I used to have three primary cooking goals:
1. Fast & easy to make.
2. Cheap to make.
3. Decently healthy that kids will eat.
We ate piles of casseroles. Noodles & cheese…mixed with a can of soup. Tuna, noodles & peas…mixed with a can of soup. Fast and easy it was. Healthy and environmentally sound it probably wasn’t.
My first wake up call came when we learned that ‘LilDude’s gluten intolerance made all those noodles and cans of soup a no-no. It didn’t take long to figure out that our best bet was to eat food in as close to “natural” a state as possible. The more processing, the more likely a food contained gluten.
In a similar time frame, I started reading about eating local foods in season. I’d never been crazy about buying Styrofoam-tasting tomatoes in the middle of winter, but in reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, I realized that there were a lot more reasons to buy local. When my kids studied the energy use involved in food transportation as part of a LegoRobotics project, the family jumped on board. (I knew we’d reached a pinnacle when they came home from Grandma’s with a running commentary on the “lettuce and tomatoes in the middle of winter!”)
So my cooking goals have changed:
1. I still want things that are fast and easy to make. But now fast/easy must also fulfill a few additional requirements…
2. Food cost continues to be an issue…but food cost at what cost? If my food comes to me at a low price because it was shipped here from a distance, there is a price to pay. I don’t know what growing methods were used…which especially concerns me when it comes to pesticide use. As an example, I recently learned that most apple juice in the United States comes from China. Buying that juice contributes to energy use/food transportation, adds to the burden of chemical use in China (hurting the people living there), and takes away from my local economy…where apples naturally grow just a few miles away.
3. My new goal is to find or grow as much whole/natural/unprocessed/seasonal/local food as I can. Sometimes I pay slightly more. Sometimes I’m astounded by how reasonable these healthy alternatives are. This past year we made two big meat purchases: locally grown, grass-fed beef, and free-range chickens. We chose to commit a lot of freezer space to the endeavor, purchasing a third freezer, used. (I realize, guiltily, that this is a lot of energy use, but it's the best alternative our family has found.) We’re about ready to condense to two freezers, having eaten about a third of the supply.
In addition to the meat, we loaded the freezers with tomatoes, green peppers, jalapeno peppers, pesto, green beans, blueberries (90 lbs purchased at 60 cents/lb), raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, sour cherries, corn, broccoli, etc… Everything but the berries came from the garden. Salsa, peaches, green beans, dilly beans, and grape juice line our pantry. And, yes, the squash still fills buckets in the garage. As a result, our monthly grocery budget is quite low.
4. I still want the kids to eat it. But I also want them to eat healthy…and in an environmentally sustainable way.
We’re still a long way from meeting these goals, but I’m trying to add one little piece at a time…
Since Christmas, one goal has been to increase crockpot usage. I can easily throw in a meat or soup/stew. Lately, I find myself using the crockpot 2-3 times a week. Here’s this week:
Monday: crockpot stew (this was a traditional beef, carrot, potato stew…I threw in chunks of butternut squash and no one even noticed!)
Tuesday: roast beef (crockpot), mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, blueberries
Wednesday: chicken (crockpot—so easy!—put a half onion in the cavity with salt, pepper, poultry seasoning and sprinkle with basil…it makes about 3 cups of amazing broth that I save for a crockpot chicken soup that I’ll post later), squash casserole (posted earlier), green beans, blueberries
Thursday: honey baked lentils (yep!, the kids like this!) with rice, corn, leftover squash casserole
Friday: shepherd’s pie made with the leftover vegetables from the week and the leftover mashed potatoes, gravy and beef from Tuesday.
I’d love to hear from others who are moving toward feeding families on locally grown, seasonal food!
Coming up...1 chicken, 3 meals! ;)