a week at our table, part two

A hallmark of the Western diet is food that is fast, cheap, and easy. Americans spend less than 10 percent of their income on food; they also spend less than a half hour a day preparing meals and little more than an hour enjoying them. for most people for most of history, gathering and preparing food has been an occupation at the very heart of daily life. Traditionally people have allocated a far greater proportion of their income to food–as they still do in several of the countries where people eat better than we do and as a consequence are healthier than we are. Here, then, is one way in which we would do well to go a little native: backward, or perhaps it is forward, to a time and place where the gathering and preparing and enjoying of food were closer to the center of a well-lived life.

In Defense of Food p.145-6

Let’s just say that if the standard for how you’re doing on eating all depends on the percentage of your income and time you are spending on food, then we are doing just fine over here at the chino house.  In fact, I was thrilled to find this quote to help justify my food budget, which honestly is closer to 20% than 10%. Michael Pollan makes a wonderful case for spending more money on less food. better food. real food.

He also talks about how you have to invest more time into eating well. You can’t spend the same amount of time on a microwavable piece of plastic and a fulfilling meal. Again. This is ime justified for me. I spend some time almost every weekend flipping through recipe books and magazines as I plan the upcoming weeks’ dinners.

I have a tool that I call a meal planner (very creative, I know). I made it myself (actually I made many of them one year for Christmas and gave them away as gifts and I think that maybe two of those people are actually using them…) You can make one too. It is just a half binder filled with half sheets of paper with a template for writing down what you are having for dinner. There are also pages for every month for planning bigger meal events, like parties. And there are pages for grocery and farmers’ market lists.

The most valuable part of my little planner is that the template has 5 years on it so if you use your meal planner faithfully, soon you will have meal lists from the years before with entire menus, based on exactly what is in season. I decided to make this after I had used the same calendar to write three years worth of meals. I just kept using it even though the days of the week were wrong, because I didn’t want to throw away knowing what we had for dinner last year. If you don’t want to make your own templates, email me and I will happily send you mine.

All of this seems like it takes a lot of time. but actually it saves time. I don’t go to the grocery store over and over again, and I don’t have to figure out what is for dinner at 5pm. Both of those tasks are exhausting to me. Having a plan saves me being in that situation. Of course, I invariably forget something I need from the grocery store, but I just steal it out of my mother’s unbelievably well-stocked pantry or freezer. (you know where to go if there is a national food shortage.) Or I send my husband to the store for that one little carton of half and half.

Here is one week from the meal planner…dinners to feed your body and your soul.

MONDAY

Homemade Lasagna and Bread

I use the recipe right off the package of the whole wheat lasagna noodles. Buy the kind that you don’t have to precook.

Add whatever you like. I put in everything…layering in cooked italian sausage or ground beef or roasted eggplant if we are going meatless, ricotta cheese, mozzarella, broccoli, zucchini, yellow squash, roasted garlic, onions, whatever i feel like…or happen to have

Since the veggies are in the lasagna, i don’t feel like i have to serve anything else with this. if i’m having company, i might also make a caesar salad.

TUESDAY

Chop Chop Salad

2 cans garbonzo beans (chickpeas)

1 head chopped romaine lettuce

1 lb chopped tomatoes

1 oz chopped basil

8 oz grated mozzarella cheese

4 oz cubed provolone cheese

1/2 lb blanched green vegetable (both asparagus and sugar snap peas work great)

1/2 lb cubed cooked chicken breast

1/2 lb cubed salami

1/2 bottle Newman’s Own Family Recipe Italian dressing

This is a meal salad. which means I don’t serve anything else with it. Except maybe the bread leftover from Monday.

Since little ones often don’t care for big mixed salads, I put a little of each ingredient (even the chickpeas) on their plates as I’m chopping for the salad bowl. Usually I only use one of the meats.

“Plating” everyone’s food before dinner tends to help with controlling portion sizes.

