Life is ever turning and rolling forward in a relentless forward motion. I see it in my children’s growing faces. Baby chub turned to toddler smiles, to school year “grown-up-ness”, as my almost six-year-old considers herself. They are a constant reminder to me of how quickly time goes by, and how much I want use this time wisely.
Part of using that time well, is cooking nourishing food for their growing bodies. But I have just gone through a very busy time, and we are all ready for that short “winter break” I talked about earlier. I am putting a priority on making healthy consistent meals, but also not spending all day in the kitchen. We have about three weeks until life gets very busy again, and I don’t want to spend that whole time in the kitchen! But I also am very ready for eating well.
So, I have been putting together some ideas and menu plan goals. I thought I’d share some of them with you too! After all, most of us like to simplify when possible!
1. Have a (meal) plan
I know that this is a really basic concept, but it is one that I often can’t do with all of the recipe testing I’ve had to do recently. I think that many of us ironically tend to drop planning meals when busy–which is when we need it the most. Without a meal plan, meal times can be stressful, and we are much more likely to get dinner out.
2. Plan simple
Not everyone has this tendency, but I start gathering all of my pinterest pins, and thinking of all of these beautiful dishes I want to make, and my menu plan can quickly get either over budget or too time-consuming. So I always tell myself, “Plan simple”. I purposely hold myself in, and joint down simple meals.
3. Work once, eat twice
Many dishes are easy to make as a double recipe. It can reappear as lunch or a dinner in a couple of days. I do this especially with dishes that don’t require double the work to make double the amount. Chili, soups, and other one-pot meals fit the bill nicely.
4. Do Vegetable Prep ahead of time
For me, this is going to mean peeling carrots in preparation for juicing (perhaps during home movie time?) during the week. We don’t juice all the time, but will be this upcoming week or so. You can also prep stir-fry vegetables. My mother-in-law liked to prep large bags of various vegetables so that she could create a delicious stir-fry in a couple of minutes. It worked really well for her. You can also prep lettuce and other vegetables for making large salads.
5. Slow cook dishes
Whether you use a slow cooker, or you like to braise in the oven or stovetop, many dishes that rely on slow cooking are quick to throw together, and good dishes to come home to when you are out and about. I am planning on a couple of dinners coming out of my slow cooker.
6. Premake Breakfast
If you are wishing to avoid cold cereal, then breakfast can take a little time to make. This isn’t really a problem, but it can make breakfast stressful if you have hungry young ones when you get back from a quick jog (my brand new habit). I am thinking of pre-making large pots of oatmeal, congee (more about this soon), and other breakfast foods so I don’t have to worry about it every morning.
7. Soak and cook grains/legumes in large quantities
I like to soak all of my grains, which can mean a lot of thinking ahead. Once again, not necessarily a problem, but I want to think about meal planning the least amount possible right now. So, why not soak and cook a large amount of rice, quinoa, or whatnot, and then simply reheat as you need? Chilled grains are delicious when added to salads, yummy when added to homemade stock, and are easily fried up for a delicious side dish. I love having plenty of cooked grains and/or legumes in the refrigerator ready to simply reheat to eat.
8. Ditch baked goods
I love making muffins, breads, and others delicious treats. However, for the next week, I am going to be keeping that at a minimal. I can either buy high-quality sourdough at the store, or simply plan my menu around whole grains rather than bread. If I do make baked goods, it is going to be very purposeful, such as special project to do with my daughter, for example.
9. Re-make leftovers
Leftover pot roast can be shredded and made into beef tacos, leftover roasted chicken can be made into chicken curry, chicken salad, and a wide variety of main dishes. Leftover grains can be made into fried rice like dishes. There are endless ways to remake leftovers. It not only saves time, but done right, can save money too.
10. Use fast cooking meats and fish
If I don’t want to slow cook something, it is nice to have meat or seafood that cook quickly. Clams (for Bistro Clams), wild salmon, ground beef, and certain (grass-fed) steaks can cook really quickly, allowing you to spend less time in the kitchen. If you already have cooked grains to reheat, then you only need to steam some pre-prepped vegetables, and dinner is ready within minutes.
