$15/15 meals: The Week that Was

What a weekend! It was so nice to catch up and really break down the week that was $15/15 meals. Despite the fact that we all attacked the challange in slightly different manners, the results were very consistent. But before I get into the details lets go back to the beginning.

15-spot

The $15/15 challenge started as an experiment to see how healthy we could eat for $1 a meal for five days. Rather than falling to the temptations and the mentality that the best way to fill up on a budget inevitably leads you to the McDonald’s dollar menu or the processed and packaged food aisles, we set out hoping to eat nutritionally balanced meals with as much variety as we could. Everything we consumed would be counted in the $15 whether it was from the pantry or from the store. The only exceptions being olive oil, salt, pepper, vinegar, coffee and alcohol. If the last two had not been included as exceptions, I imagine those around us would have gotten real sick of this challenge. Other than that, the rest was up to us. It was never a question of if? It was more a question of how. We knew we could have limited our caloric intake and essentially starve to make the five days but that certainly wasn’t the point. I wanted to feel full. I wanted to feel healthy. And most importantly, I was hoping to learn a bit about my food choices and eating habits…

So back to the results…As we discussed our experiences from the past week, the most prevalent topic was that of waste. It takes some creativity but it’s amazing how much you can get out of ingredients, much of which we waste on a regular basis. Whether its taking the ends of the carrots for the stock I made, or saving the ends of a roll to make breadcrumbs for meatballs, I was forced to be a bit crafty because of my budget. But this craftiness has implications far beyond a budget. The environmental impact of waste goes hand in hand with the economic repercussions of our decisions. But even beyond these important social issues, at the route of cooking, wasting ingredients is a waste of flavor.

One of the inherent problems with cooking for yourself is that flavor. So many people rely on restaurants and other sources because of a lack of confidence. But next time you are eating out, pay attention to the ingredients in your dish. Sure the composed dish may be well beyond what you think your capable of, but ultimately the best food is made up of a balance of flavors; flavors available in the same ingredients that have always been accessible along with those that have become more and more available to us. How many times have you bought boxed chicken stock? Or what about those seasoned bread crumbs? These are just two simple example of how you can take back your food! Trust me, homemade tastes better and the added bonus of exuberance of self accomplishment is well worth the extra time and effort.

The other factor we all thoroughly agreed on was perception of hungry. When’s the last time you felt hungry? If your reading this mid-day you may be feeling that hunger at this very moment. Snacking to make it through the afternoon? Loading up at lunch time to make sure you won’t give in to the snacking? I have a better idea, one that became increasingly clear over the course of the week. Fill up on essential protein and simple carbohydrates and listen to your body, not your boredom.

Our brains are pretty amazing! But sometimes we listen to them too much. As we eat and our bodies start to digest the food, we will burn what is necessary and store the rest. However, this system doesn’t work as well as we would expect it to; our brains neglect to remind us of that storage. Just because you stored up those leftovers, doesn’t mean your body will use it, especially if you continue to eat more. So the more your body gets used to eating, the more it craves. Now this may not be the most scientific explanation but if you break it down, this argument is not only valid but certainly prevalent. Why do you think those who are severely overweight have such a hard time decreasing their intake?

However, in our case we had no choice.  So as we focused more on providing our bodies with nutritionally packed food, we ate less and in return desired less. Rather than feeling hungry, we felt energetic. Rather than pining for our next meal, there was a patient excitement. I didn’t weigh myself before and after because weight is certainly not a direct correspondence to health (and I forgot) but there is no question I lost a pound or two. But with a shift towards those simple carbohydrates and lean proteins, this weight loss was achieved the right way. As Nancy suggested, maybe the best way to lose weight isn’t by counting calories, but rather by counting dollars and cents. Of course this assumes you are making good decisions

So what next? Where do we go from here? There’s no way I could keep this budget going and expect to keep my sanity. But just because I plan on spending more than $1 a meal, doesn’t mean the impact won’t be evident. I hope you’ll continue to see these good decisions in my future posts as I promise to maintain the focus of healthy, affordable foods. But in the meantime, lets keep this conversation going. One of the interesting arguments we barely touched on was the importance of shopping organic and local. The stricter your budget, the harder this becomes and despite my best efforts, my purchases of these ingredients were limited. But as I mentioned previously, I hope to run this experiment again, with a few of you getting involved in the process. I know I have a few takers already but the more the merrier!

bbq

And if you were wondering about our celebratory feast? Would you believe me if I told you that the main component wouldn’t have cost us a dime during our week long challenge? That is unless you count the man hours it took us to catch all of these delicious clams!

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