September 18, 2011


Growing up, my stay-at-home mom cooked almost every meal from scratch. There were occasional meals out, but for the most part, everything was homemade. I don't remember ever eating premade frozen meals until my parents got divorced, when our eating habits changed as a family. I moved in with my dad, who couldn't cook much beyond boxes of macaroni and cheese and barbecued chicken with cornbread, so there were an awful lot of microwaved pizzas and pot pies. If I never eat one again, it will be too soon.

When I first moved into my apartment in Chicago, I made the decision not to get a microwave. I had never lived on my own before, but I still knew that left to my own devices, I'd live off of Hot Pockets, even though I knew how to cook. Cooking takes time and money; as a grad student, I wouldn't have much of either, and I was only half-heartedly invested in wanting to lose weight at the time, but I still knew that whatever time and money it took to cook for myself would be worth it. There were a lot of nights when I ordered take-out for my binges, but for the most part, I did all my own cooking. Even if I cooked unhealthy meals, it was still prepared by hand, and that felt good.

Finishing grad school and starting my first full-time job in Chicago coincided with the beginning of my weight loss journey, and even though I still did not have a microwave, I incorporated Lean Cuisine and Weight Watchers Smart Ones frozen meals into my daily plan. We had a microwave at the office, and it was convenient. It helped me transition from my unhealthy lunches from before (usually a big sandwich or a few packs of sushi from the school store, or a few candy bars and vending machine snacks to hold me over until I got home for my "real" meal) while also serving a purpose: I didn't feel ready to keep a loaf of bread or a container of sandwich meat in the house.

Despite the convenience of microwaves, I've gotten along pretty well without one. "Convenient" doesn't always mean "good."

Problem: my new apartment has a built-in microwave. And despite my love of cooking, I've been eating mostly Smart Ones lately. My go-to lunch (and sometimes dinner) has been a Lean Cuisine heated up and dumped over a bowl of lettuce. Dump - ugh. That even sounds unappealing - far less lovely than cooking verbs like sauté, simmer, combine.

Part of it is the frustration of starting my kitchen from scratch: I have some basic pots and pans and a few spices, but nowhere near the cooking arsenal I had back in Chicago. I need a new food processor - I miss bean burgers and avocado spinach pasta sauce and frozen banana "soft serve"! I get paid on the first of the month, and then things will be a little more right once again in my culinary world.

Another excuse problem I am having is that the grocery store is farther away from my apartment than it was when I was in Chicago. Seeing as I am car-free at the moment, I'm limited to what I can fit in my backpack and then carry home while riding my bike - and conveniently, Smart Ones and Lean Cuisines come in small boxes. (Again, and I cannot stress this enough, "convenient" does not necessarily mean "good.") In Chicago, I could have a backpack and carry bags in my hands - here, it's just too far to walk. Not to mention it's still very hot here , so walking the distance and carrying my groceries would be tough. I don't really mind going grocery shopping a few times a week, I just have to get out there and do it - it's a new frustration that I need to just suck up and deal with.

I need to get back to cooking for myself. I have eliminated processed snacks in place of fresh fruit and yogurt, and it feels great. Getting back to cooking all of my meals is the last piece of the puzzle, I think. The last thing I need to do to feel entirely back on track.

So next week, look for a new recipe here. I'll be back to posting new recipes on Sundays - healthy ones that don't involve the microwave, or at least no instructions like "dump into a bowl over a bag of salad."

What about you? What new foods or recipes have you tried lately? What are your favorite fall recipes?


Jillian said...

I totally feel your pain with the grocery thing. I used to HATE going to the grocery store when I lived in Korea. First of all, I was the source of endless curiosity and I would quite literally have people follow me through the store, peering into my cart and looking at what I bought. Yeah, that's right, those are chicken nuggets. Now back up. Then I'd have to take all of my crap back onto the crowded subway, where more people would try to look into my bags. It was awful. Half the time I just ordered pizza because I didn't have the energy to deal with the grocery store nonsense.

Also, have you thought about buying one of those collapsible carts (like this might look like a doofus pulling it around, but it would definitely be better than having to carry your bags home.

Karen said...

We use the microwave a lot. And we have a little toaster/convection oven that gets daily use. I love soups and chili when it gets colder.

Joy said...

I don't know how you manage without a car. We are in the same boat...too far away from the store. I have enough trouble getting it together, food wise, and I'm able to get to the store weekly and get everything I need.

I used to eat frozen meals, but found that they just don't work for me for the long term. I can have one once in a while.

My new favorite meal is...whole wheat spaghetti, with homemade sauce. Just tomato sauce & paste, with stewed tomatoes, and ground turkey browned with onions and bell peppers. Then added seasonings. It's quick and delicious!!!

Keep focused!

CarolineCalcote said...

I'm personally a big fan of dumping stuff on top of salads, but I know what you mean. Dumping a Lean Cuisine is just not as satisfying as dumping some of my homemade sloppy joe sauce (the ratatoullie stuff...I know that's spelled wrong but don't want to look it up). Maybe you could use your microwave as another storage cabinet? We do use our microwave often. You are getting back in the groove!

SkippyMom said...

We only use the microwave to reheat our leftovers and make tea. I think it is an excellent idea to go back to cooking - so easy to control what you put in your food.

I hope you'll be able to get a food processor soon!

Hyla said...

Chili and my husbands new beef stew recipe (which I should post on the blog) are my new fav fall recipes.

I have some great fallish recipes on my blog, check them out when you get a chance.

Is there a bus you could take to the store or a taxi? Lots of times taking a local taxi is about $3. Less or more depending on the distance. Get some more driving lessons in with your colleague and then you can get a used car out of the paper.

Tim said...

I'm not sure how it works in the US but do you have access to online shopping which deliver food from supermarkets?

Unknown said...

I hear you on the lure of the frozen dinners. They are so much more convenient, especially when you're hurting on cookware, transportation and the like. Don't be too hard on yourself though, Mary. You've had a major upheaval lately and probably still working out the kinks.
My favorite thing to make right now is soup. Any kind is the right kind :)

Bluezy said...

I will look forward to your recipes! Love a recipe that tells me the calories and the carbs or more.

I was told by an obese smoker that microwaving meat is not healthy and he refuses to eat it. LOL

Misty said...

Hey Meg...just cheking in with you

I'm about to start reading "Confessions of a Carb Queen" and saw you were one of the previous bloggers from this book :)

Julie said...

I take my hat off to you for making such good choices. I know the frozen dinners are not great but sometimes they just tick enough boxes to be ok. When I have to spend several nights out of town for work I always insist on having accommodation with a microwave so I can heat up those kinds of meals rather than have to eat in a restaurant. It would have been so easy for you to use this upheaval and time it takes to find your feet to eat all kinds of junk because it was easy. Well done on sticking to what you know is the right thing for you. I know there have been times when I would have used such a change of circumstances to eat all kinds of crap because it was easier. My favourite fall (actually any time of the year) food is soup - homemade vegetable. If you have a slow cooker you can turn it on in the morning and come home to it all ready. Or you can cook it at the weekend and freeze in portions for later in the week. Roll on payday ;-)

carla said...

**tip toes away as she uses microwaves for a few too many things these days**


Hungry Girl Fan said...

I wouldn't stress out too much about it. You are adjusting to a new area, lifestyle, etc. right now. I'm sure you will get back to cooking and figuring out a routine that works for you sooner than you think.