Utilizing your Kitchen's Potential during the Holidays

December 23, 2008

With the holiday season upon us, I’ve already felt that internal nagging feeling about watching what I eat (lord help me). With an enormous amount of calories starring us in the face amidst holiday cocktail parties, Christmas cookies, Thanksgiving fixings and a whole lot of drinking and nibbling, it’s no wonder we end up feeling our pants getting tighter and our conscience getting louder.

One way to start controlling your calories? Stop dining out as much. Similar to the experiment I described here, researchers at Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab have found through a host of studies that restaurants are full of environmental cues, from plate size to bread condiments that encourage us to eat more. Do you need that second piece of bread? Absolutely not. But, when it’s sitting in front of you without your asking and it’s tempting you, what’s a WIT to do?

We all know it’s a lot easier to control ingredients and portions at home, but when it comes to ease and convenience and dates, going out always, always seems like the better (and needless to say, more delicious option). Need more ideas though? Read on for U.S. News’ Kimberly Palmer’s guide, referencing various cooking experts, to eating better for less money- yet another reason to cut back on dining out. It adds up extraordinarily quickly.

Plan ahead.
Shopping with specific meals in mind for the week ahead makes it easer to buy in bulk and repurpose ingredients, turning Sunday night’s roast chicken into Monday night’s enchiladas. “A lot of folks get in trouble when they don’t plan ahead. The day takes longer than expected, and they’re ordering out or reaching for ready-made meals, and those are very expensive. The more you can cook from scratch, the further your dollar can stretch.”

*I try and do this with my roommate as often as possible. Granted, it’s easy to get off track, but in the end it definitely saves money and makes cooking at home all the more fun and simple.

Do it yourself.
Instead of buying a package of grated cheese, buy a chunk and grate it yourself, recommends Kim O’Donnel, author of the Washington Post’s A Mighty Appetite blog and Real Simple’s food blog. “We pay for the convenience of all these things,” she says. She also recommends homemade hummus, which takes about seven minutes with a food processor, as well as homemade pizza dough.

*Building off of this, I recommend investing in a Magic Bullet– its uses are endless and you’ll love using it.

Rediscover eggs and beans.
Even though the price of eggs has gone up, they’re still cheap compared with meat, says O’Donnel, and they are incredibly versatile. Around $3 (at about 25 cents an egg) can generate a dinner frittata, brunch strata, or quiche, she says.

On the same note, a simple dinner of black beans and rice—plus chopped onion, olive oil, seasonings, and shredded cheese—can make dinner for two for under $5, O’Donnel says.

Go meatless.

“Cooking vegetarian meals often is a good way to save money,” says Amy Sherman, Cooking with Amy blogger. Her spaghetti salad and Indian-style chickpea recipes are packed with flavor without relying on meat.

*The authors of Skinny Bitch also recommend this.

Reinvent leftovers.
Extra rice can go into a fried rice dish the following night, O’Donnel says. “That’s one of my favorite cheap and good meals—just add celery, bell peppers, shallots,” she says.

Certain dishes, such as lasagna, chili, and soups, also are easily made in large quantities that can be frozen or eaten throughout the week, says Sherman, who often cooks most of her meals for the week on Sunday.

*Dinner leftovers can be great for lunch the next day, too. Just store up what’s left in a Gladware container and remember to grab it the next morning as you make your way to the office. Reheat during your lunch hour and Voila!

Use what’s in the fridge.
Home cooks stuck with extra eggplant or flounder can avoid wasting food by using websites such as Allrecipes.com and the FoodNetwork.com to search for dishes based on the ingredients they have at home. Sherman’s favorite inexpensive recipe, spaghetti carbonara, uses eggs, pasta, garlic, bacon, and other ingredients that are often on hand. “It has lots of flavor, and it’s easy to make,” she says.

Bon Appetite!

photo courtesy of FitSugar 

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