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Ditching processed foods won’t be easy – The barriers to cooking from scratch (npr.org)
32 points by tshannon 30 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 119 comments



> First, it takes money. Healthier diets... generally cost more... They note that the unprocessed diet they fed participants cost 40% more than the ultra-processed diet.

And yet, a paragraph later:

> Lots of families in our study cooked almost every night, in part because it was the cheapest option

So wait, hold on, is cooking more expensive or not? What are they eating that's supposedly healthier but significantly more expensive?

> the labor of shopping (often at multiple stores)

What major grocery chain doesn't carry everything needed to make dinner?

> This means making healthy food more affordable, but it also means addressing the other challenges families face: for example, by guaranteeing workers a living wage and fair working conditions and by investing in families through universal free school lunch and subsidized child care, so that parents don't feel like they're doing it all on their own.

Wait, hold on, what? I thought we were talking about food cooking barriers? I can understand the connection to free school lunch (make sure kids get one solid meal in them a day, if you can call government supplied cafeteria materials food), but, what?


> So wait, hold on, is cooking more expensive or not?

You spend more if you buy and cook fresh produce. You spend less if you only cook rice and beans. The latter is less healthy than the former.

> What major grocery chain doesn't carry everything needed to make dinner?

Not every store with food is a grocery store. Dollar stores and corner stores do not stock an abundance of fresh produce, beans, flour, etc. People may have to go to multiple stores to find the items they need.

> I thought we were talking about food cooking barriers?

Yes. Not having child care is a food cooking barrier. Not having money or the time to prepare school lunch is a food cooking barrier. Not having access to grocery stores or a car is a food cooking barrier. As is access to food assistance programs, not being paid enough, not having access to good public transit, insecure or unaffordable housing, etc.

In 2009, over 2% of the US population lived in a food desert, and in 2017, 11.8% of US households were food-insecure. Of that 11.8%, 4.5% had very low food security.


I guess part of the problem is comparing "unhealthy" processed foods with cooking "healthy" food?

I can cook food for a whole day for about €1. It will mostly be potatoes and lack any nutrients, but it will be a lot cheaper than any processed food I could buy. Or I can cook something with fresh ingredients and lots of fiber and nutrients, but those ingredients are expensive to buy in part because handling time sensitive squishy stuff makes every step of the supply chain more expensive.


In the USA real food is extremely inexpensive. That 1 Euro will buy you 2-3 dozen eggs or at least half a kilo of beef or chicken. Potatoes are 1.50 USD for a 5 lb bag (2.26kg).

Processed food in the USA is very expensive. Frozen pizza, chips, cookies, frozen dinners, cereals, etc can cost more than Grass Fed Organic beef per lb. We have a Grocer called Sprouts that has Grass Fed Ground Beef for $2.99lb USD. A frozen pizza at Walmart is 4.99 USD. A bag of Potato Chips is $2.99 at Walmart.

If you get a chance check out any USA Grocery flier and you will be shocked at how little real food costs.


We could argue on the health level of what you call real food (pesticides, antibiotic and stuff)

But as a european (french) guy I must say that I was very surprised, when visiting 2 weeks in Brooklyn, to find that grocery was not as expensive as I was expecting. At all.

You are totally right.

We could eat real meals every night after a tourist day, for around same prices than in France.


I agree. I want to add the rumor that you can live on potatoes alone. At least one guy reported he did it for six weeks and the medical checks did not find any malnutrition. Don’t know how scientific that anecdote is, though.


Potatoes and milk was the diet that enabled the Irish population explosion prior to the famine.

https://www.dochara.com/the-irish/food-history/food-in-irela...

"The burgeoning population lived on a diet comprised mainly of potatoes and milk, which if eaten in sufficient quantity is a surprisingly nutritious, if monotonous, diet. It is also relatively tasty and easy to prepare."


Potatoes are a complete, if poor, protein source. You'll live. For a long while at least.


Produce should generally be the cheapest part of anyone's shopping experience. I can get an insane amount of fruits and veggies for 20 bucks. 20 bucks doesn't go very far with meats and prepackaged foods though.


Well actually potatoes provide almost all the nutrients one needs, including fibre if you eat the skin.


I think your basic point is dead on, but I'm pretty sure ramen is significantly cheaper than potato for the same amount of calories.


The large sacks of rice you get from asian shops might be cheaper still.

The advantage of potatoes is that there is a large number of recipes that consist almost entirely of potatoes (mashed potatoes, hash browns, roast potatoes, boiled potatoes, potato chips, etc.) so there's a lot of variety in a fixed budget.


Wheat and buckwheat is even cheaper if you go that way, but it takes longer time to cook.

Rice ultimately is cheap only because of labour costs. It takes tons of water to grow.


The article is poorly written. Nothing is defined. What is highly processed? How much of it? Is this diet typical of a significant number of people?

