Sunday, April 19, 2015

Why Do People Eat Processed Food?

As a follow up case-study to "Why Do People Eat Out?", I am going to now look at "Why do People Eat Processed Food?"

I'm going to simplify the question by reviewing a couple of different types of food.

Case Study #1: Hummus
Hummus is delicious, and healthy, and relatively easy to make but even easier to buy.  I try to make hummus weekly, but I bought it weekly for YEARS.  So let's look at this, shall we?

7 ounces of store bought hummus:  $3.00
(It's probably cheaper at Costco, but even my family cannot eat that much)

To make your own:
1.  Soak and cook 1 pound of dried chickpeas: $1.00 (makes 6 cups cooked) - this is a super deal that I cannot always find.
2.  Use your food processor
2 cups of cooked chickpeas: 0.33
2 Tbsp of olive oil: 0.18
2 Tbsp of tahini: 0.38
1 clove garlic: 0.05
salt, cumin, cayenne: 0.10
juice of 1 lemon: 0.25

Total cost: $1.29 for approximately 2 cups (16 oz).  So 7 ounces would be $0.56

Total active time: 20 minutes to rinse and put beans on to soak, drain, cover, and cook in the pressure cooker.  20 minutes to make in the food processor and to wash the darned thing when you are done.

So that saves about $2.44, with 40 minutes of work.  But we'd probably go through 2 a week, so that means it's $4.88 for 50 minutes of work.  That's $7.32 an hour.  Not  much, eh?  But if you cook a pound of chickpeas, that's enough to make the hummus for 3 weeks, so there is that.

Case Study #2: Breaded Chicken Tenders
Kids love these and they are easy.  28 ounces can be had at Trader Joe's for $7.99, which comes out to $4.57 a pound.  They bake in the toaster oven in 20 minutes!!  Perfect with some steamed broccoli on a weeknight.  The key here is to not go too crazy.  If we all eat them for dinner, that's 1/2 bag.  So, we do eat these, and generally it's just the kids.  The parents eat something else.

You can make your own fairly easily with plain raw chicken breast and a batter of some sort.  It really depends on the kind of batter.  I'm just not in a place in my life where I can do the flour then egg then flour batter.  I've done skillet chicken with flour/ cornmeal mixture.  There's always a corn flake coating too.  I have a tendency to buy chicken in large portions these days though, so it's simply easier for me to throw it in the crockpot.

However, let's assume you get chicken breasts on sale at $2 a pound, and feel up to a cornmeal or flour-type crust.  For only $2.50 a pound you can save a ton of money over the store version.  Active work time: probably 30 minutes.  This lets you save $2.07 in 30 minutes, or $4.14 an hour.  Needless to say, I don't make my own here.

Case Study #3: Frozen Pizza
I LOVE making my own pizza.  But I'm going to fess up, it's a rare thing these days.  My desire to eat less bread, plus the effort involved in making my own dough and sauce...well, it just doesn't happen.

A totally processed, completely unhealthy frozen pepperoni pizza from Costco is $3.50.  This is a full meal for our family, maybe with leftovers.

A homemade, healthier pizza would be:
1. Homemade pizza crust with half whole wheat: 10 min to put together in the bread machine, 45 min to run, 30 minutes to shape and rest, 20 minutes to par-bake (can be frozen now, and the recipe makes 2x) then top, then 10 minutes to bake.  Needless to say, this is NOT a weeknight meal, unless we already  made the crust.

2. Sauce: The easiest sauce is marinara (runny), or tomato paste with herbs (not runny) or homemade pesto from the freezer

3. Cheese: gotta shred it so you aren't using cheese with wood pulp: 5 minutes

4. Vegetables: I prefer my onions and peppers sauteed to remove the liquid: to chop and cook: 20  minutes

Cooking everything from scratch simply takes a lot of time, compared to processed food.

Case Study #4: Soup
We get a lot of vegetables from the farm, and some of them are of the "what do I do with this?" variety. Which means soup.  Even though it's hot here, and we almost didn't have a winter.  I'm impressed with The Prudent Homemaker and her ability to eat soup year round in Las Vegas.

A 32-ounce carton of carrot ginger soup from Trader Joe's is something like $3-$4 (I don't remember exactly).  Other stores may carry it for more. So let's call it $3.50.

