Cooking Tips From A Guy Who Fed His Family For A Year With A Quarter-Ton Steer

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You want to feed your family right like a good locavore should, but nutrition labels are confusing, fast food is ubiquitous, and kids hate everything. (Adorably so, but still.) One possible solution: buy a whole cow from a rancher and feed your family on that for a year. That’s what Jared Stone did and chronicled in his book, Year Of The Cow. While not uncommon for families in cattle country — buying an entire grass-fed steer is cheaper in the long run, better for the environment, and purportedly tastier — you might not be so inclined to haul home a quarter ton of beef in your Prius. If you still want to feed your family well, though, take a few tips from the guy who did. After all, you could get a good look at a t-bone by sticking your head up a butcher’s ass, but then … never mind.

Shorten The Distance From Farm To Fork
Growing up with a family of hunters in Kansas, Stone never questioned where his food came from — its head was on the wall. Now residing in Los Angeles, he realized he and his children (Declan, 7, and Nora, 4), like many Americans, had no connection to the land. Buying direct from a rancher who’ll vouch for your steak’s grass-fed, steroid-free, happy cow life is one way to restore that. “I’ve got this beautiful steer in an iron box in my backyard, and then I’ve got … Cheetos. That does not compute,” Stone says. A less meat locker-y way to get closer to your family’s food source: the farmer’s market. “There will always be a quality difference when you know the guy who makes your food.” Whenever possible, get your food straight from the same 2 hands that pulled it from the earth.

Optimize Your Grocery Run
There’s nothing inherently wrong with doing your grocery shopping at a store, but there is an optimal way to do so. Stone’s first tip: stick to the perimeter. That’s where you’ll find the produce, meat, dairy, and other perishable, single-ingredient food. “Stuff that generally doesn’t come in a box or a bag and has been futzed with less,” he says. Pretty much everything else — the stuff in the middle — is corn- or soy-based crap. Secondly, if possible do smaller, more focused trips rather than big stock-up runs. This way, you’ll buy only what you need and do your part to help curb America’s 30% food waste.

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Make Snacking Smarter
Mealtime isn’t so meaningful if Junior’s been eating Snacky S’mores all day. To paraphrase Stone paraphrasing Cervantes, “Hunger is the best sauce.” His ingenious hack for the “don’t spoil your dinner” rule: allow snacking during meal preparation. “When they’re in the cooking process with me or my wife, ‘Yeah, you can have some carrots. Knock yourself out! You enjoy those green pepper strips, by all means.”

Help Your Kids Own Their Meal
Kids are a lot more inclined to try new things, or at the very least eat the stuff you’ve tried a thousand times to get them to taste, if they have some skin in the game (or meat in the pot, as it were). Toss them a mini apron and a peeler and watch in amazement as they suddenly want to eat broccoli after helping turn the raw ingredients into a delicious dish — not just physically putting the dish together, but strategically deciding what will make for the perfect meal. The first time Stone and his son made a stew together, “He kind of hemmed and hawed. I think he said he wanted candy and moon rocks for dinner.” By the end, they’d created a masterpiece of bacon, peas, and a savory biscuit topping.

“He kind of hemmed and hawed. I think he said he wanted candy and moon rocks for dinner.”

His son loved it, and participating in the cooking has taught him the difference between homemade goodness and fast food junk. “It goes from something you’re foisting on them to something they’ve participated in; they want to share something amazing with dad or mom. That’s been a game changer,” Stone says.

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Don’t Be Afraid To Experiment
You might not be a gourmet now, but the more you cook the better you’ll get. Start with whatever you already know how to do and then keep tweaking it until you achieve the desired result. For Stone, that meant turning the steer’s 4 massive legs, loaded with tough connective tissue, into a whole lot of pot roast. “We made more pot roasts than anybody’s favorite grandmother,” Stone says. “It’s become a staple in our household where it wasn’t before. Now we make them as a quick weeknight meal — if you can call something that takes 8 hours to cook ‘quick.'”

“I’ve got this beautiful steer in an iron box in my backyard, and then I’ve got … Cheetos. That does not compute.”

If you do decide to “Fill a Prius full of 420 pounds of cow parts and drive it the length of the state,” you won’t have a choice but to take a few risks. For example, Stone never thought tongue was a kid-friendly cut of beef (“There’s no question what it is. It just sits there on the table, silently pronouncing the letter ‘L.'”), until he braised it, sliced it, seared it, and became the proud father of possibly the first 7-year-old whose favorite food is tongue tacos.

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