Trying New Things

My mother in law is a picky eater. I mean this with the utmost love and respect. I am pretty sure MIL is a super taster. As in, there are very mild flavors she can pick up that float along in the background for my palate. She won’t eat meat, including seafood which she finds too fishy. No alcohol. Bitterness is absolutely off the table. Carbs and dairy product are pretty much the only things you can reliably count on her liking. 

Any amount of heat in a dish and MIL is out. No peppers, not even black pepper, or she throws up her hand in the air from the spice. Once, someone served her a slice of pepper jack on a charcuterie board, and she bemoaned that someone could so ruin a perfectly good piece of cheese.

Whenever we go out to eat with MIL, she orders the same thing: grilled cheese sandwich. It doesn’t matter if we’re at a sandwich shop, an Italian restaurant, heck even when we went to Asian fusion. Grilled. Cheese. Sandwich. Please.

It pained me to see that there were so many flavors in the world that she had isolated herself from. Some of them out of distaste, sure, but most of them because she had become too scared of trying. For someone like me, who considers food one of the most pleasurable aspects of living with family and emotion wrapped all up in it, it made me sad to see her so afraid of so much food. It felt, to me, lonely.

So we decided. She was going to come out with us and get some Japanese food. We’d order her different things she might like and eat the rest of it if she didn’t. No harm, no foul. Just a welcoming space to try.

Turns out, with just a little nudging, we were able to expand her culinary interest considerably! She loved the tamagoyaki, sukiyaki soba, chawanmushi, edamame, and purple sweet potato tempura. She liked the avocado maki except the seaweed which wrapped it. She didn’t fancy the enoki yakitori. She looked downright appalled at my uni ikura soba (It looks orange and furry but I swear it tastes delicious!).

With this new assortment of foods that she had tried and knew she liked, she could go to a Japanese restaurant the next time one of her girlfriends wanted to go for lunch, and feel confident that not worry about being thrust into something scary or unfamiliar. As the pushy daughter in law that helped get her there, I am really happy about this.

Anyway, this is all to say a couple things:

  1. people can grow, even in their core habits, even late in life
  2. sometimes all you need is a nudge

Have you tried something new or encouraged a loved one to trying something new recently? How was the experience?


Goal: Stop Eating Out

Look, I’ve spent a lot of time on this blog kvetching about how much I spend on food. Well, this year, I’m going to do something about it. My two step plan is as follows:

  1. Stop going to restaurants that aren’t worth the price. You can see in the below chart I have mapped every local area restaurant I’ve gone to in the past six months in terms of price/quality and, upon reflection, I’ve found some of my most frequent haunts (“Chinese delivery”) don’t actually make the cut. This causes me to continue craving a “nice” meal later in the week, perpetuating the eating out cycle.
  2. Limit the number of restaurant trips I make in each price bracket. I typically have too many $20-30 meals which gets me in trouble. Knowing how many of those I can have in a month will hopefully help me ration it out a little better.

Copy of Untitled drawing.jpg

Based on these numbers, I’ll be able to go out to eat between 2-3x each week. That’s less than I’m used to, but not terrible. If you sum everything up, there’s a good chance I’ll still be spending ~$300/month on eating out if I go somewhere fancy every month or have a board game night where we order in (there’s always at least one). While certainly not frugal especially for a FIRE blogger, is a number I can definitely live with.

Is eating out consistently “worth it” to you? 

All The Food I Ate Last Month – Part 2 of 3 (with some photos)

In this installment, I’ll discuss all the food I ate in the back half of last month (April 15-30). Check out my previous post for what I ate April 1-14. Luckily, I got it together a little in the last two weeks and remembered to take some food pictures for this post. Nothing Insta-worthy, I inhale poke too fast to bother trying to photograph it, but just a little something to add visual interest.

Second Half Of The Month: April 15-30

Here’s everything I ate in the second half of April:

april 15-30 menu.png

Toward the end of the month, I relied a lot more on takeout. And Pirate’s Booty. Soooo much Pirate’s Booty. Part of this was a function of work stress. When I’m stressed I tend to “treat myself” more. That is, let myself not have to cook and worry less about what it is I’m eating. Which, in retrospect, is kind of dumb. Stressful times are exactly when I should be sticking to healthy routines, not deviating from them. Oh well.


