Whole Foods
March 26, 2004 8:59 AM   Subscribe

Inspired by the responses in the HFCS thread, what are your suggestions on eating more "whole" foods? (see more inside)

I'm already trying to buy better products from the selection at the store (ingredients-wise), but I'm still limited to easy to make/quick meals. I don't like cooking, esp. since it's primarily cooking for one (my husband and I eat different things). I've occasionally tried cooking in larger quantities then freezing, but I find after a few meals I don't want to eat the same thing again for a very long time (which I guess is another issue - how best to store food). Plus, once I'm finished cleaning up I don't want to cook like that for quite a while.

I love the idea of Schwan's food delivery (and use it for some things), but it and others like it are often not very healthy (some things are but a lot aren't). Anyone know of any others that are good and have better-for-you food? What else can people like me do to eat better?
posted by evening to Food & Drink (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I found I started to eat better when I took one moment to think about what I'm eating. I made decisions rather than succumbing to "ooh, this sounds good." I was often pleased with my meal and also with myself afterwards. Without even trying to lose weight, I lost twenty pounds.

I just made decisions at the restaurant and the grocery store. I shy away from anything "processed" -- white flour and partially hydrogenated everything. It was weird at first; but now, on the occasions I eat Wonder bread, I realize how much I miss the complex flavor of whole wheat. I never really had that hankering for plain white bread.

When it comes to cooking, I find there's lots of opporunity for quick meals with a little creativity.

Take tofu ham (real chicken works well too), fry that up in olive oil in a saucepan (tastes very good when fried, creepy when not), after it is crispy, put in 1/3 package thawed spinach. After the water from the spinach cooks off, add your favorite spaghetti sauce. Put fresh mozarella and basil on top and spread it over cooked whole wheat spaghetti. All told: 15 minutes.

Something like homemade tomato soup (easy!) can be made tasty, filling and unique with quinoa (a grain) and a dollop of pesto mixed in.
posted by pedantic at 9:42 AM on March 26, 2004

There have been a number of previous threads that may prove useful to you, evening:

Healthy foods on a small budget.
Healthy portable lunches.
Foods that can be prepared in bulk and then frozen.

Personally, I've reached the breaking point and am ready to start making changes in the way I eat as well. Although budgetary matters are definitely cause for concern (laid off at the end of January in tech market-oversaturated Seattle) I'd rather be a little poorer and a lot healthier.
posted by Danelope at 9:44 AM on March 26, 2004

There are often cost-savings to buying more raw ingredients and fewer processed foods. Take this extra money from your budget and splurge on stuff that you find really tasty and cook more "high-end" meals at home. Some things that work well for me include fancy risottos [1 pan, not too much time, good side dish for other meals], grilled meats & paninis, casseroles that are hearty and filling, sort of comfort food, but stupidly easy to make from raw ingredients. Then there's the fallbacks of freezable pasta and rice dishes.

Sometimes just going outside of your normal ethnic tastes can be interesting enough to keep you going. Experiment with curries, peanut sauces, your own dressings and toppings, BBQ, etc. Take combinations of foods you like and wrap them in a burrito wrapper, grill them between sliced of bread, mix them with rice or couscous or orzo. Stock up on pastas to hold flavors, and good breads to put meats and veggies on.

The trick is to get to the point where you want to make something from a recipe and you find that you have at least most of the raw materials at home. Get some big jars to put bulk foods in. One of the best whole foods things that I like to eat is freshly grilled veggies or fresh fruit salads [smoothies, ground up on hot biscuits, mashed up over ice cream] which are stupidly easy to make and yet can have that "treat yourself" feeling to it if you hit on somethign you like. You can also make small portions without trashing your kitchen.
posted by jessamyn at 9:52 AM on March 26, 2004

I've been cooking for less than a year now, just for myself, but I manage to feed myself quite well on occasion. Here are some things I've picked up:

1) When you go to the supermarket, buy whatever fruits and vegetables in the produce section are either on sale or look pretty good. The fruits make good snacks, and you can find ways to use whatever vegetables you end up with (as long as they keep well enough in your fridge). In general, buy any ingredients that keep for at least a week and that you generally like. You'll figure out what to do with it all later.

