Getting to Know Food: Cost/Benefit: Time (Part 2)

“I’d love to be able to eat organic/buy local/cook fresh foods at home but I just don’t have the time/money/energy.”

Let’s tackle the time issue. To be truthful, I do have a bit more time than the average person. Heck, I think Jon and I have a bit more time than the average person. We’re the kind of crazy couple who watches one, maybe two hours of television per night. Additionally, we try our best to get 8 hours of sleep a night (with me getting a little more since M-F I don’t need to be anywhere until 9:30 at the earliest!) This means that we have between 6-8pm, roughly to do evening computing and eat dinner. While we certainly can spend all two hours in the kitchen, we usually don’t. We must have a lot of time if home-cooked meals are possible for us for at least 4/5 weekdays (and many times 5/5). The magic for us seems to be in having a adequately stocked kitchen of basics, and a weekly meal plan that we specifically shop for every week (Sunday) at the farmer’s market and grocery store (usually, our co-op, Madison Market). This means that we plan ahead, have everything on hand, plan things that work for the days we come home late, and strategize about left-overs for lunches. This means that Sunday is a very important day of the week.

Daunted yet? Maybe you already have some cookbooks lying around. (If not, I will again recommend you check out my store for my cookbook recommendations.) Don’t want to buy? Check out your local library for cuisines that interest you. Try a few recipes before you buy. Look for ones that make sense, or are a new spin on an old favorite. Alton Brown’s recipes featured on the Food Network site are usually quite doable. Start simple, plan ahead, think about your week, and make a grocery list. Assembly counts as cooking Throw lettuce, cherry tomatoes, onion slices in a bowl, top with canned tuna, make a simple vinaigrette, voila! Salad dinner with whole ingredients! Don’t be too ambitious at first. If you only cook once a week, try twice a week. Embrace leftovers.

So you have your meal plan, then make your shopping list. This is something I’ve struggled with, because my shopping lists have typically been so vague as to be left to interpretation once I got into the store. This is where being specific is a time (and money) saver. Write the amount you need of the ingredient (eg. 2 onions, 28 oz can tomatoes, etc.) Think about other foods you’ll need to support your week, such as snacks for work (eg. bulk almonds), breakfast (eg. steel cut oats), lunches without leftovers (eg. bread, meat, cheese), and any sweet treats (eg. coconut frozen treat).

Remember that though this may seem complicated and time consuming, a little bit of time spent planning your meals and shopping can save you a lot of time later in the week. Done well, this can eliminate “stopping by the store on the way home from work.” It can free up time to spend with friends/spouses/children during the week. You can cook dinner in the time it takes to get in your car and wait in line for fast food. You can be sitting at the table eating while if you had ordered pizza delivery, it might still be on the way.

After all this, you have your list, now to the sourcing of your ingredients. That was the point, right?

Stay tuned for Part Three: Cost/Benefit: Money
See previously: Part One: Source.