I managed to finish off a couple of my loose leaf teas this month, including my “White Christmas” tea (white tea, vanilla, cinnamon and other spices) and shiitake tea (red and green rooibos, shiitake mushrooms). It’s probably for the best that I don’t reorder these right away. One of the things I’ve found is that I don’t hydrate nearly as well if I am sipping on teas all day vs. sipping on water.

As far as “free” meals go, Thursday April 19th I ate a client-provided lunch during an all-day meeting (stress ergo both cookies and a bag of BBQ chips). The next day work friend brought in egg custards from Chinatown which he was very generous to share with me. Fiancé let me eat some of his soba noodles as a late night snack April 23rd. The next day he did a grocery run for himself and, knowing I’d been having a hard time pushing on a work deadline, brought me back a chocolate lava cake, my favorite of all desserts.(@_@) True love, right there.

What I Cooked (April 15-30)

Here are all the groceries I bought in the second half of April:

groceries 415-430

More eating out than normal -> less cooking -> less groceries.

I skipped some of my usual vegetable pseudo-CSA deliveries this month because I wasn’t feeling up to cooking 10 pounds of straight-from-the-ground vegetables. As much as I love my pseudo-CSA and the quality of the produce I get, sometimes it can be a little too fresh. Like, dirt still lightly dusting most of my vegetables. It takes me a long time to clean that stuff off and for a while in mid-April, I just wasn’t feeling up to the task.


In lieu of doing a big bulk cook, I ended up picking up a few items at the butcher (that sells other local items too), just to unwind with a little bit of light hobby cooking that’d last me only 1-2 meals. I always enjoy going there to buy foraged mushrooms, like the brown beech fruiting body I bought pictured above.

Second half of the month, I had my usual meat CSA delivery, where I get 5ish pounds which I mete out over the course of the month. I added six pounds of beef knuckle bones to my order so I could make homemade bone broth.

I managed to get by without too much home-cooking by trying a meal delivery service in the second half of April:

meal delivery april.png

This meal delivery service was super useful in getting me through those couple of weeks. It had been recommended to be by one of my coworkers. For around $50-60 a week, the service would deliver 7-8 servings based on produce and chicken from local, organic farms.


The meals would get a bit repetitive typically contain some sort of salad or some sort of simple cooked meal (I got roast pork and beef butternut squash). But the sizes were very generous and the salads were much heartier than the word would suggest. For instance, pictured above are two salads I got: the Greek salad with red cabbage, chicken, cucumber, almonds, parsley, and greens on the left and the New England salad with pickled carrots, roasted root vegetables, chicken, parsley, walnuts and spinach on the right. They’d come in these huge containers weighing about a pound. Even I as a big eater could not finish them in a single sitting.

Here is what I cooked in the second half of April:cooking apr 15-30

The Week 3 items are a repeat from the previous post; I figured I’d display them again since I ate them during the week of the 15th.


Weeks 3 & 4, I didn’t cook all that much since I was mostly relying on the meal delivery service to cover most of my weekday eats. But I did manage to put together a cozy little meal of Brussel sprouts, mushrooms, and sausage which was a nice hearty note to eat during the chilly early spring weather. Too lazy for any “real” cooking, I also put together a quick chickpea rollup during the week. It was super easy: mix chickpea flour and water until consistency of a pancake batter, toss in some spices, cook on the stove until firm. Once I had my nice fluffy chickpea pancake, I just topped it with an egg over easy, sriracha and spinach. Honestly, I’m not sure the sriracha and cumin flavorings really went together all that well. Next time, if I manage to think about it beforehand, I’ll probably do a curry based sauce on top instead.


It wasn’t until Week 5 that I managed to get my act together and put together some vegetable based meals for myself. My favorite visually and flavor-wise was the roasted spring salad. At first the salad was meant to be raw, but I had cut the ingredients, particularly the beets, too thick to eat plainly, and I strongly prefer the mellowed out flavor of roasted radishes to raw. I particularly loved the cucumbers in this dish, which had this tangy sweet burst of flavor to them because of the apple cider vinegar and lemon.