I hope to share in more detail how these concepts actually work out in real life in the upcoming weeks. Meanwhile, I’d love to hear from you! What are your timing-saving kitchen tips?
Photo Credit: Emily Carlin
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I’ve been processing some vegetables as I get them, so I dice all my onions at once, and keep a bag in the freezer. The same with bell peppers, or other “vegetables that I am going to cook with that will go bad in my hot house.”
I try to do this too. It is such a help on busy days. I also do green onions and celery.
Another thing I do is precook meat for casseroles: ground beef and chicken, put it in meal portions in freezer containers and freeze till needed.
We love liver pate’. So, I precook the liver and put it in portion sized containers as well…waiting for that day when I can make some pate’.
This idea works well for meatballs too. Anything you can make ahead and freeze or can for later.
I have some leftover tomato soup today, that I’m hoping to can for convenience food.
Would love to see your menu plan for these “simple” weeks. I too have the habit of being overly ambitious with the menus, and burn myself out by Wednesday! I’m looking to putting together a easy meal list to pick from on our busy nights as school/activities approach.
Just an idea…I have been making broth based soups for breakfast, even in this heat. It fulfills their daily need for it (it’s highly absorbable minerals are good for their teeth) and helps hold them till lunch better than grains. Just so I don’t seem so weird…Miso soup is a traditional asian breakfast.
I keep broth going all the time. So, I just need to filter some and add some things to it. It is much quicker than making any other kind of breakfast food.
Today, I used chicken broth to make some home-made tomato soup with sourdough cheese toast. The kids loved it and it was a quick and easy meal.
Amy Love @ Real Food Whole Health
You’re definitely not weird- and NOT alone! 🙂 We have broth for breakfast quite often. One of our favorite things is to put a pastured egg yolk in a mug and then pour boiling stock over it, stir, add some grassfed ghee and a good sprinkling of Real/Celtic salt. Delish!!
I’m looking forward to your ideas about premade breakfast!
I usually like to meal plan, but in the summer I tend to derail, as I normally go about what I find at farmers market.
I also tend to dice up veggies & freeze them to cook later.
I usually buy a 5 lb pack of ground beef from a local farmer, brown it all at once, and divide it up into 5 portions. I use 1-2 portions that night & freeze the other 3-4. I love leftovers, but my husband doesn’t, so I try to change the leftovers to look/taste like something different.
Whenever I cook a big roast or roast a big chicken, I use the meat for a different recipe another night, such as stir-fry, tacos, soups, sliced &/or reheated to put on salads, etc.
Also, I will usually double recipes as much as possible & freeze the extra to pull out a week or two later. That way it doesn’t feel like leftovers to my husband. :O)
I love your idea of prepping veggies ahead of time! I hadn’t thought of that. My kids LOVE carrots & will eat them like Bugs Bunny. I usually buy them in 5 lb bags as well, so prepping them all at once will make it easy to give them an appetizer to tide them over until dinner is ready. :O)
Thanks again for your other great ideas!
Would love to hear your broth based soup list….
Wow! Love this list, some great reminders for back-to-school cooking. Thank you!
Amy Love @ Real Food Whole Health
We also do the double batch cooking, prep veggies and try (TRY) to meal plan. It’s hard when you are a food blogger and try to test lots of recipes, it is SO easy to go crazy on expensive ingredients and drive yourself a bit mad with a big production (which does result in delicious meals, but often a big mess too!)
I freeze a lot of my veggies. Mushrooms actually freeze great, and we use a lot of mushrooms. So, I chop them ahead of time and shove them in a big container. Same with leeks, onions and most fruit too. I tend to buy organic spinach (chopped), pearl onions, baby peas and French green beans to keep on hand, but if you had a bumper crop or found good farmers market deals, you could easily just freeze your own (blanch the greens first and peel the pearl onions)
I have a few go-to, easy meals for really busy days. Smoothies, quick soups, breakfast for dinner, organic grassfed hot dogs (bunless) dipped in homemade ketchup with cultured veggies, etc. are sort of never-fail.
