We live in the age of instant gratification. A smartphone driven world now expects instant responses to mail that once would have taken weeks and feels like they are slumming it when they choose to go with Amazon’s free 2-day shipping. NFL fans expect their quarterbacks to be legends by year three and beginning weightlifters grow frustrated when they don’t add twenty pounds of muscle in the first month. We’ve forgotten the wisdom of marinating and slow-cooking.
These norms are especially destructive when they come to our expectations about food. Instant convenience food and fast food have come to characterize most of the food we eat. These norms would have been seen as unimaginable 60 years ago, but today are deemed necessities for our fast-paced lives. They are not.
Most conclude that they have two options when it comes to eating well:
- Pay exorbitantly for gourmet subscriptions, eating out at high-priced chains like Salata or Zoe’s Kitchen, or choose healthy pre-made convenience choices like those offered at Whole Foods.
- Buy all the expensive healthy foods at the store and spend every waking moment cooking.
It simply doesn’t have to be this way. There is no doubt that quality foods are often way overpriced, especially when they come pre-cut, pre-marinated, and pre-prepared for your simplicity. Yet, there are still tons of cheap options.
If you look at produce it is usually far more expensive to get the packaged items than the whole, natural produce. These fruits and vegetables really don’t take much work to make very tasty. Just a little planning.
Finding a Cheaper Equal
It is a fun, interesting exercise to compare substitutes. With childcare expenses stacking up, my wife and I did a ruthless evaluation of our eating habits and, despite cooking at home for all meals, encountered tons of waste we’d never have considered.
Asparagus was 3.99 a bundle—at two bundles a week we were spending $8. We substituted for broccoli. A week’s worth costs less than $2 and we actually enjoy them even more. I cook them in the oven with garlic, onion powder, lemon pepper, and parmesan. That’s a savings of $24 per month.
We did this with everything. Bottled water cost $12/week, about $48/month. Our one-time filter expense erased that. My deluxe mixed nuts were wholesale so I figured they were cheap, but I was spending about $12/week on them. About $50 per month. By buying raw almonds, raw walnuts, raw sunflower seeds, and raw peanuts in bulk, my monthly nut expenses are more than cut in half. If trying to save more err on the side of peanuts. They’re dirt cheap.
For breakfast, I shifted my daily omelet to a bowl of steel cut oats and still got the eggs at lunch. On work days they are hardboiled and added to my salad and on weekends I make a lunch omelet. This has created two very cheap, extremely healthy meals each day: oats for breakfast and an egg/veggie combination at lunch.
Still, we hit a snag when it came to our meat expenses. We were already buying meat and fish in its most affordable form, other than going out and doing the killing and processing on my own. A student of the world, it occurred to me that we could cut our daily meat consumption in half or more, by adding a grain and a legume to dinner each night.
The combination packs all 20 essential amino acids to create a fantastic, nutrient-rich complete protein. Most of the world lives on rice and beans because they are so cheap, nutrient-rich, and adaptable to different dishes and styles. You can make them with curry and Indian seasoning, east Asian seasoning, Mediterranean style, or with lots of spices and salsas more traditional in Latin America.
Typically, our dinners were a clear formula: meat and vegetables or fish and sweet potatoes. We cut our weekly meat consumption by more than half by adding brown rice and pinto beans to most meals. A 10lb bag of rice is $5. This lasts us over a month. A 12lb bag of pinto beans is $20 and this lasts well over two months. Our monthly meat and fish savings has been about $60.
Efficient Rice and Beans
Here is the catch. Rice and beans take a long time to cook. Still, they are very easy. If you make it a Sunday morning habit, they’ll be done and ready for Monday with very little work. If I can start these up first thing Sunday morning both the rice and beans will be ready for dinner that night. If your kids are at an appropriate age, I encourage you to enlist them in the preparation.
These rice and beans combine wonderfully and are quickly reheated. I usually just mix them together in a pot on the stove and add whatever spice or season I’m in the mood for. If you’re into it, curry is one of my favorites.
Slow Cooker Pinto Beans
Sauté garlic and onion in olive oil on low for 15-20 minutes.
Then add the mixture to the slow cooker along with:
- 2 1/2 cups of pinto beans (no need to rinse)
- 7 1/2 cups water
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 2 tsp salt
- Jalapeños, as desired
Then stir all and cover and cook on low 7 to 9 hours (I like mine closer to 9)
Slow Cooker Brown Rice
Rub the inside of the pan in olive oil
- 6 cups of water (if rice is ever not soft enough, add a little more)
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 3 cups brown rice
- Chopped cilantro, if desired
Then stir and cook on high for three hours.
Serving sizes are estimates for a family of five. Just cut them proportionally as you need. For example, in a weird week, I might do just 4 cups of water and 2 cups of brown rice.
Eating Well Is a Top Priority
Feeding your family well doesn’t have to take up every moment of your evening or break the bank. It is, however, essential to your kids growing up valuing the health that will magnify all their efforts and give them more life in their years and more years in their life. Most people spend their whole lives struggling with food choices. They’ve never seen a model outside our terribly unhealthy norms. Strong parents make strong kids.
Give your children the gift of a strong, sensible nutrition model and they’ll be empowered to control this vital choice in their future. Life is too short to be normal.
This Week’s Mission
Go through your kitchen and get rid of anything that falls short of your standard for health. Anything you’d prefer not to snack on on a daily basis goes. Desserts and treats would ideally be fun deviations from the daily norm, rather than a nightly expectation.
Thus, they should require a trip. Optimize your environment for success. For more guidance on how to shape your environment, check out my free e-book, The Essential Guide to Self-Mastery.