I completely understand why people buy processed and pre-packaged foods. I am a big fan of homemade pancakes, for example. They aren’t hard to make, but you need to have several ingredients on hand to really do them well and there’s some measuring and mixing and so forth. It’s not complicated, but it requires a minor amount of thought and, if you have to buy a 5 lb bag of flour, a pound of butter, a bag of sugar, etc it can be quite pricey. Or you can buy a box of mix for $2, add water and have pancakes.
I’m a LAZY hippie. I understand the appeal.
However, there are some foods that are just so ridiculously simple that you really have no reason to ever buy the crappy, chemical-laden, factory-made version again.
The idea for this post came to me a few weeks ago when Sweet Hippie Daughter and I decided we wanted hashbrowns at dinner-time. Handsome Hippie Hubby is the hashbrown master at our house. I don’t know that I’ve ever made them. He always starts with fresh potatoes. That seemed intimidating to me so I went in search of something fool-proof.
I knew that I had seen “real, fresh” shredded hashbrown potatoes near the dairy section of my grocery store so I went to check it out. My thought: if it’s in a bag it must be simpler than doing it from scratch and if it’s in the refrigerator (not the freezer or from a box) it must be reasonably fresh.
I was wrong. The product you get is really just a bag of shredded potatoes that look exactly like what you get if you shred them yourselves.
Well… that’s what you appear to get. What is actually in the bag is: Potatoes, dextrose, disodium phyrophoshate, potassium sorbate and sodium bisulfate.
There aren’t even any spices or onions or… anything.
“I can make this!” I thought to myself.
So I did and they came out crispy and flavorful and generally fabulous.
Here’s how I did it:
Shred the potato, sprinkle the shreds in a pan with a nice coating of hot oil (I used coconut oil), salt it.
Wait for it…. don’t touch it! Leave it alone. Wait…. Ok… it’s starting to hold together… the bottom seems crunchy (about 5-7 minutes)…. FLIP! Wait again (not as long-maybe 3-5 minutes). Remove from pan. Eat with great gusto.
Make extras. Toss them in the freezer. Next time you’ll just have to warm them up in the oven and you’re done.
Extra incentive: The pre-shredded potatoes are about $3 OR, you can buy a 5 lb bag of organic potatoes for $3 and have hash browns for… oh… I don’t know…. a small army? Eating organic isn’t always more expensive!
I wondered what else people were buying pre-packaged simply because they didn’t realize how incredibly easy it is to make it from scratch. Three more products came immediately to mind.
2) Macaroni and cheese
Macaroni and cheese is something that I had only ever made out of a box. You know… noodles + milk + butter + orange dust = lunch.
A Better Mac and Cheese:
My mother-in-law came over one time and, knowing I had a busy week at work, decided to give me a break by making lunch for the kids. She scrounged around and came up with a box of shells and a bag of shredded cheddar cheese. She boiled the pasta, tossed the cheese in, added a tablespoon or so of butter and… voila! Macaroni + cheese = macaroni and cheese.
Honestly, it never even occurred to me to do such a thing. It was simply outside of my experience. The kids ate it and licked the pot clean. It was years ago and we still joke about Crazy Hippie Drummer exclaiming, “This macaroni and cheese is DELICIOUS!”
Yes, there are lots of recipes out there to fancy up your mac and cheese but nothing, not even the cheese dust stuff is faster and easier than this and it’s as ooey-gooey fabulous as you could ever hope for! It is a little more expensive than the box version but it is also significantly more filling so you need less to feel full which helps offset the cost.
Plus, there’s this to consider:
Either way you get the macaroni noodles themselves which (unless you choose a whole wheat or veggie-based version) are pretty much the same. With the homemade version the only other ingredients are cheese and butter.
With the box stuff you get: whey, milkfat, milk, protein concentrate, salt, calcium carbonate, sodium tripolyphosphate, citric acid, sodium phosphate, lactic acid, yellow #5, yellow #6, enzymes and cheese cultures.
We love fresh lemonade in the summer! It is so easy and refreshing.
Here’s how we do it.
You just squeeze half a dozen or so lemons, add water (about 4 cups of water for every 1 cup of lemon juice) and sweeten to taste with honey or cane sugar.
If you’re feeling adventurous you can add a splash of cranberry or cherry juice, a sprig of mint or a bit of vodka. (Just seeing if you’re paying attention!)
If you don’t have fresh lemons, find the cost of them prohibitive, or (like I usually am) are just too lazy to juice them, you can use bottled lemon juice. True “real foodies” would argue that juice from concentrate isn’t really the same but I would say it’s far better than the powdered version which contains an astonishing FOURTEEN ingredients… NONE of which are lemon!
The ingredients in Country Time Lemonade are: sugar, fructose, citric acid, maltodextrin, natural flavor, asorbic acid, sodium acid pyrophosphate, sodium citrate, magnesium oxide, calcium fumarate, soy lecithin, artificial color, yellow #5, tocopherol.
Popcorn is another one that will save you a bundle if you make it on your own. For $3 you can buy a bag of organic popcorn that will keep a movie-loving family in snacks for a month or more!
Act II microwavable popcorn contains, in addition to popcorn, palm oil, salt, butter, natural flavors and colors, TBHQ and citric acid. That may not sound as bad as some other foods but one of the “natural flavors” in microwave popcorn is a chemical called diacetyl that has been directly linked to a respiratory disease known as “popcorn lung.” Even though people are winning court cases over diacetyl, many manufactures still continue to use it.
You can make your own popcorn!
Put about a tablespoon of coconut oil (or other oil of your choice) in a medium size pan with a tight-fitting lid. Drop 2-3 kernels of popcorn in. When they pop, you’re good to go. Add the rest… enough to cover the bottom of the pan but no more than 1/4 inch deep or so or you’ll end up in popcorn up to your neck!
Put the lid on and shake the pan over the heat, to keep the kernels moving. They will all be popped in a just a few minutes.
If you are in an office or dorm and must use a microwave, I have read, over at 100 Days of Real food, that you can very successfully pop popcorn by putting it, dry, into a brown paper bag, folding it over and tossing it in the microwave for 3 minutes. No additional ingredients are needed!
5) Mashed Potatoes
The last food on my list is mashed potatoes which are even easier than the hash browns!
You could buy the Bob Evans’ version from your grocer’s deli but they are over $3 for a small tub and, in addition to potatoes, milk and butter, they include: margarine, hydrogenated soybean oil, water, salt, whey, soy lecithin, mono and diglycerides, sodium benzoate, artificial flavors, vitamin A palminate, potassium sorbate, sodium acid pyrophosphate, spices and artificial colors.
If you want to make them yourself, for a fraction of the cost, do it like this:
Wash potatoes. We usually use 1 medium potato per diner + “one for the pot.” Cube them. Chuck them into water and boil them for 10 minutes or so, until they are tender. Drain, mash, add a splash of milk (about a scant tablespoon per potato) and a few tablespoons of butter. Salt to taste.
You can peel them, if you want to make them “whiter” but the peels don’t have any negative effect on the flavor so I usually leave them on. Add a bit of garlic, rosemary, chives or whatever other spices you like with potatoes. You can also use sour cream or Greek yogurt instead of milk, or even soy milk if you prefer. They are hard to ruin.
So there you have it: Five foods you can switch to “natural” without breaking a sweat. They will be so easy and delicious you’ll wonder why you ever ate the packaged stuff!
Are you, too, seeking to save the earth, promote world peace and raise productive citizens without expending too much effort?
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