Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A new food journey?

One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating. - Luciano Pavarotti

I’ve  bitten the bullet. After talking with numerous friends about needing to find a way to eat healthy, I’ve decided to try a “planned” meal system known as e-mealz (www.e-mealz.com).

My friend Rachel told me about the system. You pay $15 every quarter (three months) and in turn, the website generates a new set of menus – five meals – each week.Pst...yes, this is the "budget" meal system recommended by Dave Ramsey.

It’s pretty simple. You sign up for a plan. Each week you can download a two-page plan - in pdf form. One page outlines the five main entrees (and two to three side dishes per meal), along with the recipes and preparation instructions. The second page outlines the groceries needed, with ingredients listed by section. Because I chose a plan designed for a specific store (yes, Walmart), it lists the typical price for each item. In all, e-mealz.com said that a typical week’s meals on this plan will cost between $35 and $40.

I chose to try a plan like this, for two reasons: first, I want to cut down on the number of times I eat out; second, I need a system that it easy to follow.

First reason
As a single person - or “singleton” to steal a descriptor from Bridget Jones’ Diary - cooking is a chore.

Honestly, I’ve fallen out of the habit of cooking in the last few years. For the most part, I end up either  cooking something, and eat (or freeze) tons of leftovers (one can only eat so many bowls of chili or veggie soup before loathing the sight of it sitting in your bowl), or I find myself warming up a can of soup or fixing a box of Mac and Cheese.

When I have tried to cook in the last few months, I’ve discovered that my skills are “quite” rusty. Let’s just say, I can botch something as simple as mashed potatoes and gravy or vegetable soup.My friend Maribeth says when it comes to cooking, you either "use it or lose it." Well, I think I've lost it!

Often though, I find myself heading to the nearest drive thru to “grab” a quick bite. After numerous burgers, salads, burritos and tacos, I’m quite ready to try something else. I’m tired of eating out. I’m tired of fast food. I decided God might be trying to get my attention, when the last burger and fries combo I purchased rang up $6.66. - At least God has a sense of humor!

I’ll admit that grabbing a burger is the “easy” way out. A few bucks here, a few bucks there, well, it all adds up. But somehow, I’ve mentally convinced myself that it’s easier (and cheaper) to grab something on the run.

While I want to change, sometimes it’s just easier to keep doing the “known” because you can do it without a lot of mental thought.

Second reason
I work a lot. I’ll be honest, I’m a bit of a workaholic. I also tend to do things for others, putting myself in second, or even third place. It’s not a conscious decision, but rather a fact of life. I like doing things for others.

But as I've started to make changes in my life, I’ve come to realize, I crave consistency and structure - just take a look at my Myers-Briggs personality results! ENFJ all the way baby!

In the past, the only time I truly ate healthy (and lost weight in the process) was when I “had a plan.” In that case, I obsessively followed the Weight Watcher’s plan. But that took lots of time and effort. I knew this time, I needed something that would be a bit easier to follow.

So, when Rachel said “I really think you should give this a try,” I decided that I could either keep talking (and whining) about wanting to get healthy and eat better, or I could do something.

Somehow, knowing in my brain what I want to do, and actually doing it seems to be two different things.

Week One
After talking about doing this meal plan for more than two weeks, I finally signed up for the “Meal Plan for Two: Walmart.”

E-mealz.com has numerous options – including several for two people. The plan I chose is the closest thing to an “individual” meal plan I could purchase.

My goal for this project is to make a meal in the evening, and have the next day’s lunch prepared at the same time. This means that the five meals will be stretched into 10. Hopefully, this will help cut down on the “quick” trips to the drive thru, and ultimately, help my budget.

I chose the Walmart plan for ease and because I knew I’d be able to find the ingredients with out much effort in my small town.I also knew that for the most part, if I couldn't make it to Walmart, I could also shop without too much trouble at our local IGA.

So, with grocery (and meal plan) in hand, I set off for the store. One thing I liked from the start about e-mealz.com is that the grocery list is divided into sections like “produce,” “bakery & bread,” “dairy/refrig,” and more, making it easy to find similar items.