Plus, benefiting a majority of people is worthwhile even if those at the periphery are not helped.


> So wait, hold on, is cooking more expensive or not? What are they eating that's supposedly healthier but significantly more expensive?

They might be "cooking" every night, but they're not necessarily cooking from scratch. A pack of ramen boiled on the stove with a flavor packet added is technically cooked by their definition of "cooking", but it's still ultra-processed: the amount of sodium added by the flavor packet is nearly an order of magnitude greater than if they had simply boiled some rice noodles from scratch and added their own seasonings of salt, soy sauce, etc. Not to mention any of the vegetables the package provided are freeze dried, and likely coated with stabilizers and preservatives. A "from scratch" version of ramen that paired the noodles with freshly chopped peas, carrots, or spring onions would be significantly healthier.

This is really the heart of NPR's argument, I think: there is a substantial hump that people must get over to think about leaving the can of marinara sauce on the shelf and buying canned tomatoes, an onion, and garlic instead. There's a time and labor investment, not to mention an initial loss of satisfaction when the recipe fails to come out properly the first few times.


'Cooking' doesn't necessarily mean making your own tomato sauce. It's making something instead of eating a frozen lasagna or pizza.

A big part of the issue is the food stamp or SNAP culture. When you get your allotment for the monht it's easy to just go fill your cart with bad choices.

Caseworkers should be assigned to help show people how to cook, give out kits with cutting boards and pans and such. Recipe cards, that kind of thing. Maybe even subsidize meal delivery options (like HelloFresh) for a few weeks to get people started.


> A big part of the issue is the food stamp or SNAP culture. When you get your allotment for the monht it's easy to just go fill your cart with bad choices.

People make bad choices whether or not they're on SNAP. Our entire food culture revolves mostly around bad choices.


> Maybe even subsidize meal delivery options (like HelloFresh) for a few weeks to get people started.

That was actually the direction I thought the article was going to go. Some kind of subsidized program to bootstrap the ability to cook decent meals from raw ingredients quickly.


>So wait, hold on, is cooking more expensive or not?

Just to answer this one part - the cooking itself is generally cheaper than eating out constantly.

But that's after you jump over the barrier to entry of pots, pans, utensils, stove, cleaning supplies, and materials in bulk. And once you've learned how to cook. The only thing worse than wasting money on a poorly prepared meal is knowing that you can't afford to not eat the garbage.


Any half way decent pots and pans will last you decades. I have a set of stainless steel pans that I bought nearly forty years ago that are in near perfect condition and in use several times a week now but every day when my children were growing up.

And really there isn't much to learn about cooking healthy food. Most of the fancy techniques don't apply. And you can get perfectly good utensils like spatulas and ladles, etc., for a dollar each or visit a charity shop (thrift store in the US).


> > First, it takes money. Healthier diets... generally cost more... They note that the unprocessed diet they fed participants cost 40% more than the ultra-processed diet. > And yet, a paragraph later:

> > Lots of families in our study cooked almost every night, in part because it was the cheapest option

> So wait, hold on, is cooking more expensive or not? What are they eating that's supposedly healthier but significantly more expensive?

The next sentence is: "But when their cupboards ran bare, they ate ramen and hot dogs, not a pan of roast chicken and vegetables, as food gurus recommend."

> > This means making healthy food more affordable, but it also means addressing the other challenges families face: for example, by guaranteeing workers a living wage and fair working conditions and by investing in families through universal free school lunch and subsidized child care, so that parents don't feel like they're doing it all on their own.

> Wait, hold on, what? I thought we were talking about food cooking barriers? I can understand the connection to free school lunch (make sure kids get one solid meal in them a day, if you can call government supplied cafeteria materials food), but, what?

All of these have fairly obvious connections to food preparation time. If you do backbreaking labor all day, or work two or three jobs because none of them individually pay enough to support you, you won't have much time or energy to spend on food preparation.

And there are the sentences just a few paragraphs earlier: "At a minimum, it requires a working stove and enough money to pay the electric bill to run the stove. One family in our book experienced homelessness during the time we spent with the family. Patricia Washington, her daughter and her two grandchildren moved into a hotel room after being evicted when they couldn't keep up with both the rent and the heating bill." Point being, economic barriers are food preparation barriers.


> So wait, hold on, is cooking more expensive or not? What are they eating that's supposedly healthier but significantly more expensive?

Cooking unprocessed meals is more expensive than cooking ultra-processed meals. Cooking at home, however, is less expensive than eating out, which appears to be the reference they are making in the second quote.

> What major grocery chain doesn't carry everything needed to make dinner?

For those shopping on a budget, going to multiple stores may be necessary based on pricing differences between stores (including consideration of sales or coupons for different products).


Depends if you're comparing like with like, surely?

