On a Tuesday again!
Thanks for the grace to be late on my schedule; I hope the quick tips I have to offer today are pure gold for you and your schedule.
I’ve been thinking all this month about the very best way to help people stick to their healthy eating goals…you know, those resolutions we make January 1 that are often gathering dust by January 10th or so?
As I recover from the haze of early postpartum days (Gabe will be 3 months old tomorrow!), I am noticing that certain strategies in the kitchen are lifesavers, because they are both easy enough to keep up and helpful enough to make a major impact on the time, money or effort I spend making dinners (and the other feels-like-389 times these people eat around here daily!).
Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to practice (and acquire) one good new habit focused on healthy living in the kitchen.
If you’re already a rock star at real food, your mission is to share these ideas with others.
These "top 3" are some of my favorite habits without which I begin to flounder and become tempted to order pizza. True story.
1. Cook extra meat and beans and freeze for later.
As I was creating the free bonus meal plan that comes with the print edition of The Everything Beans Book (through 2/21 only), I realized that I habitually cook more than necessary when I’m browning ground meat or cooking with dry beans.
My freezer almost always holds 2- or 4-cup servings of cooked beans and half or whole pound bags of cooked ground beef and homemade sausage.
Both are quick to thaw and use, and it means I can have a meaty omelet, spaghetti, simple soup or beans and rice on the table in no time at all, even if I’ve fallen down a bit on my meal planning.
And believe me, in the last
few months 6 months year, I’ve fallen down a LOT.
The funny thing about that is the next habit I noticed – once I actually sit down and focus on making a meal plan for a week, I usually accidentally get almost two weeks written out.
And then…I actually cook. I know what’s coming.
And we have real meals 80% of the time instead of me scrambling around being stressed out 80% of the time after 4:00 p.m.
Which brings me to something I’d like to introduce to you as:
2. Practice connected meal planning.
When I buy a big huge box of spinach, I can always think of a number of meals to choose from to use it up…
- Then if one has beans in it, I might make double beans and plan another meal with them later in the week.
- And if that meal requires a side bread, I can use the leftovers from that double batch to make grilled cheese the next night alongside a meat-centric dish with lots of other sides…
- …so that I have plenty of meat left over for a good soup two nights later.
- And if that soup does best with already-cooked rice in it, well, then I need to put a stir fry in between.
- I might as well cook 4 cups of rice (the capacity of my rice cooker), so we get rice pudding for breakfast in there somewhere (recipe in The Healthy Breakfast Book).
It all started with a box of spinach.
Did I mention that I also bought some chicken on the same shopping trip…?
You can imagine the trail of meals that can come from that!
My point is two-fold:
- Getting started is half the battle.
- Aiming for some connected meal planning helps you keep rolling (and rolling, and rolling) once you’ve gotten started.
Just do it! Ask your spouse to help you be inspired to sit down on a regular day and time.
Maybe discuss favorite meals or something they’d like to see on the table in the next week or two, and once you sit down, hopefully you can just keep rolling too.
If connected meal planning isn’t a good fit for your personality or cooking expertise, Bethany shared 6 styles of meal planning last fall that have really resonated with readers from all over. CHECK THEM OUT HERE.
And the faithful KS readers shared their best meal planning tips as well last spring, RIGHT HERE.
3. Budget – both time and money – by the meal.
How long does it take you to make a meal?
That answer likely varies widely – for me, it’s between 30 minutes and 2 hours, easily.
Even my fastest meals somehow still take 30 minutes to get on the table when you add cutting a cucumber, a pound of carrots, and some lettuce so we all have raw veggies to eat.
But those two-hour meals…those are killer.
There has to be some balance.
So I’m starting to evaluate if I want to bother making something based on how long it will take AND how much the ingredients will cost.
You can estimate how much a meal costs (and how many times it will feed your family) and begin to get a much better handle on your budget, which is often part of efficiency as we can spend an awful long time driving around to source the best food at the best deals, can’t we?
Here’s an example from our house:
My kids just got in big trouble for jumping on (and breaking) an air bed in our house.
They are having to earn the money to buy a new one in various ways, including chores, selling back candy from their stash or treats they get at sporting events, and sacrificing fun meals for less expensive meals.
We have pizza night every Sunday, but with the cost of cheese and meat, and sometimes the almond flour crust (pricey), it can be almost as expensive as grabbing a Hot-n-Ready from Little Caesar’s.
Next Sunday, we’re having a bean soup with homemade stock. I’ll figure out the difference in cost, share that with the kids, and anyone who eats without complaint will earn some money toward their total.
The "fun meals" like homemade chicken nuggets, GF mac and cheese with sliced sausages from Costco, and a roast with baked potatoes tend to be the pricey ones.
Soup, not so much.
And I can make massive batches for a quick leftovers meal later in the week plus freeze some.
We eat a lot of soup!!
Last week I made the hugest pot of sausage lentil soup – 18 potatoes, 18 carrots, a smidge over a pound of ground pork made into sausage homemade, 6 cups green lentils, homemade stock… It was a triple batch and it fed our family (5 eaters) plus my in-laws for dinner, a family of six to whom I took a meal after a new baby, then 25 people at Gabe’s Baptism, a few lunches for our family AND another leftovers dinner, plus 3 jars for the freezer.
Makes me tired just thinking about it, but you know what? I used the food processor to chop all the veggies, and I bet it didn’t take more than an hour to put the whole thing together.
FINALLY, a meal that took longer to consume than to create!
And the ingredients were pretty darn cheap.
That’s what you’re looking for, folks – low on time, low on cost, big on output.
You’ll feel better about your time in the kitchen that way, and that’s "efficient" in my book, any day.
In case you’re wondering, the soup was from Kimi Harris’s Ladled, found on Amazon.
I’d love to hear about your ultimate favorite kitchen hacks and speedy tips for eating real food on a regular basis!
And if you need a little inspiration, sometimes busting out a good new cookbook can make all the difference between planning and wishing you had planned:
KS eBooks are on sale through Saturday, January 31st – use the code EATWELL2015 for 40% off your order of any two or more items (including already discounted packages!).
Disclosure: There is an affiliate link to Amazon in this post from which I will earn commission. It’s to my book – you should check it out!