I also like the fact that the ingredients are marked so you know which meal you’ll use it in. This way, I was able to substitute a head of cabbage for “1 bag angel hair cole slaw” and a head of lettuce for “1 bag of shredded lettuce” because the cheaper alternative could be used without impacting the meal. I also swapped out a fruit used a side dish for something in season and on sale.

The grocery list also indicates, recipe by recipe, what “staples” will be needed to complete the meal.

After a few moments of panic – did I mention I really don’t like to go grocery shopping – and an hour of searching the aisles at Walmart (it just underwent a major renovation), a call to my mom to double check an ingredient, and saying hi to a few people (note to self: it does pay to do your hair before going to Walmart),  I found everything on the grocery list.

The prices listed for many of the ingredients were exactly on target. A few were a bit more expensive (but not by much), however, several were on sale. In the end, the grocery list for the five meals was almost on target – approximately $39.40.

Because my pantry was a bit bare, I needed to purchase several of the staples for the menus. I also purchased some storage containers and a few “basics” like milk, cheese and eggs.

In all, including the bottle of coke – it was a necessary item, thank you very much – I spent a grand total of $63.97. Because some friends gave me a $25 gift card to Walmart as a thank you, the initial week’s total was a bit easier to swallow. That paid for the “extras” this week.

Yes, I know, when you average $6 to 8 every time you eat out, $39.40 isn’t that much. Let’s face it, it represents less than six meals eaten out.Again, I'm trying to re-train my brain!

Trying the recipes
After I got home from the store and put away ingredients, I began to make the first meal: Grilled Honey Chicken with hickory (a.k.a. baked beans), corn and Italian slaw.

The chicken called for simple marinade – which was easy to make. While it was on the grill, I warmed up the corn and beans. The Italian slaw was simply cabbage tossed with Italian salad dressing. I had to chop up the cabbage, since I decided to skip the pre-shredded version.

When everything was finished, I divided everything up, saving half of everything for the following day’s lunch.

My initial reaction
Instead of sitting down for a bowl of mac & cheese or grits (my standby when there’s nothing else to fix), I actually sat down to a filling meal, with adequate and satisfying portions.

The chicken turned out to be quite tasty. I’ll admit, I was a bit skeptical at first, and unsure how it would turn out, based upon the marinade's ingredients. The beans and corn were easy to warm up. In all, in a bit more than 30 minutes, I had a balanced, healthy meal.

So, I’m off to an interesting start with this new game plan. The rest of the meals this week include “French Dip Sandwiches,” “Chicken and Rice Tacos,” “Hearty Hodge Podge Soup,” and “Cooker Chops.”

Two of the meals are considered “crock pot” dishes, so I’ll start those meals before leaving for work on those mornings.

I also have a game plan for breakfast. I’ll either scramble some eggs with cheese, or have a bowl of oatmeal. If I have lots of time, I’ll make a “mini-quiche,” thanks to my aunt’s favorite recipe.

In all, Monday, Sept. 7, marks the first day of a new plan: a way to take control of my eating habits, and maybe become a bit healthier in the process.

Why journal or blog about this? Well, I’m trying to be open about my struggles, asking friends to hold me accountable as I travel this new journey. I also think a recipe plan like this is a bit more realistic than other food blogs that try out exotic recipes. Lots of us want to try new things, but can’t afford (or find) the ingredients necessary for those unusual recipes. The e-mealz seems to be something the “average” person can follow. We'll see if the recipes remain realistic, or if they get a bit "outrageous."

So we’ll see what happens. I’ll try to update my journey at least a couple of times each week. I can’t promise a post every day, but I’ll let you know how things go. So stay tuned…..

1 comment:

  1. I am very proud of you for embarking on this journey and for sharing it here. I do remember the days of being single and hating to cook for one. A lot of times I had nachos for dinner. Not exactly healthy.

    I've never heard of this program before. Sounds like a good fit for you and where you are in your life right now. One thing that always helps me is to commit this process to the Lord in prayer. after all, your body is His temple and He wants to help you manage it!



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