1.5) Keep a set of spices/seasonings. Browse the spice-rack at the supermarket and occasionally get something that looks good (and is on sale).

2) Homemade tomato sauce is really easy, tastes infinitely better than cheap store-bought stuff, and can be used for all sorts of things. My basic recipe is: saute vegetables (some combination of onions, green peppers, carrots, mushrooms, scallions, etc, etc... see (1)); add one can of crushed/pureed tomatoes and one can of diced tomatoes; season with any combination of salt, sugar, black pepper, basil, oregano, garlic, etc, etc; simmer until it's as thick as you want it (or add flour or corn starch if you're impatient). It didn't take me too many tries to figure out how to season it to my taste (feedback while cooking is essential, of course).

3) To use your somewhat random ingredients from (1), cook by Google. If I don't know what I want to cook, but either I have some ingredients in mind -or- I'm low on food but have two main ingredients left, I go ask Google. For example, one night I had sweet potatoes and shrimp, but no clue what to do with them. I went to Google, typed in "shrimp sweet-potato", and ended up here. I didn't follow the recipe exactly (I didn't even look very closely, but I don't think that recipe had ginger or curry paste), but it just gave me the general idea of using a tomato base, a few veggies, the aforementioned ingredients, and some spices, all over rice. It was one of the best things I've made so far. In general, Google is great for getting an idea of what is possible and what might taste good. Plus, variety is good, and trying new things keeps it interesting.

4) Try to cook enough for two meals, instead of a massive batch. Usually this makes it easier for me, anyway, because quantities of ingredients are more manageable. One whole onion or one whole green pepper is usually right for two meals of whatever I'm making. I throw the leftovers into the fridge in tupperware, and the next night I don't have to cook. This doesn't work soimetimes when I cook something really yummy, because I get greedy and don't have leftovers...

5) Frozen, semi-prepared foods aren't so bad. Green Giant has "Create-a-Meal" packs of frozen vegetables with a pack of seasoning. Cook up some chicken, shrimp, tofu, etc., and combine with the vegetables. I tend to use 2/3 or less of the seasoning pack, because it's so laden with salt (ie, bad for me, but too salty for my taste anyway). Frozen ravioli or tortellini is a good quick meal (with homemade pasta sauce).

6) Rice. I have a massive bag of basmati rice. With a rice cooker (which I don't have), it's just a matter of: add rice, add water, press button, wait, consume rice. Without the rice cooker it's not much harder. Rice makes a good base for all sorts of things.

7) Thawing is not necessarily necessary. I've cooked successfully with frozen veggies, meats, whatever. I'll hack off a chunk of frozen caseless sausage, for example, cut it into somewhat smaller pieces, and break it up while it thaws/cooks in a pan. The only thing is it requires attention while cooking to be sure it doesn't cook unevenly. But I'm never clever enough to thaw something beforehand, so I've found this to be a valuable technique.

8) Cleaning. If you don't like cleaning, try A) cleaning while you cook, and B) using fewer things to cook. There is always time while cooking to clean a knife, bowl, whatever and put it in the drying rack. When I started cooking, I was very limited in terms of cooking implements, so I got pretty good at cooking with one or two pots, a single knife, and a small, green, nalgene spoon (I love that spoon). The combination of these two things means that I rarely have much to clean up after eating my meal.

Yeah, so that's really long, but I hope at least some of it is helpful.
posted by whatnotever at 12:40 PM on March 26, 2004

There are people out there that don't cook wonderful meals every day?

My god.

It is a tragedy. Eating is possibly the second-greatest reason for living. Food should be more than adequate: it should be damn fine.

