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The following is part of an Organic Guest Post Series written by Amy, a long time helper behind the scenes of Southern Savers.
As we get weeks into this journey I’m realizing how much I find myself talking about food! I spend at least 3 hours a week researching and even more time outside of that just thinking about food. Plus, I’m starting to get a reputation among my friends as the gal who knows all about healthy eating (which I have to admit is more than a little humorous to me!) Because I am immersed in this, I find myself getting uber discouraged on a few levels.
First, I get discouraged with what I am eating. Dinners are great because I eat whatever I fix for the family which is going to be healthy, but my breakfasts are non-existent, and I am lucky to grab some form of protein for lunch. If I eat one serving of fruit and one serving of veggies I day, I feel like I have accomplished something. So while my kiddos are eating fabulously, I struggle to find time and energy after I am done taking care of them to feed myself well and to conquer my own eating idiosyncrasies.
My second level of discouragement is a bit deeper and potentially more universal. As I research, I am blown away by just how messed up our world is. Bees are dying out, non-GMO’d sources of corn are almost impossible to find, our chickens are being fed arsenic routinely and the list goes on and on. When I am writing, I want to shine a light on what’s going on with our food, but I fear that the light sometimes shows just how dark the darkness is. So today, I want to do two things. One, I want to take a moment and gain some perspective (because after all this research on meat, I need it. How about you?) After that, I want to give you a peek into how I am making this work for us. Eating whole foods is expensive, but one way we are working it out in our home is that I am cooking much more from scratch than I ever have. One dear friend told me this week, “I don’t know how you do it. I don’t have the time to cook like this.” I’d like to answer that with some tips on how we are making it work. So perspective first.
When we look at how our conventional food sources are both deceiving and failing us, it can be a bit discouraging. When we see the price tag of eating the food that is better for us, we can go into sticker shock. I don’t know about you, but when I start reading some blogs I am even more discouraged. One mom I read said that they try to eat out only 1-2 times a year. She doesn’t want to put all of that junk into her children. She’s not the only one. I have read people who say they will never eat a hot dog. Never eat anything other than grass fed meat. Never drink any milk other than raw milk. Now, let me say loud and clear that if you are one of those people, I am not judging you. Not at all. But sometimes that feels a bit overwhelming to me and a tad insurmountable. So, my same friend that shared her struggle to find time to cook also shared this idea. She said that she strives to feed her family the good stuff 70-80% of the time. The other 20-30% of the time, she doesn’t worry about it. If they are at somebody’s house, she doesn’t stress out about what they will eat. She simply enjoys the hospitality. I love this idea! It seems like a breath of fresh air to give yourself the freedom to not eat perfectly all the time. Maybe you are at a point where you are shooting more for 60/40, that’s fine. The freedom not to stress about food is good though, don’t you think? Because really, at the end of the day, we are all going to die from something. Does this negate our need to be good stewards? No, but I think it helps keep me in check by remembering what is important. Even if you eat perfectly there are no guarantees that you aren’t going to get cancer or heart disease or have a stroke. I’m not trying to be overly dramatic. Promise. I just needed to take a step back and remember that if I eat a spicy chicken sandwich from Wendy’s while I’m writing about how messed up our conventional chicken is, I’m not a hypocrite or failure. I’m human, and there is freedom to enjoy food and not always stress about it.
Now that I’ve unwound, I’d love to share some tips that have helped in my cooking more things from scratch. For those that are new here, some background info. I’m a homeschooling momma who is teaching two girls, wrangling a nearly 2 year old boy, and working part-time from home. Life is good and life is full. Here’s how we’re doing it now.
Don’t introduce too many new foods into your menu at once.
There are several reasons that I don’t introduce too many new foods at once. First off, have you ever noticed how much longer it takes to prepare a recipe for the first time? I tried a new muffin recipe this weekend, and it took me probably 30 minutes to make the first time. Because the recipe was a hit (and because we were out of muffins and had an abundance of milk that was about to go bad), I repeated the recipe twice more that day with different variations. On Monday, I made the muffins again. It took me under 15 minutes to make them. The more often you make something, the faster you are going to get at preparing it. That, in and of itself, will save you time.
Another perk of not trying too many new meal ideas at once is that it will save you money. New recipes often require new ingredients that you aren’t going to have on hand. Expanding your healthy food choices a little at a time will be less of a hit to your wallet as you can incorporate your stockpiling techniques to the recipes that are keepers.
A third perk is that you won’t face the discouragement of trying several new dishes only to have your children not appreciate it. There is nothing worse to me than working hard to make a meal and having one (or more) of my children act ugly about it. When I plan a menu, I know which meals are favorites and which meals aren’t so loved. I can stick the not so loved meals in between well loved meals so that every night isn’t challenging and while still exposing good foods to those with developing palates.