I have a great recipe for carrot ginger soup, and I use it to use up turnips (as much as half turnips).  So here's the work involved in a double batch:

1.  Chop an onion
2.  Wash, peel, chop 10 small turnips
3.  Wash, peel, chop 10 medium carrots
4.  Press 4 garlic cloves
5.  Grate 2 Tbsp fresh ginger.
6.  Saute onion, garlic, ginger in olive oil until onions are soft
7.  Add turnips, carrots, and 6 cups water or stock
8.  Bring to boil, reduce heat, simmer until carrots and turnips are soft
9.  Let cool on the stove 15 minutes
10.  Put in fridge for several hours
11.  Grate 2 more Tbsp ginger.
12.  Puree in batches in blender (5 batches).  This requires a second big pot.  One for the start, one for the finish.  Forget to salt and pepper, so do that at the end.
13.  Wash two big pots, the grater, and the blender
14.  Freeze for later

This probably takes 1 hour, and it makes two 32-ounce containers.  I think it probably costs about $2 - depends on whether you use water or stock, and if you make your own (I was out of chicken stock most recently, so used water).

That's $1 a container, or a savings of $2.50 per container, or $5 an hour.

It's actually a little depressing how little you get from this recipe.  On the other hand, it makes 8 cups, and there are a ton of veggies in each serving. So it's healthy!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Why Do People Eat Out?

Do you ever wonder why people eat out so much?  Apparently it's in the news now, that people (Americans) officially spend more money eating out than they do on food cooked and eaten at home. For the first time ever.  Dan over at Casual Kitchen has a good post on the topic - that people still insist that it's expensive to eat healthy, and some people insist that it's cheaper to eat out.  And it's not.

But that is not the point I was going to make today.  What point was I going to make today?  Well, we did quite a bit of eating out on our vacation recently - I'd say once per day.  (That's a lot for us.)  McD's once (I know, I know. I even packed myself a salad on McD's day, and my husband got it out of the car, it wasn't lidded correctly, and it exploded all over the ground.  Bye bye salad.)  Chipotle a couple of times.  A sandwich.  Pizza.

My family is a big fan of Mexican food (or Mexican-like food).  One thing that we love (besides burritos and quesadillas) are "bowls".  Well, I like them because they are easy.  Sort of.  And cheap.  Sort of.

You can get a "bowl" with a coupon for $5 to $9, so that's not too terrible, right?  But of course you can make it home for cheap, so why don't people?  Let me tell you why.  Here's a summary of my bowl-making efforts recently.

1.  The rice: I use a rice cooker.  Chop onions, press a garlic clove, chop a couple of carrots.  Rinse rice.  Put rice, peas, carrots, onions, garlic, some spices, some tomato paste, and water in the rice cooker.  Do it early enough because it's brown rice so it will take 90 minutes.  ~$1.75 for 5 cups

2.  The beans: Soak pinto beans all day in the pressure cooker.  Cook at pressure, let come down in pressure naturally.  $0.60 for 1 lb dried beans

3.  The guacamole/ sour cream: buy it at Trader  Joe's. $3.00

4.  The cheese: shred it yourself:  $2.00 for 1/2 lb

5.  The veggies: I used cauliflower, so I chopped, tossed with spices and oil, and roasted. $2.20

6.  The salsa: I buy this, but darn it if I'm out.  So make a quick version with canned diced tomatoes, garlic, green onion, jarred or frozen spicy peppers: $0.75

7.  The chicken: cook this up in the crockpot.  3 lbs sale chicken + homemade BBQ sauce = $5

Now, this is delicious, makes enough for 4 people to eat at least 4 meals (in my house), except for the guacamole that will brown anyway.  But there are 6 different steps up there that I had to go through to make the stuff.  That's 2 steps per meal still.  All told, this is $15.30 for about 4 meals, or $3.83 per meal (for four people).

Versus going to a restaurant: walk up to front, order, eat.  This, my friends, is why people eat out.

At times when I've been home (maternity), or working part time, it's been easier for me to spend time cooking, because I'm at home. When I'm out of the house for 50 hours a week working, it's MUCH harder.

For four of us at a restaurant, it would run $20 to $35.