I also spent a ridiculous amount of time cooking some beef bone broth in Week 5. I don’t usually make broth. I will throw a few bones into a soup or stew or something, but broth by itself rarely seems worth the hassle. But I wanted to try it, especially since my butcher charges $10/quart of the stuff. Here’s the thing though, making bone broth is so time consuming, at least the way I did it. Roasting the bones (I forgot to blanche them afterwards), cleaning and cutting the vegetables, siphoning off the fat and impurities, sticking around the house all day to make sure it didn’t bubble over, blowing out the bottom of a few mason jars after dunking a pint of jarred broth into an ice cold water bath… It was a lot. And probably not worth it time-wise, even though the bones themselves cost $18 or so, ultimately yielding 4-5 quarts (theoretically $50 in value).

Eating Out (April 15-30)

takeout apr 15-30.png

When I’m feeling really, really down, I am wont to buy a pound of BBQ boneless chicken wings from the shop around the corner and just inhale them in fifteen minutes. This only happens, say, once a month. But if it happens more frequently, as it sometimes does, fiancé knows to take this as a very clear indicator that I’m not in a good place and intervention– sunlight, exercise, watering, a nice new pot of soil– is probably necessary to break out of the cycle.

As far as the types of fast food I typically eat, it looks like I’ve been on a poke kick lately. Not terribly surprising– I tend to crave raw fish when it gets warmer and I try to avoid sushi because of the rice. At some point, it’d probably be worth it to find a grocery store with sushi-grade fish around here, but I’ve been trying to avoid Whole Foods so it might be a difficult task. I’ve also been relying a lot lately on steak burritos (because they are delicious) and Sweetgreen, which has been winning me over with their complex-grains, compostable bowls, and online ordering. As their prime target demographic, I feel successfully pandered to.

Do you eat less/more or eat certain types of food when you’re stressed? Do you try to make your food look visually appealing before you eat it? Do you and your partner share food or do your own thing with meals? Do your local grocery stores offer sushi-grade fish?

All The Food I Ate Last Month – Part 1 of 3

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you probably have figured out that food is really important to me. But I also spend a lot on it, which makes me feel vaguely uncomfortable. So, in true personal finance blogger fashion, I decided to track my (food) spending! Below I itemize what I ate, what I cooked, and how much altogether food cost me in the first half of April.


  • I have an annoyingly long list of food sensitivities. I will sometimes eat things I know aren’t the best for me, but I try to systematically bake into my routine food that’s better for my gut. As long as deviating meals are occasional, I tend to be okay. This month I parted from my rules more than is typical due to work related stress, I think.
  • “Weeks” in my Cooking tables start and end on Fridays because that’s the day I usually get my pseudo-CSA deliveries.
  • In the food diary charts below:
    • yellow = takeout/restaurants I paid for
    • green = food that was given to me for free (snacks at job, gifts from friends, game nights where it’s someone else’s turn to order/pay for food, etc.)
  • I apologize in advance for the lack of food pictures. I am both very forgetful and a mediocre photographer.

First Half Of The Month: April 1 – 14

Here’s everything I ate in the first half of April:

April 1-14.png

Overall my diet the first half of April was pretty meat and carb heavy. Leftover Matzo from Passover dinner, carbonara, saffron rice for days. As much as I love white rice in particular, by the end of the second week, my stomach was in knots from so much processed grain. It also caused me to rapidly gain weight and inches around my waist, which pretty quickly melted away once I pared back in the back half of April. Sigh.

In terms of free food, I get a lot of snacks from my work. One of the things I’ll miss most– you know, other than my colleagues and a salary– will be the snacks available on demand. I love having an ounce or two of almonds or cashews in the morning, though I don’t know whether I’ll be able to afford to substitute this expensive habit once I fall off the company payroll. Unfortunately, my office ran out in the second week and I think it made a substantial difference in how hungry I was all day long, probably because I was getting 200-ish fewer calories every day.

