“Do not be too moral. You may cheat yourself out of much life. Aim above morality. Be not simply good; be good for something.” –Thoreau

14 October 2013

What We Eat

10/5/2013

My breakfast was two pieces of toast with peanut butter and honey. For lunch, I had a grilled tomato-and-cheese sandwich, which was tasty and quick. I was in a hurry to get to the library to work while Casey took Fiona to a hobby expo. I took an apple with me and ate it when I got hungry.

For dinner, we eat leftovers in the form of simple taco salads--a big bowl of lettuce with tomato, cheddar cheese, and reheated taco meat. I fried up some strips of corn tortillas to top it off. I added olive oil and lime juice. We each added a little dressing. I also made us green (or, in this case, purple) smoothies using banana, coconut milk, almond milk, blueberries, strawberries, and spinach.

Purple smoothie! Yum!

10/6/2013

Breakfast was bread and butter, with tea. My stomach wasn't feeling so hot. As usual, Casey did not eat breakfast. For lunch, I made a green smoothie with almond milk, spinach, strawberries, and banana. Casey ate some leftover pasta.

For dinner, I made us tuna melts. They're the only warm tuna dish that Casey likes. I really love tuna melts with sharp cheddar cheese, and it's a relatively gentle meal for my tender tummy. Casey also ate a green salad, but I just ate the sandwich.

Toasted bread is a must.

10/7/2013

I had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for breakfast. I did not eat lunch because I worked through it at the library. No snacks either so I was very hungry! When I got home, I had a small serving of leftover pasta.

For dinner, I put together an egg bake with potato, sausage and cheddar cheese.

Note the proportion of veggies to meat/egg.

I included the recipe for this dish in the comments of a previous post. The sausage tasted good, but I like it just as well with deli ham. We ate it with salad, and this was my portion. Casey ate a second piece of the egg bake.

10/8/2013

Peanut butter toast for breakfast. My lunch was a chocolate-banana smoothie (banana, almond milk, spinach, peanut butter, and a little dark cocoa powder). I ate an apple with cheese slices mid-afternoon, and that was enough until dinner.

We made shepherd's pie for dinner. Shepherd's (or "cottage") pie is an Irish dish. If you've never eaten it before, it's fairly simple; I made mine with ground beef and frozen mixed vegetables, as well as a quarter of an onion and some minced garlic. It is topped with mashed potatoes and then browned in the oven. A cast iron skillet is awesome for this, but you could cook the elements on the stove and then transfer them to a baking dish.

One of Casey's favorite meals.

10/9/2013 


For breakfast, I had an apple and a piece of bread with butter. My stomach wasn't feeling too hot, probably because I had a cold. At lunch, I was pretty hungry. I ate leftover shepherd's pie and a small salad. 

We eat leftovers for dinner, as we often do. I had shepherd's pie (twice in one day, because I was sick and it sounded edible) and Casey ate the last of the pasta with a big salad.


10/10/2013

Breakfast on Thursday was typical--a little toast with peanut butter and jam. I felt pretty good again, so it must have been a 24-hour flu. I had leftover egg bake for lunch, and snacked on baby carrots and corn chips.

Casey was out of town for work on Thursday night. I made myself a meal that he would never eat:

Sounds weird, tastes great!

I call this "corn salad," and that is basically all it is. I cook some corn and mixed it up with a little mayo, lime juice, cayenne pepper, paprika, salt and pepper. Then I put it on a bed of lettuce, coated in a cilantro-lime vinaigrette, and topped it with lots of (0% lactose) cheddar cheese and fresh cilantro. It tastes a lot like Mexican corn, and the oils and fats help me digest the lettuce. I think it's yummy!

10/11/2013

We ate dinner out with my Aunt Kevin, who was in town visiting! Lucky us!

10/12/2013

We hung out around the house so Aunt Kevin could have maximum baby-cuddling time. I made scones for our late breakfast, and queso with chips for a late-afternoon snack.

Casey and I made hamburgers for dinner. I prepped everything and he handled the grilling.

I think this is the best food-photo I've ever taken.

I mixed garlic and onion into the patties, as well as the spices we like. Each burger was a third of a pound. Casey and I each ate two, and Kevin ate one. We served them with lettuce, tomato, mayo, ketchup, and mustard. I had cheese on mine as well.

10/13/2013

I cooked up breakfast in the morning--eggs and bacon. We didn't really eat lunch--just ice cream (or frozen yogurt, in my case) from Oberweis! We also stopped for coffee and a snack at Sugar Fixe. Kevin, Fae, and I tooled around downtown Oak Park, and we met up with Casey before we went to dinner. We were thrilled to celebrate with honorary-Auntie Kel, who ran the Chicago marathon on Sunday!
Hurray Auntie Kella!


