Shop Sustainable – Time

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Last week, we talked about how to find local sustainable food. This week we’re going to look at the realities of eating sustainably when you have a busy life and not a lot of time.

We all have crazy, hectic lives. We rush from one thing to another – to work, picking up children, running errands, and trying to have something of a social life. It can be stressful and not leave a lot of time for cooking and eating at a dinner table. So what can you do?

First, realize that stress over long periods can affect your health, weakening your immune system, making you more susceptible to disease and illness, and bring about depression, fatigue, over- or under-eating, and lower your quality of life. If you factor in a life of eating fast food and other non-nutritious food, you could be looking at some potentially big health problems down the road.

To relieve stress and to get a better quality of life, it is important to slow down a little. Many people find cooking to be meditative and relaxing. So, rather than viewing making meals as a chore, look at it as a way to relax and unwind. The time you spend shopping, cooking and eating a meal can be quality time you have with yourself to relax and enjoy the moment.

Having said that, it is true that most people simply don’t have the same amount of time to cook that some of our ancestors had. So here are some time saving tips to help you with cooking:

  • Chop vegetables in advance and leave in containers in the refrigerator. You can use them for several days.
  • Don’t try to cook a gourmet meal every night. Put some pasture-raised chicken in foil with butter and garlic, seal and put it in the oven, with some potatoes. While that’s cooking, steam or sauté some vegetables in safflower or sunflower oil, and you’re done. Waiting for the food to cook will take time that you can use to read a book, talk to a friend on the phone, or do laundry or some other chore.
  • If you’re not familiar with cooking, buy a cookbook that has recipes that take 30 minutes or less, and that use just a few ingredients. When you eat local sustainable food, you don’t have to disguise it with fancy sauces.
  • If you have a family, try to give everyone a chance to cook. Experiment with new recipes. Let your children try their hand at making a meal. Make it a family event, something you can all do together. If you have to, make time for cooking by saying “no” to the third sports team or other extracurricular activity. Your family will be much happier in the long run if you’re spending time together. Get everyone to slow down for at least one meal.
  • If you live alone or even with someone else, think about pot lucks or making dinners a couple nights a week with friends. One house could do all the cooking, or parts of the meal could be split between different people. Not only will you get great food to eat, you’ll be able to catch up on news and spend some time together. No iPhone or computer can ever replace the community and bonding that face to face human contact creates.
  • Leftovers can be your friend. Take leftovers to work for lunch, or use in a second meal the next night.
  • Cook in batches over the weekend. Freeze portions and eat as you see fit. I always try to have lentil soup, chili and spaghetti sauce in my freezer. On those days I simply can’t chop vegetables and cook, I pull out one of the containers and put it straight in the oven or into a pot on the stove. Freezing food in glass Pyrex containers means you can take it directly from freezer to oven, which means fewer dishes to wash.
  • Use the weekend for gourmet adventures. Go with family or friends to visit farms and see where your food comes from. At a minimum, find a farmers’ market and befriend your local farmer. They usually have great tips on how to cook the foods they sell.
  • A crock-pot can be your friend. Put everything into one pot and simmer it all day. When you get home, dinner is ready.

So, you see, cooking doesn’t have to take that much time, and can be quite enjoyable. So slow down, cook, and enjoy your meal tonight.

Next week…shopping sustainable on a budget.

(Diane Hatz is the Founder of Sustainable Table, Executive Producer of The Meatrix movies and co-Founder of the Eat Well Guide. This is the eighth installment in her series Guide to Good Food.)

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