There were also a few times that I was treated to food by friends.

  • April 4th’s shahi paneer came as a game night offering. We take turns paying for food so it’ll come back around at some point as a one-time delivery $80 hit to my food budget.
  • April 7th I hosted a dinner with some friends at my home in order to get rid of five pounds of ham sitting in my fridge. They, in turn, provided me with some delicious homemade desserts.
  • April 9th, I ate some of Fiancé’s takeout as part of a second dinner (I blame the lack of almonds).
  • April 12th, Fiancé treated me to dinner at a new gourmet Peruvian restaurant that opened up in our neighborhood to celebrate his new job.

What I Cooked (April 1-14)

Here are all the groceries I bought in the first half of April:

grocery apr 1-14.png

My second pseudo-CSA delivery had a lot less food for a lot more money than the first because I decided to go the custom vegetable route (where I choose what I want in my box) versus going with their default for the week. Plus, pint nuts are expensive.

I also stopped by my local butcher, which sells a lot of local specialty items other than meat, to buy ingredients for some home-made carbonara. I really enjoy their foraged mushrooms which, at $5/4 oz, are expensive but not unreasonable given the labor involved and the intense flavor they imbue. The butcher also has my favorite fresh pasta– I never buy boxed since the texture and flavor is rarely worth the stomach ache I often get eating wheat products. I figure if I’m going to eat something that is going to make me feel sick, it might as well be worth it.

Here’s all the cooking I did in the first half of April:

Cooking april 1 -14.png

This is a decent reflection of the meals I’ll typically make week to week. My cooking is really determined by what ends up in my veggie CSA, which due to the sheer volume of produce helps make sure my diet is largely plant-based. I mostly cook simple dishes– sauteed or roasted vegetables, a stew here and there. I think the most intensive thing I made was the tortilla for my Spanish-themed dinner party, but even that was fairly straightforward.

“Week 1” I actually cooked during the last week of March, but ate during the first week of April. The ingredients for those meals came in March and are therefore not reflected in my spending totals. Similarly, I get deliveries from my meat CSA once a month, so the first two weeks of April I was using up what was left of my March drop-off. I also keep a decent amount of non-perishable food in stock, from oils to spices to grains. It’d be pretty safe to assume that all my cooked meals also include olive oil and salt, but I thought’d be repetitive to throw it in over and over again.

The most decadent, almost-dessert like dish I made was the roasted cauliflower tossed in a rosewater-tahini sauce with pan-roasted pine nuts and raisins. I got the idea for this dish from a nearby Mediterranean restaurant that served something similar but with Brussel sprouts.

One thing to note is that I almost never use recipes for what I cook. I might use recipes as inspiration for flavor combinations or if I’m trying a new technique, but by and large I submit to the “throw things together and heat them up” school of culinary arts.

Eating Out (April 1-14)

Eat out - apr 1-14.png

Yes, I do like Asian food. Why do you ask?

One of the things I notice looking at this chart is how much more expensive my sit down meals are relative to take-out, usually 2x the price even though all of these were lunch meals!

Part of this has to do with the volume and variety of food I order at restaurants. Usually during the sit-down meals I’m ordering multiple dishes since I guess is already a pretty luxurious feeling and I like to add to it? Plus throw in the cost of service and we’ve pretty much accounted for the difference.

At the end of the day, none of these meals were particularly noteworthy, but they tasted good overall and I think it was nice to take a break from my own cooking for a few days.

What kind of snacks do you eat at the office? How often do you cook versus eat out? Are there certain kinds of meals you tend to gravitate toward? Any frugal paleo recipes to share?

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?

RealEats Meal Delivery Review

Back in the day, I made it my unofficial goal to try every meal delivery kit out in the market. Blue Apron? Been there. Plated? Done that. I wanted to see if I’d learn any new and interesting flavor combinations from the experience. Plus, there was the novelty of it. And the first box was often heavily subsidized by sweet, sweet venture capital money.

