Angela mentioned in a comment on this post that “The trick is figuring out how to do all this without food consuming every waking hour of my life when I’m not at work. Juggling. The usual issue.” Yep. Juggling is something I’m sure we all do. Real food does take time and it certainly can seem monumental. Especially on super busy days (weeks) when everything seems to be stacking up. Or on those days when things don’t go quite as planned. I know in my own life I have plenty of those days. Sometimes I think “jeez, I’m home all day how can I not get anything done?”
While I am home many days, I do work two jobs from home totalling 20-30 hours each week (except during tax time then it is more like 40 hours). One day per week I need to go into town for my business. I try to schedule my days so that I can get not just my ‘for money’ things done but the house cleaned, preschool for Christopher, meals and snacks prepared, etc. I imagine my day looks somewhat like your day, the details may be different but we’re all busy. Truth be told, often by the end of the day the LAST thing I want to do is prepare dinner. But we have to eat. And I truly believe that once a person gets into a ‘rhythm’ to kitchen time real/whole/traditional foods doesn’t take that much longer than other options.
I wanted to share a few things that I do to help with getting those meals on the table. First off, I need to say that I do not have all of the answers and I’m certainly far from perfect at organization but I do the best I can with God’s help and trust that my family will be blessed by my efforts.
Keeping a Well Stocked Freezer, Pantry and Refrigerator
This helps me alot. Knowing that I have food at my fingertips that I have picked out for our consumption is where I start. Our freezer has a good selection of antelope, deer, beef and chicken plus some fish and the occasional lamb or elk plus some produce. My pantry has many whole grains and legumes (various varieties of each) plus assorted items for meal prep and a decent selection of spices. The fridge has the basics such as produce, milk and leftovers plus assorted lacto-fermented items. Keeping things on hand really helps me with my next step.
I’ve talked about this alot. Most weeks I plan our dinners out. I also used to plan breakfasts and lunches but now we eat so simply for those meals that I don’t plan as strict. Having a well stocked freezer, pantry and refrigerator is the basis of my meal plans. I shop there first when making up the menu and then add from the regular grocers as needed. Some weeks we’ll really only need fresh produce to finish off the menu plan and quite often I can even skip a week of shopping.
Planned Overs, Stretchy Beans, Doubling Up
I utilize any method that makes sense to help make the next meal easier to prepare. Planned overs work well for me. I love cooking a chicken or two and having meat as the basis for several meals to become casseroles, skillet dishes, soups, or any number of other things. I’ve done a whole series on Stretchy Beans (cooking one big pot of beans of have different meals for 3 or 4 nights, which are also planned overs) and I rarely make a single batch of things if I can easily do a double batch. If I know I have a busy week coming up I’ll take a few hours on Sunday afternoon and prepare ahead as much as I can. Extras of things are often stashed in the freezer for the basis of a quick meal later. My favorite things to do this with are pureed beans and sourdough tortillas for a quick dinner. Sometimes I think I’d like to try the once a month cooking concept and make a whole bunch of things I could put in the freezer to just pull out and heat but that has not yet happened (if you do that, please share in the comments). These are all little things that really help me in the long run.
Back Up Plan
Sometimes even with my meal planning things still fall apart. I might forget to soak the beans the night before or take something out of the freezer. If I realize it early enough in the day, then I can just come up with a different dinner out of things we have on hand. Or sometimes I’ll really mess up and not look at my menu plan at all until the day is almost done. In those cases I need a back up plan.
The Back Up Plan could be just pulling out the leftovers in the fridge and having a smorgasbord. If the amount doesn’t seem to be enough, I’ll add scrambled eggs or a smoothie or both. Another quickish meal is breakfast for dinner. Sourdough pancakes or waffles are super easy as are Coconut flour pancakes or waffles of course, standing there flipping does take a few minutes but not too terribly long and the end result is very worth it.
We’ve been keeping alot of wonderful ferments on hand lately thanks to the GNOWFGLINS Lacto-Fermentation eCourse. We had a super fast meal recently that involved me pulling several of my creations out for everyone to choose from. Pickled eggs, pickled salmon, bean paste, and clabber cheese can provide are hearty enough to provide the basis for an aperitif style meal.
And if all else fails, I do have some heat and eat foods on hand. Yes, these are conventional canned foods with somewhat acceptable ingredients that I have decided are okay to have once in a great while. Usually these meals are reserved for days I am sick in bed and the fridge is empty. In fact, we do not even keep these foods in our regular pantry. They are actually stored in a tote and require some work to get to. These foods rarely have ‘perfect’ ingredients but are things that I’ve dubbed ‘okay’. We eat them and move on (and maybe I gloat a little when I hear how they aren’t nearly as good as home cooking).
I recently had a lesson on pressure canning from my friend Laurie and the results were wonderful. Canned antelope/venison (a mix of both) turned out great and as a result my husband bought me my own pressure canner. I hope to put that into use and replace the conventional canned goods with home canned. I’m quite excited about this shelf stable option for preserving meat, broth, beans and more.
Take Out: this may be an option for many people for nights when the meal doesn’t come together. It really doesn’t work well for us. Our take out choices are pretty limited and living almost half an hour from town we don’t drive in for a dinner out during the week unless it is a special occasion planned in advance. Possibly if we had a ‘healthy’ take out option we would utilize that on occasion.
Start Each Day With a Plan
I really should have this up toward the top but it fits okay here too. Most every morning I fill in my to do list. That list has reasonable items that I hope to accomplish that day on it. I don’t go crazy with my list, I keep it real. I have a section for cooking/baking and I list anything ‘special’ that I plan to make. I also try to remember to look at my meal plan during that time and start (soak, thaw, etc) anything that needs it then. Of course, I’ve had times when I’ve looked at my meal plan and before I could make it to the kitchen to get done what needed to be done, I get sidetracked I really do try to be organized it just doesn’t always happen.