Thursday, March 18, 2010

Fiscal Food

We’re cutting our budget, trimming our tasks and cinching in that waistline too. This started with our yearly sit-down at a lovely dinner to review the family budget. Yeah – budget isn’t as tasty a word as I’d like to discuss normally, but I’ve learned a new-found respect for those budget hounds that tout their happiness. I’ve run in fear from money all my life and now I’m finally standing my ground. This year I’ll be doing that through food.

One of the largest expenses for my partner is lunch. He grabs food through windows and shortened lunchtimes at his high pressure job. These bags and boxes average $8 if you include the fast food burgers and the Thai lunch specials. Over the course of a month that’s $160 that he could use to go to school or go on vacation with us. Or better yet, to add to his credit card payments and beat that debt back down.

I’ve always been about taking little steps rather than leaping off a ledge, so it seemed simple to just start packing lunch for him to take to work. But I know enough about how food and our minds interact to figure out that a few sandwiches and a few leftover spaghetti lunches would quickly send him out at lunchtime. I also realized that I had the perfect opportunity to influence how long my guy gets to hang around.

If I am fixing lunches then I can fix yummy food that just happens to be healthy and tastes good enough to keep him out of the drive-thru. Healthier food might mean a longer life, but really I just don’t want to be left alone with all the stuff we want to do.

But what kinds of food can I make that are:

• Tasty
• Healthy
• High in fiber
• High in protein
• High in vegetables with antioxidants and vitamins
• Low in simple carbohydrates
• Satisfying for my big eater
• Different from my regular fare
• Travels particularly well
• Challenges my cooking skills to grow and develop

Just so we’re clear – that list of requirements means that I’ve set myself a huge challenge. In short – I’m insane. But once an overachiever, always one, right?

Since the main idea was to save money and get healthier, I needed research on some awesome recipes and fast! Ideally lunches needed to be cheap as well as good for you, so I’ve kept the cost to under $10/week.

My first foray into these lunches, which I nicknamed Good 2 Go, was driven by the bits of vegetables I had on hand. Vegetables? Leftovers? I immediately thought – Chinese food! I tossed Bok Choy, carrots, onions, corn, water chestnuts and just a bit of low-sodium soy in a wok while a batch of brown rice was cooking. I think there were other ingredients, but I was cooking late on Sunday and I don’t remember every one of the details!

To keep the meat and potatoes crowd happy I made salmon to go with the stir-fry. All of the teriyaki sauces, one of his favorites, seem to have a lot of salt, high fructose corn syrup and MSG. I’m not a fan of these chemicals so I did a little research and combined a few recipes to make my own unique teriyaki. I have to pause because one of my challenges became clear right here.

How much salmon should I send? I wanted him to feel full and satisfied, but not uncomfortable or over fed. Apparently America and my partner have a strange sense of what is a decent size portion! I made sure the salmon (and a couple pieces of chicken) were about the size of my palm. Slicing the chicken makes it seem like it is much more meat than is actually there (but don’t tell him that!).

A few leftover Chinese takeout containers were repurposed for Good 2 Go and I sectioned everything off so the rice didn’t get overly soggy. I did eventually find miniature Bento-type boxes at the grocery store with cute little sections and just enough space for a proper size lunch.

The results? So far, so good! Lunches have been met with rave reviews and no claims that he gets hungry in the afternoons. Better yet, a few extra pounds have slipped unwittingly from his waist. As a non-diet, this seems to be working very well.

I know Chinese works really well because he loves Oriental flavors and leftovers are generally tasty, but next week I need to kick it into high gear and really understand what makes food travel well and reheat well. Oh, and of course I must keep up the interesting foods!


BookOfMirrors said...

Good for you!

As an aside and/or helpful tip... coconut oil (preferably the unrefined stuff) is ridiculously good for you, and is a vegetable source of saturated fat, which provides satiety. If there's a way to incorporate it, it really works! I've even tried it in coffee and/or tea, as an alternative to sugar, and it's surprisingly VERY yummy, and I don't get hungry nearly as soon. (This from someone for whom those fill-you-up things never worked...)

It can be expensive, but you can buy it in bulk. Just a thought.

(Also great in stir-fry!)

Belen said...

Try mexican. Sometimes in a rush I'll pack some cheese, salsa, low fat sour cream, lettuce, tomatoes, a handful of tortilla chips and some seasoned meat in separate bags or a tupperware with dividers. I heat the meat and then throw it all together at work and totally pig out :-) Works for tacos too.