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The Pantry Cookbook
How to cook nutritious meals from scratch, on a budget, when time is short.
Written and Compiled by Michelle Clay
This book is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported. This means you are free to share (copy, distribute, transmit) the book, and you are also free to adapt the work, so long as you attribute the work to Michelle Clay. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. However, you may sell copies of this book so long as all profits go to support food banks, school or community gardens, or similar programs that address hunger or nutrition issues.
We Eat the Wrong Things
Here in the U.S. we eat too many of the wrong sorts of foods. Fast food, restaurants, and pre-packaged foods leave out nutritious, whole ingredients in favor of cheap fats and sugars. Because these foods are so convenient, we eat too many empty calories, and not enough of the other nutrition that we need to stay healthy. The results are obesity, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and other health problems.
What Are the Wrong Things?
Sugary drinks: soda, energy and sports drinks, etc.
Fast foods: hamburgers, pizza, hot dogs, French fries, etc.
Snacks: potato chips, corn chips, candy, etc.
Grain-based desserts: donuts, cookies, cake, pie, sweet rolls, etc.
Dairy desserts: ice cream, etc.
Pre-packaged foods: mac-n-cheese, canned pasta, frozen meals, etc.
Fruit drinks: juice that contains less than 100% juice.
Any of these foods would be okay in moderation, but the fact is that we are not eating them in moderation.
What is in these foods that is so bad? Fats, sugars, and salt.
Some salt is necessary to a healthy diet. However, snack foods, pre-packaged foods, and food from restaurants, especially fast-food restaurants, tend to include far more salt in a single meal than is good for us.
Some fat is necessary to a healthy diet. Fats supply essential fatty acids, and help the body to absorb vitamins A, D, E, and K. In general, “solid fats” - fats which are solid at room temperature - are less good for you than “oils“. Food from restaurants, especially fast-food restaurants, tend to include far more fat in a single meal than is good for us.
Some sugar is necessary to a healthy diet. Sugar is a carbohydrate, and carbohydrates are what fuel our bodies. However, “added” sugars, such as white sugar and high fructose corn syrup, are not necessary at all. These added sugars are what make soda, sweetened fruit drinks, and desserts taste sweet. Refined carbohydrates from white flour and white rice are also bad for us in excess. Our bodies function best on “complex” carbohydrates, such as those found in whole grains.
Why Don’t We Eat the Right Things?
People used to eat more whole grains, until someone figured out that if the brown outer layer was processed off of the wheat or rice, then the grains had a much longer shelf-life. Similarly, salt, sugar, and oil were found to be excellent preservatives of food. Almost all preserved foods last longer at the expense of nutrition.
Storing foods for a long time protects populations from starvation when crop failures occur. So over the centuries, we have survived by developing a taste for foods that are overly salty, overly processed, overly oily, and less nutritious. This is in addition to an ancient instinct to eat high-calorie foods when we can get them.
Restaurants and food manufacturers capitalize on our taste for fats, sugars, and salts, because it is cheaper for them to cook from preserved ingredients than it is for them to make food from whole, fresh ingredients, and because the more extra salt, sugar, and fat that they add, the more we are willing to pay for and eat what they cook. Additionally, most restaurants do not consider themselves obligated to cook nutritious and low-calorie meals. By contrast, when we cook for ourselves and our families, and especially our children, we must strive to cook and serve nutritious food, in order to be healthy.
What Are the Right Foods?
The most nutrient-rich foods, low calorie foods we can eat are whole grains, vegetables, eggs and low-fat dairy, lean meats, poultry, seafood, nuts and seeds. When we cook with these things from scratch, the results are far better for us.
Isn’t it More Difficult to Cook from Scratch?
Yes and no. Cooking from scratch can be very difficult, but this cookbook focuses on recipes that are easy to cook.
Isn’t it More Expensive to Cook from Scratch?
Yes and no. This cookbook focuses on ingredients that are inexpensive and easy to find.
Doesn’t it Take Longer to Cook from Scratch?
Yes and No. This cookbook focuses on three types of recipes: those that can be cooked in a hurry, those that can be cooked in advance and then reheated, and those which can be cooked in advance and then used as an ingredient in a quick recipe.