On Food, Cooking, & Eating

No, I don’t have a menu plan drawn up yet this week, though I have the beginnings of one in my head, and by the time you read this, I might have actually committed it to “dry erase magnetic menu board”. It was another incredibly busy weekend (don’t see those ending until the snow flies again, honestly), and while I need to figure out how to make time for menu-ing, it hasn’t happened yet.

But I do make time for meal prep on Sundays – making things ahead of time to keep the freezer stocked with “homemade fast foods” and the fridge stocked with my weekday breakfasts (two hardboiled eggs and five prunes, eaten in the car on the way to work – yay fiber/protein rich finger food!). I try to stagger the larger freezer-stocking recipes so I don’t have to do so much all at once, but this past weekend, I needed to restock both oatmeal bars and burritos, and I found myself sort of grumbling under my breath about having to take the time and thinking about buying such things pre-made like we used to in order to save the time on Sundays.

I do that often – complain about the work I create for myself, that is. And then I remember why I do it, and shut up and get it done, thankful that I’m lucky enough to be able to make the time. Health and taste are almost always the reason I make something rather than buying it. I started making oatmeal bars at home because my husband (who isn’t even eating them at the moment) didn’t like the fiber bars we were buying because they tasted too much like coconut (and honestly, I wasn’t all that fond of them either). The burritos we used to buy came/come in beef or bean flavors, but not both together, which always annoyed me. And of course after reading the labels on both packages and finding a lot of stuff I’d rather not have in there for various reasons, I decided to make my own.

As I was standing there, rolling burritos with less filling than I personally would have liked but just enough to fill them without over-filling, I got to thinking about how every Monday I eat one of those burritos that look somewhat “scant” when I’m making them, and it’s plenty of calories to take me all the way to my 4:30pm oatmeal bar snack. I don’t feel hungry, and I don’t need more…it’s plenty, even though it *looks* like it won’t be enough.

Which made me think about how little we really *need* to eat for optimal health (not even just survival, which is less yet, but truly optimal weight and performance), and yet we so often blow right past that need just because…well, because it doesn’t look like much, for one thing, and for another, we have access to a lot of really good food, whether we buy it or make it. It’s *so* good that we don’t want to stop when we’ve had enough. Or even when we feel way too full. We still want more, and we often have it.

I love food, and I love to cook and bake. I love a lot of different tastes and textures and colors and scents, and affording them wasn’t always a luxury I had. When I was young, we were poor, and we ate a lot of antelope meat (couldn’t afford beef, and antelope was easier to find than deer when my dad went out hunting with my grandparents). I like deer quite a bit. Antelope, not so much. It’s often tough and “gamey” and the only real way to make it less so was to cook it with a lot of spices. By the time I hit high school, I’d perfected using just enough pepper and garlic to make an antelope steak taste like sausage. Ironically, I don’t get wild game anymore – hubby didn’t grow up on it, and as is pretty common, it’s too rich for his system.

I learned to cook pretty young, first helping my mom and grandma in the kitchen, and gradually doing more myself. My mom went back to work when I was 13-14 or so, and that year, it was my job to make dinner every night. We had a lot of Hamburger Helper (with wild game, of course), but I also went through my first recipe book as well as my mom and grandma’s old ones, and since we often didn’t have the ingredients needed for any given recipe (and couldn’t just go buy them), I learned early on how to experiment with substituting in pretty much every recipe.

To this day, even though I can afford the “proper” ingredients and have a very well-stocked pantry, it’s extraordinarily rare that I make it through a whole recipe without changing something, even if it’s just because I think it will taste better. More often, if I want to learn to cook something, I’ll go look up a bunch of different recipes and then make up my own version using a bit from this one and a bit from that, etc. Yes, even with baking, though I don’t do that too often any longer due to the carbs and calories involved.

Which brings me back to portion sizes, and health, and how little we need for optimal “performance”. I try to keep my portion sizes down, but man…it’s hard. Mostly because I love food, and love to cook, and the correct portion sizes for my body are really very small. The correct foods for my body don’t include carbs, but who doesn’t love a beautiful french bread for dipping, or corn chips for chili, or pasta here and there? It’s kind of a delicate balancing act, and one I’m still a long way from perfecting.

Even without carbs, it’s hard to get in all the fiber and veggies I need for one day. Fiber takes up a lot of calories, but thankfully veggies don’t. By the time I get in all the fiber, protein and good fats I need, I’m either right at or already over my calorie limit for the day. It’s crazy and fascinating all at once.

Obviously, exercise is something I need to do often (and I’m working on it), but so is cutting those portion sizes even smaller, and accepting the fact that I really don’t need nearly as much food as I’m taking in. Acknowledging that I eat too much, and I do so because I enjoy it, and the consequences of that is a less than optimal body.

I’m not judging anyone for the food choices they make, and I hope that’s not how this sounds. I’m completely focused on myself here, and what I need. Which is “less”. And my most recent food project is to do exactly that – eat less, and accept that I need less. Part of that is presentation – making “less” look nice with good presentation, and part of that is looking into smaller plates and such, so that “less” looks like more than it actually is. Mind games are sometimes handy.

I’ve lost about 2lbs in the last six weeks or so, which is slow going, but it’s going in the right direction, so I’m not complaining. Cutting portion sizes and lowering carbs way, way down has been very beneficial, and so has the weight training program I put myself on (not to mention all the concrete blocks I’m building garden walls with in the backyard). I’d like to lose about 15 more pounds, but I’d settle for 5-10. We’ll see how it goes over the next few months. This stupid over-forty metabolism is for the birds, I tell you what. But hopefully by Christmas I’ll have good news there, and also some smaller-portion meal examples to share.

And tonight, we’ll probably have fast food for dinner, because we have to go get another load of cement bricks for the back retaining wall. And I don’t cook when we have to go out and about right after work. Baby steps!

Do you like to cook? Love to eat? Tell me your favorite recipe (or three)!


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