WEDNESDAY

Fish, Rice and Veggies

We do lots of versions of fish, rice and veggies:

salmon, rice and broccoli

tuna, rice and green beans

tilapia, rice and sugar snap peas:

fresh tilapia fillets, sprinkled with your favorite seasoning (penzey’s fox point) and grilled 3 minutes on each side.

cherry tomatoes

1 lb. sugar snap peas, steamed and sprinkled with salt, sesame oil and sesame seeds

corn on the cob, dropped in boiling water for exactly 3 minutes, then drained

brown rice (buy organic short grain brown rice in bulk from wild oats and you will never turn back)

THURSDAY

Quesadillas

Made with whole wheat or corn tortillas, organic refried black beans (with sauted garlic and onions mixed in), tillamook sharp cheddar cheese and spinach.

Serve with homemade salsa of your choice and homemade guacamole. we cook them in cast iron skillets on the stove lightly greased with canola or safflower oil.

FRIDAY

Soup and Bread

Picky eaters might prefer one that is pureed.

You can buy bread at a local bakery to go with your soup or you can make baguettes from french women don’t get fat. she has a very easy recipe. or for a super healthy, super easy, no rise option (for those who are afraid of yeast), make this yummy bread:

Quick Whole Wheat Bread

1 cup wheat bran

½ cup wheat germ

2 ½ cups whole wheat flour

1 teaspoons salt

1 ½ teaspoons baking soda

2 cups buttermilk

½ cup blackstrap molasses

Mix dry ingredients.

Stir wet ingredients into dry ones.

Spoon into greased loaf pan.

Bake 1 hour @350.

Turn out and cool on wire rack.

SATURDAY

Grilled Salmon and Roasted Vegetables

grilled salmon (grill twice as much as you need for sunday or broil in the oven if you don’t like to grill in the winter)

roasted sweet potato fries (sweet potatoes peeled, cut into wedges, tossed in olive oil, kosher salt and chipotle pepper flakes, then roasted 18 minutes on each side on a jelly roll pan lined with parchment paper in a 425 degree oven)

roasted potato fries (follow same instructions as above except skip the chipotle pepper flakes)

roasted asparagus (same instructions again, only roast for only 10 minutes, more if you are using very thick asparagus)

This is one of our absolute FAVORITE meals! It is simple, healthy and always delicious, but if you just can’t eat fish twice a week, make arroz con pollo from the smitten kitchen. I made it twice last fall and the kids ate it up. I made some plain rice on the side and used drumsticks in the dish so I could fish them out and serve them to the kids alongside their plain rice.

SUNDAY

Pesto Pasta

Of course, by now you could be eating leftovers, but we often eat our leftovers up at lunch so just in case you really need seven whole days of meals, here’s one more.

whole wheat pasta tossed with pesto (from your freezer or from the refrigerated section at sam’s or for those of you who live by one, trader joe’s) and any of the following: grilled salmon (from yesterday), cherry tomatoes, kalamata olives, steamed asparagus (or any green vegetable), roasted red peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, sauted red onions, roasted garlic cloves, spinach, feta, goat cheese, or fresh parmesan.

Again, this is a meal. you don’t have to have anything else, but you can always dress it up for guests with bread and salad.

Also, you can fix those fussy children’s plates as you chop if they don’t like all of their foods mixed together. Oooh, and since it was so easy you can use your cooking time making lemon pound cake.

Or some other yummy treat. Because we do like our treats at the chino house.

So there you have it. Except for that we would probably eat leftovers at least one of these nights (lasagna and soup both tend to be leftover meals), this really is what you could expect if you ate at our house for a week. These are the regulars.

About once a week Taido or I will make something that is more time consuming and complicated. something from a new magazine or website or one of the barefoot contessa’s cookbooks.

Taido’s specialty is risotto. It is to die for. He usually makes it on valentine’s day, but he was otherwise occupied this year… but this list is meant to show you that eating healthy food, at home, every night, is not impossible.

If you bought all your groceries ahead of time, it would be easier to cook the food on this list than it would be to figure out what’s for dinner at 5pm every day, even easier than going and getting something from somewhere.

I believe this is true even if you are working outside the home during the day. I have a neighbor who works very long hours (and has four children) and she still cooks for her family (her husband helps too) because she plans her meals and makes her lists and then the whole family goes to both the grocery store and sam’s every weekend.

I have said this before, but it bears repeating, even though I have somewhat strong opinions about food, I really do believe that you are a beautiful, amazing creation of the one and only almighty God…no matter what you eat. It just makes me so happy to put good things into those little creations. So comment/email with your questions and we can all journey together towards helping our families eat well.

At the table.