Sunday, March 07, 2010

I Will Make This Easier to Remember: Keep Your Station Clean... or I WILL KILL YOU!

Mei Mei also lives up here in the frozen tundra. She goes to school up here. One of the benefits of living here is that it we hang out a lot, which is nice. She is living with a bunch of roommates, one of which she hangs out with all the time, and consequently, I hang out with all the time. Her roommate is older than I am, with a lot more experience and tons of advice. She is the motherly-type, who cooks delicious food from scratch, knows how to calm screaming children and always wears an apron. She is the relief society president in her student ward. I value her advice, especially in the food area, as she and I have the same view on food and cooking (that is, the more you can make at home, from scratch, the better. And by scratch, I mean soaking your own beans, chopping your own vegetables and grounding your own wheat into flour).

So when she asked me to be a guest speaker at their relief society meeting I jumped at the chance. Not only because she was going to talk about eating healthy and other guest speakers were going to talk on budgeting and good mother traits, but because I was very excited to be a guest speaker.

The night before, right before I went to bed, I was given my topic and my time limit (seven minutes). I was so excited. It is one of my favorite topics, something I feel changed my life. Alas, I didn't really have time to prepare. The next morning I went on my five mile run (woot!) and thought about it the whole time, but as soon as I got home I had very little time to shower, get dressed, and argue with Drek about who was taking Ash (I ended up taking her). I didn't even have time to finish my breakfast, let alone write and rehearse my speech. Sigh.

The meeting was great. I was the last speaker and the speakers before me were awesome. I learned a lot and was excited to be there.

I failed horribly. Once I got up there, Mei-mei's roommate took Ash. Ash was not happy. She screamed and screamed. She was taken out into the hall but I could still hear her screaming. So I was thinking about that, instead of what I was saying. I ended up bumbling like an idiot, and all today I've been thinking up the things I could have said and done and kicking myself for being so unprepared.

So here, for your pleasure, is what I should have said;

One simple thing in your life can save you time, and money. It will make you happier, healthier, and skinnier. That thing is meal planning. It is easy and it is awesome.

When I was first married (replace with "in college" or "on my own" as your circumstance dictates) I did not plan meals. I went grocery shopping, got whatever was on sale, whatever sounded good, and threw in some carrots just to be healthy. My goal was to stay within a budget, which I usually did.

I would work all day and when I came home my blood sugar would be low, so I was tired and hungry. My husband (replace with "roommates" or "dog" or whatever) wanted dinner and so did I. I would look through the cupboards and the fridge, trying to come up with an idea. But, as I said, my blood sugar was low so I wasn't creative, I wasn't excited about cooking, I wanted something fast, and I was irritated at my husband for not cooking dinner for us. So we would end up having cereal. Not the best, but hey, it was food. The problem with cereal for dinner is
1) cereal is expensive and costs more than a good meal
2) it's not very healthy
3) at nine o'clock I would be hungry again and usually eat ice cream; which is even more unhealthy and eating anything after eight at night makes you fat.
4) a few days later those carrots would spoil, and not only did I never get their nutrients, but I had wasted the money I used to buy them.

So, the solution? Meal planning! It's so easy! Take a piece of paper/calendar/computer program/sticky notes/white board and write down one to two week's worth of meals. I made my own meal planning paper labeled Monday thorough Sunday with space to write the meal title like "Lasagna, corn, and homemade garlic breadsticks" or "Empanadas with pineapple sauce and tres leche cake." You can do whatever works for you. At this point, I would pass out my blank meal plans to everyone, so they could plan out their meals for the following week while I finished talking. On the back of the meal plan would be "Anyone can cook!" at the top followed by the websites and five secrets I mention.

The great thing about this is you can do it however you want, and it makes planning easier. Here are some examples; I know that on Tuesday I have a friend coming over for dinner, so I want to make something fancy that day. I don't get home until six on Thursday so I want something fast. My husband cooks on Saturday so I ask him what he wants to cook that day and write it down. I know I'm starting my period on Saturday so I want to eat a lot of flax the week before (it really helps with cramps). It's my birthday next week so we'll schedule to eat out. St. Patrick's day is on Wednesday so I should make an Irish-themed meal. I have a big test on Monday so Sunday I should eat something with brain food (eggs, oranges, cranberries).

This is how I do it, feel free to do it however you want;

I plan at least one easy meal a week. By easy, I mean ready in ten minutes; Burritos, P B & J sandwiches, whatever you like to eat and can make fast.

I like to have one new recipe a week, something I've never made before but sounds AMAZING! I find new recipes online, in magazines, or in books (but mostly online and for me, mostly on vegetarian, vegan, or RAW blogs.) I do this so I can try something new, expand my horizons both for both my palate and my cooking skills, and because I look forward to cooking this meal. That's right. All day I am excited to go home and cook this new meal. It's wonderful.

I like to perfect recipes, so I'll make the same recipe three or four weeks in a row, just to master it. I'll also keep my old meal plans so when I don't have any ideas I can got back and see what I've made before.

I'll look online, or at newspaper ads, to see what groceries are on sale that week. I'll find the best deals, and then think of meals I can make with those ingredients. If I can't come up with one on my own, I type the ingredients in to Google and add "recipe" and make Google give me ideas. Or, if it's vegetables that are on sale, I use this website.

And thus, my meals are planned. While writing the meal plan, I also write my shopping list, so I can be sure to get all the ingredients.

It doesn't have to take a lot of time. you should be done with a two week plan in less than thirty minutes. I promise you, with a plan, you'll save at least that every day of the week when you don't have to scrounge for what to cook for dinner and discover you don't have ingredients five minutes into cooking.

The next step is shopping. You are saving money because you are buying ingredients rather than cereal or TV dinners. You also know that whatever you buy, you will use, so nothing goes to waste.

Once you are ready to start making dinner, you know exactly what to make, you know you have all the ingredients, and you are excited to make it!

When you eat it, it is more healthy (even if you just made cheese soup with extra butter and cream, homemade is healthier than any pre-packaged meal, or any fast-food meal) and more filling. You won't be tempted to eat after eight, so you'll lose weight, and usually there will be leftovers for lunch tomorrow, giving you another cheap, healthy meal that's all done!

When you have a meal all planned with the ingredients already bought, you're a lot less likely to eat out. Eating out is not healthy and is so expensive! Making your own meals is healthier, cheaper, and makes you a better cook, bring your family/roommates closer together and, like I said before, gives you leftovers to eat later.

So, now that we have our meal plans, I'll let you in on a few secrets.

Secret 1) I'm not strict about my meal plan. That is to say, I rarely make Tuesday's meal on Tuesday. Usually when it's time to make dinner, I think about how much time I have, what I feel like making, and what I feel like eating. I'll match that to a meal on the plan, but not necessarily the meal I scheduled for that day. That's why I have at least one super-easy meal.

Secret 2) I know my plan says Monday through Sunday, but I usually only plan six meals. Why? Because I can count on being invited to a parent's/friend's house for dinner at least once a week. If I've planned seven meals, I either have to refuse the invitation, or let a meal's worth of ingredients go to waste. Or, if I'm not invited anywhere, I'll have leftovers on that night. Leaving one day off gives me more flexibility

Secret 3) Meat has the least nutrients, is more expensive, more difficult, and more likely to give you food poisoning. Keep thing simple; go veg.

Secret 4) Fresh produce tastes better than canned produce. Produce from a farmer's market or your own garden is ten times better than store produce.

Secret 5) Crockpots. Seriously. Five minutes in the morning = amazing and delicious meal at dinner.

And remember; Anyone can cook!

Sigh. I wish I had blogged this Friday night.

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