The top two reasons we turn to fast food — you know: Mickey-D's, KFC, Taco Bell — is time and money. To prove we could get a healthy, delicious meal on the table in less than half an hour, we fired up the barbecue this weekend.
Believe it or not, the barbecue is ideal for more than hamburgers and hot dogs. Our menu:
- Whole fish, stuffed with lemons and fresh herbs
- Caprese salad: tomatoes, mozzarella and basil
- Grilled peaches with basil and ice cream
We're going to be straight with you: it's tough to compete with fast food prices, because, well, it's not real food — it's subsidized, laboratory food. And that's a huge part of what's wrong with the American food system. But still, let's consider this dollar for dollar.
A typical McDonald's meal for two:
2 Big Mac meals (comes with medium fries and soft drink): $11.38
2 medium shakes for dessert: $5.18
Our menu for 2 priced out like this:
fresh fish: $15 (locally-caught sea bass: $12.99 per pound)
2 lemons: $1
herbs (dill/parsley): free - we grew them
mozzarella: $1.75 ($3.50 tub came with 2 balls, we used 1)
tomatoes: free - we grew them
basil: free - we grew it
peaches: $3 ($3 per pound)
ice cream: $1 (the tub cost $6, we used 2 scoops)
We spent $5.19 more than the the fast food meal — that's not much. One huge savings for us is that we grow some of our food (a few pots of herbs, and a five-gallon bucket growing a tomato plant can make your summer budget stretch enormously). If we didn't, we would have spent roughly $5 on herbs and $4 on tomatoes. But most of what we would've spent on these foods could have been recovered by choosing a cheaper fish — like mackerel, that typically sells for $6 per pound, and is loaded with heart-healthy omega-3s.
Consider this menu a template — and substitute as your budget and taste allows: feta cheese for mozzarella, for instance, would be delicious.
Gutted and cleaned by the fishmonger, the fish came ready to throw on the grill. All we did was stuff sliced lemons and fresh herbs (whatever you can get your hands on, or forget 'em altogether) into its belly and into a few slits we made into the flesh on each side (the slits help the fish cook quicker and more evenly). Rub oil on the fish's sides and place it on an equally well oiled grill. Let the fish cook for about 10 minutes, until the fish no longer sticks to the grate of the grill (it needs a little coaxing, but should release easily), carefully flip it over, and let that side cook for another five.
Meanwhile, make the salad: cut up mozzarella and tomatoes, tear up some fresh basil leaves, drizzle olive oil over the top and add a pinch of salt. In the time we cooked the fish, we even prepped the peaches for dessert. Cut a little x into the skin of each peach, on the opposite end of the side with the stem (where the fruit comes to a little bit of a point). Bring a small pot of water to a boil, drop in the peaches. Boil the fruit for a couple of minutes and in the meantime, fill a bowl with water and ice. Remove the peaches from the boiling water and plunge them into an ice bath. This will help release the skins, which you will proceed to easily peel right off the flesh. Cut each peach in half, remove the pit, and slather a little bit of butter on the flesh.
When the fish is done, put the peaches on the grill cut-side-down (try to avoid placing them where the fish cooked — fish-flavored peaches are not delicious), and let them sizzle while you eat your fish. Turn them when you see nice grill marks on the bottom and start to smell the addictive fragrance of fresh peaches.
When the peaches are ready, and you've finished eating your fish and salad, place one or two halves in a bowl, add a single scoop of ice cream, and a tear a few basil leaves (reserved from the salad) over the top. Dessert is served.
This fancy-sounding, super-nutritious, amazingly-easy meal took less than 30 minutes to prep and cook (OK, the peaches were grilling while we ate, but that's hardly a fuss for the cook). And while we were at it, we even threw on a bunch of other veggies to cook and eat later during the work week.
So many steps in the cooking process are child-friendly, too — stuffing the fish with lemons, tearing up basil leaves, peeling peach skins.
Fast food was never this much fun.