Resolution #109: Cook at home more often

by Beacon Staff • February 2, 2006

You are ready to resolve to stop making resolutions. You'd love to save money and shed pounds this year, but you can't seem to stick to the strict, complicated and time-consuming plans you've made to do so. But by cooking foods for yourself instead of heading to a pizza place or calling 1-800-TAKEOUT, you can do both at the same time.

Home-cooked meals are generally less expensive and do not have to include cream, butter and other hidden sources of fat on which restaurants rely. Below, we list some ways to keep your cooking on track, and most importantly, make it enjoyable. (We'll even help you make your grocery list).

ENLIST YOUR ROOMMATES

If you have an apartment full of roommates, you may have an untapped resource for fighting flab. Those best friends/slacker dependents of yours can help distract you from your diet in a good way-if you can get them to join your health campaign, making meals at home together will seem fun, not forced. Eating en masse can also help you save time and money if you split the duties of grocery shopping, cooking and cleaning (if they're willing to help with the @#$% dishes this time . wait, now, just remember your resolution to find inner peace).

GO ON A PANTRY RAID

Staples such as eggs are the deal-breakers in many recipes, and in cold weather you will be less inclined to make the last-minute trip to the store. Consider talking over a pantry-stocking venture with your roommates: chipping in can be easier than maintaining the chip on your shoulder over that pilfered peanut butter. After all, do you really want to have four separate bags of flour in your cupboard?

To make a grocery list, each of you can pick five to 10 of your favorite recipes and compare ingredients (or see right for a clippable grocery list to start you off). If you are the apartment's lone vegetarian, don't worry: your roommates may benefit from switching to the soy-based substitute foods you enjoy as well.

STOCK UP ON SNACKS FOR YOUR INNER CHILD

Remember when Mom used to fill the kitchen with your favorite snacks, like string cheese and chocolate chip granola bars? You had no idea you were eating healthy food. Using our list at right, pick up a few toteable treats for the kid within, and give yourself a gold star when you just say no to a happy hour splurge.

USE A RECIPE WRITTEN FOR A BUSY COOK

For recipes to make the dishes mentioned above, visit busycooks.about.com, which features recipes searchable in a number of ways, from health content to ingredients. They also offer a free e-mailed "Recipe of the Day," which may help to remind you of your commitment to cooking and excite you about something you've never tried. Many promise to use five or less ingredients and you can make most of the meals within an hour.

ORDER YOUR ORGANIC PRODUCE ONLINE

Lydia Bradley, a junior organizational and political communication major, said she eats mostly "raw produce." A South End resident who works more than 30 hours a week, Bradley said that winter Haymarket trips can be a hardship.

The produce delivery service Boston Organics offered her a unique solution: at BostonOrganics.com, customers can arrange for organic produce to be delivered, in a reusable plastic box, to any address, in a system similar to home milk delivery.

Customers can order boxes (small $25, large $35) on a weekly or biweekly basis, which are delivered to many Boston neighborhoods free of charge (see Web site for details).

The produce is locally grown if possible and varies depending on the season, according to founder Jeff Barry, a Charlestown resident. The contents are always a surprise, but the Web site allows customers to check off items they do not want, peek into their coming week's list of items and suggest seasonal substitutions.

Recently, the delivery service began to offer specialty items such as fair-trade coffee ($8 per pound) and full or half-loaves of organic bread ($5 and $3). The site also stated that the produce is in the company's possession for 48 hours or less, and that any leftovers are donated to employees and the Cambridge-based Food For Free program (foodforfree.org).

SLOW COOKERS: NOT JUST FOR GRANDMAS

We know what you are thinking, but the slow cooker (alias: crock pot) is great for chefs young and old because it is economical for both time and money. The slow-cooking technique takes place over seven to 10 hours, and the machine can be left alone while blending many flavors into one smooth sauce, soup or stew. Just throw in any leftover ingredients (broth, tomato sauce, vegetables) before leaving for class and return at night to a tasty, warm meal. Amazon.com offers a highly-rated 5-quart slow cooker for $19.99.

LEFTOVERS MAKE LIFE EASY

The Web site MealsMatter.com (which offers comprehensive advice on stocking your pantry, planning meals and making the most of your ingredients, suggests making twice as much of whatever you are cooking and freezing the leftovers for later.

Try cooking extra ground beef, turkey or tofu and rice, grate more cheese than necessary and always cut up the entire vegetable, no matter how much you plan to eat; these can all be used the next day.

Meals like burritos, frittatas, quiches, stir fry dishes and homemade pizzas also make excellent vehicles for leftovers.

For example, Jess Frank, a junior marketing communication major, swears by day-old rice for stir-fry fodder (be sure to replace any cooking oil with olive oil for a fresher take on your favorite takeout). You can also make a "sushi salad" by tossing slices of cucumber and avacado with rice and soy sauce for a quick snack.

For pizza, try using French bread, English muffins, bagels or pitas and bottled tomato sauce (try Whole Foods' "365 Organic" brand sauce, $1.99-$2.99 for a 26 oz. bottle). Ditch the prerequisite pepperoni in favor of vitamin-rich squash or spinach.

MAKE MEALS ONCE A MONTH

If making and prepping meals far in advance appeals to you, try the Once a Month Cooking (OAMC) method. OAMC has several followers online, who buy meat and other items in larger (cheaper) quantities, great for households full of hungry students. They spend a few days a month making large batches of freezable foods such as casseroles and then simply thaw out each day's food as necessary.

There are a number of Web sites that can help you plan out your grocery list and recipes, and even one that outlines vegan OAMC practices (EllensKitchen.com).

While each practitioner has his or her own method, the one thing these sites have in common is the suggestion that joining forces with a friend to perform this epic task makes the time fly by.