Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Don’t blame Bittman, family meals are important

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I heard a piece on the CBC recently that rubbed me the wrong way. Then my friend sent me a link to this interview with the author of the study being discussed on the CBC. The study looked at the alleged negative effect that proponents of home-cooked meals (such as Mark Bittman, Jamie Oliver, and other celebrity chefs) have on over-worked mums. This bothered me for a number of reasons.

First of all, it’s not just out-of-touch celebrity chefs advocating for eating home-cooked meals together as a family most evenings. Most dietitians are on-board and probably quite a few other health professions. There are so many good reasons to eat together as a family: home-cooked meals tend to be healthier than restaurant, fast food, take-away, and packaged meals; there is also the important social aspect involved with sitting down and sharing a meal with others; also, if you’re sitting eating at a table you’re less likely to overeat and mindlessly eat than you are if you’re eating in front of the tv or in the car.

Apparently these celebrity chefs are making working mums feel badly because they don’t have the time (and sometimes the money) to prepare elaborate home-cooked meals for their families every night. I get it, we’re all busy but home-cooked meals need not take exorbitant quantities of time or money to prepare. We also need to get our priorities straight. Cooking meals should not be taking time away from quality family time. Cooking meals should be quality family time. Kids can help in the kitchen from quite a young age and can become increasingly involved as they get older. Bonus: children are more likely to eat and enjoy food that they had a hand in preparing. Also, what’s with the burden being placed on mums? I know that the bulk of housework and cooking often falls on women (sorry, not sorry anti-feminists). Men, get in the kitchen! Everyone in the family can be involved in cooking.

Finally, just because a home-cooked family meal seven nights a week might be an unattainable goal, doesn’t mean that we should just throw in the kitchen towel and order a pizza. It’s like the watered down physical activity guidelines that were created because most people won’t meet the minimums that we should truly be meeting. Or dumbing down the grade school curriculum because children might not be able to achieve the desired outcomes. This lowering of the bar is doing us a disservice as a society. Maybe nightly home-cooked meals are not realistic immediate goals. Set a smaller goal to start but keep that end goal in sight. A home-cooked meal doesn’t have to be complicated. It’s okay to have grilled cheese and tomato soup. Planning ahead and prepping ingredients in advance can make nightly family meals achievable. There is no problem with home-cooked meals. There is a problem with our society that doesn’t value home-cooked meals.


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The true cost of healthy eating

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I’ve ranted about the problem with the over-simplification of food insecurity before but I’d like to expand on that rant. Someone recently shared a link to a recipe for Spicy Tuna Guacamole Bowls on Budget Bites. I thought that they looked yummy so I bookmarked the recipe. The recipe does look great, and I do plan to make it, but I have an issue with the costing.

 

The cost for each ingredient is based on the quantity used in the recipe. Obviously, most ingredients cannot be purchased in such exacting amounts. Thus, the cost presented for the recipe is not an accurate reflection of what the meal actually costs to make. Yes, you may already have some of the ingredients in your pantry, but let’s assume that you don’t.

 

I priced out the ingredients needed for the recipe at my local grocery store. It may not be the least expensive place to shop but we also need to bear in mind that if you are food insecure you may not have a car, or the time, to afford the luxury of shopping around. In cases where there was more than one option available I selected the least expensive item. Here is my costing:

 

Brown rice: $3.99

Cucumber: $.99 (this is not the lovely English cuke, but the kind with the skin you need to peel and the tough seeds because the English cuke was $2.99!)

Frozen shelled edamame: $3.69

Carrots: $2.89 (there were no loose carrots so I had to buy a whole bag even though the recipe only called for one)

2 cans of chunk light tuna: $3.58

Container of guacamole: $4.69 (In this case, an avocado would have been cheaper at $.99, on special, so we’ll go with that option.)

Cilantro: $2.49

Sriracha: $4.99

GRAND TOTAL: $23.61, or $5.90 per serving.

 

That’s not a bad price for a meal but it’s a far cry from the “$7.45 recipe / $1.86 serving” stated on the website.

 

Out of curiousity, I decided to go back an price out the Bittman infographic that prompted the original rant.

 

Romaine lettuce: $3.99

Potatoes: $1.89 (these were available singly so I weighed four of them)

Lemon: $.79

Whole wheat bread: $2.69 (I cringed to choose the cheap “whole wheat” not “whole grain wheat” variety. I also question the inclusion of this in the meal. Potatoes should suffice as a starch.)

Chicken: $14.30 (ouch!)

Milk: $2.28 (for one litre)

Olive Oil: $5.99 (This was the smallest, most affordable option. Fortunately, it was available in extra virgin.)

Salt: $1.99

Pepper: $5.19

GRAND TOTAL: $39.11, or $9.78 per serving.

 

Bittman had this meal priced at $13.78 total.

 

While many people will have some staples in their pantries, others will not, and these items will need to be replaced at some point. It’s also important to note that there is the hidden cost of labour incurred when preparing meals at home. The time spent grocery shopping and cooking and washing dishes is all time for which you are not being paid. It is time that would be saved by picking up a fast food meal.

 

This is not intended to discourage you from eating healthy and cooking meals at home. For those of us who are not food insecure, cooking for yourself (and your family) is probably the single most important thing that you can do for your health. It can also be a great way to bond with family members or housemates and involving children in food prep encourages them to enjoy new foods. With planning and budgeting, healthy home cooked meals are attainable by most of us. However, for those of us who are struggling to make ends meet, and for whom time and calories may outweigh cooking and nutrition, these calculations of meal costs are erroneous.