At least here it is impossible to get say a prepared ready meal curry or shepherd's pie that works out anywhere near as cheap as cooking it yourself. Especially once you've allowed for portion sizes and the 5kg of potatoes, the carrots and onions covering other meals as well. Ready meals appear to only offer time.

I can probably find something that works out cheaper - noodles, unpleasant budget range 50p pizzas maybe. Tinned macaroni cheese will indeed be cheaper, as it's incomparable with home made. Tinned curries etc work out much more than making your own.


You can definitely find certain items/dishes where it is cheaper to buy already made instead of making yourself - rotisserie chickens in the US are a perfect example of that. On the whole, though, cooking at home is less expensive than eating out.


> Wait, hold on, what? I thought we were talking about food cooking barriers? I can understand the connection to free school lunch (make sure kids get one solid meal in them a day, if you can call government supplied cafeteria materials food), but, what?

I agree, I am in support of reducing income inequality etc but I feel like it is a bit dishonest to link these two issues so directly.

The low-income people I know cook at home more, not less. It's cheaper than processed junk if done correctly.


One can cook processed meals at home. The supplementary material has the diets: https://www.cell.com/cms/10.1016/j.cmet.2019.05.008/attachme...


Note that cooking often is not the same as cooking long. Some of the low processed foods are just offloading the processing onto you taking more time.

Salads don't make themselves. Veggies don't remove skin and wooden parts on their own.

You could eat many of the vegetables whole.

The best light processing that allows some of this to be offloaded and batched is freezing...


they mean cooking is cheaper than eating from a restaurant

--

preparing a healthy lunch every day for your kid is difficult and time consuming and uses up family food budget

--

You can get an entire frozen pizza for about $1, a box of mac & cheese for about $1, etc


[flagged]


I mean, it's partially true. In cities there is such a thing as "food deserts" where it is hard to find fresh affordable groceries. But I admit, part of it is also just poor education/culture.

In the area I live, there are no affordable American grocery stores. There is, however, McDonald's and a Wendy's with cheap fast food.

If you are in the know, however, there is an affordable Latin American grocer that sells bulk rice, lentils, beans, tortillas, even some produce, etc. I almost never see Americans in there, but I see tons of El Salvadorian immigrants. Their culture involves cooking from raw ingredients more than ours though so I suspect they save a lot of money that way. Lentils, rice, and beans are way better for you than McChickens/fries.


It's funny that the poor immigrants cook/eat just fine while the poor Americans who were born here just do the $ for 4 at Wendy's


QED.

As I said in my now flagged previous comment (why?) cost of food is not an issue at all.


This article is written as if you have to be able to make fancy “foodie” or restaurant style meals to avoid ultra processed foods.

Wouldn’t cracking a can of beans and a bag of rice qualify as well? Our ancestors had far less resources than us and still managed to make food without spaghetti-o cans or ramen packets.

Referencing people living in hotel rooms or who don’t own a knife seems like a distraction. Obviously being homeless is bad, but there are plenty of people who can afford a $10 knife and have a stove in their residence who still eat ultra processed diets and become obese.


> can of beans

That's processed food. Perhaps healthier than other processed food, but not the same as cooking beans from scratch.

https://www.superfoodly.com/are-canned-beans-healthy/

And cooking beans from scratch involves about 5 minutes of labor, including soaking them overnight, throwing them in a pot, and setting an alarm for when they are done cooking.


You can get low salt canned beans, or just rinse them. And it's not as if most people would avoid salting their cooking dry beans.

If cooking with salt makes a food "processed" and thereby to be avoided, there's pretty much nothing left but raw veggies.


Rinsing a can of beans decreases the sodium content significantly. Also, it can be a bit of a lifestyle adjustment to think ahead on meals, which is why canned and processed foods are popular in the first place.


In the UK it's easy to find unsalted canned beans. E.g., from the biggest supermarket chain:

https://www.tesco.com/groceries/en-GB/search?query=beans%20i...


Canned beans may be processed but they are not “ultra processed” which is what the study is about. They’re just cooked beans in a can.


“bodega beans” are really cheap. http://www.amateurgourmet.com/2007/12/rachel_whartons.html

the trick is that you have to accept eating repetitive meals that aren’t the most exciting thing.


Yeah the article really doesn't define "from scratch".

IMO some good chicken (there are varying levels of processing and quality out there so let's assume it's good), potatoes, and veggies can be done relatively quickly.

It still takes work to some extent but I'm not at all sure exactly what that article means by "from scratch". This article kinda sucks as it isn't at all clear what they're talking about.


>Our ancestors had far less resources than us and still managed to make food without spaghetti-o cans or ramen packets.

So poor people should live like medieval serfs?


If medieval serfs had a healthier diet than why not?

But my point is even poor people in the USA generally have access to a much higher standard of living than a serf. Unlike a medieval peasant there are many easy to access non-ultraprocessed foods that are also cheap. Pretty much every rental apartment or home has a stove and most have an oven.

