Thursday, November 17, 2005

How To Stop Eating Out, Save Money, Lose Weight

Okay, I've been wanting to write about this for a while, but tonight seems the right night to attack this subject. [Didn't finish it last night, posting it today.]

Eating out is a gigantic waste of money, not terribly healthy and makes you fat.
Expert cooks have taught me a lot about how to just stay home and eat wonderfully well.

But this is NOT for expert cooks -- they already have the whole business figured out. This is for regular people who don't cook much or don't cook at all. There's hope for you.

Tonight, we were toying with the idea of going out, but then it got later and later and my kid was tired, the temperature outside dropped into the 30's and it just didn't seem worth it.

I started poking around in the cupboards and in my freezer. I found lots of stuff I could turn into dinner. We had a great dinner and it was very inexpensive. There's always food around here, always something I can turn into dinner.

That's probably the most important thing and most often overlooked.
You need to keep some basic foods on hand. Very basic. And if you do, you can always throw together some dinner and avoid going out to eat.
Now again, if my expert chefs are reading this, they will not like what I'm going to talk about next -- canned foods and frozen foods. They wouldn't dream of using such, but us mere mortals can do very well to keep a bunch of stuff stocked on your shelves and in our freezers.

Every person I've ever met who's stuck in the "always eating out" death spiral forgets to simply SHOP and keep food around their kitchen. Their kitchens and refrigerators look like something from the witness relocation program ... empty ... like they moved in 3 hours earlier.

So start with this. Frozen stuff. Go to Trader Joe's or Whole Foods or a supermarket that's on a level with these. Buy about ten frozen pre-made dinners or even simple additions to dinner like vegetable dishes or bags of peas ... just a bunch of frozen stuff to stock in your freezer. At least you'll have this as a back up strategy, although fresh is always best.

Canned stuff. Get canned tuna fish, soups, vegetables and beans that you like (in Boston, it's a no-brainer, gotta have our baked beans.) Also get canned tomatoes and tomato paste for a quick sauce.

Dry stuff. Get pasta -- three kinds at least, say spaghetti, bowties, rigatoni -- and put it on the shelf. Other dry stuff worth having: oatmeal, breadcrumbs, crackers, croutons.

Fresh stuff. Here's the challenge, you will have to buy some of this the day or day before you plan to eat it. Keep it simple: salad greens, a vegetable like broccoli, fresh bread (you can get great stuff at bakeries or even the fresh bagels at Dunkin Donuts can be sliced up and used for a dinner bread.) If you eat fish, get some at least once a week. It's easy as hell to cook and you can't mess it up. Get salmon and broil it. Get a white fish and bake it with bread crumbs and butter on it. If you like steak, get a steak.

Dressings. You should always have these in your cupboard:
Oil, vinegar, mustard, salt, pepper, soy sauce, garlic or garlic salt
Okay, I don't want to go much deeper, but it's also good to learn how to make vinagrette dressing. (It's just a little mustard, a little garlic, mixed with 1 part vinegar to 3 parts oil, mix it, taste it, add salt and pepper.)

Okay, make this tonight: salmon broiled (or steak if you don't like fish), fresh brocolli or salad in a bag or green beans, fresh bread, a side of rice or pasta.

And don't tell me you don't have a RICE COOKER! They are a godsend, get one. You just throw the rice in, throw the water in, close the lid, click the switch, great rice -- never burned -- in 30 minutes. Even when I order out for Chinese food, I make my own hot rice. It's worth the trouble and so easy. Don't pay for rice -- and many take-out places charge for it!