Cheap, easy, healthy: pick two of three

Sometimes I think my biggest job of the day is figuring out what to make for dinner. I like cooking, when I have the time and an idea of what I want to make, but neither of those conditions are met very often. I tell myself I’ll sit down over the weekend to plan out meals for the week ahead, but it doesn’t happen. The fact that the supermarket sales run from Wednesday to Tuesday doesn’t help.

My tendency to “fade” when I haven’t eaten in a while doesn’t help either. (I’ve been tested at least three times for low blood sugar but the tests never show anything; the doctor recommended I just eat frequent small meals.) I eat a mid-afternoon snack, but by the time I finish work at 5 PM I’m ready for dinner. By the time I actually get home it’s hard to think of anything that appeals to me. (For whatever reason, the more I need food, the less I want it.)

So I look for easy meals to reduce time and effort: breaded chicken patties are a family favorite (so are veal patties, but they are almost impossible to find around here), Hamburger Helper has a few varieties my sons love, and frozen hamburger patties grill so much better than the ones I make myself. But those solutions all cost extra, and aren’t terribly high on the list of healthy foods.

There are easy-to-prepare healthy foods too, of course, but those cost even more. And I know how to prepare healthier meals (if need be I can find a recipe in my collection of cookbooks, which include healthy, quick, and easy in various combinations). But that takes time, and generally advance planning so I have the right ingredients. Once in a while I think of something I’d really like to make and plan ahead. But not very often.

I’m going to have to start planning more. I’ve generally tried to be economical, but our current financial situation requires me to be much more so. Tomorrow I plan baked potatoes with a variety of toppings (chili beans, taco-seasoned hamburger, cheese salsa, shredded, cheese, etc.), which should be reasonably healthy and economical, and not too much work. Tonight I took the easy way out – hamburger mixed with macaroni and cheese.

Articles like this one don’t improve my thoughts about meal planning. My mother was very much into buying food based on how it was grown (plants) or raised (animals). She only wanted organic foods and eggs or meat from animals that were not caged. Every now and then I read an article like this one and think I could live with being a vegetarian. But my family wouldn’t go along, so I don’t even try.

I long ago decided not to buy veal anymore, knowing how the young animals were raised without being able to move. (I make an exception for breaded veal patties because I suspect the percentage of veal in them is quite small.) My humanitarian impulses make me want to buy eggs from free-range hens, as my mother did. My budget prefers the cheaper eggs, and I try not to think too much about the chickens.

Reading about the hog farms, I think that I could quite easily live without pork, as observant Jews have done for millennia. When I was young pork was considered less healthy than other meats anyway, and more likely to carry disease. Today it’s much leaner, considered as safe as other meats as long as cooked properly, and often the cheapest meat I can find (not counting ground chicken or turkey, which I’ve tried and haven’t found a good way to use except in chili). My budget usually wins – along with the sausage-loving preferences of the rest of my family.

Some time I really need to finish the list of favorite main-dish recipes I’ve been compiling, so I can just pick a few for the coming week (and hope the specials at the supermarket align with at least some of them). It won’t help with the concerns expressed in the article linked above. But at least it might do something for my budget, and my need to eat at regular mealtimes.

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