Focusing on increasing wealth, as the article does, doesn’t really make sense to me. The middle class suffers from the obesity crisis too, for the same dietary reasons.


I would like to see more efforts like this:

* https://efficiencyiseverything.com/calorie-per-dollar-list/

* https://efficiencyiseverything.com/The-Cookbook-v-1.4.pdf

* https://efficiencyiseverything.com/Weekly_Groceries.pdf

Honestly, it is not that expensive to cook at home. The "foodie" industry fills the Internet with recipes that are complicated and expensive, and this can definitely be a barrier for people who don't know how to cook. But once you learn to avoid recipes with 10+ ingredients, it's actually less of a time commitment than running out for fast food, as long as you have ingredients on hand.

Once you know what you like and you always have your staples available, it becomes almost automatic. It does take time to learn this and develop your own system, however.


Seriously, it bugs me when people try to cook and start with a giant, very precise recipe that has you using multiple pans and a laundry list of fresh herbs and spices. That might be fun for a special occasion but it's not a good way to introduce beginners to cooking. Salt, pepper, olive oil. Then go get any vegetables, grains and proteins that you like. Work your way up from there.


Or don't and cook Korean. ;)

(Their dishes are components tossed together mostly.)


You're leaving out the time it takes to shop (many poor people live in food deserts and would have to travel quite far for things like fish sauce and green onion) and the time it takes to cook (in between working two jobs and taking care of a child). Time is the much more valuable resource as it relates to healthy cooking and eating.


Food deserts are probably the biggest issue for some low-income people. This is a big problem and obviously needs to be addressed, especially for people who may not have access to transportation.

Cooking itself does not have to take that much time. Many recipes can be prepared using rough chopping and only occasional observation/adjustment.


Cooking is a skill and like any skill it takes time to both do it, and get better, and worse is when you fail it really sucks as you've spent a lot of time and you're not happy with what you're eating.... that time, effort, and such is a huge barrier.

A lot of people without a lot of money often don't have a huge amount of time to invest in other things either. Long before I had a better job I worked multiple jobs, went to school, I ate in my car on the way to doing things maybe 60 or 70% of the time. All in an effort to do things that would help me move on. The idea of staying home and coking regularly (and spending extra money gathering up the food etc) was out of the question. Being poor is exhausting.

Having said that I'm not sure what this article means by "cooking from scratch". Would throwing some chicken, veggies, potatoes on the grill count?

There are a lot of varying levels of effort that to me would still count as "cooking" and not just warming some reprocessed stuff.


> "Lots of families in our study cooked almost every night, in part because it was the cheapest option. But when their cupboards ran bare, they ate ramen and hot dogs, not a pan of roast chicken and vegetables, as food gurus recommend. Mothers said that if they had more money, they'd buy fresh fruit for their kids, but this was just an occasional splurge, not an everyday reality. Even the more financially stable middle-class mothers in our study talked about making trade-offs between the foods they wanted to buy for their families and the foods they felt they could afford."

Chicken, veggies and potatoes, as well as the grill, all cost money. The grill especially. That's a large initial investment - yes, you can buy a cheap grill, but then you have to buy the propane, and the food that comes off it going to be much harder to get palatable.


My grill is made of some bricks and a grate, both are picked up at the nearest junkyard.

Getting free firewood requires some elbow grease though...


You've now limited the people who can follow your advice to people with a backyard large enough to put a brick and grate grill in.


And with neighbors who won't report them to the HOA.


Yes, throwing stuff on the grill absolutely counts.

It always surprises me when people say cooking is time consuming and expensive.

Fine, I get it, making venison stuffed artichokes with truffle sauce would be indeed difficult and pricey. But that's not what most people eat every day.

Take a cabbage head. Cut it. Add a spoon of lemon juice, two spoons of olive oil and a pinch of salt. Here's two out of five-a-day for a family of four. Price: under 3 dollars. Effort: 10 minutes. Skill: none required.

Boil potato (peeling is optional). Sprinkle with parmesan. Cheap. Tasty. Reasonably healthy. Under 5 minutes of active effort.


But it is not only time and skill, but money and environment as well. In addition to the healthier food possibly costing more, you have to own a grill. And a location that allows for grills (apartment complexes often ban them, and have awful community ones). And the weather has to be appropriate for grilling.


Totally, I lived in an apartment where i couldn't grill years ago.

Those were two summers just lost to time... if I can't grill at least once in a while it isn't summer.


And plenty of ingredients that you use in cooking from scratch are processed in some way. Not that I am disagreeing with the main idea.

NPR do seem to think that every one should be cooking the traditional European roast dinner here - there are other ways of cooking from scratch that are much faster.


Yeah I'm not at all sure what their "from scratch" definition is exactly. You can go pretty far back "from scratch"... or still "cook" and avoid a lot of processed things ... not sure what they mean exactly.


