Everybody has a few peculiar food habits. What we eat and what we don’t, how we eat, when we eat… the more I chat with people, the more I realize that we all have our unique way of eating food. It’s funny. And people get super defensive about it as well, as if there was one single right way to eat! Vegetarians versus meat-eaters, vegans versus the rest of the world, those who want to lose weight versus those who want to indulge, those who want to eat “natural” food versus those who don’t care, those who are scared of sugar, salt, preservatives… I’ve seen people arguing about whether customers in restaurants should be “allowed” to order a well-done steak because apparently, rare is the only way to appreciate it!
I’m not better than everyone else, I’m weird with food too. However, I think I’m pretty rational when it comes to buying food. I shop often for fresh produce, I try to find a balance between convenience and health—I’m not making my own bread from scratch but I never eat microwave meals—and I aim for a balanced diet that includes dairy, carbs, veggies, etc.
All in all, I find we are doing pretty well. We don’t spend a fortune on food but we buy good stuff, there are options in the fridge and a few “in case of emergency” items in the pantry. It helps that no one of has allergies, special diet or strong food aversions.
I do have a few rules, though. I hate wasting food—what we buy, we eat. I aim for a wide variety of food and I try to avoid buying the same products and brands over and over again. Finally, food has to be practical—as much as I would love to spend three hours in the kitchen to experiment with new recipes, it’s not going to happen. I tweak recipes I know, I don’t do Pinterest projects.
But every time I go grocery shopping, I face a problem that challenges two of my “rules”: the size of packages.
The cliché is true. Everything is bigger in North America.
Take yogurts, for instance, They typically come in 16-container packs or in one 650-gram tube. That’s… a lot of yogurt. Cheese is sold in bars of 400 g and don’t even get me started on tomato sauce—these jars are huge, an Italian family couldn’t finish them over the traditional Sunday meal! Cereal boxes? Huge. Cookie boxes? Huge. Cans of soup? Huge.
There are only three of us. I don’t want to be stuck eating the same cookies or the same yogurts for a month. For instance, I wanted to introduce Mark to different kinds of bread because he seemed to be tired of the usual rye bread I buy. Soft buns come in packs of 12 or 24 units, so that’s like a month of eating the same bread, not to mention that it doesn’t taste as fresh after a few days.
Back in France, we had my dad, always happy to finish anything (but celery). Just in case you were wondering, he is actually pretty fit, but I guess growing up with four sibling and attending boarding school taught him to enjoy food when it’s available—any food. Sometime, I try to encourage Feng and Mark to finish boxes I opened. “This cookie, I don’t like it!” Mark moans. “Just leave in in the pantry,” Feng suggests, as if it was going to empty itself magically.
My idea of a nightmare is my in-laws stopping by and bringing us food. Yes, they do that. Yes, we told them not to many many times. First of all, we are rarely starving. We have food at home, food we bought, stored, prepared. But a few years ago, they bought a membership at Costco, one of these wholesale clubs, probably because they saw it as a way to save money. If you’ve never been to Costco, picture your usual grocery items three or four time the usual size: bulk-packaged pasta, sauce, meat, etc. Now picture my in-laws: the two of them probably weight about 220 lbs together. Yeah, they don’t eat that much food, even if they freeze it.
So once in a while, they bring us “extra”. “Just so you know… my parents brought us a pie,” Feng warned me a few days before Thanksgiving. “A pie?” “Yeah, pumpkin pie.” “But… do you like pumpkin pie?” Feng shrugged. I shrugged too. Okay, whatever.
Then I stepped into the kitchen and faced the biggest pumpkin pie you can imagine: 12”, 3.5 lbs. Well, technically, we only had half of it (presumably they kept the other half), but still.
I’m not proud to say we ended up throwing it… because none of us like pumpkin pie, and certainly not several pounds of it.
Large quantities of food scare me. I’m not a three-green-beans-and-I’m-full person—when I eat, I eat. But these giant jars, big cans and other value packs are a challenge. I don’t want to deal with that much food. I need variety in my life!
So I try to buy smaller-size packs when available and I look beyond the leading brands to buy more fresh or “specialty” products. I go to Chinatown, Italian delis… and even leading supermarkets have a nice selection of imported products that usually come in smaller size and are fun to try.
Meanwhile, here are a few of Mark’s lunch boxes for November!