After reading some terrific instructions on Like Merchant Ships on how to simplify when cooking for your family, I pretty much posted a blog in the comments.
As much as I wish I did, I don’t love cooking. Being the house cook is tough!
In our family, I have to accommodate a vegetarian (who doesn’t love all veggies equally), a pre-schooler who eats a HUGE breakfast and tiny other meals, and a toddler who has 3-1/2 teeth and must eat a good meal at regular times.
I’m of the oh-crud-it’s-4:50-and-dinner’s-in-10-minutes school of cooking. You could call me a Lazy Mom. I would be a perfect candidate for a meal plan, but I’m more of a grey-area person so schedules only work so well for me. I try to make meal plans, but I haven’t found a system that works for me!
I HAVE to have leftovers to use, or we’d all starve.
Here are some of my biggest kitchen secrets:
- I make cream-of-whatever soup by the gallon on the weekend. I just chop up whatever veggies need to be used up for the soup (I use the recipe in my 70s BHG cookbook–we tend to mix potato, onion, broccoli, etc), and store it in a washed-out milk container so we always have soup on hand. You can eat it as is (sooo much better than Campbell’s condensed stuff), or use it as gravy, or as a binder in a casserole. It’s nice and versatile! It takes me about an hour to make the batch, from chopping to cooking, to pureeing.
- I usually have cooked carbs on hand in the form of whole wheat spaghetti noodles (make pasta marinara, or use them for asian-inspired stir fry), and cooked rice. I am currently loving Calrose (white sushi rice). You can eat it hot or cold! I am going to switch to brown rice, though, because the Calrose isn’t as nutritious (darn!) I also like to make a big batch of oven-baked potato cubes (guess they’re home fries?) that can be reheated for breakfasty meals (or breakfast for dinner), or incorporated into breakfast burritos.
- We eat a lot of mexicanish meals with canned refried beans as a main component. With a can of fat-free refried beans, you can make burritos (they take 5 mins to make), taco salad, or tostadas. I also personally love to heat the beans up, top ’em with cheese, salsa, and low-fat sour cream, and just eat ’em as dip with chips for a meal. That doesn’t fly well in our household, usually though! I used to cook a big batch of beans up, puree them and freeze them so I didn’t have to buy canned (more expensive) but there were some complaints about the taste and consistency of the homemade refried beans. I am still thinking about doing that again, and then mixing the homemade with the canned to cut the cost down of the canned beans. (We do get the cans in bulk at Costco – they cost about 87 cents each… still pretty cheap for a meal).
- We buy eggs by the 5-1/2 dozen and eat breakfast-for-dinner regularly. It’s super quick to make eggs, toast, and reheated veggie sausage. You can also make quick egg sandwiches for a meal-on-the-go.
- I keep breads in the freezer. We always have loaves of sourdough (for the adults), and whole wheat sandwich bread (for the kiddies’ PB&Js), and we keep whole wheat flour tortillas in the freezer in bulk as well. Bread defrosts super quickly once you take it out of the freezer, and it doesn’t get moldy and wasted if it’s kept in the freezer.
- I keep frozen veggies and berries in the freezer. Veggies are important, and frozen ones are healthy (they freeze ’em the same day they pick them, there aren’t any added ingredients). They’re quick to heat up, and versatile. You can use them as they are with a bit of seasoning for your veggie side dish, or add them to other dishes (like the aforementioned asian-inspired stir fry) or soups. Want to turn your cream-of-whatever into a chunky chowder? Heat up some frozen veggies and add ’em! Quick!
My most important tool:
- My toaster oven. It’s a mini oven. I rarely use the big oven anymore! The toaster oven cooks small batches of things (cookie dough for instance), and reheats things to crispy perfection. Leftover pizza tastes as good as it did the first time when reheated in a toaster oven. It’s as indispensible to me now as a microwave is. I can’t believe I lived this long without one.
Those are my cooking secrets! The main secret is, I’m really lazy and not apt to plan ahead. By using staple leftovers, I can make a “new” meal every day.
*Image by Daphne for CROQ Zine