Photo credit: Plan 59
So if you want to eat healthy at every meal, you have a number of handy options.
1. Invent something amazing like a car that flies, or maybe an iPod that can read minds and play people's secret thoughts like they were music videos (with an optional porn filter, I'm thinking, though I wouldn't use the filter myself because that would be the most amusing part), then with all that money from your invention you could pay a personal chef!
2. Find someone who cares about health and nutrition as much as you do and who is also a really good cook, and then force that person to marry you; or,
3. Learn to cook!
Yes, relying solely on convenience foods and restaurant meals certainly seems like a tempting option, given the difficulty of the three choices mentioned above. But that option doesn't always work out so well.
Because sadly, most frozen, canned, or boxed meals are really crappy for you, and taste like flavored newsprint, with the "flavor" being some combination of salt, sugar, aluminum, chalky preservatives, and melted plastic. And most restaurants don't even try all that hard to offer healthy choices. When you finally find one that does? It's usually just lying.
And what about that nice "health food" aisle we're seeing more often in stores now?
Well, sometimes there are a few good options there, but there are still lots of compromises when it comes to taste and nutrition. Like say you find a natural frozen pizza made with 100% whole wheat flour and organic tomatoes and it contains no HFCS or carcinogenic cured meat. Hooray!
But then you look at the label and discover a "serving" is the size of a graham cracker and it contains 14,732 grams of sodium.
(And yeah, I'd probably buy the pizza anyway, plop a big salad next to it, and hope the two just canceled each other out.)
Yes, as much as I know I should avoid it, I still end up eating more convenience food than is good for me. Of course I do have a few standard healthy dishes I like to make. But whenever I resolve to start searching for new recipes, there's always a really
Take this example: I just saw a healthy, tasty-sounding recipe from Women's Health Magazine for Apple and Sweet Potato Hash Browns.
It looked so promising--only 5 ingredients, none of which are hard to find in a store, and I like all of them. Best of all, it sounds like an awesome way to sneak in a vegetable before 6pm--they're hash browns, which is breakfast! And while the cooking time is 18 minutes, the prep time is only 10 minutes.
So what's the problem?
Well, it's actually problem I run across frequently: the people who figure out "prep time" for magazine recipes are smoking crack!
(Although please don't be mad, Women's Health Magazine people, I'm just teasing. I totally don't think you actually smoke crack over there. Or if you do, it's probably organic, super-high antioxidant crack that slices minutes off your 10K times and makes your circuit training workouts triple efficient. We actually really, really like you here at Cranky Fitness and wouldn't care even if you did sometimes smoke crack because once you mentioned our blog in your magazine and then it got picked up on the Early Show and even mentioned by Jillian Michaels on her radio show! And while Jillian is kinda scary she's scary in a really good way. So even though I'm such a slacker that I'd start crying and probably even wet my pants if I ever had to go on the Biggest Loser and get trained by her, I totally think she's awesome).
Anyway. Where were we?
Sweet potato hashbrowns and "ten minute" prep time, that's right!
So during this 10 minutes, aside from gathering the all ingredients and utensils, and (presumably, though they didn't mention this) washing the apples and sweet potatoes, then chopping the onions... one is supposed to cut three raw sweet potatoes and an apple into "thin matchsticks."
That's right. Like regular matchsticks aren't even thin enough for these hashbrowns?
So part of my problem is that our kitchen knives are rarely in state of professionally-honed sharpness. (They don't often need to be, since my culinary specialty is peanut butter and banana sandwiches). But even with the sharpest knife in the world I don't think I have the dexterity to carve a piece of apple or sweet potato so that it resembles a thin matchstick. So how could I possibly sculpt hundreds of tiny little fruit and vegetable matchsticks in less than 10 minutes?
Ain't gonna happen!
Now I'm sure some other potato and apple configurations besides matchstick replicas would probably work for the recipe. But it's the principle of the thing! The recipe has already either lied to me about how long it takes, or accused me of being a hopeless loser with its demanding sweet potato carving expectations.
(Note: I have no idea if the matchstick problem is easily solved with a food processor. We actually own one and the Lobster loves it but I have some weird aversion to it. Probably due to a combined fear of reading instructions, cleaning a bunch of little parts, and potentially losing a digit on the sharp blades. So you food processor people are probably all laughing at my dilemma, thinking what a dope! All she needs to do is use the Matchstick Attachment! But go ahead and snicker. I still have all my fingers and that makes me very happy.)
So besides overly optimistic food preparation estimates, there are a number of other things that discourage me from trying new recipes as well. Does anything like this hold you guys back, or do you take it in stride?
1. Too many ingredients to buy that you only use a small part of for the recipe.
I hate waste, I'm a pessimist, and I'm cheap. So if it's some obscure ingredient and I've never used it before, I am not going to just assume that this recipe is going to taste so fantastic that of course I'll eventually use up the $47 worth of exotic oils, herbs, vinegars, and spices required. I especially hate when a recipe calls for 5 different perishable fresh herbs, each of which you only need a teaspoon of. Great if you have an herb garden and it's the right time of year! Not so great if each is only available by the bunch for $5 at the store.
2. Cheaty "ingredients" that are recipes themselves.
Often these are complicated home made sauces or stocks with a simple name--that have their own page if you follow the link or refer to a different page in your cookbook. If you quickly scan the main recipe, it can look like a quick easy meal! Then you discover there's a whole other stealth recipe hiding behind there which requires 18 different ingredients and hours of simmering.
3. Cookware requirements beyond "Pot," and "Pan."
We don't have much fancy stuff to cook in, because we're realists. If it's not a pot or a pan, we'd probably use it exactly once and then forget we had it.
4. "Faux" healthy recipes.
Have you ever noticed that a lot of "light" cooking resources act like you can take any old recipe your grandmother used to make, no matter how rich and delicious and decadent, and then just substitute a couple of "low fat" products, and magically end up with a "healthy" meal?
Not that there's anything wrong with modifying recipes to make them healthier! But I can't quite fool myself into thinking that a meal that contains almost nothing in the way of vegetables, whole grains, legumes, healthy fats, or lean protein, and that still mainly resorts to white flour, salt, and butter, and fatty meat for flavor, is a good candidate for heavy rotation in our meal planning. Plus the light versions rarely taste as good as the originals.
5. Ingredients that more "selective" family members won't eat.
Alas, the Lobster tries hard to be flexible, but she was not raised to like most vegetables, seafood, or grains other than wheat or corn. Many McSlacker cooking adventures thus happen when she's out of town.
(This is probably the "real" reason the other 5 seem like such huge obstacles).
What about you guys, what keeps you from making recipes that otherwise sound like a good idea? Have you found any hints or shortcuts that make healthy cooking easier?