If you are cooking three meals a day plus healthy snacks, you can feel like your life is a never ending cycle of cook, clean kitchen, repeat. I have chosen some areas to simplify. Breakfast in my house is one of three pre-made options: yogurt, granola or a muffin with protein powder baked in. If someone is exceedingly hungry, I might add some fruit or cheese, but I’m well aware that my kiddos are going to want a piece of fruit at 10:00 am. So, I’m not too worried about a well-rounded breakfast. Snacks are another area we have simplified. I have a snack drawer with different options that the older two can pilfer with permission, and fruit is always an option. We also have simplified our dinner menus with the same 10-15 meals. We have breakfast for dinner once a week because everyone loves it (and it is the meal my husband makes, giving me a night off; he’s a saint). Keeping what we eat simple has helped to keep me sane.
Maximize the small moments.
For me, breakfast and sometimes lunch provide a small window of opportunity to get some cooking done. Making granola takes 5 minutes of hands on time, and if I get started after I get the littlest in the high chair, I can get it made and in the oven before he’s done eating. Major score. This is the time when I most often will find myself prepping fruit or veggies too. I won’t normally tackle everything at once. Maybe during breakfast, I cut up a cantaloupe and rinse and pick grapes off of the stem. Then during lunch, if I’m cutting carrots for lunch, I’ll go ahead and chop up more for the rest of the week. A few minutes here and there doesn’t feel so burdensome, and all the little work will add up.
Make in bulk and freeze.
In the past 3 days, I made 144 muffins. It took me 2-3 hours. I have breakfast prep done for the next month. The two most time consuming parts of cooking for me are pulling out all of the ingredients and cleaning up. When you cook in bulk, you are saving tons of time in both areas. We will brown 10-15 pounds of ground beef at once and freeze it in one pound packages (making dinner prep for so many meals faster!) If I’m cutting up celery and notice that I have way more than I need for a recipe, it doesn’t take that much more time to cut it all and freeze it. The same goes for onions. I don’t always do this, but this concept of freezer cooking keeps me sane more often than not.
Find a routine that works.
If you have set times to make specific things it becomes habit; and then you don’t have to plan it or think about it. Granola is made in the mornings during breakfast. Baking bread happens on Thursdays (most of the time), pizza dough is normally prepared on Tuesdays. This rhythm to cooking keeps me going even when I don’t feel like cooking.
Get the right tools and organize your kitchen!
I can’t say this enough, having the right tools can save you soooo much time and they don’t have to cost a ton or take up a lot of space. For instance, do you have a potato peeler that you hate? For five dollars, you could get a new one that would make peeling potatoes and fruit so much less frustrating. Make a wish list of things that would save you time, money, and energy. Then evaluate if it is worth the cost. The USA muffin pans I got for Christmas were the best gift ever because they eliminated my least favorite parts of making muffins, greasing the pans and cleaning them. Right now we have been thinking about getting a high powered blender. The more we thought about it, the less excited we got. Evaluate those tools that might make life easier and then move on or move forward.
Also as I cook and bake more, I am constantly reorganizing my kitchen to make it more efficient for me. I don’t live in a huge house; we work with what we’ve got. I try to keep my counters relatively clear since I need every inch when I’m cooking. Having what I need easily accessible when cooking helps a ton. Clean out your kitchen. Get rid of those pans that you never use. Make your kitchen serve you. And, if you are organizationally challenged, invite a friend over that can help you organize your kitchen. You can pay her in the goodness that you will now have time to bake.
Roll with it.
For all the cooking that I do there are still weeks when we run out of granola or browned ground beef or some other essential item. I keep a list on my fridge of things that I need to cook outside of our normal menu. When we are getting low or have run out, the food to be prepared goes on the list. I then try to fit that into one of those maximized moments. If all else fails, I’ll tackle it on Saturday when Jon is home and I have an extra set of hands.
Have a backup plan.
It’s dinner time and you don’t have any veggies to go with the meal. What to do? Momma’s got a migraine, and there is no way she’s going to be cooking. What’s for dinner? You’re out and about and need a quick bite to eat. What do you grab? The munchkins are sick and clingy (or just having a bad day). Who has the energy to prepare dinner, much less something healthy? You are standing in the grocery store and organic apples are too expensive. What do you buy? This is where having a back-up plan will help. Embrace frozen veggies. They are better than nothing. When life isn’t in crisis, take some time to figure out the frozen pizza or meal that meets your families’ eating goals the best. Have a meal or two that are your go-to easy fixes when life is stressful, and make sure that you always have the ingredients on hand. Discover the best fast food options where you live. Remember that eating a pesticide laden apple is better than not eating any fruit at all. I am seeing the need to think through some of these areas and come up with a back-up plan because when life gets crazy, if you haven’t thought things through, you’ll go for the default every time. Which is why we eat at Wendy’s far more than we ought. (Don’t judge.)
Those are a few of my tips and tricks. How about you? How do you making cooking whole foods less of a chore and more doable? Or do you have a problem that just frustrates you to no end? Can we help?