Thursday, May 1, 2008

Behind the scenes

This week was a perfect time to re-organize my pantry & kitchen. Now that Passover is over, grains and slowly making their way from my secret hiding place (the office) and back into the kitchen. Now is also a great time for me to remember the strategies I've developed to eat healthy and not waste food or money while doing it.

Now, I've never been what you would call "organized." Just ask my mother. Or my hubby. Or my freshman year roommate at college. But, I do like a good system now and then. So, I want to share a few ways that have worked for me this year.

1) First and foremost, I'd be lost without a clean pantry. If I can't see it, I won't use it. Even worse, I'll go out - buy it again - and send it into the darkest corner of the cupboard never to be seen again. Only to start the vicious circle over again. Once or twice a year, it doesn't hurt to take everything out of the pantry, take an inventory of what you have and make an honest assessment of what you really use.

2) I find the fridge much more difficult to keep organized. Up until yesterday I was relying on keeping a note on the door which listed my perishables for the week (which is usually 90% of my groceries!) If you peeked inside my fridge, you would find that the bottom shelf looked like a mosh pit after a Pearl Jam concert. It was impossible to pick out a scallion from a bag of spring mix. Finally, yesterday, I went to mecca (aka The Container Store) and purchased ten different clear containers & lids in various shapes and sizes. I can see what I have now! No more plastic bags! Seriously, this was the highlight of my week.

3) Sunday is my designated grocery shopping day. Back in the day when I wasn't so organized, I meandered into the grocery store say 3 times a week. That would lead to $200 weekly bills and food that would inevitably turn pretty colors before I could use it. But by taking the time to go through my recipe books over the weekend and meal plan for the upcoming week, I can write a reasonable grocery list and not buy in excess.

I've mentioned a few times on this blog that hubby and I have slowly changed our eating habits over the last 18 months by buying less and less processed foods and more whole foods. I'm not going to kid you, it's hard work to use up all of my vegetables, fruits and herbs in a week. But in the end, it's less expensive and far more satisfying. Here's how I get through most weeks:

1) I find a way to include a fruit or a vegetable in every single meal and snack hubby and I eat. The easiest meal in the world is soup. On Saturdays, I will take whatever I have left, put it in a pot and just go for it. As long as I have a can of tomatoes, chicken broth and a few herbs, I'm good to go.

2) To keep your meals interesting, you've got to take some risks and try flavors from around the world. Let your spice rack lead the way. This year I've been experimenting with so many different cuisines, but I have to say South African has been my favorite, so far. I ran out of cumin the other day and without it I felt totally lost.

A quick side note, I'm a big "Top Chef" fan and was particularly excited about this week's challenge. The chefs had to make a healthy meal for 4 people on a budget of $10. TOTAL! They all shook their heads depressed, but slowly realized that it could be done. I smiled as I watched them reach for beets, bok choy, lean chicken, peanut butter and zucchini. I knew they could easily win this challenge and present something fabulous while doing it.

More behind the scenes to come...


jj said...

Cooking for one makes it really difficult to keep those wonderful fresh fruits and veggies -- well, Fresh! And buying in small quantities gets expensive, too, so I share your "pain" but farmer's markets help when it's warm enough in our parts for them.

Rambling, sorry -- enjoyed your post!

Mo said...

Good ideas. I have been away on business for 3 weeks, and can't wait to get home, grocery shop, organize, and start cooking and eating healthy again. I almost feel like I will have to re-learn all of this. :)