And on the eighth day, God invented Ramen noodles.
Fast food, whether it be a burger slung out a window or a gordito tossed in your lap, has its place in our lives. It's fast, cheap, and convenient. However, short of the drive through, the only real options we seem to have are to either eat out at a sit-down restaurant or to stay at home and prepare a full home-cooked meal. Ok, I can hear you laughing now because for many guys, the definition of "home-cooked meal" is liberally applied. Very liberally. And frozen. And canned.
When we eat, we have essentially three choices:
- go to a restaurant;
- heat up prepared foods at home;
- or cook a meal from scratch yourself.
Eating out has two major conveniences: 1)many times we think it will save us time and 2)save us from having to clean up(or, in some cases, leave a pile of dishes in the sink for a week). Ok, so there is also the social factor and the atmosphere of a restaurant as well, but we usually eat out for the first two reasons.
Restaurants aren't a bad choice at all, especially if it's a particularly good one. But if you think you're saving any time, consider the time it takes to get there, order, eat, and pay the check. And as far as fast food is concerned, even though I like it myself from time to time, I have some bad news for you: unless you don't mind jamming that hot dog straight into your aorta or spackling the valves of your heart with the grease in that burger you just inhaled, the reality is that MOST eat-out foods aren't that good for you......unless you pay very close attention to what it is you're ordering and pick wisely. Not always easy when you're there because you're pressed for time to begin with.
That leaves us with cooking at home. We can buy frozen meals and stock up on canned soup and hash; make everything from scratch; or a combination of the two. Better yet, how about some ideas to just cut down your cooking time altogether and let you enjoy fresh cooked meals?
This section, then, has two primary purposes. First, a loving tribute and improvement to those "bachelor comfort foods", like ramen noodles, beans and franks, mac and cheese, and the exquisite Dorito. Second, that there are plenty ways to pick out and prepare not only these foods, but hints at making your own pre-prepared and frozen meals. Yes, your own frozen meals. I know, I know....it's ok to cry.
Hard-boiled eggs have several distinct reasons they should be in your refrigerator. First, eggs are unbelievably cheap at around $1.25 a dozen. Second, my dog could boil eggs. Third, they keep and store really well in the frig. Lastly, if you just eat mostly whites(maybe eat a ¼ of each yolk), they are a super healthy source of protein. I say boil a dozen every week or so(takes about 20-25 minutes in a decent sized pot) and keep them on-hand to peel and eat throughout.
Another choice, especially great when its cold out, is oatmeal. It's high in protein and fiber and, with some raisins and cinnamon slung in there, tastes pretty darn good. The trick is to just get the water to boil, sprinkle in 2/3 the amount of quick oatmeal, then stir ONCE and take off the heat....ready to go. That's it. If you want and if you have time, throw in some raisins, a shake of vanilla extract, some cinnamon, or chopped fruit, like apple or peach. Maple syrup or brown sugar is a great substitute for plain old white too. And, we can all use a little brown sugar in our lives, right?
Also, if you happen to like yogurt, I recommend you keep a big tub of vanilla on hand. Throw some fresh chopped fruit on top of a small bowl's worth and maybe some cereal as a topping(esp. granola), and you're set.
Lastly, if you have NO time or desire to cook ANYTHING in the morning(and we'll say that even cold cereal is "cooking"), then at least grab a cereal bar or a non-frosted PopTart on your way out. Better yet, peel or wash a piece of fruit the night before and take it with you on your way out the door.
Lunch you'll mostly eat at work, but there is always the weekend and days off. Especially if you're trying to maximize your day, you may not want to spend it cooking. No problem, there are plenty of things to grab.
I'm a huge fan of Ramen Noodles. At like 12 cents a package, you could practically feed a small village in Swaziland for the cost of a case of beer. Thing is, that each little package of flavoring has typically 1/3 of you entire daily salt intake. Simple fix: just use half the package of flavoring and only enough water to cover the noodles.
Beans and Franks are another favorite. Although as a rule hot dogs aren't really that healthy for you, you can buy the all-beef ones with low sodium as a much better choice. Also, there are plenty of major brands of baked beans that are fairly healthy for you. I just cut up one hot dog, a small can of baked beans, chuck in the microwave for a minute or two, then top with a bit of Dijon mustard.
Another lunch staple is Mac and Cheese. I really like the Kraft brand and keep a bunch on hand. But why is it that it's much better when I cook it than you? Simple, I don't use milk and butter. Kraft wants to sell to every single American household, not to a niche gourmet market and every American household has butter and milk in the frig(except for vegans, but that just opens a whole other discussion). Rarely do most people keep light cream handy and that's why they tell you to make it with milk and butter. Don't. Make it with 1/3 cup cream or half-and-half instead. Guess what else? When you make it with ½ cup cream instead of butter and milk.....it's got 1/3 fewer grams of fat. Word up.
C. Dinner and Planning
I've mentioned before that there are plenty of acceptable shortcuts to take to reduce the time cooking and maximize your time enjoying other things. For dinner, then, it's more about planning and making a system than just buying prepared stuff. If you take some time aside now and then to specifically prepare stuff ahead of time, you'll find it's there for you when you really need it...and fast.
Whenever you cook, especially pasta, cook at least an additional serving and freeze the rest in individual containers. It doesn't take ANY more energy to boil an extra half-pound of spaghetti and make double the sauce. All starches(pasta, rice, potatoes) happen to freeze really well.......but don't always refrigerate well. So always make extra and freeze your leftovers.
Another tactic to plan ahead you'll apply when you go to the store and buy meat to cook. Whether it be beef, chicken, or pork, make some kind of marinade for it. Again, just make extra and put the extra meat in heavy-duty ziplock bags along with the marinade and freeze it(don't do this with a neighbor that really pissed you off. The police aren't that dumb). A day ahead of when you want to cook it, put it in the frig to thaw. It'll be perfectly marinated and no freezer burn.
Grocery Store rotisserie chicken is nothing short of a modern miracle. For just several dollars, you've paid for a chicken to give birth to a chick, a person to raise it and kill it, and yet another person to prepare and cook it, all for you. It's like being the king of a little empire. With that in mind, for even less than that, you can buy a roaster yourself, rinse it, salt it, and sling it in the oven(look under dead meat for cook time) and have left-overs for a week.
Truly the last thought I have on this section is one of reality. If you decide to take on cooking for yourself and others, you're going to have to commit initially some time and energy to it. However, if you do and if you follow some basics learning points, you'll find its not that tough at all to eat better, healthier, and to be self-sufficient, not to mention save money. And that leaves more time and money for the truly important things in life. Like drinking.