It’s the eternal argument for those who have to cook for their families. Do I get something cheap and quick, or something healthy?
I know I’ve been on my natural food soap box for a while. Picture me as a disheveled figure in a wrinkled trenchcoat and a hand-made picket sign reading: “French Fries are the Devil”.
Monica’s Journal: [DATE] 2010 The city is fat. I have seen its BMI. They wallow in their bacon fries and sour cream, giving pitchers of ranch dressing to their sticky soda-covered kids eating Lunchables. One day a wave of FDA reform will wash over the city and I’ll see the housewives and mortgage brokers clutching their hearts and wallets. They’ll reach up to me crying, “defibrillate me” and I’ll say…”NO.”
Okay, that was a bit tangential. Sorry. So anyways I have a confession to make. While I try to make the best choices and everything for my family, I have one consistent weakness that I can’t even contemplate giving up: oven pizza.
I look after two preschoolers so I am on my feet or driving around or even running for most of the day. When I have to stand in front of that oven range and contemplate another 20-40 minutes of cooking I feel weak at the knees. Some days it’s just too much. Dun-dah-dah-DAH!! Oven pizza to the rescue!!
When I was young and newly married (and had no concept of money) I relied on delivery pizza. Twice a week, at least I would call Domino’s and order my usual sausage and mushroom pizza. When I grew older and wiser and subsequently less prone to spend money I didn’t have, I became a fan of oven pizza.
Oven pizza is not the healthiest food on the planet. Not even the kind with veggies all over it (which I pick off, cause I don’t like ‘em). As much as I’d like to justify it having good points like lycopene-rich tomatoes (pureed and cooked with a ton of sugar and salt), and valuable carbs (bleached starchy flour loaded with oil for a crust), not even the pizza companies are trying to kid us. Unless you’re in the organic isle, you’re not going to see a lot of pizza boxes in the frozen food isle that claim that they’re good for you.
The only concession to the modern trend for health food is that big dairy symbol on the box announcing that the pizza is made with “real cheese.” Honestly, in America, “real cheese” doesn’t count for much. So why do I like ‘em? They taste good. They are insanely easy to prepare. They cost next to nothing.
I can hear some of you now: “Why not make healthy pizza from scratch?” I can proudly say that I have done this. I’m not talking once either, I’m talking I made pizza from yeast to finish every week for almost 3 months. My family was in kind of dire financial straights, and to save money we made our pizza from scratch. I activated the yeast culture, I added flour salt and rosemary, I kneaded and punched it, I set it to rise, I rolled it out and made 2 pizzas. The pizza was pretty good. Making it sucked.
I was usually covered with flour; the kitchen was a hopeless mess. I had to wash out the yeast bowl, the mixer, the bread hook, the rising pan, the pizza dish and three greasy doughy hand towels. The only reason I did it was because I had to, because in the end it would save two dollars. That’s right. After the cost of yeast, flour, tomato sauce and pepperoni and cheese, we saved about two measly dollars. In those days, two dollars made a difference. Now I can get a delicious frozen pizza for about 4 dollars and I only have to wash the pan I cooked it on, I consider that worth a ‘Jefferson fin.’ Also, the pepperoni on oven pizza tastes so much better than the kind you buy. Dunno why, (Probably has MSG).
This leads me to the other option you were all thinking of: why not buy pizza from the super-healthful organic section? Because it’s more expensive. The organic pizzas run from $8 to $10 and while a $4 to $6 dollar pizza is fine with our budget, I can’t justify the pricey kind. Also, for some reason, the organic pies are smaller so they don’t feed a family of four and I would have to buy two of them. Go figure.
This is one of the big problems in my new lifestyle that has been plaguing me. The reconciliation between health and price is kind of astronomical. American food companies are putting out more organic and natural products than ever, but every one of those products is more expensive. It’s hard when you’re on a tight budget to justify spending extra money on things that maybe only marginally better for you.
Example: Macaroni and cheese:
The regular stuff: it costs 75¢. It’s powdered fake cheese-food-product with yellow dye and processed bleach semolina pasta. Add butter and milk to make the sauce.
Organic Mac and cheese: almost twice the cost of the regular stuff. It is made with whole grain pasta, and powdered cheese with turmeric to make it as yellow as the fake cheese. Add milk to make the sauce. Note: it’s still starchy noodles and powdered cheese!
Macaroni and cheese from scratch: ingredients cost three times as much as the fake stuff. Whole grain pasta is covered in over a pound of real cheddar cheese and a beaten egg. There are hardly any artificial ingredients, but it’s swimming in a puddle of oil from all the cheese.
Ultimately, one has to face the facts. No matter WHAT it’s made of, macaroni and cheese is not healthy food, period. So why spend the extra time and money on making it only slightly healthier?
In the end I have to make a lot of compromises. I serve the junky mac and cheese but I add peas to it. I serve it with fresh fruit and a glass of milk. I don’t serve it the same day I serve the pizza. Oh, and my last reason for eating pizza every week? It’s the only thing everyone will eat. The end. Even the realllllllly picky kid likes it. I’m not giving up pizza.
So yeah, I’m not perfect. I’ll occasionally take the easy road, especially if I’m really tired. And for all my suggestions on how to make the world a more healthful place or telling everyone how I improved my life by doing such-and-such I’m a human. This is not an advice column, this is not a medical study, this is the heartfelt struggle of a woman in America who has stared down the morbid obesity machine and said, “NOT ME.” Eating healthy is not easy. Sometimes, especially if we’re one of the millions of Americans in financial straits, we have to be prepared to sacrifice healthy for cheap and that’s okay. All things in moderation.
(Whew! Writing this wore me out. I’m sticking a pizza in the oven.)
Monica Marier’s “Fat Diaries” appears on FrumForum every Friday.