Those of you that have been reading our blog for a while probably picked up by now that our main financial goal in life is to reach financial independence. And it’s not about accumulating money for the sake of it, it’s about regaining our time back, so that we can use it as we please, with our loved ones and on things that really matter. One important aspect about this journey is to make sure that we maintain a healthy body and mind while on this journey, as well as once we get there. It’s not worth having financial freedom if you have to give up your health in the process. We don’t want to waste our health by eating low quality meals to build our FI fund faster and, in turn, have to spend our FI fund at a faster rate later to try and recuperate our health. Are the trade-offs of having to take pills to control preventable diseases, paying higher insurance rates for posing as a bigger risk to the insurance company, or even worse, shortening our lifespans due to unhealthy eating habits in order to save more money really worth it? That is not a sacrifice we are willing to make. Therefore, eating healthy by cooking our own meals is a top priority for us.
While there are things in life that we can’t control, there’s a lot more under our control. The choices we make when it comes to the food we eat play a huge role in determining our health and preventing diseases.
Our grocery bill
If you have taken a look into our annual spending report, you might have noticed that our budget, although lower than what an average household spends, it’s higher than what some hardcore FI-minded households report. There are several reasons for that:
- We don’t buy processed foods and use a very small amount of canned products, since those come with preservatives.
- We buy certain imported fruits like mangos and avocados, that cost more than locally-grown produce, to create yummy variety in our diet.
- We buy certain products organic.
- We buy quality products that have ingredients made up of real food, such as ketchup that’s made of tomatoes and spices only and try to stay from products that have more than five ingredients.
- We stay away from colored food. “Would you like some paint-coated chocolates? No, thank you.”
- We maintain a balanced diet that consists mostly of veggies, fruits, and grains like quinoa and wild rice. These items don’t usually go on sale or have discount coupons.
Our grocery bill is a little higher and we’re totally okay with that because we’re making a long-term investment in our health.
We make sure that we stay healthy by paying attention to what goes inside our mouths (don’t wander with naughty thoughts!), and one way to do this is by cooking our own meals. Cooking our own meals is not a new concept to us. It’s something that our parents have been doing their entire lives. My mom used to cook with raw ingredients because we didn’t have access to all these conveniently-prepared meals or an explosion of processed foods back in the Dominican Republic. Also, there were no freezers and we lacked funding to buy things in bulk so meals were prepared fresh everyday. Yummy! Mrs. Enchumbao comes from a Russian household, where cooking at home was essential to make ends meet as well. While both of our moms cooked at home out of necessity, it really paid off to be poor growing up, as we ended up with lifestyles that got us on a healthy path, and now we are simply staying the course.
Benefits you can reap by cooking your own meals
1. You learn a new skill
Cooking is an art. It’s not just about putting ingredients together (although that works in many cases). You can learn a lot about how well certain dishes complement each other. By learning how to cook, you can depend on you to feed yourself when your partner leaves you unattended. It’s also a survival skill that you could make you a trendsetter! You can use it to help family and friends eat healthier by preparing delicious healthy meals. They’ll be tempted by your flavors and might want to try those dishes at home and start to get off the fast-food wagon.
2. You save money
“But Mr. Enchumbao, ingredients at the grocery store cost a lot more if you add them up versus buying a pre-packed meal or a happy meal.” Are you comparing buying organic foods to eating at a fast-food restaurant? Then yes, McDonalds would be cheaper but don’t forget to add up the medical bills that you’ll incur by eating unhealthy. When you go out to a restaurant, you have to pay for transportation to get there, the service, ingredients, tips and taxes. With the money you pay for an entree of a farm-raised salmon, you can buy 2-3 pounds of wild-caught salmon that can feed a family of five for days. There’s also no tax on groceries. By buying your own ingredients you save on the rest of the dining-out expenses. Restaurants are in the business of making money, so there is always a premium. If your price comparison indicates that eating out is cheaper than cooking the same meal at home, it means that the quality of the restaurant food is lower.
Don’t get us wrong, we are not saying to never visit a restaurant. We do go to restaurants when we need a break from cooking, for an occasional celebration with friends or to get inspired by new dishes we’d want to try at home. When that happens, we spend more because we go to select outings that offer great service and meals that are cooked with better ingredients. The experience and quality are important to us.
3. The family comes together
Eating at the table brings the family together. We don’t like to reheat meals that were freshly cooked. At home, we barely use the microwave, so we eat as soon as a meal is cooked. During a meal, we come together, sit at the table like the good old days and make it a family activity, except for Pushok, who is never invited.
The FI community knows well the value of time and, believe it or not, you do save time by cooking at home. “But Mr. Enchumbao, cooking takes too much time. I’d rather earn more money than save it by cooking.” Now, we’re not asking you to take a day out of work to cook your meals. Are you really working that many hours at your job and are you getting overtime? The time that you spend cooking is probably time you’d have otherwise spent keeping up with the Kardashians, Facebooking or watching a game. Think of the time that it takes you to dress up, drive, wait for your seat, place your order, wait for your food, pay and drive back home from the restaurant. You could’ve easily cooked and eaten a meal by the time you get home from a restaurant. It’s one of the reasons we now make our own bagels with cream cheese salmon on weekends, since our favorite bagel spot, Spread Bagelry, is in the city of Philadelphia and that’s a 35-minute drive from our place without traffic.
5. You improve your health by being able to select your own ingredients
They don’t serve organic ingredients at a restaurant, unless it’s advertised on the menu. Just like any business, restaurants will use any selling points to get you to try their dishes and an omission of an organic product usage, wild-caught seafood or a freshly-squeezed orange juice, obviously, means that they’re using regular products and that the juice is from concentrate.
