Back during the early days of my former Wall Street career, I literally had no time to cook. None. Not only was I stuck at the office for a zillion hours every week thinking up investment ideas in a delusional stock market, I spent what little time I had outside of work enjoying things like my hour and a half (each way) commute.
Oh man, thank heaven those days are over.
But that wasn't even the worst of it. The worst part of this era of my life was how unhealthily we ate--and how we blamed it on not having enough time. We were eating too many prepared and processed foods, ordering takeout too regularly, and generally spending much more money on our food than we really wanted to.
Quite frankly, after a long day and a suckishly long commute, I just couldn't bring myself to cook. Hell, I'd rather gouge my eyes out. And I can't describe how depressing it was to arrive at home and then realize that I'd have my first bite of dinner about an hour after I needed to be in bed.
But here's the irony, and it's a rich one: During this period of my life, when I was too busy gouging my eyes out to have time to cook, I actually figured out most of my solutions and techniques for cooking healthy meals quickly and efficiently.
We took the serious disadvantage of having insufficient time, and we turned it into an armload of advantages. And we did it by applying a small number of relatively simple ideas:
1) We began doing all of our cooking on weekends, making two or three large meals, and then alternating leftovers of those meals over the following week. Result: we never got sick of the leftovers, and we had plenty of food for days and days of lunches and dinners.
2) We focused our weekend cooking efforts on a smallish collection of 6-8 favorite, easy, scalable and laughably cheap recipes. With practice, we became extremely efficient at making these meals, which made our weekend cooking projects a breeze. Before long, weekend cooking became something we actually looked forward to rather than dreaded.
3) We took advantage of economies of scale and began making these favorite recipes in double or triple batches. With the right kinds of scalable recipes, you can make two, three or even four times the food with minimal incremental work.
4) We emphasized one-pot soups and stews that involve minimal cleanup and are easy to reheat, store and divide into leftovers.
5) We began using energy-efficient and low-labor cooking items like crockpots and rice cookers to create meals that didn't require us to stand there and monitor things. This enabled us to cook still more food with still less of a time commitment.
6) We looked for ways to save time and money by shopping more efficiently. We bought bulk volumes of simple whole ingredients for our double- and triple-batch meals. We biased our purchases away from higher-cost prepared and processed foods. We'd go to the store once a week instead of several times, which helped us cut back on snack buying and impulse purchases.
There. Six general principles and processes, created from a position of disadvantage, which collectively produced powerful results: Soon, we were eating healthier, we enjoyed cooking more, and most shockingly of all, we spent far less time and money on food.
And yet, many people cling to an instinctive belief that there can only be zero-sum tradeoffs between cost, time and health. Eating healthier has to cost more! Cooking at home is time-consuming! After all, there's no such thing as a free lunch, right? Right?
Wrong. Too often people cling to seemingly rigorous concepts--like the idea that healthy food has to be expensive, or that there has to be a zero-sum tradeoff between time and cooking at home--and they then miss opportunities to think creatively about a problem. Our experimentation with cooking habits and practices actually yielded positive-sum tradeoffs, allowing us to optimize time, money and the quality of our food. Sometimes there actually are free lunches. (A totally unrelated side note: my favorite "seemingly rigorous" concept from Wall Street is markets are efficient. Bwahahahahahaha!!! Oh, mercy me.)
The point is, don't let a general concept that seems rigorous and logical cause you to ignore opportunities and solutions. That isn't rigor--that's intellectual laziness.
A final point: I didn't write this post to brag about how brilliant and creative I was to figure out how to save time cooking. By now, most CK readers have probably figured that I'm just an average guy of (lamentably) average intelligence. The thing is, my average-ness is exactly the point. I'm nobody special, and you don't have to be either to try out a few new ideas with an open mind. Anybody can do this.
Experiment a little bit and add some new processes and practices to your life. Adopt the most effective ones as permanent habits, and maintain those habits while you try out still other ideas. Let necessity be the mother of invention, and your disadvantages will become advantages too.
Readers! In your lives, what kinds of disadvantages have you turned into advantages? Share your thoughts!
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