Thanks for the reminder to KEEP IT SIMPLE! 🙂 A grassfed/pastured meat, a veggie or two and maybe a grain or starch some nights and you’re in business. Add a cultured food or beverage, cook everything in good fats and see if there is any way to incorporate broth (as a soup/stew, reduction sauce, cooking liquid for grain/starch, etc) and you will be eating better than 99.9% of the folks out there.
I just found a recipe for doing steel cut oats for breakfast by putting them in a crockpot overnight on low for 7-8 hours. I loved the ease and it was ready for us when we woke up. The recipe involved adding apples and cinnamon, but since we had some fresh peaches we just picked I only added the cinnamon and then added the peaches in the morning. It definitely made the morning so much easier for us. 1 cup of oats to 4 cups of water. I doubled it for my family of 7.
Sounds great. Thanks for sharing.
For steel cut oats, corn meal mush, rice pudding, amaranth porridge, etc, the crock pot is your best friend! Set ’em up in the crock pot before you go to bed, turn on Low, and breakfast is ready when you wake up!
Kimberly in So Cal
I loved this post; currently I am choosing to spend a lot of time in the kitchen but soon enough we’ll be busy and need to simplify. Breakfasts are are easiest/quickest meal; baked oatmeal one morning makes many servings of leftovers. Rice porridge (congee), oatmeal, and cornmeal mush can all be set to soak in the rice cooker with the timer function so that it’s ready as we awaken. Eggs and smoothies are fast, as it soaked granola (prepped ahead of time). Bacon can be baked in the oven on the weekend and then stored in the refrigerator and quickly reheated. For dinners, I love to use my slow cookers to make huge amounts of meat, then shred and freeze it for later.
Danielle @ Analytical Mom
Great ideas! Ironic how the demands of nourishing food blogging can sometimes make it more difficult to keep our everyday family cooking nourishing! I am always encouraged thinking about the people in Nutrition and Physical Degeneration who lived solely on fish and oatmeal (or rye and cheese), and thrived! They inspire me to keep things simple, and so does this post. 🙂
Just curious, I assume you use organic carrots for juicing…do you find that peeling them yields more satisfactory results?
Well, I do know that some outer peels of carrots can be bitter. Sometimes it tastes fine just scrubbing them, but other times it does taste better peeled. 🙂
I am totally on this page right now! Thanks, as always, for the reinforcement. 3-bean salad with a big batch of soaked beans and frozen green beans can feed a crowd nicely and be served several days in a row. I am curious about the “home movie time.” TV is just running rampant around here. Do you choose the movies? Not allow regular TV?
We have Netflix, but we don’t have any type of cable. 🙂 It’s more that it’s just easier to keep it at a minimum if we don’t have TV.
I am trying to get the hang of meal planning. I work 3-4 days a week, 10 hrs a day and never feel like cooking when I get home. I have a 9 month old too so I dont’ like to spend a lot of time in the kitchen on my days off, I want to play with her.
When you prep your veggies and fruit for the week, do you freeze them or keep them in the fridge? I find that I am wasting too much stuff b/c it goes bad before I can use it. If you freeze it, do you do anything to the fruit or veggies, besides wash, peel, chop, before putting in the freezer? Thanks for your help…love the blog and recipes!
Hi Kimi. I’ve nominated “The Nourishing Gourmet” for a One Lovely Blog award. If you’d like to take part, you can read about it on my blog. Thanks for writing a blog that I always look forward to reading. 🙂
After all the veggie and fruit prep is done, consider using Debbie Meyer Green bags. It will keep those foods fresh for 1-2 weeks. It’s amazing.
To make them last longer:
All foods must be as dry as possible
Do not mix foods in the bags
If you see moister forming on the inside of the bag, remove the food, turn the bag inside out and put the food inside the now dry bag. Never place a paper towel inside. It will keep the inside too moist when it starts absorbing moister.
Do you have any recommendations for slow cookers? I’d like to get one that doesn’t contain BPA or have a non-stick insert and I thought maybe your blog would be the place to look. I love reading all your frugal ideas and I hope to incorporate more of them into my cooking!