Seeing these articles always illustrates how some things are out of the ordinary in the US, but which other countries take for granted. In Greece, for example, cooking a meal every day is the norm, as in many other countries I've been to.

I wonder how the US society has "forgotten" this practice.


Time. Two working parents or one working single parent. Ideally just 40 hours a week, but could be more than that, depending on career field.

School for kids. After school if grades are struggling. Or after school if you're in an 'at-risk' category (see single parent or low income)

Formalized, scheduled, regimented sports/activities after school.

Formalized 'family bonding' events at schools or community centers that are, for all intents and purposes, required by societal pressures.

All of these things take time. Pre-made meals are an easy, convenient way to save time.


My parents both worked full-time (40h per week) when I was a kid in Germany. My mother cooked fresh daily, she just dropped by the supermarket on her way home from work, in and out in 10 minutes max. We went out to eat maybe twice a year. This was in the 90ies, but it is still very much the norm in Europe to cook at home, daily, especially if you have kids. To be honest, with the expection of frozen pizza, I wouldn't even know how to cook processed / pre-prepared food, we don't have a microwave oven in the kitchen (my parents had one in the 80ies and 90ies and only used it to heat milk).


We do all of that as well, except the "family bonding" events, so I don't think that's it...


Sample Size: 1

Not meant to be snarky, but honestly, the one thing I've learned in life is that just because I can do it, doesn't mean everyone else's life is the same.


One is not equal to zero, though. One data point is way, way more indicative of something than zero data points.


Okay?

Again, this is not intended to be snarky - if we're flexing anecdotal data, I personally know 40 families for who (whom?) my statements are true.


I don't understand what you mean. I'm saying your statements are true for Greeks as well, so it doesn't explain why Greeks cook and Americans don't.


Oh baby did I read that wrong. I read that to mean my family instead of all of Greece.

I do wonder what the difference is.


Oh, I see. I think maybe the boomers switched because of the convenience and didn't mind the cost, and then society forgot how to cook? Whereas here eating out a lot is very expensive, so we just didn't do it.


In the US poorer families have more free time (leisure time) than richer families. Examples abound: https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/09/the-fre...

"Time" as an excuse seems unlikely as the breaking thing here. Even just mass cultural amnesia is more plausible.


The reasons are likely pretty complex and inter-related. Some are hinted at in the article.

Two reasons from my point of view: The decline in stay-at-home parents I feel would be a big one. With both parents working, the ability to cook 'from scratch' (for some definition of 'from scratch') 3 meals a day is greatly diminished. Especially with modern parenting responsibilities - try cooking that meal as a single parent with a young child underfoot.

Also, cooking requires practice and intuition, which can't come from reading a book or following online guides. These skills were generally practiced and honed in families. Once a generation forgets how to cook, that knowledge cannot be passed on and must be re-learned from the beginning. This is exacerbated with family members moving away for economic reasons.

The learning part takes a lot of time and some bad meals to start to get right.


I think you nailed it with your second point (most households here have two working parents as well). We only cook one meal, though, not three, so that reduces the workload.


> I wonder how the US society has "forgotten" this practice.

Two working parents and non-multi-generational homes.


> Two working parents

Over here you can't afford rent if both parents don't work, so that can't be it. Maybe the non-multi-generational homes, but not many couples stay with their parents, so that's probably not it either.


A regular oven is one of the best tools you have to make food from scratch, yet people seem to want to find every way to avoid using them. They try to use toaster ovens, microwave ovens, convection ovens, air fryers, instant pots, etc... when most of the time a regular oven can do the job. You can make a whole meal with a few baking sheets and 45 minutes. You just put the stuff in and check on it once in a while. Take out the veg after 25 min. It doesn’t get much easier than that.


I disagree. A regular oven is slow and inefficient because of the high thermal mass (taking a long time to heat to working temperature), and it's hard to control.

IMO, the most valuable cooking tool is the microwave oven. You can cook grains (pasta, rice, oatmeal etc.) and frozen vegetables, and you can reheat canned beans. It's fast and flexible, and much cheaper and smaller than a regular oven.

Second most valuable cooking tool is an electric pressure cooker. This lets you cook dry beans (cheaper than canned), and some have a saute mode for when you're making something fancy. It's better than the microwave for cooking large quantities of food, because you don't need to stir it for even heat distribution. And you can even cook bread in a pressure cooker if you don't mind a soft crust.


A microwave is indeed a very powerful kitchen tool, however almost nobody knows how to use it. People blast food at high power because they can’t wait 2 more minutes for a lower power cycle. To most people, a microwave’s primary function is to “cook” frozen/processed foods like TV dinners and burritos, which is exactly the type of food the OP article is talking about avoiding. You also absolutely cannot cook meat in a microwave oven and expect it to come out palatable (and if you just expect people to not eat meat you’re out of touch with reality).

