Friday, May 8, 2009

Why is good nutrition so hard to come by?

I was talking to a buddy of mine last night. He had called me and during the conversation he had gone out to the grocery store to find something to call dinner. We were talking about how it is so much easier to just eat out than to prepare your own meals. This was true before the current economic downturn we are in began and now that such times are upon us the difference is even more noticeable. But along with the ease of pre-prepared and processed foods come more calories, more preservatives, and less nutritional value.

While this isn't too much of a problem for me (since the closest major fast food chain is an hour away) I imagine it is a problem for people who live near such locations and have a busy hussle and bussle lifestyle that does not allow for much time to prepare ones own food. Spend an hour or three (depending on what you make) on Sunday fixing up some lunch/breakfast to eat for a couple of days or just live off the convenience of being able to get a massive fatty burger, oversized order or greasy fries, and and cauldron of soda for $5 in 5 minutes. Yeah you could go the "healthy" route and get a grilled chicken sandwich, salad, and water but more than likely that combo will cost just much, usually more, than the burger combo and won't be as healthy as you think it might be. So what is a hard working 9-5 worker supposed to do?

Try making your own meals. Let's look at the advantages:

Time: Earlier I mentioned the 1-3 hours of preparing your own meals vs. standing in line for 5 minutes. Over the course of the usual 5 day work week you do indeed spend less time waiting in line than you would cooking your own. However consider this. I have some coworkers that go out for lunch almost everyday. By the time they go out and bring their food back you've already heated up your meal in the microwave and are probably part of the way done. Even if they eat their meal where they buy you are saving yourself the trouble of leaving, going through traffic to get to the eatery, going through the traffic to get back, and finding a parking.

Better quality food: Okay I know we aren't all Rachel Ray or Emeril but with all of the cooking shows, websites, books, (and knowledgable friends you might know) that are out there these days its actually pretty easy to prepare a decent meal. I mean even if you insist on that burger each day there is nothing wrong with cooking your own burgers and taking them to work to eat. I'm willing to bet that a homecooked burger fewer calories, fewer preservatives, and fewer chemicals than a Hardee's burger. And instead of that side order of fries you can fix yourself a small container of vegetables (these days many of the common veggies used for side dishes are available in frozen steamer bags so you can prepare a few days worth of them in a few minutes).

Money: Alright this one is a bit tricky but bear with me. More than likely you are going to spend at least $3-$5 a day on coffee, donuts, muffins, biscuits, or whatever it is you eat each morning for breakfast. $3 x 5 = $15. You can get a dozen eggs, a pack of your breakfast meat of choice, and a loaf of bread/pack of rolls for that much. You can buy the ingredients to make a pan of your own muffins to last the week for that much. You can almost buy the ingredients to make your own quiche and get serveral servings out it. For lunch that tab will likely go up to about $5-$10 a day. $5 x 5 = $25. Spagetti. Pot of soup. A batch of homecooked burgers. A stack of Lean Cuisine frozen meals and a few bags of frozen veggies for $25 plus a few dollars more.

Leftovers: This is one that a lot of people overlook. Thanks to our culture's short attention span people think that food has shelf life of a day or two or something. You're probably thinking that post of soup you cook on Sunday is gonna go bad before you can eat the last of it on Friday right? Wrong. Foods that are usually not frozen can last in the fridge or a surprisingly long time (depending on what it is mind you) and foods that can be frozen (like that pot of soup) have a shelf life of months. This allows you to mix things up so you wont be eating the same thing 5 days straight. So go ahead and make that pot of soup eat two bowls of it, freeze it, then bring it back next month (tip: for some unknown reason soup seems to actually get better as it ages.)

Pride: I don't know about you folks but when I manage to come up with a meal idea on my own or by adjusting an preexisting one I feel a little good on the inside.

Now I'm not saying that these tips alone can save you a fortune or allow you to lose weight like that Subway guy but it can help a lot. Hell I've even managed to lose a bit of weight doing this and save a small bit of money. Funny thing is I picked this up from the guys I work with (one abides by the Weight Watchers point system but didn't actually join and other brings his own homemade lunch everday) and now every few days one of will start a conversation about some new product that's low fat or low this or better for you that. I hate to invoke the gender roles but who would guess that IT guys would sit around trading food tips?

And I'm sure there are other good ideas out there. Care to share?