The Healthier “Happy Meal” (sans GMOs)

Ina with spoon soup-300x168

Three weeks ago I began a class out of my kitchen, called “Meatless Mondays in Ina’s Kitchen.”  Meatless Mondays is a concept I wrote about last June, in Oasis in Aisle 6 – the Life-saving Legumes. From Aspen, CO, a savvy vision of some 20 institutions and restaurants joined a nationwide pro-veggie effort by taking the leap of faith into the world of food beyond meat for their Monday night fare. In trickle down fashion, if the trendsetters of Aspen could do this, America might catch on more enthusiastically. And I think it has.

So for the month of March, I’ve opened up my kitchen to 8 eager participants who come hungry and receptive to what I’ve prepared and set before them. (Next week is the last class in the series.) Each week I have a theme or two, and a menu that exemplifies the themes. The foods chosen reflect the transition into spring and the produce being as seasonal and local as possible. (This March has proven UNSEASONABLY warm even by NJ’s changing standards …high 60’s and mid 70’s!)

I also had a secret mission of my own to achieve: If possible, I wanted my Meatless     Monday meal to come in at about $5 a person – so including my husband and me in the equation – I wanted to keep my cost close to $50 – cooking for 10 people. Add to that organically grown – hence from my local Whole Foods supermarket – since my CSA hasn’t started yet.

So I’m here to share with you, dear GoodFood World readers, the menus and prices. Recipes are linked below, and I’m in progress with many additional vegetarian recipes on my website (ContinuumLiving.US). Also, you can read more about beans and legumes on my latest blog post. Please note that I didn’t go in with the price goal preceding the food choices. I thought of the menu based on the themes, bought the food, and it truly cost this price. So I am as heartened and surprised as you may be.

Week 1

Our main topic was the “30 minute meal” – most everyone’s weeknight-max cooking goal. Pasta is often the first line of default one chooses when wanting to include a vegetarian dinner into the week’s menu, especially if you’re unfamiliar with eating vegetarian meals. Easily embellished in any number of ways, it’s a good choice.

But because pasta is so familiar and chosen, I didn’t focus on it. Instead, I used black beans (pressure cooked) to exemplify ease and versatility with this goal. I’ve enjoyed black beans as a staple food for 28 years now. It’s one that has repeatedly found its way onto my family’s plate, bowl, chip, taco, egg or wrap over the decades.

One last note – I like to think of myself as one who practices extreme moderation when it comes to food “rules.” I try to buy organic, seasonal and local as often as reasonably possible, but as you’ll see… I am elastic as well.

MENU:

  • Vegetable juice cocktail – Organic: Carrot, celery, dandelion greens, beet, granny smith apple
  • Black beans over
  • Mexican style rice (basmati rice with tumeric, vegetable broth powder, tab of butter and fresh parsley)
  • Sliced avocado (I know – never a local food in NJ!)
  • Cast iron sautéed asparagus (not yet seasonal in NJ, but coming in a month)
  • Salad

COST:

$13.25 – Vegetable juice cocktail, 6 cups

$15.50 – Organic black beans (bought beans in bulk @$ $2.09/lb, used 3 cups dry, for 10 people) with: red & yellow pepper, tomato, USDA organic “Sno Pac” brand corn nibblets, cilantro & lime

$4.00 – Melted organic jack cheese w/ jalapeno pepper

$4.20 – Organic Lundberg basmati rice (bought in bulk @ $2.79/lb, used 3 cups dry)

$8.54 – 3.15 lbs of asparagus ($3.99/lb), not yet local but coming soon, so I demonstrated cast iron sautéed asparagus

$6.25 – sliced avocado, 5 @ 1.25 each (on sale, not organic, otherwise I would have had fewer!)

TOTAL: $ 51.74  – $5.17 per person

Week 2

The focus was on two major themes: mileage food and staples. Mileage food is what I call anything that can be cooked in enough quantity to use immediately AND to freeze for later use! Cooking even once a week like this creates a storehouse of possibility in one’s freezer over time, and, as I’ve logged my nightly dinners for the class each week, it becomes very obvious how often my easeful meals have aspects of something frozen to draw upon. Mileage foods are things like soups, stews, chilies, (meat or vegetarian) casseroles, burgers, vegetable patties, pesto (if you make it in the summer).

I categorize my staples into 4 pillars: fresh seasonal produce, grains, legumes/beans and condiments. Staples (as I have categorized them) along with some mileage foods makes everyday meals an easeful occurrence. Please read In the Kitchen with Ina – part 2 for a fuller discussion of staples.

Menu

COST:

$20 – Early spring vegetable soup, made 6 quarts, made with organic: leeks, celery, rainbow chard, sorrel; new potatoes, snow peas

$16 – Unmeatloaf, made w/ organic green lentils (bulk $1.99 lb, used 4 cups dry=s $4), whole wheat organic cous cous (32 oz/$9, used 2 cups=s $4.50), sautéed veggies /$7

$6.87 – Yams (Organic jewel yams $2.49/lb)

$6.50 – Dinosaur Kale (organic, $3.49/bunch & bulk portabella mushrooms – $3)

TOTAL: $49.46 – UNDER $5 A PERSON!

I think this a BIG DEAL, worthy of America’s attention. Step aside MacDonald’s, you’re not the only place that can boast a “happy meal” for $5. Fast food junk joints of America… I say your days are numbered. WE CAN EAT SMARTER, HEALTHIER, MORE SUSTAINABLY, AND VERY DELICIOUSLY… more and more often… and make a difference to the health of ourselves, each other and our planet. Come on… all together now!

Until next time –

Keep me posted.

Ina

P.S. Look for weeks 3 & 4 next article!