The biggest downsides of these services was always the cost and the effort. At $10/meal they were often no better than getting takeout, but I’d have to cook and ingredients always came in 2-meal portions (whereas I normally cook for 4+ serving sizes). For someone who actually enjoys meal planning and gets my groceries delivered through by my CSA anyway, there never seemed to be much benefit.

But when I saw RealEats I was intrigued. RealEats is a weekly food delivery subscription that sends out full, already-cooked meals. So the convenience of other food boxes, but without the hassle of actually cooking. Each meal is separated into its constituent components and vacuum sealed: grains separated from meat separated from vegetables. In order to prepare the meal, all you have to do is sous vide the vacuum sealed bag for the indicated amount of time (usually around 3-6 minutes) and plate.

Here’s what I chose for my trial box:

Clockwise: salmon grain bowl, turkey with coconut rice and green beans, moroccan chicken, shiitake chicken with green beans and fingerling potatoes

By and large the meals had good though subtle flavors but were overcooked (to be expected with poultry in a delivery service). My favorite meal by far was the salmon grain bowl, though none were bad. Just not really to my taste. Each meal was balanced with a grain, vegetables, and protein. The website displays the nutrition facts so you can make sure you’re hitting your preferred macro allotment. Many of the ingredients are organic and most of the dishes were around 500 calories a piece.

The biggest downsides of the service are, like its kin, the deadly combination of too much plastic packaging, too much time to cook, and cost. While the meals only take 3-6 minutes to warm under boiling water, it probably took me 15 minutes on average to get enough water actually boiling in my pot. And while the trial box only cost me $30 for four meals ($7.50/serving), the typical weekly meal plans cost more: four meals cost $60 ($15/serving) up to twelve meals cost $153 ($12.75/meal).

So at the end of the day, would I order RealEats again? On a week-to-week basis, probably not. I enjoy cooking and the price is still pretty steep, akin to what I’d spend for cheap Asian takeout. But, in the first few months when we have a kid or some other time I know I’ll be too slammed to cook, I could see myself picking RealEats to tide myself through a rough patch. Similarly, I would recommend the service to someone who might eat out a lot and want to have a healthier alternative, even if it ends up not being all that much cheaper.

Have you tried any meal delivery services? Any that you would recommend?

I’ve Gotta Cut My Food Spending

Fewer meals like this…

It should come as no surprise that I love food. Cooking, going to restaurants, the act of eating itself all just delight me. But, my spending in the area has become a little excessive and I think it’s time to evaluate whether I can maintain food quality without shelling out quite as much money.

I spent around $750 on food in September. That’s $350 more than my baseline. Let’s see if I could bring it back to “normal” levels.

Looking at my food spending overall, the big, low ROI sinks are in delivery meals and restaurants. Delivery fees cause me to spend more in two ways– (1) with the fee itself and (2) by making me feel I “might as well” add in more for leftovers since I’m already paying the delivery premium. Once a month, I also get delivery when it’s my turn to pay for game night food with pals (cooking would take too much time/probably be less enjoyable for our guests). Since I get to choose the place when I pay, I can at least pick one of the cheaper options.

Restaurants are often for social hang outs and, with my foodie friends, can often get out of hand. The meals are usually good, though we sometimes end up at pricey Zagat-rated establishments that aren’t really worth the cost. Those I could easily cut without affecting my lifestyle much at all.

Therefore, in order to reduce my food spending, I’m going to focus on minimizing my delivery and restaurant visits. Here are the rules I’ll be following:

  1. IMG_20171021_111059
    …and more meals like this.

    No delivery with one exception: game night. Choose cheaper source when tanking.

  2. One “nice” restaurant meal per month (recurring event) with foodie friends. Otherwise, suggest cheaper options or skip out to eat at home.
  3. At restaurants, only one entree or two appetizers. Not both.
  4. Takeout maximum is $10/meal, no rollovers.

I also won’t be setting a maximum budget or spending goal for November. While I would like to end up around $400, I often find that having a set amount of money causes me to become anxious and micromanage my food spending (to unhealthy, deleterious results). I’m hoping the rules-based approach will feel more natural and habit-forming than just stressing out the whole month about food cost.

How much do you spend on food per month? How do you cut the cost of social eating?