Nothing’s more misleading than saying you “can’t” cook. As my mom says, if you can read, you can cook. (So if you’ve made it this far, you’re already good to go in the kitchen!)
I think too often people assume cooking is this mystical ability, allowing someone to whip up the perfect soufflé using the remaining contents of her refrigerator and some of the freshly-chopped herbs from her garden. Yes, that’s cooking– but that’s more of an art. That’s like being a chef. I’m talking about cooking. When I refer to cooking, my definition encompasses pretty much any time you make food out of something you buy at the grocery store. For example, making Annie’s Mac and Cheese right out of the box constitutes cooking. Low bar!
I bring all of this up because until recently, I was one of those people who said she can’t cook. I had nothing in my fridge but a couple of string cheeses, a box of saltines, and maybe some hot sauce packets. (I’m serious and not at all trying to be one of those cliche Carrie-types who lives off of Vogue and Saltines. Ask my roommate!) This is a very easy lifestyle to maintain in a city like New York, where I could order Seamless every night and not eat too unhealthfully. Most of the time, I’d order off the appetizer/small plates menu to keep the prices and portions down, and often my dinners cost between $10-15 a night (for all of you at home in Indiana, this is extremely reasonable for Manhattan).
After time, though, the ordering got old– and when I started to think about how much I was spending just on dinners per month ($300-450!) I decided I would try a different approach that might be a little more wallet-friendly. For the month of January, I committed to grocery shopping for my meals to see what kind of effect it had on my bank account. I had a couple of ground rules: focused on Monday-Thursday (my boyfriend is a consultant and comes home Friday-Sunday, so I wanted to be flexible on weekends), and try to eat every meal from the store as opposed to a restaurant or the office cafeteria.
I think it’s important to have a plan, but I certainly didn’t have one when I showed up to the grocery store on week one of my challenge. Holy. Cow. Those. Lines. Going on Sunday at 2PM was clearly a Rookie mistake. I didn’t want to walk ten blocks home empty-handed, though, so I soldiered through the crowds and sweated in my heavy parka as I walked up and down the lines. My grocery has an upstairs and a downstairs, and I couldn’t make heads or tails of where anything was. Why were there FOUR cheese sections? Why was pasta nowhere to be found? And who do you have to screw to find the peanut butter aisle?
Once I found everything I wanted, I couldn’t believe how expensive some of the basic materials were. I mean $12 for olive oil? I was considering how good a Sweetgreen Salad was for about that same price (and none of the work!) But I committed, and I wanted to see it through. Also, I once read a piece of advice that says you can always buy whatever you want at the grocery store, because it’s always cheaper than going out. I tried to remember that when my total bill rang up as $72.50, which was more than I spent in day on food in my Seamless life.
My grocery cart Week 1 consisted of: olive oil, quinoa, pasta sauce, green and yellow peppers, frozen broccoli, yogurt, granola, string cheese (gotta stay with the staples!), parmesan cheese, and bread. Then I got home and realized WTF was I going to do with the bread since I had no peanut butter or any other sandwich fixings. Chalked it up to the rookie grocery panic and moved on.
I ate mostly quinoa with pasta sauce (don’t knock this until you try it! It is amazing!) mixed with some veggies and parmesan cheese. This was about the easiest thing ever cooking-wise: cook quinoa according to instructions, dump pasta sauce in, add some garlic salt, enjoy.
In Weeks 2 and 3 I branched out a little more, and got avocados, eggs, and peanut butter to go along with that bread. Also veggie burgers which were quick and easy meals with a friend egg on top. Then I fell in love with spaghetti squash and that made everything better. If you’ve never tried spaghetti squash, don’t be intimidated. There are plenty of ways to cook a spaghetti squash, and it is both delicious and filling!
Week 4 is when I got way too cocky and attempted to make a vegan mac and cheese. This was a complete disaster, but the recipe called for a baked sweet potato, and that’s when I realized the magic of baking sweet potatoes ahead of time and popping them in your lunch box. Heaven.
Ultimately, I reduced my credit card bill by $400 in following the No Seamless Diet. And I learned a few very valuable things:
- It’s not that hard to cook. Start with simple recipes and branch out from there
- Life goes on if you mess up a recipe
- Relying on the grocery = more money for shoes