aside four hours to turn a pound of ground beef and this:

Into this:

From the top, left to right: roasted watermelon radishes and beets, stir fry broccoli with peppers and onions, romaine lettuce, sweet potato fries, roasted cabbage, celeriac puree, kale chips, and ginger ground beef stir fry. 

(Obviously I’m a big fan of roasting. It’s almost impossible to screw up! If I ever own a restaurant, I’ll name it Maillard in appreciation.)

Using my prepped food, it’s easy for me to throw together meals. Sometimes I’ll put together a protein with a carb and vegetables and call it a day. Other times i might supplement with some simple cooking. From the above, I was able to throw together a root vegetable salad, beef lettuce wraps, and Asian fusion sweet potato poutine.

Because I’m always getting 8-15 pounds of vegetables a week, I don’t worry too much about my micronutrient intake. I don’t have to sacrifice health for taste, either. Cooking all my meals means I can generally avoid unnecessary fat, sugar, and salt and season everything just the way I like. Instead of a heavy cream-filled ranch, I can throw together my own delicious savory dressing from olive oil, balsamic vinagerette, sesame oil, soy sauce, white miso paste, and just a dash of honey. Shaking smooth until a deep brown gravy forms, it makes for a delightful concoction of tang and umami while still keeping everything feeling light. In spite of and sometimes because of the health-consciousness of my meals, I’ll get semi-jealous sometimes-digs, sometimes-compliments from my coworkers on how my food smells in the office kitchen. Having everything already on hand is also great in that it reduces my daily stress– I never have to worry about planning my next meal.

Note that while I mention how wonderful cooking has been on multiple dimensions– health, taste, daily convenience– I don’t really harp on it being cheaper. That’s because, for about $45 worth of ingredients (including spices and oils), I only make about 10 meals worth of food. Assuming I could buy fast food for $10/meal and that I spend 4 hours/week batch cooking, I only really save $55/week or about $13.75 per hour of my time. While it’s not nothing, the benefit here in terms of cash is dwarfed by the benefits in terms of living.

Why do you cook? What’s your cooking style?

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12 thoughts on “Cooking As A Means To Health, Not Frugality

  1. Yes, I can’t really say that my cooking is much cheaper than take out but it’s definitely healthier. I can’t claim it’s tastier because I still have a taste for the unhealthy like french fries and I haven’t found the healthier tasty version of them yet. BUT it’s healthier and that’s what’s important to us.

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  2. Errr … lazy?

    I love carbs. I don’t have any food issues thankfully but I do feel crappy if I eat too much crap. I’m fine with dairy, meat (though not a huge fan) in moderation and gluten.

    Big fan of simplicity in the kitchen – the fewer ingredients the better, and in one pan/pot. Sadly the fruits I like (berries, melons etc) are crazy expensive and seasonal, I’m not big on fruit to be honest. I really like roasted veggies, but struggle to get full on leafy salads.

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  3. My cooking style is probably best described as simple and/or boring. My repertoire isn’t too extensive, but i never really feel like it’s too small as I’m pretty comfortable with my kitchen skills, and have a pretty easy time adding a new recipe from a blog or something if I feel like it – a lot of simply cooked quinoa, beans, or lentils to use as a base and then some sauteed vegetables and oven-cooked chicken or fish. I have a few slightly more labor-intensive Chinese dishes in my repertoire that I make for weekend meals (mapo tofu adapted from Woks of Life with some pretty significant changes, the New York Times three cup chicken, and a few others).

    I’m definitely the type of person that can batch-prepare the same lunch for basically my entire work week (usually ends up being 4 days out of 5 because something usually comes up at work where I’ll want to go out with colleagues or there will be an event where lunch is provided) over the weekend, and make that same lunch every week for several months in a row. (If I’m doing that though, I’ll want more variety for dinner – if I had batch-prepared a bit of other (usually very similar) food for dinner maybe ~2-3 days of the week, I’ll often be very tempted to want to get something else for dinner instead… That has led to food waste of the dinner food sometimes.

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    1. I’ll often stray from my already-prepped batch cooked food too when I’m eating the same thing over and over. Thinking about it really makes me appreciate how much food variety we have access to nowadays that would have been inconceivable even a few decades ago.

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  4. I like cooking at home, both for health and value reasons. I don’t cook cheap (at all), but it is still more economical to buy a nice salmon filet from the fancy fish market than to go out for the same meal. I think it is fun to try new things, so eating this well would cost a fortune at restaurants.

    We also don’t live that close to restaurants anymore, so it is more efficient to just cook than to take the whole evening to go out to dinner. Takeout/delivery is a terrible value usually. I also have no options for restaurants at work without taking an hour for lunch, so it is nice to have leftovers.

    So basically, cooking is actually just easier in most cases, provided I took the time to make sure I have the right ingredients.

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      1. Haha. The other picture I had of it looked just like brown gloop in a jar so I wanted the photograph to look slightly more appealing than that. Electrical outlet is a step up from other possible comparisons so I’ll call it a win.

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    1. I’ve definitely found as I’ve cooked more I’ve gotten way more particular with ingredients. Grass fed meats, organic produce, sprouts, fermented everything, etc (though the CSA style of groceries helps to curb some of the most expensive impulses). When I eat out, I only want it to be for meals that are “worth it”, i.e. fancier or more labor intensive than what I could make for myself. More expensive restaurants -> easier to justify fancier ingredients for home meals -> higher expectations for restaurants -> and so on. It’s kind of been a spiral of lifestyle inflation, but a delicious one. I regret nothing.

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  5. We don’t cook, which I hate. But Tim’s such a picky eater… If something doesn’t sound good to him — and he won’t know until he’s hungry — he can’t keep it down. It got disheartening, especially since it was already hard enough for me to find the energy (mental and physical) to cook. So I gave up. But he’s been told to lower his fat intake, so I think we’re going to have to figure something out. I’m thinking marinades.

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    1. That’s really tough on the impromptu picky eating. Does Tim have staples he goes for often that you can keep prepared and on hand in the freezer? Or that you can keep on hand for yourself if you don’t want to get the same food as him? Marinades sound good for replacing flavor from fatty toppings and the like. Best of luck with transitioning to the new diet!

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