Another caveat to cooking is that you can keep the salt, trans fat, GMOs and other disease-causing agents in check. By doing your own cooking, you become more aware of which ingredients make up a dish and can decide which to reduce, eliminate or substitute. A favorite dish of yours at a restaurant, might no longer be your favorite, after trying it out at home and realizing how much sodium, sugar, or another unhealthy ingredient it takes to make it. You wouldn’t put antifreeze solution instead of gasoline in your car’s gas tank. Shouldn’t you know exactly what goes into your food and how it affects your most important engine – your body!
Even Pushok is benefiting from this effort in the Enchumbao household. Last year, it occurred to Mrs. Enchumbao to do more research on cat food, and turns out, the pet food industry is just as notoriously outrageous as the human one. They put so much junk and fillers into pet food, she was seriously surprised that Pushok lived the first eight years of his life without any issues. Now, El Asaroso gets top shelf dry and canned food, and is looking like a million bucks (or spending my million bucks). While I am not happy about him slowing down the FI goal progress, as we had to increase his monthly budget from $20 to $35, Mrs. Enchumbao keeps reminding me that it’ll pay off in the long-term by preventing certain chronic diseases that would cost a lot to treat. In another words, he’ll live longer and will be tormenting me for even more years to come! Coñazo!
6. You have lunch for work next day
There’s nothing worse for us than going to work the next day without a lunch bag and being at the mercy of the cafeteria’s menu. When we have our lunches packed, it’s a happy day because nothing beats the taste of our leftovers! But don’t look down on those nutritious leftovers. These are the envy of coworkers, who feel sad for themselves for bringing a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch, or having to buy bland cafeteria food. By packing lunch as often as possible, you’ll have your delicious healthy meal and won’t have to spend extra money at work!
7. You have better portion control
For us, it’s always about quality over quantity. It’s not about how much macaroni and cheese you can stuff into your mouth for $5 or how many wings you can get in that bucket, dirt cheap. Eating something delicious is a healthy life’s pleasure that you should pause to enjoy. By cooking and serving your food, you can measure your meals without worrying about having too much on your plate, tempting you to clean it out completely.
No way! We can add exercise points too?!? Cooking can be a great physical activity. First, you have to walk around the supermarket while food-shopping, then you have to load and unload the car, bring the groceries inside, then cook and serve the table, plus wash some dishes in the end. That’s easily 500 burned calories without stepping into a gym! And if you live in a multi-story building, bring the groceries upstairs and burn even more calories!
What we eat is a lifestyle choice
We’re not fans of getting into temporary diets like stopping consumption of a product, or increasing it for a certain amount of time, and then going back to normal consumption levels. We base most of our diet on facts and research, and it’s a lifestyle choice. If we find that something is not good for us, based on proven studies, we take it out of our diet or reduce it’s consumption to a minimum. It’s that simple. We eat real food that comes from nature and try to stay away from the fake stuff created in a lab. Food that has coloring, wood pulp or wax are a no-no. Did you know that many color additives had never been tested for toxicity or other adverse effects?
If you’re looking for a label to define what we eat, we call it a flexitarian diet, which is, normally, a meatless diet that occasionally includes poultry or fish. We don’t eat meat in the U.S., but have an occasional craving for pollo al carbon (char-broiled chicken), when we visit the Dominican Republic, where the chickens are as natural as they get. Our diet also consist of very little dairy, except for when we make our monthly homemade pizza, use creamer on our coffee or cream cheese on a bagel. It’s very difficult to maintain such a diet if all you consume is based primarily on the American diet, which consists of lots of meat, bread, and processed food in big portions, with an increasing proportion of oils and fat. In order to supplement our diet with healthier choices, we incorporate foods from other cultures and countries.
We got on this path about six years ago and are healthier than ever. If you want a great documentary to help you improve your diet, we highly recommend checking out Forks Over Knives. It’s an excellent documentary on what helps prevent or cause cancer, heart diseases, diabetes, and many other health-related issues, based of facts and research. It sealed the deal for us.
Some of our staple dishes!
Mrs. Enchumbao says she has exclusive access to the best restaurant in town, but it’s not on OpenTable. She might extend you an invitation, if you’re nice to her. 🙂 While I am the head chef, she makes a mean sous chef, when the duty calls. She says I ruined most of her favorite restaurants for her, since I take the best parts of some dishes and add the Enchumbao flavor to make it even better. That’s an accusation I am proud to bear responsibility for.
Would you like to see a recipe section?
On this site, we blog about living a lifestyle that is drenched in true happiness. There’s a correlation between having just enough money to sustain that lifestyle and being happy. There’s also difference between a genuine smile and a smile for the camera. We want to always have a genuine smile and that involves living a life based on principles that keep us truly happy. It’s important for us to achieve financial independence, so that we can have our time back, but throughout our journey, we get to eat! And we eat well. On the weekends, we have coffee with homemade rolls, followed by our special recipe of salmon egg benedict and deliciously baked potatoes. Oh, and on special occasions, we add in mimosas made with freshly squeezed orange juice.
We have to eat healthy if we want to enjoy life’s journey to the fullest. With that in mind, we’ve been thinking that it would be a great idea to include a recipe section in our blog. Many of our friends and family are always asking for our recipes, so we figured this would be a great venue to feature them for all of you. No, we’re not going to become a food blog! If we decide to create this section, it would be pages saved under a section on the top navigation menu. This way you can go to that section if you want to find a recipe of ours. The recipes will not be featured in posts, so you won’t get them through the Enchumbao Newsfeed or post notifications subscriptions. I enjoy cooking great meals, but writing recipes is not my cup of tea. However, I’m willing to put them here, so that people can enjoy them. We want to hear from you. Let us know if you would you like us to create this new section in the comment section below.