Thursday, July 2, 2015

A Word on Variety

A continuation of the theme of "Why do people...?" instead of cook.

I think a lot of it is variety.

Think about that a little.

When I was a child, my mother cooked "American" food.  It was pretty repetitive.  Chicken, meatloaf, spaghetti, chili, burgers, scrambled eggs during lent, corned beef and cabbage, sauerkraut and kielbasa, ham and bean soup, mashed potatoes, canned vegetables.

I have friends from "elsewhere".  A lot of my Chinese friends eat mostly Chinese food.  My Indian friends make Indian food.  My Mexican friends eat Mexican food (you see where I am going here?)

As I hit adulthood and left my small town, I was able to try other cuisines.  And I liked them.

I love Indian, Thai, Korean, Mexican, Italian, Chinese, Middle Eastern, Greek food.

I like variety.
I get bored with the same old flavors.

But eating different foods comes with a cost.

If you don't know how to cook it, then you are eating out.  How many people know friends who, for lunch or dinner, often say "what do you feel like, Indian or burritos?"

If you do know how to cook it, then you have time and money invested in learning how to cook the dishes (they are all very different), and in the ingredients.  Cumin is great for Middle Eastern,  Mexican, and Indian, but a lot of the other cuisines use many other spices and ingredients.

And of course you must practice.  I made a mean stir-fry in my day, but now I tend to slow cook things, and I end up overcooking the stir-fry.  Because I'm out of practice.

Mr. Money Mustache talks a lot about hedonic adaptation.  How as you get used to things - air conditioning, nice vacations, nicer cars - they become necessary and you must move the next bigger better thing - because you no longer enjoy what you used to have.

I think the same thing holds true with food.
When you get used to having someone else serve you and cook your food, you don't enjoy doing it yourself anymore.
When you get used to having *any* kind of food you want, whenever you want, cooked properly - you lose the ability to enjoy your own home cooked repetitive meal.

And of course, there is the expense - both time and money.
- money - all the different spices and ingredients for each type of cuisine
- time - if you want to have a great burrito, or salad, based on a restaurant - you have to make the chicken, the salsa, the guacamole, and then shred the cheese, wash and prep the lettuce and vegetables, etc.  There are several steps involved.

Another really good source of "frugal simple food" for me is Frugalwoods.  I recently found this blog and enjoyed reading some of their archives.  One of the things that they do is cook up a batch of beans and rice on the weekend, and they eat it every day for a week for lunch.  They also have oats for breakfast, and rotate dinners.

This is frugal and simple:
- the ingredients are cheap
- they are "used up" and not wasted because you eat them until they are gone
- it's very simple - the meals themselves are simple to make, and they are made once and reheated.

This, of course, prompted me to cook up a batch of beans and rice over the weekend.  There were definitely some comments on their blog with "I could never do that, I'd get bored".  I think, personally, you would get used to it.  Another blog that used to post their meals (I don't think they do anymore) was Path to Freedom in Pasadena.  They are urban homesteaders.  They would also make a batch of beans and rice, and eat it for lunch and dinner until it was gone, and then make something else.  Food is fuel.

There was a time, after baby #2 when I was only working part time, when that was my method.  I would cook up a batch of "something" for dinner for the week, and a separate batch of "something" for lunch for the week.  The lunches tended to be beans and rice, or spaghetti, or sandwiches.  The dinners varied by time of year.  And then Wednesday was crock pot day (which also aligned with "we are out of dinner #1" day).  It helped that it decreased the tendency to overeat at lunch, because by Thursday or Friday, you are tired of the food.

Of course times change, and I'm back full time.  I still use some of the techniques, but not as many.  The challenges I face now are:
- weight loss.  I've lost a bunch of weight, but it was never going to happen on beans and rice, or sandwiches, or spaghetti.  I cannot eat that many carbs.  So I tend to eat salad, which I can only prep a day or two in advance.  (I have 10 pounds to go, and these are the stubborn ones.)
- CSA - we get a lot of variety, and they aren't necessarily conducive to "one-pot" or "prep ahead"
- kids - I find myself packing lunches during the school year
- time (always!) - Last night we had a date night, and I didn't feel like packing lunch. So, I went to bed late, and skipped the gym.  I thought about going for a walk when I woke up at 5:30 am, but opted to prep my lunch for the day ... it took an hour.  Washing and chopping cucumbers, green onions, peppers, and tomatoes for a salad.  Washing and peeling a bunch of carrots for a snack (I eat at least 3 cups of veggies a day, and have to prep them all).  Packing lunch for the 9 year old.
- volume - I am cooking and prepping for four people (though I don't have to do lunch for my child in daycare and during most of the summer I don't have to pack lunch for my 9 year old.  And I also don't pack my husband's lunch anymore, but I *do* make sure we have lunch things available.)

It's always good to be reminded of how lack of variety makes life more simple.  It's really okay to eat raw veggies and a protein for lunch every day.  It certainly also helps me lose weight - just instead of "beans and rice" for lunch, it's "vegetables and protein".

How much variety do you need in your life?


Joanne said...

I am good with eating leftovers for a week, so long as they're tasty leftovers! But yes, I agree that a desire for variety is definitely a part of what keeps people out of the kitchen.

Biz said...

I need the variety - but I understand how its easier for you and your family to cook and eat that way.

I also have a lot more time on my hands than you do, so meal prepping over the weekend and even a weeknight is not a big deal.

That being said, I think beans and rice can be morphed into many different things - rice and bean tacos, make a taco soup with the beans, rice, chicken broth and tomato sauce and add any fresh veggies from the CSA, chicken fried rice, etc.

That's one of the things I hate about seeing people when they meal plan 21 exact same meals - 7 breakfasts, 7 lunches, 7 dinners - I couldn't do it.

Well, unless each meal was pizza, and then for sure I could! :D

Sarah said...

My husband and I love all kinds of cuisines, and we love to cook. Over the years we've worked to recreate some of the restaurant meals we love the most. It did take work, but it was fun, too, and the specialty ingredients like spices aren't really so expensive if you make the meals semi-regularly. The strange frugal upshot we've found is that there's lots less incentive to go out if we know we can cook it ourselves. We do occasionally splurge on Indian food and Cuban pork sandwiches, though.

I'd be fine with eating a big batch of food until it was gone, but my family's into variety.