Frequently patients indicate that they are unable to make meals at home due to the cost, suggesting that a decision to eat away from the house is one that is economically based. There is often a factor of time as well, as nutritious, home-cooked meals don’t just magically appear. They require planning and preparation and a bit of cleaning at the end of the night. This is an investment that I am readily willing to make for my health and the health of my family.
A few themes come into play here. The first is that of planning. Good meal preparation takes some time. I find myself going to the local organic store about every other day to keep fresh vegetables and fruits on hand. This does not need to be an onerous task. Once familiar with the local store layout, you will find that you can efficiently negotiate the store, and be on your way, in just a matter of minutes. With a menu in mind, you can avoid the freezer case and those inner isles of processed, nutrient-poor foods without expiration dates. I can easily be in and out of the local store in less than ten minutes. The meal prepared below took me about an hour to prepare. In my opinion this is time well spent.
And don’t feel that you necessarily need to shop exclusively in the big-name “organic” market across town. Many mainstream conventional stores provide an excellent selection of both organic and non-organic choices. The meal selection shown in this blog, and purchased in the local Whole Foods, was done so explicitly to challenge the concept that it is “too expensive to buy organic.”
The Cornucopia Institute came up with ten simple steps to eat organically on a budget. See the link below to learn more!
The second theme is one of quality. Yes, the source, origin and production of our food are important to reap the greatest effects of health and enjoyment. I recommend the consumption of organically grown foods to the greatest extent possible. There is just too much data showing the negative effects of pesticides and herbicides on our health. If you can’t access organic produce, be sure to look for products that at least look and smell good. Finally, for both organic and non-organic choices, be sure to wash your fruits and vegetables.
While washing fruits and vegetables with a towel and clean water is more effective than not washing produce, learn a few more food washing tips by clicking on the link below.
In the following paragraphs I am going to demonstrate an example, taken from our lives, of the way that we plan for, and prepare a healthy, nutritious meal—with plenty left over for two lunches the following day. Tonight’s menu includes grilled salmon, organic white basmati rice, steamed broccoli, a tahini kale salad, and zucchini noodles with roasted walnuts. As a reward for those readers who make it to the end of this blog, I’ll include a recipe for the tahini dressing. The objective is to make three healthy organic dinners, and two lunches for around $20, the advertised “family meal deal” on the marquis of the local Kentucky Fried Chicken. Can we do it? Read on!
The photo below shows the final product. As we assembled these plates, we had enough leftovers to make two (glass, never plastic) containers with all of the components shown below. My wife and I enjoyed the same meal for our lunches the following day, to the envious stares of our co-workers.
The salmon is a Whole Foods product, and while delicious and reasonably priced, it is farm raised and not wild. Oh well. It is also 6 filets, two pounds of delicious fish, for $22, so we are in for about $11 for the protein. Three filets is a full pound of meat, which is easily divided between three dinners, and two smaller lunch portions.
Kale runs about $2.99 for a large bunch, and a bunch of kale usually provides enough for dinner, lunch, and a green drink the following day. We’ll call it $3 to keep the math simple.
Broccoli is also about $2.99 for a pound, and a pound is generally sufficient for the dinner and next-day lunches. If you can find it, try the baby broccoli, also known as broccolini. For developing palates, it is a great introduction to the world of the amazing cruciferous vegetables. Again, we will factor in another $3.
Zucchini is about $2 per pound, and a pound of zucchini makes plenty of zoodles. We have a crazy little machine that turns zucchini, carrots and whatever into a long noodle strand. Sautee this with a little olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper, and a simple zucchini turns into a gourmet treat.
At this point we have invested $18 dollars for the salmon, broccoli, kale and zucchini. We will be using a cup of white rice, which is plenty for three dinners and two lunches. I like the organic basmati rice the brand and price are shown below. The package contains exactly two cups, so rice for the meals is another $2.25.
We are up to about $20.25 but some fiduciary due diligence is required to realistically have the supplies to complete this meal. Additional expenses are as follows:
Olive oil. A quart of organic extra virgin olive oil is about $12 on sale. The salad dressing requires about ½ cup, so let’s factor in another $2 for the oil.
Garlic. One clove of organic garlic, maybe .25 cents?
Roasted organic walnuts. About $1.
Alfalfa sprouts. These are probably about $3 for a large container. We might use half of a container for all the meals prepared, including lunches.
One organic lemon: $1
Tahini. .25 cents.
Organic red miso paste. .25 cents.
Charcoal. We have a Big Green Egg, which we cook on several times a week. It’s pretty thrifty, and we get about six meals on a six-dollar bag of charcoal. So realistically we spend another dollar on charcoal for this meal.
The sum total for everything is $28. This is the actual cost to prepare three organic, near-paleo dinners with two full lunches for the following day. One needs to factor in a bit of time to purchase and prepare a meal like this one, but the 75 total minutes spent on this meal likely equals the time to drive to and eat at the KFC, plus a trip to the Chile’s® for lunch the following day. Yuk and yuk.
Are you still reading? Here is the tahini dressing for the kale salad as promised. Be sure to wash, and then massage the kale with a bit of olive oil. This breaks down the cell walls of the kale, tenderizes the leaves, and releases more flavor. Perhaps in another post, we analyze the different nutritional benefits that make a meal like this one of our weekly staples. I recommend that you work on a rotation of meals; this is only one example. This economizes the shopping, planning and preparation.
1 tablespoon Tahini. I like the Joyva brand, which you can find in just about any store. Look for the orange and brown can with a guy in a turban. Mix with
1 teaspoon miso paste. Go organic with this one. Kept in the fridge, you can make an instant miso soup, just a tablespoon of paste per cup of hot water. But use a teaspoon in the dressing.
1 clove of chopped garlic. Again, no reason not to buy organic garlic
Stir these together, and slowly add in 1/3 cup of olive oil. Use a whisk, and keep things moving so that it emulsifies to a smooth, creamy dressing.
Finally, stir in the juice of one lemon. If mixed slowly and carefully, the dressing will not “break”, but emulsify. Don’t be discouraged if it takes a few tries; if “broken” it will still taste great.
Toss with massaged kale and a small handful of toasted walnuts. Enjoy!
Dr. Scott Resnick
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