Following World Zero Waste Day, I thought I'd give you some tips on how to use wholefoods, save money, eat healthier and reduce waste in the supermarket.
There was a time when our family depended entirely on the supermarket. We had no idea where our food came from and we were powerless to meet our own basic health needs or do anything about rising food and fuel prices.
Today, we eat much more healthily and economically, both for ourselves and for the places and communities where our food comes from.
One of the main reasons for this (apart from the efforts we've made over the years to learn to grow much of our own food and use simple, natural remedies to look after our health) is that we've learned to reject convenience foods and replace them with carefully selected and prepared whole foods, which is the subject of this post.
Having said that, let's get to the heart of the matter :)
Why buy whole foods?
Highly processed foods are obviously very convenient. You can eat them straight from the packet or with a minimum of preparation. But they also cut you off from nature, from the sources of your nutrition, and give you :
a higher cost per meal,
less autonomy (convenience foods create habits in two ways: 1, their ingredients interfere with your body's innate intelligence about what's good for it, and 2, you come to rely on them as a quick fix),
a gradual decline in health and energy, and
the nagging realisation that you are buying into giant conglomerates that are reducing the life of farming communities and the biodiversity of the planet's ecosystems.
In the long run, you're paying for this cheap convenience with your health and well-being, not to mention the effects of industrial production and processed foods on our ecosystems and communities.
When you buy whole foods, you have to prepare them yourself. Obviously, eating nutritious food that doesn't cost the earth requires a bit of planning and organisation.
But that's really the only downside, and I've found that it's at least as much planning and organisation as spending more time in the kitchen.
And in my opinion, it's worth it. When you make the effort to buy more whole foods and learn how to use them, you get :
better nutrition (so much so that it's impossible to explain the difference in a single point)
a gradual restoration of your body's innate intelligence to know what you need, as opposed to what the food industry wants you to want
a sense of empowerment: by learning to use wholefoods, you'll also learn to take charge of your own eating habits, enjoyment and health, and become less reliant on anonymous giants with no interest in your health
a feeling of satisfaction in knowing that you're taking better care of the Earth through your food alone
a feeling of reconnection, perhaps even of coming home, as you engage with your food closer to its source
positive spin-offs in other areas of your life, as all these things begin to strengthen you in subtle ways.
An example of whole food eating
Here's an example from my life: I buy a wholefood and use it in a way that feeds my family well without spending my whole life in the kitchen.
I buy organic brown rice and cook 1 to 2 kg at a time.
Wholegrain cereals are more nutritious than processed cereals, but it can be difficult to digest them and get the full nutritional benefits if you don't know how to prepare them properly. So I've developed a process for preparing and cooking brown rice that involves a few steps and requires a bit of thought and planning.
This process requires my presence in the kitchen, but not a lot of time; I can do other things while the rice is being prepared.
The result is a highly digestible and nutritious cooked rice, which keeps well in the coldest part of the fridge and can be used in a variety of ways as a base or side dish in a variety of meals.
I don't bother freezing it (in fact, I'm not sure what freezing would do to its texture); in nearly 15 years of making it, I've never seen my cooked rice go bad before I've been able to use it all up for my family of four.
A few other ideas
Pulses (such as dried beans or lentils) are relatively cheap to buy.
(Unfortunately, pulses are one of the crops regularly sprayed with glyphosate - Round Up - to dry them out before harvest, so it's important to buy them organically if you can. The rising cost of organic pulses brings us closer to what real food actually costs when farmers reject the industrial model of cheap food and insist on something healthier. On the other hand, dried pulses keep, so once you're comfortable with them, you can consider buying organic pulses in bulk at a cheaper price. Better still, if you live in parts of the world where they are grown, buy your pulses direct from a farmer and eliminate the industrial supply chain altogether).
As with wholegrain cereals, it's important to learn how to prepare pulses before cooking to increase their digestibility. Once you've got the hang of it, preparing pulses becomes part of your other cooking routines and the benefits in terms of improved nutrition are well worth the effort. Leftover bulk-cooked pulses can be refrigerated, frozen and used in a variety of ways in subsequent meals. Prepared carefully and combined with other whole foods, pulses can be a simple and nutritious whole food staple in your kitchen.
There's even a recipe for chocolate brownies that uses baked beans instead of flour. Search the internet for a recipe for black bean brownies and you'll find a plethora of options.
Cooking in bulk for frozen meals
When you make the effort to cook a meal that can be frozen, prepare larger quantities and freeze some of it to prepare meals that are easy to prepare at home on other days.
Cooking vegetables in bulk
When cooking any kind of vegetable, it's almost always worth making double or triple the amount, or as much as you can fit into the cooking pot you're using.
The excess can be used to make bubbles and crickets, a frittata, heated under the grill and served with grilled cheese, or quickly reheated in a frying pan and served with fried eggs on top or scrambled eggs mixed with other eggs.
Having pre-cooked vegetables on hand makes it easier to increase your vegetable intake, which most of us need, and it's hard to ignore the overall nutritional value of a pan of fried garden greens and home-grown eggs.
It's entirely possible, and even beneficial, to cook and reheat your vegetables, including greens. To find out more about cooked and raw foods, click here).
Team up with a friend
Team up with a friend, cook in bulk and swap portions. You and your children will enjoy the variety and you'll get ideas for expanding your own repertoire.
If you haven't yet got into the habit of avoiding processed foods, here are a few things you can do...
Sit down with a cup of tea, your notebook and Google (or preferably Ecosia.org rather than Google).
Choose just one type of whole food that appeals to you to start with. If necessary, research the basics of preserving and preparing this food. Write down 2 or 3 meals in which you could use this food as the main ingredient over the coming week, or whatever period seems most sensible to you.
Put this food on your shopping list. Then prepare it simply and in sufficient quantity for the 2 or 3 meals you've written down. (Don't buy it in large quantities yet, and don't cook a single meal in bulk to freeze before you're sure your family will eat it - the last thing you want is a freezer full of meals your family won't eat).
Congratulate yourself. You've just prepared the basis for several meals and moved away from convenience foods.
If you're already in the habit of avoiding processed foods :
Take stock of your meal planning based on your supermarket habits: are you already doing everything you can to streamline your processes? Are you being as efficient as possible? Are there areas where you could be working smarter instead of harder? What about nutrition? Are there areas where a little more attention to detail could help you improve your nutrition?
Choose one area (just one!) where you know you can do better, and write down the steps you want to take.
Don't try to be a superman or wonderwoman
Remember that, whatever your career path, you're not trying to be a superwoman or a superman. The aim is simply to live a life that you feel is as fair as possible.
Based on your current situation, and with the goal of health for your family and for the ecosystems and farming communities that feed you, what might seem a little fairer?