Thursday, December 27, 2012

A Crash Course in Home Economics: Maximizing Food

Ever wondered how to stretch the food in your pantry/cupboard/fridge/etc. for another day(s)/week(s) or until that next paycheck?

Many times, it pays to use simple foods and less meats (I said less, not none).

My husband and I had company last weekend. I grabbed two sandwiches baggies full of marinating chicken to thaw for dinner. My hubby wanted grilled chicken (i.e. one piece of chicken per person), but we fortunately remembered that *he's* the master griller, not his lovely bride. I opted to make a chicken stir-fry with rice. Instead of using all 5 slabs of chicken, I diced up 2 and had enough meat to serve 4 people. The other 3 slabs of chicken were grilled after all, for later. I grabbed a bag of mixed frozen veggies that I made myself. When I was slicing veggies a while back, I put a variety (carrots, bell peppers, celery, broccoli) in a bag. Since I was planning on using these veggies for stews or stir-frys or casseroles, I put some of the non-traditional parts in too (like the sliced up truck of the broccoli). Add in rice, baked potatoes, and a dessert and dinner was done. A chicken-veggie stir fry, rice, baked potatoes, and apple-strawberry jello filled us up. We had a full serving of everything left over. I wasn't too enthusiastic about the leftover stir fry, so I combined the rice, stir-fry, extra carrots, and chicken bouillon cubes to make a soup.  I'm estimating that this soup will be 4 meals for my hubby and I.

What could have been 5 chicken servings became 3 grilled chicken servings, 4 stir-fry servings, and 4 servings of soup. Instead of of 5 servings, I get 11, effectively doubling the stretch of the meat.

What are some strategies I use to stretch food in my home?
1. Chop up the meat. Mix it with something. Don't let it be the focal point of the plate.
2. Use staples (rice, beans, bread) to fill the rest of the gap we're typically fill with meat.
3. Think of ways to get more fruits and veggies on the table. Instead of a bowl of pineapple, I made strawberry jello with apple pieces inside. Much better received.
4. Research your nutrition needs and stick with them. A girl of my size needs 45 grams of protein a day (i.e. 15 grams per meal). So yes, a cup of milk and 2 Tablespoons of peanut butter does count as enough protein for a meal (allowing me to focus on cinnamon rolls and orange slices). [Mom, my meals typically have more planning and preparation than this]
5. Plan ahead and prepare fruits and veggies so you can grab and eat when you're wanting a snack, as an alternative to filler foods that really don't fill.
6. Stick with proper portions (especially for expensive foods). Just because you can finish that 16 oz. soda in one sitting doesn't mean it's good to do so. 2 servings, 2 sittings.
7. Go old school. War-time (WWI, WWII) and Great Depression cooks were experts at stretching meals and maximizing foods. My new favorite cookbook is "Foods that Will Win the War and How to Cook Them (1918)" This cookbook is free for Amazon kindle (and yes, you can download the kindle app to your computer and use the cookbook from the computer). It focuses on ways to reduce our usage of wheat, meat, sugar, fat, and stretches food in general.
8. This one may seem odd, but only eat when you're hungry. It's a bit embarrassing that I can be awake for hours before I'm hungry for breakfast or that lunch might occur between 2 & 3pm or that supper might not happen until 8pm. I like to snack. A lot. When I'm hungry/bored/watching tv/to mourn/to celebrate/because it's there/to comfort/and many other times. Waiting to eat until I'm actually hungry shows me what hunger is and shows me that I have very rarely ever been SEVERELY hungry.
9. Downplay meat even more. Beans & rice cost less than steak. Go meatless for a few meals. It can be tasty (if you cook the foods right).
10. Eat foods that fill you up. Sometimes the best solution to prevent me from wiping out that whole package of potato chips is a big bowl of oatmeal (and when I eat the oatmeal, the fridge gets a break when I get a full stomach).

*note* I am not a dietitian or nutritionist. These are simply things I do when I try to maximize foods.

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