Monday, June 16, 2008

Dinner: 30 minutes, MY ASS

Here's the problem with "30 minute meals": it's easy to whip up dinner in half an hour if you're starting with a perfectly clean kitchen and a fully stocked pantry-- including lots of fresh goodies in the fridge. Ever notice that Rachel is always pulling fresh herbs and salad greens out of that cool retro refrigerator? That stuff only lasts a day or two. How do daily runs to the supermarket figure into the half-hour meal plan? It generally takes me 45 minutes to get to the store, get what I need, and get home, if I go there straight from work. (It takes that long because I work the typical 9-5, so I'm hitting both the roads and the grocery exactly at their busiest time if I do that.) I suppose dinner is the only daily meal created in that studio kitchen, but in real life, who doesn't come home to breakfast dishes, the remains of a smoothie, or a dishwasher still waiting to be run and unloaded? Nobody's perfect and we all have to get to work on time in the morning. Not to mention that I've rarely seen a kitchen in real life that is as large and well-laid-out as that one. Every time I see that show, I think-- yeah, dinner's easy when everything's ready to go. Try rushing to the store after work, then coming home to a kitchen that needs some TLC... and by the time it's time to cook, you're already exhausted and considering takeout. Actually cooking dinner-- not from a box, a bag, or the freezer-- is admirable, but doing it regularly requires a lot of behind-the-scenes labor: meal planning, shopping, cleaning, organizing. Rachel rarely admits to the rigorous planning-ahead that these apparently spontaneous meals require.

Recently, we've (I've) been trying to make more dinners at home, from scratch. Mostly to save money, but also because they're healthier--I tend to cook much healthier food than I order, plus portions are saner. I had a three-pronged plan last week that I'm carrying over to this week: eat dinner at home (scratch) every night but one, bring my lunch to work every day, and only go to the grocery store once in that time. We did pretty well, only derailed one night when we had to eat out with friends. Going grocery shopping just once per week should save me a lot of money, time, gas, and sanity. Impulse buys are a per-trip expense, so going just once means that whatever the impulse-- fresh berries, a magazine, a Heath bar-- it won't happen again until next time. The time and trouble of driving out to the store is a major discouragement to cooking at home, so it's great to have a week's worth of food already there. Gas is obvious... I spent $50 on Friday filling up my tank; I know that's nothing compared to some folks, but I want it to last as long as possible. One thing that's helping me immensely towards driving less is the fact that the AC in my car is broken-- amazing how little you'll drive when it's miserably hot and you have no air conditioning. Hence the sanity-savings.

Last week I saved about $30 in lunch money, and lost two pounds without any other effort. Not too bad for one week. I hit up Whole Foods and our farmers' market over the weekend, so... here's to Week 2!


Rachel said...

Baby, there is NO SUCH THING as 30 minutes or less unless it involves a drive through.

Mara said...

Well it COULD be--- if you ignore the shopping, cleaning, and planning time (and post-meal cleanup)and focus JUST on cooking-the meal. A lot of the dinners I make are about that. It's the unaddressed issue of background time that annoys me.

Courtney said...

The only meal we eat in thirty minutes is cous cous with (canned)stewed tomatoes and (canned) black eyed peas. And that hardly seems like cooking. :-)

aquarian said...

tell me about it, about a month ago, DH and I made the same resolution, and we've been doing pretty well.

I'm finally at the point where I have a set of about 7 meals that I can make in under a half hour-- but it does take prep work. So we just eat the same stuff over and over until we hit the weekend where I have more time.