John mentioned to me today that several people have referred to the way we live (specifically eat) as a health kick. While I don’t consider our lifestyle to be any sort of “kick” I was less offended than surprised. First, I don’t think anyone would say that to me. Perhaps because I am a woman, cooking and other domestic endeavors are perceived as more important to me and less open to public trivialization? Secondly, I don’t think think that I would describe our decisions as necessarily health motivated. I think perhaps I am just the ultimate cheapskate. I want everything to be really cheap, usually that means doing it myself. I also want it to be really nice, usually. The result is that they can’t be done quickly and are very time-expensive.

fast-good-cheap  (source) 

Pick any two? John would complicate things by making this a square with “clean” as a fourth option.

A side effect of this mentality though, has been eating much less processed slow foods that are labor intensive , but ultimately healthier for us, animals, and the environment. In the spirit of this “health-cheap-quality” kick I present to you some changes we have made that have been cheap, healthy, and improvements.

1. Overnight Oats. These are simply a lifesaver. KERF has a more complicated recipe than I use, usually I just put some oats and some milk in a mason jar and leave it. If I use a non dairy milk I can make 10 of these so they are grab and go in the morning. 32 ounces of oats cost $3.99 and will make 16 breakfasts. Almond milk is $3.00 and has enough for 32 servings. I usually splurge and put a tablespoon of chia seeds int here before I soak it. That means these breakfasts cost $0.34 (before I put super expensive nut butter on top that is). These can be made totally raw. Also they are way efficient to just have ready to go in the morning.

2. Beans. John and I have a complicated relationship with dairy. Back when we used to eschew it entirely we learned to eat a lot of beans. Eventually (aka after law school when I have time to read) I will talk more about the recipe book Bean by Bean which has so many great recipes. Beans are not exactly convenient (especially with soaking), but are such high quality protein, feel like a real meal, and are exquisitely inexpensive.

I recommend beans and rice as a standby. My recipe

Beans and Rice:

2 cups dry rice

4 tablespoons cumin (or to taste)

Olive oil

1.2 cup fresh lime juice

2 yellow onions

3 cloves of garlic

1 package cilantro (no matter what size I always use it all)

2 cups black beans (dry) or 2 cans

Hot sauce or red chili powder to taste

green peppers

1-2 jalapenos (optional)

salt to taste

cheddar cheese (optional)

Directions: Put rice in rice cooker or begin boiling. As it cooks chop jalapenos, onions, green peppers, and garlic. Saute in olive oil until translucent. Turn down the heat and add the black beans, cumin, chili pepper, hot sauce, lime juice, and salt. Finally, add the cooked rice to the bean mixture and stir together. Taste and season as needed. Add the cheese now if you want it also.

When it comes to soaking dried beans as opposed to canned, I don’t mean to tell you what to do, but you should totally use dried beans. Or not, you do you, but I really like using dried beans. They are SO SO SO much cheaper and easy to store and all you have to do is soak them for a few hours, simmer them for a few hours, and the then use as you would any canned beans. They taste a lot better too.

Looking more generally, eating eggs or even meatless monday has very similar effects. I have found that eating lower on the food chain maximizes the health/cost quotient but is less efficient.

3. Meal planing/make ahead meals. When I get home from work I put the first thing I see in my mouth. I am like a baby like that, so its much better if I have meals premade and ready to go. Same with lunches- it is so much easier to avoid takeout (and the whole foods hot bar) when I have a cheap, healthy meal at the ready. Again, its only expensive in time.

Like I said, somethings hit the mark for cost and quality without too big a concession for time. For example, for us hummus and yogurt are perfect. However some are totally skewed but for us still worth it. Cheese? Very expensive, very time intensive, but totally worth it for us. Lately time has been at a premium  and I have been trying to refocus and find some things that are less time intensive, at the cost of compromising in other areas.

What about you, where do you fall on the continuum? What projects are worth it for you and which ones totally are not?