So when talking about getting away from processed foods, it’s very helpful to also get away from the microwave, because people have such a strong association of the two things.

An oven can do it all. Once you accept the concept and master it, you then stop looking for shortcuts in other gadgets.


One trick is getting the seasoning right, the other is getting the cooking times right.

An easy meal is to cut various vegetables up, season, and bake. Potato, green beans, onion, bell pepper, broccoli, whatever they have on sale. Of course the potato has to be e cut smaller than the broccoli or the broccoli will be disintegrated or incinerated by the time the potato is done cooking.


Or cook things on separate pans so you can take them out when each is done.


I think one of the issues is that a lot of people simply don't know how to cook and these one off tools like insta pots or whatever make it clear what to do for what and how.

An oven doesn't make anything apparent and a lot of ovens are terrible with hot and cold spots and just suck at being ovens in general.


Where I live, firing up the oven heats the house noticeably, which is nice in the winter and a huge energy cost in the summer (oven plus A/C). I like grilling stuff outside when I can.


For our family, time is the problem. I do almost all of the cooking, and -- much like when estimating software development -- often tend to underestimate how long even a fairly simple recipe will take. As I become a more experienced cook I become more efficient, but some nights we still end up eating quite late. Add to that non-trivial time for dishes/cleanup, and indeed, this rings true:

The middle-class families in our study had more resources and more options but felt completely overwhelmed by hectic schedules and competing demands that left little time to cook.

One strategy is batch cooking in advance on weekends and freezing meals, but for various reasons, we've been fairly poor at that.

Incidentally, if you want to get better at cooking, I highly recommend Cook's Illustrated / America's Test Kitchen, in particular, their special edition magazines. They provide recipes but also techniques and the science behind the recipes.

This one in particular is a gold mine and is almost falling apart from heavy use:

https://shop.americastestkitchen.com/special-issues/cook-s-i...


I recently changed how I eat, mostly chicken thighs, stir fry beef, rice and canned / frozen vegetables depending on the deals for the week. Oatmeal for breakfast.

Meals are clocking in between $0.90 and $2.50 per serving, It's pretty cheap to eat unprocessed foods, it's just gets kind of repetitive. I feel much better than I did when I was eating processed stuff and my food budget is much smaller.


> it's just gets kind of repetitive.

Look into herbs and other seasonings, and different cooking methods. Chinese cooking for example makes excellent use of them to make very different dishes from the same raw ingredients. A little bit of soy, Chinese cooking wine, and spring onions added to scrambled eggs is very different from steamed eggs for example.


> First, it takes money. Healthier diets — diets rich in fresh produce and lean proteins — generally cost more.

2.5 kilos of potatoes usually cost between 1-2 EUR here. As a single person, you can live days on this. Compare this to a single frozen pizza, which usually costs the same (1-2 EUR). 2kg of carrots cost 1.99 EUR in my local supermarket, you can get it way cheaper at Aldi. A package of soup vegetables (consisting of 1-2 carrots, an onion, a quarter celery, leek and fresh parsley) is usually below 1 EUR and is (together with a can of tomatoes for 0.39 EUR) enough to form the basis of (for example) a lentil stew (a 500g bad of dried lentils is 2 EUR, you usually only need 100g for a 2 person meal), or a bolognese (add 250g of minced meat), or a potato stew (add the potatoes mentioned above), or... you don't even need the package of vegetable soups, as buying these vegetables in larger amounts for an entire week is even cheaper.

Another example: a can of tomatoes (39 cents), some oil and a single onion (1kg of onions is usually around 80 cents) are enough to make a fresh tomato sauce. A 500g bag of pasta (say: Penne) costs 39 cent if you buy the cheap brand. This is enough for 2 people, at under 50 cent per person.

Another example: spaghetti aglio e olio. You literally need nothing more than some oil, pepper, spaghetti (39 cent), some garlic (3 bulbs are usually under 1 EUR, so a single clove is maybe 4-5 cent and fresh parsley. You have a very tasty, fresh meal which can be cooked in 10 minutes, again for under 50 cents per person.

Another example: fresh bread. You need roughly 250g of flour (500g are around 79 cent), water, salt (which is so cheap I won't even mention it) and dried yeast (under 30 cents). Fresh bread for 2 people, again for under 50 cents per person. Add a fresh cucumber, 1-2 fresh tomatoes, salt, pepper, and you have a tasty evening meal for under 1 EUR per person.

I could go on and on. I can get quite agitated if people claim that "cooking fresh" is much more expensive than processed food. I cooked fresh and daily for years as a student, very often for 2 people, on a very limited budget, and 2 EUR per day was usually more than enough.

All you need is practice.


As someone who eats out maybe once a month (and therefore cook the rest of my meals myself) I agree with everything you've said.

