Today I made tropical coconut black bean soup. It is a soup that has to be put together and then pureed in a blender, which I generally do not have a problem doing. However, something to do with the heat of the liquid, or just having too much liquid caused the hot soup to spew forth from the blender just as I turned it on. Twice. You’d think I would have learned the first time to come up with another way of doing it so that I wouldn’t have to clean up coconut milk and black bean skins again. But the second batch (all that wouldn’t fit in the first time) did the same thing. I had just cleaned up the mess from the first burst when I had to do it all over again. The soup was good, though.
We did really well for quite some time..not going out to eat and only eating things at home that were made (mostly) from scratch. We had a week or two of reverting back to the old ways, but we’re committed again to sticking it out and not spending so much money on restaurants. Think about it: the average meal at a sit-down restaurant costs us $30, since we now have to get Jenny a kids meal if we want to keep her happy. Considering that I’ve had far better food made at home than in restaurants, the meals we eat often could be worth (in taste value) more than what our average eat-out meal costs us. And yet we spend so little on the things to make the best of these meals. Veggie ground round (a very often used staple food in our house) runs a little under $2 per pound at the Wholesale store – each package actually has the equivalent of 1 1/3 lbs of ground beef. Good for tacos, black beans, hamburger and rice, chili, meatloaf…almost anything you can make with gound beef can be made with Yves Veggie Ground Round. Rice: I bought a bag of brown rice yesterday that will last us for three to five meals for under $2. I used to buy canned beans at about $1.79 a can, which was enough for one meal. Now I can spend $3 and get enough black beans or lentils to last me for a month. Produce can run up the bill if I get things out of season, but I try to be in a habit of buying things when they’re cheap. Tomatoes on the vine, cauliflower, broccoli, lettuce, spinach, and onions are common fresh produce picks for us, and for a reasonable amount of them, I might spend $10-$20 and use them for a total of six different meals. Frozen vegetables run a little more per bag, but I really only buy peas now, to be used in fried rice and as the ocassional side dish. Pasta: by buying at Wal Mart, I save money. I can get a box of whole wheat pasta (which is enough for part of one meal) for under $1.50. For baked spaghetti, a family favorite, I need one package of ground round ($2), one and a half boxes of whole wheat spaghetti ($2.25) and around a quarter of a bag of shredded Italian mix cheese (which I buy in two packs for about $13, making the amount needed for this dish worth about $1.75). Throw some peas, broccoli, cauliflower or a salad onto the plate and you have a complete meal for under $10. Food for the ENTIRE family for a third of what we spend in a restaurant. Not too shabby.
When the math is done like that, it makes me wonder why we ever bother going out. And then I remember that sometimes I just don’t feel like cooking or can’t think ahead enough to decide what to make. I don’t think there is anything wrong with going out, but I would like to cut down again on how often we do it. I’d rather take the time and money to get a babysitter for the kids and use our out-to-eat-nights as date-nights instead. Not only do we get some alone time, but the meal is often cheaper without worrying over kids meals.
The real trick is planning. Plan before you shop by paying attention to which stores are the cheapest for which items, who is having a sale, whether you need what’s on sale or not and what you’re close to running out of. Plan while you shop by sticking to your list but also paying attention to deals you didn’t know about before (canned soup for emergencies on sale for 50 cents a can is hard to pass up). Plan whole meals by deciding what you’ll need for just one meal – vegetable, rice/pasta/etc., protein. If you’re having people over, remember this in advance instead of going super shopping the day before and paying more than you ought to (I’m just learning this one). Plan when you get home by making lists of what you have and what can be made from it. Plan by doing some amount of food prep when you buy things. I have started buying onions and mincing them in the food processor, then freezing them so that I don’t have to chop onions when I want them. Quite often I’m reluctant to use onions even if I have them because I HATE chopping them. But right now, I have three or so small bags of minced onions that I can throw into a meal effortlessly. I also do things like cutting apart the bags of ground round in the fridge so I can just reach in and grab instead of having to cut them when I need them. Little things like that make it so much easier for me to feel like cooking. The quicker I can throw things together and the more it appeals to me, the less I mind doing it.
The other part of meal preparation is mentality. One mentality to avoid is that it’s just food, it doesn’t matter what we eat as long as we eat something (which leads to lots of trips to McDonalds YUCK). Make each meal satisfying by putting thought into it. This will sound strange, but connecting with the food emotionally will help you to enjoy the prep more. Lentil soup has become a comfort food for me, through and through, and when I say that connecting emotionally will help, it is lentil soup that I think about. When I saute onions and garlic and measure lentils out, I think ahead to how comforting this meal is: I’m making an emotional connection with the food. Not as weird as it sounds, I promise. Another mentality to avoid is that it’s another form of slavery we housewives/domestic engineers/stay at home moms/etc. have to endure. I have learned that what I’m thinking while I cook greatly effects how I enjoy the meal. If I think about it as a valuable, important service to my husband and children, I can smile and imagine their satisfaction with it, and that it is nourishing both body and spirit to share a meal together.
I know a few things I’ve said have been a little new-agey sounding, but I think they’re quite legitimate and that God smiles down at me when I’m thinking this way about making a meal. It has been a long and somewhat hard transition to make, but it is saving us time, money and emotional hardship in the long run. We sit down together each night for supper and enjoy each other’s company. The kids may be too young to understand it now, but I’m positive that they will appreciate it later.
That was fun. This may become a regular feature. Stay tuned….