Feeding your family well on a limited budget may be a lost art, but one worth remembering.
About a week after moving into a new house recently, I found myself standing in the middle of the kitchen with a bag of microwavable popcorn in my hands, looking around aimlessly. We had just bought a new toaster, coffee maker, blender, plates and glassware for our new kitchen. Then it struck me: we don’t have a microwave!
I had been unpacking all week, eating take-out from paper plates and just getting settled into our new home. I’ve wanted to stop using the microwave so often, guiltily knowing that every time I nuke the kids’ broccoli it is zapping most of the nutrients out of the vegetables. But I kept using it for one simple reason: convenience.
We live in a modern, impatient era that values convenience and speed over quality. You can see it in the way we live, the products we buy and especially in the food that we eat. This mentality has been building for generations since the end of WWII – a time when our parents’ and grandparents’ daily lives involved food rations, patriot gardens, backyard chickens and the strict rule to “waste not, want not.”
The 1950’s was the beginning of this change in our attitudes about food and cooking. Homemakers could purchase fast and easy pre-packaged, highly processed foods filled with all the tasty sugars, fats and abundant meat that were not an option a decade before. These ladies still knew how to cook recipes from scratch, but the convenience of faster foods and less time spent in the kitchen was a luxury women before them did not have.
And so the market for pre-packaged processed foods began to explode. Now we live in an age dominated by fast food restaurants and frozen dinners. Few of us take the time to learn how to make homemade staples from scratch. Do you know how to bake a fresh loaf of bread with four ingredients? Here’s an even better question: did you know that it takes about 3 minutes to prepare the dough the night before and 20 minutes to bake the next morning? It costs pennies on the dollar to bake your own (less processed, more nutritious) bread at home.
So why isn’t everyone spending 5 minutes a day preparing healthier homemade bread and saving money while doing so? Because most people would assume it’s not worth the effort, or that it’s just not normal. Our culture tells us to go buy our bread, and all of our food, at the local supermarket. That’s just the way it is.
But it wasn’t always like this, and consumers are beginning to realize it. A new trend is starting to grow as people question the amount of chemicals, preservatives, saturated fats and GMO foods that we are eating and feeding to our children. Organic is in. So is knowing what’s in our food.
Go down any aisle of the grocery store and grab a boxed meal off the shelf. I dare you to try to pronounce all of the listed ingredients… out loud. Then see if you can recognize the ingredients and what they actually are, what their purpose is – from preservative to flavour enhancer. Are all these additives really necessary, or even healthy for us to be consuming?
Consider this: you can purchase all the ingredients needed for a delicious batch of homemade cookies without these additives, mix them all together and pop them in the oven for dessert. Or you could buy a tube of cookie dough and take it home, cut it into perfectly processed slices and bake those instead. The only difference is that you will have one large bowl and spoon to wash. Has cooking become less important because we have gradually become lazier?
The biggest challenge to consumers who are trying to eat more whole foods is that they often get discouraged because of how expensive the new trendy healthier alternatives are. It is a sad reality that low quality, high calorie processed foods are less expensive.
I, for one, am a firm believer that there are ways to find a happy balance between labor intensive wholesome cooking and drive-thru super-sized combo meals.
Instead of buying a new microwave, I started learning how to cook – an adventure well worth the little added time to prepare healthy and inexpensive homemade meals for my family.