So now that we can all agree that processed foods are the devil’s handiwork, what can we do about it?
1) Shop on the outside of the grocery store and stay away from anything boxed, canned, or frozen.
2) Buy more locally raised produce, eggs, and meat.
3) Cook at home more and eat out less.
Numbers one and two are not that hard to do if you set your mind to it, but number three is obviously more difficult for many of us, especially if both you and your partner work.
But I learned a wonderful trick this past year that makes it much easier to cook and eat at home.
Unlike most English professors, Karen, the chair of my department, has to go to campus five days a week and work long, tiring days. Her husband Kevin also has a job that requires him to be away from home all day long every day of the week. In that way, they are like most Americans. (Trust me, I know how lucky I am to be able to work at home two or three days a week.) And they are also like most Americans in that by the time they get home, they have little or no energy left for cooking. (A problem that is, of course, exacerbated if you also have children on top of a full-time job.)
But Karen and Kevin are foodies—they love food but they want their food to be fresh, natural, healthy, and usually homemade. In order to stay healthy and eat well, Karen and Kevin cook all of their food on Sundays. They each make one big meal on Sunday, and then stretch that one meal out for three days. So if Karen makes moussaka and Kevin makes steak, they’ll eat the steak for the first three nights of the week and the moussaka for the next three nights.
Once I learned about Karen and Kevin’s routine, I was so impressed that I decided that Dave and I should give it a try.
Because we can sometimes work at home a few days a week, we don’t have to make everything on Sunday the way Karen and Kevin do. Instead we take turns cooking and follow Karen and Kevin’s model of making meals that will last us more than one night a week—one of us cooks on Sunday, we eat that meal Sunday and Monday, and then the other one of us cooks on Tuesday, making a meal that lasts the next two days. On Thursday, the person who cooked on Sunday cooks again, and we eat that meal Thursday and Friday. (And we usually eat out on Saturday.)
Sometimes we stretch the meals out longer, but even if we only have to cook every other night, we always notice how much of a relief it is when half of the time we don’t have to exert any effort for a delicious home-cooked meal. And since we take turns, that means each of us only cooks one or two days a week, which seems doable even for the busiest couples. If we plan it right, we almost never have to cook on an especially long and exhausting day. This is, of course, important since we are all more likely to eat out or eat unhealthy food when we are tired.
Another benefit of this system is that we eat less. If we know that a meal has to last two—or three—nights, we’re much less likely to get a big plate of seconds, a huge benefit for two people who really like their food.
This may seem like an obvious solution to the problem of not having time to cook, and in many ways it is, but until we heard about Karen and Kevin’s routine, it had never occurred to us to do make such a simple change.
It seems fitting that today to end with a recent quote from Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food and The Omnivore's Dilemma: “You want Americans to eat less? I have the diet for you. It’s short, and it’s simple. Here’s my diet plan: Cook it yourself. That’s it. Eat anything you want—just as long as you’re willing to cook it yourself.”