Eating out and buying prepared foods are both expensive. It’s also easy to eat too much junk (processed, refined) food that way. Yesterday morning I was chopping up some stuff, moving things from the deep freezer to the freezer, and from the freezer to the ‘fridge. My 3.5 year old was listening to an audio book and playing with blocks (right where I needed to walk, between the stove and counter, but her contentment was very worth the inconvenience). I was reminded of the days when my first daughter was a baby. I devoted hours and hours preparing wonderful meals full of whole grains, organic fresh (locally grown, or from our gardens) vegetables, and even meat from animals raised and slaughtered right here in Maine. I froze foods, I fried seaweed, I embraced quinoa (10 years ago when it was relatively new on the American scene)… I was creative and quite frugal. Bulk purchasing and home preparation saved us a lot of money. But, it also cost a lot of time.
Buying ingredients and making our own foods costs a lot less in dollars than buying prepared foods (if the prepared foods are relatively nutritious). But the time it takes to prepare food at home—that’s what I do 90% of the time—shouldn’t be underestimated. It’s not even preparing the food, but managing it. What do we have on hand, what’s still frozen, what needs preparation, what makes a meal, what leftovers need to be used… all of these things take brain space. All of these things are also things I love to think about and do, when I have the time.
The choices aren’t easy. Take out, restaurants, and prepared foods from the grocery store are all too expensive. They are also much less likely to fit our values or our desire to eat foods that make our bodies strong. Spending the morning making stock from the freezer bag of chicken bones and vegetables, quinoa bean chili, fruit smoothies from the frozen fruit scraps, whole grain cookies, baked tofu with Bragg’s… there’s what I want to do (the cooking and planning) and there’s what I need to do (make money). There’s the bottom line (cash/bills to pay) and the bottom line (quality of life) to be considered, too.
Right now, I’m choosing to breathe in the present moment. Balance is my goal, though I certainly lean toward the quality of life side of the scales.
As many of you know, I have been writing a monthly column at The Bangor Daily News about being “newly poor.” Food choices are complicated when living with so little money. I fully understand the appeal of the McDonald’s drive-through. In fact, over the last few years I have used that option much more than feels comfortable to me. But, we’re all human and can only do the best we can. I just don’t judge harshly people who make “bad” food choices when it feels so much easier and even feels less expensive to get the quick fix food. In an ideal world, I could take it easy and buy, prepare, and share foods that feed our bodies and our values. In this world of necessary compromise, I can only do the best I can.