An Eating-Better Resolution Need Not Be a Chore
In my opinion, New Year's resolutions are evil. Setting aside just one time each year every year to take action inherently promotes failure (because you'll get another chance next year) and inhibits new, nonresolution action (for the same reason). But last year, I was desperate. It turned out to be one of the few resolutions I've ever made in earnest, and the only one I've ever managed to keep: to eat better.
Now, when I want to, I eat exceptionally well. If I want something in particular, I'll drop ludicrous sums and travel inappropriate distances to obtain it. Even back in the day when I was broke, I'd spend a week's pay on a meal without hesitation, but then I'd live off the dollar menu for two weeks. And there's the rub: Really eating better means improving the quality of day-to-day sustenance.
My problem was I found myself eating fast food several times a week. By then it wasn't about money; it was being a slack-ass bum too lazy to cook at home. I mean, I cook all day, so I deserve a break, right? Yeah, eff doing dishes: Spicy TenderCrisp and a Whopper Jr. it is--and regular Coke, because, uh, diet? Seriously? Eventually, even my Korean metabolism was defeated, and I had an extra 15 pounds to accompany my shame and self-loathing. Come Jan. 1, 2007, I committed to limiting fast-food intake, including my beloved KFC, to once per month. Biggest obstacle: convenience.
Part of the problem is grocery shopping. For me, going to the supermarket elicits the exact same feeling I used to get as kid going to the toy store (Lionel Kiddie City for us old-school locals). But I guess for normal folk it's a chore. Another issue is the time it takes to cook every day. The best advice I have: get good at roasting chickens. One roasted chicken can yield four to six dinner portions--a whole week of dinners, plus you can make soup with the carcass. What follows is a quick and dirty walk-through for one week of homemade dinners with a low effort to variety ratio.
On Monday buy a roasting chicken (five pounds or better), aromatics (onion, celery, carrots), a can of cream of mushroom soup, some broccoli, a pack of sliced mushrooms, two tubes of flaky biscuit dough, a lemon, and a bag of frozen mixed vegetables.
Basic roasted chicken instructions: Preheat your oven to 425. Wash and dry your chicken. Make sure to locate and discard the paper bag containing the gizzards and such. Cut the lemon in half and squeeze the juice from one half into a bowl. Add a quarter cup cooking oil (anything but sesame), salt, pepper, and appropriate herbs (rosemary, thyme, sage) if you have some. Taste and adjust, then rub all over your chicken, even on the inside and under the skin. To separate the skin, carefully poke a couple fingers under where the skin is already detached, on the top side of the cavity (with the breast up). Cut the onion in half (no need to peel) and put a half inside the chicken, along with the other half lemon, half a carrot, and one celery stalk. Put the chicken on a rack and/or in a pan, and in the oven. Cook for a total of 20 minutes per pound, but after the first 20 minutes turn the oven down to 375 and loosely cover it with foil. Halfway through, add a little water to the pan. When you can wiggle the leg around easily, it's done.
When there's 15 minutes left to go, get one tube of biscuits onto a baking sheet and into the oven. While you're in there, baste the chicken with some pan juice, then spoon out about a quarter cup into a bowl and add a little water. Heat up a medium-sized pan on the stove. While it's heating up, cut the broccoli stalk off close to the top, then tear the crown into small florets. When the pan looks very hot (you think you see a tiny bit of smoke), add some oil and then the broccoli, and don't touch it. After two to three minutes, add the pan juice you collected, stir, and cover. In two minutes, check if it's done. Monday and Tuesday night, have a quarter chicken, broccoli, and biscuits for dinner.
Wednesday, pick all the remaining meat off the chicken. Mix half of the meat, half the bag of frozen vegetables, and the can of mushroom soup, and season. Pour into a medium casserole dish and line the top with the other tube of biscuits. Cook in a 375-degree oven for 20 minutes and you've got slightly fake-ass pot pie. That's dinner for the rest of the week.
While the pot pie is cooking, bring the carcass to a boil in some water with some carrots, two or three celery stalks, the other onion half, and salt. Then reduce to a simmer while you eat. After dinner, strain your chicken broth and return it to the stove. Add the rest of the frozen vegetables, the remaining chicken, and the sliced mushrooms, and cook for another 15 minutes while you do the dishes. This you can eat Saturday and Sunday morning when you're hungover.
In any case, that's an example of getting a week's worth of dinners and two lunches from two days of cooking, one trip to the store, and less than $20. Admittedly, it's not the healthiest food, but it's damn sure better for you than fast food. Now get your ass to the gym already.
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