Thursday, February 4, 2010

You are what you cook

Tonight's frugal meal: I had a couple of already cooked but frozen lamb chops. I sauteed a little onion, garlic and ginger, added 1/2 cup broth and 16 oz can diced tomatoes, 1 tsp each hot curry and cumin, and the cubed lamb, cooked off the liquid a little and served over rice. It would also, of course, work with tofu.

A while ago I wrote a post about how preparing and eating your dinners at home is a cornerstone of the frugal lifestyle, because it's cheaper as well as healthier - you know what's in what you're eating. My old friend Sue F. got a little mad at me because her family has two working parents and five kids running in all different directions, and she didn't need to feel bad about the fact that they needed (out of respect I won't put it in quotation marks) to eat prepared foods fairly often.

Well, now that DH is working so much (at least three full days and two half days per week, plus three evenings a week) we have had to face this issue in a way we never had to before. The questions facing our household are three: would we eat out more, would we be able to continue to put interesting, lovingly prepared cooked-from-scratch foods on the table, or would we rely more on convenience foods?

Well, I can tell you that we ain't eating out more. I have lunch out sometimes, mostly for my job, and I may eat lunch out by myself once a week or once every two weeks, usually a sandwich or a salad bar, sometimes some grocery store sushi. But our family just doesn't eat in restaurants. We might bring in pizza once a month or so, and once in a great while we'll bring in thai or chinese, but now that I think of it we haven't done that for a while either. Neither we do we do the prepared foods from the supermarket or Boston Market thing either. So that part has remained constant.

Regarding the convenience foods/cooking from scratch thing, though, the results aren't fully in yet. It feels like we're eating faster foods, but I'm not sure if it isn't that I'm just doing more of the cooking now. When I do the shopping I usually buy a box of fake-chicken patties and a package of some kind of veggie hotdog or sausage. Then I usually alternate between buying a box of frozen pierogies and the dyna-sea shrimp that I wrote about here. Once in a while I buy the boil in a bag indian food, but DW doesn't like the selection in the supermarket and I don't often get to the asian store that has a better selection so we haven't been doing that much lately. And we usually have a couple of frozen pizzas in the freezer, we probably eat that once a month.

That's for two weeks worth of meals, and that's it for quote-unquote convenience foods. We're probably talking 3 or 4 meals out of 14 in a two-week period. And really, when you think about it, aside from the chicken patties, the indian food and the pizza (the latter two, as I say, relatively rare) there really isn't any purely convenience food on the list - even the hotdogs go into a cooked dish, so what we're really talking here about are substitutes for the meat that I don't eat a whole lot of and DW doesn't eat at all.

As I say, I've been taking on a lot more of the cooking since DW has been working so many evenings, and I've been trying to keep it interesting - soups are big this time of year. The hardest times are when I have an event in the evening, because by the time I get the kids home, give them snacks and do their homework, there isn't a lot of time to cook before I have to go out again. That's when we might do the indian food or a simply broiled tofu and microwaved vegetables. Kasha varnishkes is also a popular "convenience food" by which I mean - quick and simple!

So I feel confident in saying that we have managed to maintain a) our homecookedness, and b) our ability to put varied, interesting and nutritious foods on the table. Of course, two of our kids won't eat anything but noodles and cheese, but that's a story for another day.


SPF said...

Moti, FWIW, my past way back when wasn't getting "mad" at you about the fact that we "need" to eat prepared foods--it was in response to your incredulousness about the fact that people eat convenience foods or takeout sometimes, even though it's, actually, more expensive! As I said then:

"As may have occurred to you, those of us who do take out or eat out sometimes do *not* do it b/c we think we're saving money :-). We do it b/c we are stressed, b/c we feel like we and/or our kids need the treat, b/c we are taking 5 million kids in 5 million different directions on a given night and this is easier, b/c we haven't had a chance to go shopping and haven't gotten organized..."

In other words, we may be making the wrong decision, but we're not stupid :-).

weston said...

I find eating out to be one of the more frugal things I do. Mainly because my wife keeps kosher (both in and out of the house) but I don't keep kosher outside of the house. Since I'm not a vegetarian I have found that with careful use of coupons I save an awful lot of money (with the judicious use of coupons) by making lunch the main meal of the day and eating out instead of bringing food from home.