In summary, we ate out for dinner twice this week--once more than usual--because we were celebrating! Our groceries would have allowed us to cook in. It probably came out even, though, because we were feeding one extra adult all week while my aunt visited. It was a great week, and hopefully these meal ideas are helpful to you. Enjoy!

04 October 2013

Affording Good Food (the follow-up)

I've received some questions about my last two-part essay on eating and Crohn's Disease. I decided to address them in a little follow-up here.


1) How do you afford meat on this budget?

Answer: We eat less of it. There's no way around that. I've written about this before. If you want to spend less money on groceries, the quickest way to do it is to cut your meat consumption. Don't misunderstand me-- we still eat meat every day. I find it's easiest to 1) eat a meatless dinner, usually pasta or an egg dish, at least once a week and 2) use less meat in my recipes. Shepherd's pie doesn't need two pounds of ground meat, even though the recipe calls for it. It will still taste good with one pound. Or even half a pound. Bulk it up with more vegetables. My rule of thumb is to cut the meat the recipe calls for in half, and supplement with veggies if necessary.

2) What kind of bread/peanut butter/dairy products/snacks do you buy?

Answer: Huh. I sure got a lot of these! I have an easy rule of thumb for purchasing boxed, bagged, and canned foods: Look at the list of ingredients. Can you pronounce all of the words? Do you know what each ingredient looks like in its raw form? If you can, and you do, then buy. If not, don't. I also look for a few trigger words: "unsweetened" (good), "artificial" (bad), and "for freshness" (debatable). I do the best I can. The bread I buy is supplied to my grocery store by a local bakery; no commercial brand I've found can pass my two ingredient tests. If I want tortillas or hamburger buns, I have to compromise. So don't drive yourself crazy.

3) What do you think about this?:

A Letter to the TEDx Community on TEDx and Bad Science

Answer: The stance TED has taken on this, and on GMOs specifically, bothers me only because it seems so pointed. I agree that TED has an obligation to make sure its presentations are well-researched and presented by someone with authority on the topic. I, too, have noticed that increasing numbers of TEDx presenters don't seem to be experts in their field. I don't choose to watch them. I think it makes sense for TED to keep their standards high. But their choice to single out presentations about GMOs, alternative healing, and food-as-medicine is not good. TED seems to have acknowledged this and corrected their error.

4) What's a green smoothie? Why do you drink them?

Answer: I did post a link for this in the last post, but here's a brief run-down: I eat green smoothies because they make fruits and greens easier for me to digest. And because they taste good. Green smoothies are made from any combination of berries, fruit, and natural sweeteners that you find pleasing, along with leafy greens. Sometimes I use kale, sometimes chard, sometimes spinach. Whatever is affordable in an organic variety at the time. A big handful of greens is sufficient, and doesn't negatively affect the taste. I freeze the greens to preserve them. I love adding frozen cut-up bananas. You can add yogurt, almond milk, or coconut milk to give it a creamy texture. Coconut milk is my favorite. Sometimes I need to add water to thin or ice cubes to freeze it more. I've never tried milk, but you certainly could. Here is a nice list of recipes but really, you can make it up as you go.

5) Can you post the meals you get out of this shopping trip?

Answer: Yes. Although it seems weird, because I'm not one of those people who take pictures of their food. But I will photograph my dinners this week and next, to satisfy your curiosity. I will let you know what I ate for breakfast, lunch, and snacks but I won't bother photographing it. I'll also update with any additional groceries I might pick up.

Two nights ago, we had beef tacos. The meat had onion and bell pepper in it, as well as spices, and we ate it with lettuce, tomato, guacamole, cilantro, and sharp cheddar cheese. I ate it on corn tortillas, and Casey chose flour. Casey also had some tortillas chips with guacamole on the side. This is one of our most common dinners, and we love it.

This was a serving. We had two servings of meat leftover.

Yesterday, I had two slices of bread with peanut butter and honey for breakfast. I made a salad for lunch with lettuce, tomato, guacamole, cilantro, cheddar cheese, and some leftover taco meat. I broke up tortilla chips and added them to the salad as well. My snacks included handfuls of granola, snack mix (cranberries, nuts, and white chocolate chips), and tortilla chips.

Last night:

One serving of pasta. We had at least three servings leftover.

We ate pasta, green peas, mushrooms, and fresh spinach in homemade alfredo sauce. If you learn to make your own sauces, you'll cut a lot of chemicals and additives from your diet. The sauce included butter, flour, chicken stock, half-and-half, cream cheese, salt and pepper. We topped it with parmesan cheese and basil. This was a meatless meal, and it was very satisfying.


I encourage you to keep questioning. You can ask me, of course, but you can also research for yourself. Talk to your doctor. Read what's available online and in your library. The more you question what you eat and why, the easier it will be to make positive changes.