The cost of "cooking fresh" is incredibly exaggerated, as if to create this boogie monster that people can use not to do so. All the prices you've listed are actually on the high end of what I see in the U.S. A 10lb (5kilo ish) bag of potatoes is regularly less than $3, and a lot of the other vegetables (celery, onions, carrots) are a $1 a bag, of whatever that respective size is.

And with Chicken breast regularly being <$2/lb, you can make countless dishes for a $1 a meal when served over rice. And if you don't want fresh produce, frozen vegetables are perfectly fine alternative, often for the same price.


You're leaving out the cost of time, the more valuable resource for poor people who likely live in a food desert and would have to spend a significant amount of time traveling to purchase those ingredients.


Again, another 'boogie monster' people like to use.

Without even getting into using an instant pot, a crockpot is a $20 appliance where the vast majority of recipes are put in chopped ingredients and seasoning, cook for 4-8 hours, serve over rice or pasta. Your average crock pot recipe has maybe 10 minutes of prep.

The biggest problem is knowledge. You have to know that a crock pot is even an option, you have to know that an investment in an appliance like an Instant Pot can save you countless hours over years.


All of the recipes I mentioned above (and countless others) can be cooked in under 30 minutes, if you go shopping once a week. Eating out, you also have the overhead of driving / walking to the place to eat. With processed food, you also have to go to the supermarket.


>2.5 kilos of potatoes usually cost between 1-2 EUR here. As a single person, you can live days on this.

So poor people should live like it's 19th century Ireland? I'm sure that will catch on.


If it's healthier and cheaper than a 21st century diet, why not?


Eating potatoes as the main side dish is living like it's 19th century Ireland? Then what would be a 21st century side dish? Besides, I am quite sure that eating only potatoes for an entire week is healthier than eating processed food for 7 days.


The sentence that was quoted implied that you would eat only potatoes, not just as a side dish.


True, but even then my statement would be correct, as I have written above: I am sure that eating potatoes for an entire week is healthier than eating processed food for an entire week.


>> they ate an average of 508 calories more per day and gained an average of 2 pounds over the two-week period, providing evidence that there may be something about processed food that drives people to overeat and gain weight.

Has the author tried eating a caloric excess of lean meats and non-fried, non-starch vegetables?

It's damn near impossible. Throw some cheese, bread, fried potatoes, mayo, and sugary drinks in there and you'll do it without blinking an eye. But not with chicken, green beans, and other 'healthy foods'


>lean meats and non-fried, non-starch vegetables

That's more difficult than you think:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Food_desert

>In 2010, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported that 23.5 million Americans live in a food desert, meaning that they live more than one mile from a supermarket in urban or suburban areas, and more than 10 miles from a supermarket in rural areas.[7] Food deserts lack whole food providers who supply fresh protein sources (such as poultry, fish and meats) along with whole food such as fresh fruits and vegetables, and instead provide processed and sugar- and fat-laden foods in convenience stores.


A year ago, my son told me he was spending more money than we thought he should on groceries. So my wife and I decided to keep track of how much we spend on eating. This includes the very rare times we eat at restaurants, which might include a burger joint if we're stuck on the road somewhere, and high end restaurants for birthdays and anniversary.

I do all the cooking. I rarely use anything from a box or a can. That is, I make my own pasta and tomato sauce and pizza dough and sourdough bread, for example. I also use higher end recipes, not sloppy joe dinners, including steaks and chicken and I more often buy spices like parsley and oregano fresh and chop them myself and not dried in a jar.

The numbers came in, interestingly enough, at $187 each week on average every time. This is for my wife and myself alone plus (cause my wife said so) about $15 a week for our two dogs cause, you know, they're family, too.

For reasons I am not positive about, our weekly expenditure for the last three months has risen to $209 a week. It had appeared to me that items cost more than in the past but I was unsure till I ran the numbers just a couple of days ago. Have grocery prices gone up?

In any case, cooking well designed meals takes an effort. Once you find recipes you like and get used to making them, it's easier, but it will still take one to two hours for every meal without rushing. I work out of my house and two major grocery stores down the street so that makes things easier.

EDIT: I should add that I am in the Midwest USA.


Five years ago on NPR:

https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2014/08/01/337141837/ch...

(Cheap Eats: Cookbook Shows How To Eat Well On A Food Stamp Budget)


I don't know if you're pointing out a contradiction or not but I'll say I don't think those two articles are necessarily a contradiction.

I hate the "Ditching processed foods won't be easy" article as it doesn't define anything.

Lots of thing are possible, there is information out there, but still might not be "easy".


It started out as a contradiction because I thought the argument was that it's expensive. But I guess I should have read the article first. As usual it's more complicated.

Other factors are that it takes effort (it's work to some people after an already potentially long work day) and time (to shop, to cook and for everyone to be at home at the same time). And I suspect those are bigger barriers than just the financials.


Bah. Hard thing to avoid is processed meat, as cooking meat right takes a tiny bit of skill and gear.

