I love food. The whole process of food. Growing, harvesting, cooking, eating – the textures, smells, and sensations of every step (with the possible exception of cleaning up after it). Most of all, I love to feed it to people I love. I come by this honestly; my mother is a lover of food and people, too.
A couple years ago, I got really into meal planning and started cooking 95% of our dinners from scratch – no boxes, just whole ingredients. There were a couple exceptions – I tended to buy our carbs, and I really love pasta sauce from a jar – but most of our meals started as a counter of veggies, meat, and herbs.
A big part of the process was dictated by necessity. At the time, we lived with my grandparents, both of whom have several dietary restrictions, the main ones being low-sodium, low-sugar, and no soy. Those right there really knock out a lot of the shortcuts processed food promises. But really, it gave me joy to be able to make healthy, tasty food without needing those boxes and prepackaged foods. It was a point of pride as much as necessity. And we were all healthier and skinnier for it.
Then we moved. It was the middle of summer, I was uncomfortably pregnant, and we suddenly could cook with salt and sugar again after two years of very limited use. With those pesky dietary restrictions lifted, we could eat all the naughty processed food we wanted, and boy howdy was it a good time. I still cooked most of our meals from scratch, but I started using more shortcuts, more often.
Slowly, the process deteriorated entirely. We added a new family member, Ben started a new job outside the home, and one thing led to another. I began spending less and less time in the kitchen, and meal planning hasn’t been a part of my regular routine in months. None of this was from conscious decision-making, just distraction, exhaustion, and laziness. And we are less healthy and less trim as a result.
Fast forward to this week. I suddenly looked up and realized that instead of being the exception, processed food is the new standard in my kitchen. Pre-breaded chicken tenders, hot dogs, and canned soup have become routine instead of occasional cheats and treats. It’s rare to go more than a few days without chips and crackers in the cupboards, because we can’t go that long without missing them. Don’t get me wrong – I love me some Kraft mac ‘n cheese once in a while, and have no problem with using processed food in our home sometimes, but I don’t want it to be the primary staples of our diet.
All that to say, I’m starting a revolution in our food-life, and I’m starting it by stepping back into the kitchen. I’m not going to raid our cabinets and throw out all the “bad guys” – we’re going to eat the chicken tenders, just not twice a week. What I am going to do is start from scratch more again and get back to making detailed meal plans.
We had a soft start yesterday* with one of my favorite recipes – one that I can hardly claim as a healthy choice, but it was from scratch, dang it! Moist, fluffy, and the “option” to add chocolate (let’s face it – I don’t make it without), this banana bread recipe is based on the recipe for Banana Nut Bread from the old standard, McCall’s Cook Book. When I make it, the measurements are a little approximate (no time for level measuring cups here!), and I typically just do wet ingredients in my mixer first, then dump the dry in without mixing them together separately first (I know, bad baker 101). Feel free to stay a little more straight-laced if it makes you happy.
- 2 1/2 c. sifted (LOL!) all-purpose flour
- 3 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt (I leave this out if I’m using salted butter)
- 1 c. sugar
- 1/4 c. butter
- 1 beaten egg
- 1 c. mashed bananas (I find two bananas is usually enough, and mashing them ahead isn’t necessary if they’re reeeeeally ripe – just drop them in)
- 2 Tbsp orange juice
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 c. milk
Optional (use as much as feeeeels right):
- 1/4-1 c. pecan pieces (for mixing in or sprinkling on top before baking)
- 1/2-1 c. semi sweet chocolate chips
- Preheat oven to 350 and grease a standard loaf pan.
- This is where you’d pre-mix/sift the first three ingredients, if you were so inclined, and set them aside.
- In mixer, beat sugar, butter, and egg. Add bananas, juice, vanilla, and milk; mix well.
- Add dry ingredients, beating just until smooth; stir in your optional ingredients, and feel free to get creative here. Add your own mix-ins!
- Pour into prepared pan and bake 50-60 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out batter-free.
- Cool for 10 minutes, then turn out on a rack to cool some more.
- Eat warm with coffee or milk.
*We still had leftover chili-mac for lunch and frozen pot pies for dinner. You win some, you lose some.