By cooking, I save $16 to $31 PER MEAL.  A no-brainer, right?  Except for a few notes:
1.  I'm pretty good at this frugal cooking and shopping thing, so those prices are near rock-bottom.
2.  Active, hands-on cooking time there is probably about 3 hours all told.  Most people look at that and say "shoot, I'm going to Chipotle!"  And really, you have way more variety there with different ingredients, different salsas.  But variety comes with a price.

You could say I'm "earning" money by cooking:
Cost to eat out four meals: $100
Cost for my four meals: $16
Saved: $84
Work hours: 3
Money earned per hour by cooking: $28

That makes me feel a *little* better when at the end of a long weekend of cooking.

Friday, April 3, 2015

A tale of two stores

Well, it's spring break week here in FHS land.  We took a short trip and did a couple of days of camping in the desert.  It was HOT.  Abnormally so - in the 90s when about 80 is the normal high.  That made the  Goodness, for many reasons I hope we can get an end to this drought.  It's pretty awful in many ways.  Of course, toddler started coming down with a cold on the drive out there, and colds really transfer easily in dry weather.  So yep, hubs and I are struck with it now.

From the couple nights of hot, sweaty, dusty camping we moved on to a nice resort with a suite with a full kitchen, pool, and water slide.  During this trip I didn't do so well tracking the grocery budget.  We took food with us, which I counted in prior weeks.  We did one grocery shop, and I counted that.  But the stops for water and to refill the ice in the ice chest?  I'm afraid at the end of the year, they end up in miscellaneous.  We also ate out a few times too.

So now that we are back and off a half day from work, I did some grocery shopping.  A quick trip to Costco for eggs and bread (Ha!  Easter weekend - the lines were 10 people deep, it was NOT quick).

But that's not what the story is about, nope.  This is about two other stores, on opposite ends of the grocery spectrum:
1.  Whole Foods (aka Whole Paycheck)
2.  The 99c only store

I went to Whole Foods because we were out of tahini, and I make my own hummus.  The 365 brand is high quality and a good price ($6).  But you know me and that darned hot bar...

I went to 99c only store because I had a coupon for "Buy 5 get one free" that expired today, and because the last time I went, I got strawberries and they were pretty good.

Now, I know what you are thinking.  Am I comparing apples and oranges?  Yes true.  The hot bar isn't cheap, it's not supposed to be cheap, and the 99c store doesn't have an equivalent (which is probably a GOOD thing).  I can resist the bags of chips at the 99c store.  Whole Foods has a lot of very high quality, local and organic produce.

I live in an area where sustainable, local, organic - they are very popular and very prized and very supported.  Many people here can afford to shop this way.  Many who perhaps cannot do anyway - they make room in the budget for good food.  However on the other end of the spectrum, there are large numbers of people who could never afford to shop there.  The 99c only store is actually relatively new here.

I tend to fall in the middle.  I belong to a local, organic CSA.  The produce is delicious. We've been members since 2001.  The few times I've priced it out, it is superior in price (and much better in quality) than the regular grocery store.  When I can get free range meat - going in on a pig with a friend, buying part of a cow from a friend who bought too much, or catching a good sale at WF or another local store on free range chicken, I pounce on it.  I tend to pay $6-$8 a pound on pork or beef this way and $2 a pound on chicken.

But shopping this way is either incredibly expensive or incredibly time consuming.  If I wanted all organic and local, I could simply shop at the farmer's market.  I am agreeing then to spend my Saturday mornings shopping, and it would probably cost about $200 to $250 a week (most of that for the meat/eggs).  You can certainly bring the price down by buying direct from farmers, but then you are doing a LOT more leg work to get the items.

Therefore, I'd say about half of my food is local and organic, and the other half is not.  I *try* to buy organic for the "dirty dozen", but let's face it - even that can be a trial sometimes.  The convenient store doesn't always have organic and local.

So here's what I got today at these two stores:

First, Whole Foods:  Cost: $16.95  (there's a fourth samosa there that was already eaten).  Items: four samosas from the hot bar, one bottle sparkling water, one jar tahini

Next: 99c Only store: Cost: $4.89 (after $1 off coupon): 10 lb potatoes, 1 lb strawberries, 3 lb bananas, 1 head cauliflower, 2 lb carrots, 1 pkg mushrooms.  No, not organic - but then, I personally think that more produce is better - and if it means you can afford more produce...

So, the 99c store - this is helping me stick to an $80 budget, and it also leaves room for the WF hot bar.