How often do you cook your own food? If one of your New Years resolutions this year is to eat healthier and develop a better relationship with food, then this podcast episode is for you!

Monique Nelson, who runs Choose to Cook, joins me in this episode to talk about the importance of knowing what you’re eating and also why she decided to go vegan.

I really believe that what you put in your body is incredibly important but how you use your body and how you treat yourself is also incredibly important and changes your life and how you live it every single day” — Monique Nelson

What would it take for you to make your own food more often? You don’t need to go vegan or totally vegetarian (though going vegetarian could cut food-related greenhouse gas emissions by 63%), but you can make an effort to find out what’s really in your food and start taking control of your diet and health.

If you want to get a real kick in the face regarding animal processing you’ve got to watch the documentary, “Cowspiracy”. It’s available on Netflix, but you can also download it for only $4.95 from their website.

As mentioned in the podcast, I’ve been a vegetarian for a very long time. I recall being in high school, the only veg that I knew, and being picked on constantly because of it. At a young age, I had a strong aversion to eating animals. I’ve tried eating turkey at Thanksgiving (no thanks!) and I eat the odd egg and piece of fish these days, but meat has never felt right for me.

Even though vegetarianism and veganism are more popular now, there’s still a stigma around these lifestyle choices. True, some people take this to the extreme and flaunt veganism as holier-than-thou. Discriminating people based on their food choices has to stop.

Since I’ve been called crazy (or a variant of) for being vegetarian, I think it’s important to dispel some of the myths surrounding vegetarianism and veganism:

You won’t get enough protein. Ahem, have you seen vegan bodybuilders? According to this nutrition study, most people actually consume more protein than they need. Like Monique says on the podcast, there are unhealthy vegans and vegetarians who rely too much on processed junk foods, but it’s easy enough to get all the protein you need. And both Monique and I are living proof—we’re both physically active and have no more complaints about muscle injury or fatigue than anyone else.

You won’t get all the nutrients you need. If your diet consists mainly of animal products you’re missing out on way more than someone who eats mostly veggies, grains, and legumes. Dietitians of Canada says, “A healthy vegan diet can meet all your nutrient needs at any stage of life including when you are pregnant, breastfeeding or for older adults.” Again, it’s all about balancing your meals so you get a good variety of items. Consult a dietitian and/or your doctor if you’re concerned.

It’s too expensive to eat this healthy. Last time I checked it cost way more for a couple of steaks than it did for a bag of lentils, a few veggies, herbs, and stock. Monique points out that she spends approximately $500 a month on groceries (including eating out), but she calls food her splurge item. I’m a little more frugal, spending about $300 a month on groceries, and that’s still eating mostly organic, buying too much wine, and eating out.

I don’t have enough time to make my own food. Okay, so it only takes 10 minutes to pick up a to-go meal—maybe 15 minutes if you have to wait in line. You don’t have to spend two hours a day making your own food. Monique spends a few hours on Sundays preparing meals for the whole week. This is known as batch cooking and is a great way to plan ahead and eat healthy. Soups, stews, chopped veggies, casseroles—there are a ton of options (Choose to Cook has lots of recipes to try).

The real question is, do you want to make time to cook your own food? This may require shifting some other priorities and making room in your weekly schedule to cook.

Lastly, here are a few of Monique’s tips for eating healthy on a budget:

  • Shop strategically. Plan your meals, make a shopping list, and stick to it! Don’t shop hungry and avoid the junk food aisles.
  • Cook in batches. Check out Choose to Cook for some delicious ideas, including this one that’s on my list to try.
  • Don’t waste food—it’s a waste of money! If you stick to your shopping plan you shouldn’t have any leftovers that go bad by your next shopping date. You can also freeze leftovers and use those for days when you need a quick meal. Also, consider how often you need to shop. If your pantry and fridge are full, shop less frequently.

I hope you enjoyed this episode of the podcast. You can connect with Monique on Facebook and Pinterest. She also hangs out in our private Own Up Grown-Up Facebook lair–join us!