From the USDA website: “Total food expenditures for all food consumed in the U.S. was $1,182.0 billion in 2009, a 1.2-percent increase from $1,172.1 billion in 2008. Spending on food away from home was 48.6 percent of the $1,182.0 billion in total food expenditures in 2009—spending for food at home was 51.4 percent.”
In the depths of a recession, Americans were still spending almost half their food dollar away from home. I find that fascinating, as food is one of the few expenses over which we have a degree of control. How expensive is it? It’s nothing to go out to lunch and spend 5 dollars even on fast food meals—which, let’s face it, are not what you would call healthy in most cases. That’s twenty-five dollars a week, or 1300 dollars a year! Dinner is even more—in our town, you are eating very cheaply if you can find a dinner for less than a twenty dollar bill for one person. Add an alcoholic beverage and there’s nowhere to go but up.
Why? Why would people continue to lay out money for restaurant and fast foods when they can buy better food and cook it themselves? Any cook worth his or her salt can turn out a complete, nutritious, tasty dinner for five dollars per person, if not less. The primary reasons I hear are lack of time and convenience. Yet these same people have time to watch television for four or five hours a night, and will drive half-way across town to their favorite restaurant.
A stir-fry dinner can be on the table in half an hour, although if you use brown rice, which is much better from the standpoint of nutrition, you’ll need to start it 90 minutes or more before you actually want to eat. But that might add five minutes to your total mealtime prep. A chef’s salad can be made in similar time frame. Or broil a chop while you toss a salad and saute a vegetable. Breakfast is even easier – ten minutes in the kitchen gives you bacon and eggs with toast. Or put some old-fashioned regular oatmeal to soak the night before (all grains should be soaked to make the phytates in them more digestible) and cook for less than five minutes the next morning. Beats the microwave any day!
You can even bake bread quite efficiently. Mix it up the night before, let it rise for 20-30 minutes, then shape the loaves and shove them in the refrigerator to rise overnight. Here’s the recipe (and have fun cooking!):
Cool Rise Bread
6-7 cups flour (I use a mix of white and whole wheat)
2 Tbs yeast
2 Tbs sugar
1 Tbs salt
½ cup butter
2 cups very hot water
Thoroughly mix 2 cups flour, sugar, salt and active dry yeast in a large bowl. Add butter to hot water and stir until butter melts. Pour into flour mix; beat 2 minutes at medium speed of electric mixer, scraping bowl occasionally. Add 1 cup flour, or enough flour to make a thick batter. Beat at high speed 2 minutes, scraping bowl occasionally. Stir in enough additional flour to make a soft dough. Knead or mix with dough hook until smooth and elastic, 8-10 minutes. Cover and let rest for 20 minutes; shape loaves, brush with oil. Cover pans with plastic wrap. Refrigerate 2 to 24 hours. Let stand at room temperature 10 minutes before baking. Bake at 400 for 30-40 minutes. Brush with melted butter for a softer crust. Makes two loaves.