Stewed Garbanzos and The Art of Meal Planning

With the summer abundance finished it’s time to shift gears and plan meals for cold, busy weeks. Summer is easier, with lots of fresh produce, garden offerings and the punishing heat that suggests lighter meals, lots of rosé and mint water, preferably in the backyard under tree shade. Fall and winter are a different game, I’m extra hungry as the weather cools and the days shorten, and fuller meals are in demand.

easygarbanzostew

Meal planning is key to my budget, and my sanity. It helps me prepare quick meals as my life runs faster than I can, and it keeps me from wasting food. In a country where 40-50% of the food produced goes to waste it’s difficult to take food waste serious, until it has a personal impact. After all, part of what I teach is meal planning and mindfulness around food, which makes me more aware of my own shortcomings.

mealplanningprep

Every Saturday, I fill bowls with beans, lentils and grains, of any color and shape, cover them with water and soak them overnight. On Sunday, I cook them all, as I mosey around sipping my morning coffee and reading The New York Times. At home, we are not vegetarians, but we use pulses, grains, and many vegetables to stretch animal proteins. Luckily, I’m a trained Colombian who grew up on beans and rice, so diversifying using lentils, beans and vegetables is familiar, if not comforting.

Once cooked, pulses and grains are an easy and reliable base for many meals through the week, with or without meat. Sometimes I’ll make bigger batches and freeze finished meals for the following week, if I know I’ll be extra busy. This weekend we worked on a batch of lentil-oat bars for Mr. Thomas, as he’s always bouncing around town and in need of nutritious snacks. We also worked on black bean and farro tacos for a lazy Sunday lunch; garbanzos to stew with tomatoes and fennel, to make hummus, and for falafel patties; and white beans for Cassoulet and Minestrone soupwhich I froze in two-portion containers, and are perfect for a snowy night, like tonight, when traffic is horrid and stressful, and I can relax knowing that a hearty dinner is ready to heat up.

stewedgarbanzoswithpesto

This weekly ritual acts as a way to inventory what is in our fridge, pantry and freezer, and to find recipes for produce, or other perishables. I’m mortified anytime a lonely turnip or carrot, forgotten underneath a pile of mushrooms or lettuce, gets soft and moldy and I have to dispose of the dead evidence. How much did I pay for that turnip?

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Budget Grocery Shopping

One of the assignments for one of the classes I teach at the school is a scavenger’s hunt. The students have to go to different grocery stores and look for the price of different cuts of meats from different animals, analyze and compare. They found that there are “less desirable” cuts of meat, like chicken legs or shoulder-blade chops, to name just a couple, that have great amounts of flavor and are sold at a much lower price per pound than, say, chicken breast or pork tenderloin, because they require too much cooking or are perceived as difficult to cook.

ingredients for vegetarian french cassoulet

The most interesting part of this exercise, to me, is that in many cases the prices don’t change drastically from store chain to store chain. It does, however, change based on the quality and demand of the product. For example, organic, boneless chicken breast, the most popular piece of animal protein in the U.S., is between $5.99-$6.99 dollars per pound across the different store chains, compared to chicken legs at $2.49 dollars per pound at whole foods.

If we do the same thing for other items, like legumes, for example, we can see that 1-15 oz can of black beans costs an average $1.50 dollars, at any store, twice as much if it’s an organic product, $2.50-3.00 dollars. Now, the net weight specified on the label is not the food weight we get, consumer report did a test and found that most canned foods have an average of 40% of that weight in the liquid that we throw down the drain, so we end up with a little over a cup of cooked beans.

In comparison, a pound of organic dried black beans costs an average $2.25 dollars. Continue reading Budget Grocery Shopping