Anything else, unimportant, super easy to make and generally available, except in literal food deserts.

"Pot roast?! Who do you think we are, MILLIONAIRES?"

The worst part is probably peeling. That takes serious effort. Then washing dishes. Then obviously shopping which has to be batched or mail in for efficiency.

If you're rich enough, there are a whole range of ways to save time, from dishwashers, bigger selection of dishes, timers on hardware, through buying peeled or lightly prepared food such as frozen (not exactly ready to eat, that's expensive and uncontrollable) through mail shopping or hiring someone to shop for you. Finally, outsourcing cooking completely to someone competent, the most expensive way.


There is hardly anything easier than microwaving a potato and microwaving frozen vegetables, which are just as nutritious as fresh and a lot cheaper on sale.

Add a piece of protein fried in a pan and you are done.

Rice cookers have also become inexpensive and foolproof to use.


Two years ago I went on the ‘eat no processed foods’ Fuhrman diet and it had an amazingly positive effect on my health. I realize that I am just one data point but this is my personal experience.

Because we moved for a job I eventually started eating processed food and got off of the diet. Within a few months, I physically felt less good, like I was before before the Fuhrman diet. Again, I am just one data point, but for me the positive effects of the diet were not permanent.

Now my wife and I are talking about both going on the Fuhrman diet. She did not join me before, but likes the idea of all fresh cooking, no processed foods.


> Two years ago I went on the ‘eat no processed foods’ Fuhrman diet and it had an amazingly positive effect on my health. I realize that I am just one data point but this is my personal experience.

As a counter data point, I started down an "eat no processed foods" diet about four years ago and I'm the heaviest I've ever been. But to blame the diet would ignore more obvious possibilities like my metabolism slowing down as I hit 30, and not going to the gym as often as I used to.


No one is arguing against having a higher quality, non-processed diet. The article is pointing out all the impediments to try to achieve that, especially focusing on the lower and lower-middle class. It takes time, coordination, money, and energy to cook right, and that's really hard for a lot of people.


And hell, some people will suck at it. There have always been bad cooks.


I've always though it would make sense to outsource home style cooking to specialists who can cook in bulk much cheaper (and often higher quality) than individuals can cook at home.

I'm surprised that Polish 'Milk Bar'[1] type places, aren't more common.

[1]:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bar_mleczny


The problem now is that they will have to use salt and sugar to make up on taste.


Why? Is bulk/restaurant produced food inherently more bland than home cooked?


No, but it's made more tasty with those items. The milk bars seem to have been named that way for a reason - did they make extensive use of cream?


Apparently yeah.

> Although the typical bar mleczny had a menu based on dairy items, these establishments generally also served other, non-dairy traditional Polish dishes as well.

But when I visited, it was more like a canteen that served quality, home-style meals.


Healthy meal kits have been great "training wheels" for my wife and I to make less processed meals. Specifically, Hello Fresh meals typically have a major veggie/whole food emphasis. The biggest revelation is that roasting veggies with a little bit of olive oil and a little salt is an almost can't miss crowd pleaser that elevates every meal. Cherry tomatoes, green beans, sweet potatoes, asparagus, whatever. We try to get a roastable item or two every time we stop at a store.


It's kind of interesting that they named their book after pressure cookers, which address a lot of the problems of not having working appliances, living in motels, and are relatively affordable compared to a gas utility hookup. Instant Pots and knock-offs are <$50 now and are easy enough to use with just a standard outlet.


- dice onions

- dice chicken

- mix the onions with salt, pepper, paprika powder

- put the mix in a pan

- fry it on a small amount of oil until the onion gets transparent

- add the chicken

- add a tiny amount of water

- let it boil for ~30 mins

Sure, lots of barriers.


Hell, even just this:

Preheat oven to 400. Toss chicken breasts in oil and seasoning of choice. Put in baking dish and bake for ~18-20 minutes.

Serve with some shredded cabbage (my personal choice) or any other veggies. Heck, buy a bag of frozen broccoli and just microwaves small amounts at a time.


You've made one "meal", which is chicken and onions, and takes about an hour to prepare it (cutting, sauteing, boiling).


Once you have a timer, it takes 10 minutes. It is scalable too. No need to watch it cook.

And you can prepare it ahead of time then reheat...


To cook from scratch, you must first invent the universe.


I got all the way to evolution but screwed up somewhere in the precambrian. Now I have a race of hyper-intelligent lizardmen living in my basement. Needless to say, the soufflé is ruined.


But I bet the Komodo-steaks are to die for!


> the unprocessed diet they fed participants cost 40% more than the ultra-processed diet. And lots of American families don't have more money to spend on food.

This fragment made me so sad. if the above is true, it basically means many people in the USA don't have enough money to eat real food and have to live on processed junk instead.


Type “food desert” into your favorite search engine.




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