Home Cooking: Healthier, Quicker, Cheaper

Get a Healthier Veggie Life with Cheap Quick Easy Home Cooked Meals

Home Cooking

The phrase: “I don’t cook” should not be in the veg vocabulary. That’s true even if you’re a die-hard steak for breakfast eater!

Convenience food is hard on your health and your wallet. Eating a lot of fast food is slow suicide, even if you can find vegetarian options.

I could write a book about the awful things they do to “food” in fast food places.

Real Restaurant Food is expensive, and still never as nutritious as homemade. With driving time, then waiting to be seated and served, restaurants are not time savers. You could cook a quick, easy, cheap, nourishing meal at home and be eating in twenty minutes for a fraction of the cost!

Oh, and pass on the frozen dinners. Just because they’re vegetarian doesn’t mean they’re healthy. They’re usually loaded with salt, skimp on the veggies, and often have high fructose corn syrup, scary carcinogenic preservatives, food dyes, and saturated fat. Yes, you can hunt up the least unhealthy organic options, but they still aren’t great, and cost far more than cooking at home.

Even if you live in an eco-paradise with vegan restaurants serving local organic fair trade food, I’ll bet they aren’t low cost. You’re still going to spend at least as much on one meal as you spend on a day of home cooked meals.

I live in a Midwest food desert of chain restaurants with badly cooked token vegetarian options. The ever popular BBQ joints offer french fries. Slim pickings indeed. If I want a decent veggie meal, I expect to pay well for it.

And that’s no guarantee it’s good for me. Restaurants care most about the bottom line. They’ll skimp on quality ingredients but load on the fat, salt and sugar to keep you coming back for more. It’s like making installment payments on a heart attack.

When you consider health care costs, you can look at home cooking as cheap health insurance. Eating a healthy diet is one of the cheapest, most effective ways to maintain your health. Even if the cost of eating at home was the same as eating out (not even close), the health benefits still tip the scales in favor of home cooking.

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I know there are people who are better at grocery shopping than I am. I’m not a mad bargain hunter. I never read grocery store circulars, and use maybe two coupons a year. Still, it costs about $6.50 a day to feed my family of four three meals. You can buy one fast food meal a day for one person for that much.

And we don’t have an austerity food budget – we eat well. I buy some organic produce, sometimes cookies, and often chips. I buy fresh squeezed OJ, and local milk in glass jugs. But I keep the grocery bill down by following this principle:

Shop for Ingredients, Not Packaged Foods

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I make the most of my food money by buying basic ingredients and preparing them myself. They are cheaper than processed food and I can spend the difference on quality ingredients.

For example, vegetarians and vegans eat a lot of beans (or should). Doesn’t it make sense to get the best bean deal? 1 lb of dry beans costs about the same as 1 can of beans, and makes enough cooked beans to fill 3 – 4 cans. You do the math.

Besides saving money, you know your cooked beans are fresh, unsalted, preservative free, and easier on the environment – no metal can. If you cook them in big batches and freeze the extras, home cooked beans are almost as convenient as canned.

Beans do take time to prepare, what with soaking & cooking. However, this is almost all inactive time – you can do it in your sleep! I put beans on to soak at night and cook them in the morning. Or put beans to soak in the morning and cook them after work. A pressure cooker cuts down the cooking time quite a bit and saves energy. Slow cookers are handy too – soak while you sleep, cook while you do other things.

For 15 minutes active cooking time, you can fill your freezer with beans that are 1/3 the price and twice as tasty. Not to mention better for you and the environment. That is a win, win, win situation!

How about oatmeal for breakfast? Real oatmeal, not instant. You pay six times as much per cup of oatmeal if you buy the instant stuff. If you buy flavored, you also get artificial flavors,coloring, extra salt, etc. You also pay for packaging & marketing – something you and the environment can do without.

Oh yes. A 6 packet box of instant oatmeal costs about $4.50 a box, and you get about 3.5 cups of oatmeal. That’s less than a pound. You are paying $0.75 per serving. I buy bulk organic oatmeal for just under $1.00 a pound, and including the cost of raisins I make three servings for $0.50. That’s right. My family can eat breakfast for less than the cost of a single packet of instant oatmeal. And since we eat oatmeal almost every day, we save up to $638 a year by making it from scratch.

Think you don’t have time to cook oatmeal? Here’s what I do. Boil water, add oatmeal, raisins, cinnamon and whatever. Set a timer for ten minutes. Then go jump in the shower. Since the average shower is seven minutes, by the time you get out, breakfast is ready.

Beans and oatmeal are just two examples of foods that cost so much less to cook from scatch. Look around your own kitchen and I know you’ll find even more savings.

Next week I’ll tell you more about how to cook convenience food at home. Stay tuned!

Zoe Keeland, Veggie Mom

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2 Responses to “Home Cooking: Healthier, Quicker, Cheaper”

  1. Savvy Veg says:

    Good lord, you can buy pre-packaged frozen cooked rice? Obviously I don’t pay much attention when cruising past the frozen foods section.

    I think the most important part of creating a fast cooking system is learning what we really eat, and how we work in the kitchen. Yes, of course you can make extra grain and freeze it for later use. I think this is a great idea for brown rice, which takes a long time to cook. Judy does this all the time, and finds it very convenient.

    For myself, I have found that I won’t use it and it just sits in my freezer making me feel guilty. Plus, I can make rice and other grains for about two minutes of active cooking time, and it will be done in the time it takes me to put together the rest of a meal.
    – Zoe

  2. Ilene says:

    Thanks for the great tips. Here’s another one. When I cook rice or quinoa I make extra. Then measure it out into quart size bags and freeze it. A lot cheaper than buying the prepackaged frozen rice and it’s super easy to take to work for lunch.

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