Food is fuel, and it's also self-love.
Love your food, love your body. Good luck.

03 October 2013

Affording Good Food

This is the second part of my advice on eating well with Crohn's Disease. Although it applies to everyone, regardless of whether you eat a restricted diet or not. I'm going to talk about how I keep our food costs low without sacrificing our morals or our health. It was challenging in the beginning, but it's gotten easier over time.

Our dinner last night.

We spend roughly $50 per week on groceries. Sometimes it's a little more--usually if I'm stocking up on a good deal--and sometimes a little less. Once in a while, I do have to load up on staples like flour and rice, and that can cost more. We don't include alcohol in this amount when we're budgeting because only Casey drinks it and it has no nutritional value. It qualifies as a recreational expense.

This amount covers breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the two of us. We eat out once a week or so together and Casey often eats lunch with clients at work. Even if we didn't do those things, we could eat every meal for the entire week on that amount.

To put it in prospective, the average person on food stamps receives $4.50 per day to spend. That's $0.93 more than we're spending to eat whole, healthy foods. Of course, it's not a one-to-one comparison because many people on food stamps don't have neighborhood access to a grocery store, don't have the knowledge (or the fully-stocked spice cabinet) necessary to make whole foods taste good, and don't have the time to cook from scratch because they're working multiple jobs. Just because a person can afford to eat well doesn't mean they can. So I'll share what I know about budgeting, but I realize that it isn't the only factor at play.

Our secret to eating on a limited budget is meal planning. A lot of people have just tuned me out because I used the word "planning." I get it; it's pretty intimidating when you're getting started. But I really believe in it. When you find a system that works for you, it becomes second-nature.

So. Here's what I started with this week:

Empty fridge.

That big glass bowl is full of fresh chicken stock.

Totally out of smoothie ingredients. Sad.

This is slightly emptier than normal. We were out of town for half the week, so we have not purchased groceries in about 13 days. Casey's parents sent us home with tomatoes, apples, bell peppers, and ground beef from their family farm. Those tubes in the freezer are all ground beef, and I cut up and froze most of the peppers as well.

My version of meal planning starts by selecting five dinners for the week. I assume that I won't want to cook for two nights a week, so we'll eat leftovers or eat out. I pick those meals from my collection of recipes; we have four of our favorite meals, and I often try one that is new. I take those recipes and check to see what I have in the cupboards. I create a shopping list with only the ingredients I need to make those meals. Then I add to that list anything we're out of that we use every day--milk, lettuce, bread, and so on. I don't repurchase an item until it is gone; if I plan to make a frittata, and I have 10 eggs in the fridge, I don't buy more eggs until next shopping trip. I know I'll be totally out but that's okay, because I had what I needed for the week.

So. If we're not going to load up on extras, what do we do instead? We shop smart.

Our grocery trip yield. Cats not included.

I believe in voting with my wallet, and I'm pretty brand-loyal. This flies in the face of all other budgeting suggestions I've read. We're fairly picky about the brands we use--Casey's finickiness is dictated by taste and mine by a three-pronged desire to treat animals humanely, respect the planet, and limit our consumption of additives. These things do not always align. We have figured out a way to meet in the middle.

The haul, unpacked.

I always start with fruits and vegetables. I buy just what we need for my recipes, salads and snacks. Because I care about consuming chemicals, I pay attention to the Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen. We buy berries and grapes, in season, and apples the rest of the time. We always have carrots and frozen corn. I often buy bananas, cut them up, and freeze them for smoothies. I stock up on berries, fresh or frozen, when I can find them at the right price. I pick a well-priced green (spinach in this case) and freeze it for smoothies. My last bunch of greens lasted almost six months. Green smoothies are one way I can get nutrients when I'm in a Crohn's Disease flare-up.


Part of what makes this work is to be flexible about the protein you use. Chicken thighs are cheaper than breasts, and ground pork is often cheaper than beef. I regularly use pork in tacos and pasta sauce. And if we can't afford pork, I make black beans tacos instead. We eat eggs at dinner in frittatas. Sausage is often on sale, and is so flavorful that you can use less in your recipes. I only buy ground beef and bacon (without added nitrates or nitrites) on sale, so we purchase those very rarely. I do make organic or free-range meat and eggs a priority, but there are times when we just can't afford it. When that happens, I try to buy local.

(Sidenote: We have access to free beef through Casey's family farm, which is wonderful. However, even without that meat we could still get enough meat on this budget.)


Once in a while I buy a whole chicken and roast it. The meat will feed us for two days, and I use the bones to make chicken stock. Once it's made, I freeze it in ice cube trays and store it a gallon freezer bag. It lasts a long time (six months or so), unless I make a big pot of soup out of it. I make turkey stock out of our Thanksgiving bird as well. I haven't tried to make beef stock, yet. I want to. But I don't bother with vegetable stock because the organic versions aren't that expensive, and I rarely use it.