Live to eat, don't eat to live.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:48 PM on March 26, 2004

We buy very few processed foods (tortilla chips and condiments) so our grocery cart is filled with fruits and vegetables, cuts of meat, dairy, rice, and beans.

I sit down and make up my menu for the week with the necessary ingredients listed on the page opposite. I then check that against what I have. We don't worry about breakfast, we both eat a banana and a few walnuts. I eat a salad for lunch, he eats a sandwich. I make bread on Saturdays, so it is mainly dinners that I plan. I try to use a lot of different vegetables, so we eat lots of stir fry, vegetable soups, and vegetable casseroles. Get a good vegetarian cookbook (such as The Moosewood Cookbooks and try something different every week.

Actually if you are watching your pennies you can do what I do and check out some cookbooks from the library. I check out a new cookbook every few weeks and try the recipes that look the most interesting.

This is a favorite soup recipe: Bean and Tomato Soup
1 onion
3 15 oz cans of white beans, rinsed
3 15 oz cans of tomatoes (diced or whole)

Saute the onion in some olive oil. Add the beans and tomatoes and puree in a blender. Heat and serve.

This soup gets better with age. I like it with some melted cheese and/or lots of hot sauce. Once I made it with stew meat (saute the meat and onion together with a little minced garlic, add some stock and simmer two hours. Remove meat, puree the onion, beans, tomato as before and return meat to soup.) Boy was that good. So this is just a great soup for experimenting.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 3:09 PM on March 26, 2004

Two things to add:

While Google cooking, type your ingredients (say, chicken and papaya) and then the word "recipe." It's true: you may not find the perfect recipe, but you will get a ton of ideas of how to fiddle up something good.

Also, since low carbing, I've learned to shop around the far walls of the supermarket - not in the aisles. That's where all the crap is. (Though I always take a detour into the "international" section for curry pastes and the like.)
posted by CunningLinguist at 7:39 PM on March 26, 2004

Also, a George Foreman grill is a great tool. (I know, I know, I scoffed too. Then I got one as a gift and use it almost every day. It cooks things really quickly and with a minimum of fuss and mess.)
posted by CunningLinguist at 7:40 PM on March 26, 2004

It's important to note that the article points out the corn syrup study is debunked by most experts - both industry-friendly and from The Center for Science in the Public Interest. That's not to say you should have a lot of processed corn sucrose in your diet, only that it's a myth that it somehow makes you fatter than other sugars.
From your question, it seems that you are interested in healthy eating in general - not necessarily low-calorie or diet foods per se. My number one suggestion would be to avoid trans-fats (partially hydrogenated oils.) See this thread and this thread. It is hard to avoid - they use it in all sorts of things - but it is seriously bad for you. Most Healthy Food stores like Whole Foods have non-trans-fat alternatives. Paul Newman's stuff is one major brand that doesn't use them and the products taste great (though the microwave popcorn is pretty bad.)
One more suggestion - try edamame if you never have. It's simply parboiled green soybeans - which I admit sounds gross - but sprinkled with salt it's a really delicious vegetable. An advantage is you can buy it frozen and just boil some up in a couple of minutes - and unlike most frozen vegetables, it keeps all the taste and nutrition of fresh (and edamame is *very* nutritious.)
posted by sixdifferentways at 9:24 PM on March 26, 2004

Response by poster: fff - that's my problem, I eat to live and I'd like to change that. just how do I do that with minimal effort? :)

Secret Life of Gravy - it's funny you mention that Moosewood cookbook as it was one of my first (used to be a veg myself), and I don't think I have ever made anything from it. It's never really been appealing to me.

thank you all for the suggestions and comments. they've given me good ideas.
posted by evening at 11:03 AM on March 27, 2004

One of the first purchases you should make, evening, besides the usual good-quality kitchen knives &c, are James Barber's "Urban Peasant" cookbooks.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:52 PM on March 27, 2004

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