You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces- just good food from fresh ingredients.
My relationship with food is a complicated one. From my early years of eating both fresh and canned greens to dabbling in the conveniences of frozen meals and fast food joints, to highly processed foods, the EKG reading of my eating habits has always been erratic. Like many people, I ate what was placed on my plate, essentially from traditional cooking and preparations from the generations of my grandparents and parents. That is the scope of a great depression, a world war, and a few recessions where the trick of the trade was to buy and eat on a budget. Does this sound remotely familiar?
My Colombian-Lebanese household did its very best to maintain traditional dishes with fresh ingredients. Organics, non-GMO’s, and grass-fed products were either very limited growing up, or incredibly expensive. The way to shop was to cut coupons from the Sunday’s paper, check out the daily specials, and bargain shop. When my mother said to grab some cheese, and I returned with KraftⓇ, oh how to witness the disappointing expression on her face. The lecture on the equivalence of generic brands versus name brands taught me one thing, and one thing only: buy on the cheap!
There came a point in my life when I cared the least about what was going into my body, and that was in college. Although “the college 15” didn’t effect me (I was at my lowest weight in college!), I ate anything in sight. Sushi was introduced to my diet along with hot pockets, ramen noodles, and loads of high sugary drinks. I hardly went to the grocery store unless it was to the commissary to get much-needed study snacks. Admittedly, having seconds, thirds, and even fourth helpings in the dining hall was a typical occurrence, especially after running around a lacrosse field for 3 hours.
Food in my early adult years was simple and simply consumed. With the occasional friend raving about her homemade granola, cooking was very limited. I distinctly remember living with 3 other girls in an apartment where we alternated cooking as we approached the near end of our college endeavors. We figured why not start early before being released into the wild wide world. Not only was it the first time I was cooking alone, but it was also the first time I was controlling what I served, and I was hooked! My travels abroad were a quest to discover new ways to prepare fresh food, with fresh ingredients.
So fresh food sounds all nice and dandy, but what about the cost? It took me a while of navigating through the rugged waters, battling my desires of wanting to eat freshly without sacrificing the budget. Eating freshly can be done, and be cost effective. Below are 5 essential habits to break into when it comes to eating wholesomely without breaking the bank. Let’s get at it!
1) Organics vs. Conventional Produce
Grocery stores have clear produce sections indicating organic labels. By all means, don’t avoid them. Just approach the sections smartly and cleverly. Essentially, organic refers to the elimination of fertilizers and pesticides in the growth process. If you think about it, having chemicals in your food doesn’t sound appetizing. The question you have to ask yourself is which non-organic produce are you comfortable eating, even after a good scrubbing. The price variations can be from a few cents to a few dollars, and that makes a difference at the checkout line. For the budgeters, if there is a process of pealing, then perhaps purchasing conventional is wise: lemon, banana, oranges, avocado, onion, watermelon, mango, pineapple, ginger, garlic, to name a few. If I am eating the produce whole, organic may be a better choice: berries, apples, carrots, peaches, etc. The membranes are delicately thin, and deserve a bit more attention when selecting.
2) Meats, Chicken, and Fish, Oh My!
Meat is meat, is what I was told. However, non-GMO, genetically modified organism, had created quite a scene. Netflix have amazing documentaries that will completely change the way you eat and buy food. When I was in India, we went to a man’s farm to buy a few fresh chickens. To my astonishment, these birds were not just small, but they were running around freely. In the US, our chickens can barely walk after being fattened up with God knows what. The breasts on these birds were small, but boy were they so tender. Organic meats, poultry, and fish are indeed pricey. However, you have to ask yourself: is it worth paying a little more for safer and more delicious ingredients? For me, it’s a solid yes.
It’s super important to be selective on what you’re paying. Due to the growing high demands for organics and non-GMOs animial products, the price margin is slimmering down a bit. Costco, Trader Joe’s, Aldi, and HEB are offering competive prices. More importantly, you’re paying for better quality food that will transform your palete!
3) Dairy Does the Body Good
Similar to meats and poultry, dairy is an animal by-product, so GMO plays a crucial role in your decision. Organic and non-organic dairy is not only distinguished by price, but also by appearance and taste. If you ever compare eggs, organic egg yolks are richer in color than its lower priced competor eggs. I firmly believe I had dairy for the first time when I visited Italy. I couldn’t believe the taste, and how a little goes a very long way. For instance, organic milk doesn’t sour as quickly, organic cheeses don’t have chalk-powder residues, parmigiano reggiano does not even remotely taste like the parmesan-on-the-shelf, and cultured butter are creamer and not watered down. So yes, you’re paying more, but you’re definitely getting more for your bucks!
4) Middle Aisles Investigation
I am one of the few who loves meandering down the middle aisles of the grocery store. This is where the bulk of my shopping time is spent, next to the wines! (more on organic wines for another day!) Rather than grabbing thoughtlessly off the shelves, I practice two imperative elements: reading the labels and making conscientious decisions based on what was read. The abundance of added preservatives and artificial flavoring is quite disheartening. Can a girl just get a bag of tortilla chips without the added cruddies? It’s possible, but it is going to cost ya.
Reading the labels gives you options. More than that, it gives you complete autonomy to control what you are serving and consuming at home. This is no longer a question of organic or conventional. This is ALL about the ingredients. As a general rule of thumb, if you can’t pronounce the name of the preservative, keep browsing!
5) Digital Grocery Shopping
When food labels and buying wholesome food became trendy, online markets turned the dial up on providing people with wholesome food while saving money. Shipping is free, and this time around, these generic organic brands have no competition in taste and flavor. Not only selling exclusevely food, cleaner household products, beauty products, and more products can be bought at a fraction of the cost. Shop by any specific dietary values while also feeling good that Thrive Market gives back to communities in need. Supliment your grocery list, and start saving money!
Our lives are valuable, and what we put in our bodies plays a crucial deterent on how we feel. I’m constantly educating myself, evolving my choices between food products and making concientious decisions. Speaking of learning, explore these documentaries that will change the way you eat!
Documentaries On Netflix That Will Change The Way You Think of Food
- Down to Earth (2019)
- Somebody Feed Phill (2017)
- Food, Inc. (2008)
- Cooked (2016)
- Fed Up (2014)
- Hungry For Change (2012)
- Food Matters (2008)
- Vegucated (2011)
- King Corn (2007)
- GMO OMG (2013)
- Forks over Knives (2011)
- Sugar Coates (2015)
Explore Food & Cocktail to get ideas of cooking wholesome food simply!