I don't make everything from scratch. Not even close. There are a few foods I never bother making myself. These include pizza and pie dough (unless it's a special occasion), bread, and yogurt. I used to make my own yogurt, and if I had a yogurt maker I still would. I make some of our sauces (ketchup, pasta sauce) but not others (peanut butter, dressing, barbecue). We eat a lot of rice and potatoes with our meals, and we like tortillas. I used to make my own granola and snack mixes but found it wasn't actually cheaper, once I ran the numbers.

Sometimes homemade does cost you more.

But you don't need to buy lots of different kinds of products, either. We used to buy both creamy and chunky peanut butter because Casey and I didn't like the same kind. That's nuts! It's just peanut butter! You really don't need a box of each family member's preferred cereal cluttering up your life. Pick one kind, and everyone can choose to eat it or make toast instead. If it's really a point of contention, then rotate what you buy so everyone gets their favorite at some point during the month.



FOODS I STOCK UP ON

free-range or organic meats -- these hardly ever drop below my target price, but when they do I buy as much as I can store

coffee -- if coffee beans drop below $4.00 per pound, I buy four or five pounds at once

almond milk -- when I find my brand for less than $3.00, I buy three or four cartons because it keeps

canned goods -- if I can find these for less than half of their usual price, I buy three cans or so

canned organic soups -- I can find these for $1.00 or less on the clearance racks, and I buy up to six

frozen veggies -- or veggies that freeze well (organic, if I can find them) under $1.50 for 16oz.

fruit and berries -- fresh or frozen, any time they're under $3.00 for 12oz.

almonds -- I buy several pounds, if I can find them shelled under $5.00 per pound

snack bars and granola -- if I can get a brand like Annie's for the same price as Quakers, I buy several boxes


Important to note, though:

Stocking up isn't that important to me. It's not worth blowing my budget for the whole month in one trip, even though I'm sometimes tempted. I can't store the excess, for one thing, and who knows whether circumstances might change? What I mean is... What if I develop an intolerance to, say, walnuts, and we've stocked up on five pounds of them? What if Casey tries the soup I bought and hates it? If you're tempted to buy an extra four boxes of granola bars, might I suggest putting the cost of those extra bars into your savings account? Make a conscious choice to save instead of spend.

You can't save money by spending it.
No matter how good the deal is.

This style of shopping helps us prevent waste. At the end of the week, my fridge and cupboards are pretty bare. A lot of people I know never run out of anything; they've restocked before it's actually gone. I used to do that, too. I bought two cartons of almond milk every week because if I bought one, it'd run out on day six. I always had two in the fridge. But I had a lightbulb moment about this kind of consumerism:

Why was I taking so much more than we need?
What gave me the right?

Okay, yes, it sounds a bit philosophical for the dairy aisle. But we're so accustomed to excess in the United States. We are used to having so much food in our kitchens that we couldn't possibly eat it before it goes bad. We're used to extra bedrooms and closets full of shoes and three-car garages. And I'm not saying it's bad to want those things. But maybe it is bad to think we need them.

This is part of the reason I don't believe in extreme couponing. According to the store staff, we have a couple extreme couponers in my neighborhood. When I find that my local shelves have been cleared of products I buy every week, just because they're on sale, it really aggravates me. Using a coupon is great! But how can one family need twenty cartons of almond milk? Are they even lactose-intolerant? They buy up everything like it's a game they can win, and that sucks. It's rude. It implies that other people's needs matter less than your own, that we're competing for resources instead of sharing them.

And you do not have to do it to eat well on a limited budget.

Ah, yes. The full fridge.

I got my peanut butter, Casey got his salsa.

Frozen berries make me smile.

None of the planning will work, though, if you go off the rails once you get to the store. If I go in to buy jasmine rice, I have to avoid being tempted by something easier like Uncle Ben's or Zatarain's. It's okay to get those things, but they'll cost you more and you must plan for them. I never add anything to my shopping list; occasionally, I do remove something, if the price of avocados or chicken breast just isn't reasonable that week. I'll have to reorganize my meals a bit when I get home, but it always works out fine.

$100.54 for two weeks worth of groceries and beer.

Plan your meals. Make a list. Respect the list.

It takes practice to plan meals, and it takes time to adjust to an empty pantry. It can be disconcerting at first--"What if there's a natural disaster? Won't we starve?" Probably not. But if you're worried about it, then create a disaster-preparedness station and only restock it when necessary. You don't need to throw away food every week. You don't need to "stock up." Learn to live with less.

Questions? Comments? Concerns? I'm all ears.

Eat well, friends.

"We may find in the long run that tinned food is a deadlier weapon than the machine-gun."  -  George Orwell