Barefoot Contessa on a Budget

Spending more on eating out than cooking at home is not just something you’re doing, or millennials are doing. It’s a trend among all Americans. In the late 1800s, Americans’ spending on food was 5% on food away from home and 95% on food at home (Source: USDA). As of 2013, now it’s split: 50-50. Americans spend as much eating out as they do cooking at home. I’m sure some people spend much more on food away from home than at home!

So what? Obviously this inverse trend shows we are becoming lazy, and are relying more on having someone else cook our food for us. But as my best friend Megan shows, we have no need to be lazy or spend a lot on food – cooking is easy and affordable! I sat down with Megan and asked her how she became a cooking prep queen and what her secrets are.

Riss: When did you first start doing your own meal prep?

Megan: It was started when I went off to college. You’re cooking for yourself or eating in a dining hall and start to realize what you’re putting in each meal, what ingredients are fresh. This inspired me to think about the meals I can make at home. But for as long as I can remember, I’ve loved going to the grocery store with my mama, seeing and feeling what’s fresh. I check Food Network daily to see what the recipe of the day is, and checking their Healthy Recipes page.

Riss: What is some of the best advice you’ve found for preparing affordable, healthy meals?

Megan: Everything is about balance. When it comes to cooking meal prep, or fancy meal for your family, it’s portion control. No matter what the protein – seafood, meat, avocado, tofu – follow it up with a complex carb: quinoa, brown rice, sweet potato, couscous. Find something that’s a carb with a lot of nutrients. I supplement that with a roasted zucchini or roasted tomatoes to add some color and variety to the plate. These balance meals also make you feel fuller and less likely to snack on something unhealthy.

A lovely pesto, tomato, mozzarella pasta made by Megan with some Purdue Chicken Cutlets for extra protein on the side.

Riss: Following up on that, what is one of your favorite cooking books or online resources where you’ve learned some of these trick and tips?

Megan: Giant Savory Magazine – you grab it at check-out and it’s free. They do a great job listing recipes with five ingredients, and just what’s in season each month. The most recent magazine’s theme was about summer BBQ.

Riss: What is the best advice you can give others that you’ve learned yourself? Something only Megan can offer.

Megan: Find something that isn’t impossible to make. You need to get yourself going and feel confident about your cooking capabilities. Start with something small (such as different pasta recipes) and then build on it. Usually I always thought it was all about the diet – that if you ate healthy, the gym didn’t matter. But now I know it’s a combination of the two. You don’t want to be so strict about what you eat that you don’t enjoy a good meal or a glass of wine once in a while. My mom and I take long walks or I go to the gym 4-5 days a week. I love group classes, and combine it with a healthy diet. You gotta listen to my chicken trick! Chicken is one of those hard things to sauté because you’re nervous you’re going to overcook or undercook it. At the grocery store, you can always buy a rotisserie chicken, it feeds 5-6 meals, and can use in many different recipes. Second trick is, you can go to the salad bar and get a pound of grilled chicken and they look like chicken strips. Both are $4.99! My most recent chick, Perdue has their chicken strips or cutlets in the poultry section under $2-3 on sale. You just throw them in the oven and are ready to eat.

Riss: How much on average do you spend on groceries to prep meals for one week?

Megan: Between $5-10 a meal. It depends on how many nights I’m cooking in or eating out.

Riss: If you could submit a meal made by Megan to a food magazine, what would it be?

Megan: That’s so hard to decide. Maybe my version of tacos. I take a spin on tacos inspired by Barefoot Contessa. Instead of using salmon, I use leftover steak, slice it up, put some fresh summer slaw (from Giant for $3.99/lb), little avocado, little pico de gallo, and a little salsa. It’s a summer steak taco made in under 15 minutes!

© Rissponsible Living, 2017

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