So I’ve written about my whole living chartreuse concept before. Well, it started in the kitchen. Okay, that’s not really true. Really, it started on Netflix. It started with Food, Inc.
I don’t remember a whole lot from that movie, but I remember that my husband and I both had fires lit under us to change our eating habits, and I remember the huge motivation my son’s health was (and is).
We got started at adjusting our kitchen the very next morning. Since then, we’ve established some Chartreuse Kitchen Principles. Here’s what we live by.
The first rule is simple: we don’t eat food if we don’t know what’s in it. For example, I had never heard of disodium guanylate … but it was in a lot of my food. We always read ingredient labels and avoid the ones that read like a drunk scientist’s monologue.
No Red Foods
No, that doesn’t mean no ketchup. It means no ketchup with high fructose syrup. A ‘red food’ is a food which contains ingredients that are detrimental to your health, like high fructose corn syrup or MSG. Yellow ingredients don’t have any nutritional benefit, but they won’t kill you. Examples: corn starch and caramel. Green foods only contain ingredients that are beneficial. This means green beans are green. Green beans with added salt, on the other hand, are yellow.
I use the glossary at Label Watch to keep track of food color. I printed off a list of all the red ingredients on the website. Sometimes, at the store, I find a food I want to buy which has an ingredient or two that I don’t recognize. If they’re not on my (alphabetical) list, the light is green. Although, as I’ve said, I’m careful with this. I’d rather know what I’m eating.
Food From Scratch
This became a rule when I discovered that any bread on a supermarket shelf that retails for less than five dollars a loaf contains the dreaded high fructose corn syrup. (Seriously? Also in a lot of crackers. And everything else, too.) I also discovered that making bread at home is eeeeeasy. I throw together a loaf every three or four days, when I’m being good about it. It’s about ten minutes prep time, then an hour and a half of rising time (read: sit-on-your-butt-watching-a-movie time) and a half an hour of baking time.
I’ve discovered that a lot of foods you can buy commercially are easily made at home, from simple ingredients and without fancy gadgets. Crackers have four ingredients – oil, salt, water, and flour – and require an oven, a bowl, a cookie sheet, and two hands to make. Other good prep-at-home foods: pasta, pasta sauces, ranch dressing, cream of chicken, cream of [insert any vegetable here], onion flakes, tomato flakes, and more. This feeds into our next principle:
Yes. It’s more work. I’m not going to try to evade that one. It takes more time to cook a loaf of bread than to buy one, and it takes more time to make homemade mac’n’cheese than it does to whip up a box of Kraft. It can also be more expensive. I’ve whittled down the cost of healthy eating to roughly what we were paying before, but it took some time and practice.
Honestly, though, food tastes better and is more rewarding. If my husband says, “Thanks for dinner, love,” it means a heck of a lot more when it’s homemade tomato pasta than when it was hamburger helper. Not to mention the whole health thing, which is why we started this in the first place.
You Don’t Have to Moderate Spices, Baby
Humans favor three particularly unhealthy flavors: salt, fat, and sweet. All of these are fine in moderation, as most people know. But you know what? You don’t have to moderate oregano. You can dump as much mustard seed in that polenta as you want. You could even eat basil straight, if you’re weird and everything. I love that! Our menu is much more varied and interesting now. Cooking is an experiment and an adventure; we have discovered probably twenty new flavors to enjoy.
We’ve gone mostly meatless. This one isn’t so much a health concern as a fiscal one. We simply can’t afford to buy lots of meat. I’ve heard, though, that a plant-based diet is much healthier, and if you look back over history, it’s conveniently true that most people only ate meat when they could get it, which was much less often than us, and they did just fine. I’ve learned a lot of vegetarian recipes and I limit myself to two carnivorous dinners per week. And it is downright exciting to see my grocery cart two thirds filled with produce!
Principles to Come
I’ve always said I have a black thumb instead of a green one, but I do have a small plot of dirt I can play with and they say vegetables are the easiest plants to grow. Since it’s not yet planting time where I live, I haven’t been able to try this yet, but soon. Very soon.
There’s not a whole lot of food available to can right now, since the farmer’s markets won’t open for a few months and I don’t yet have a vegetable garden. But this is another one I’ll be doing, to take advantage of the summer bounty all year round, without worrying about additives or questionable processing.
… and, hey, anyone got any other ideas for me?