So here’s part two of my Bare Minimum series: What I Cook.
I have definitely cooked crappy dinners. We definitely have days where (as Jen Fulwiler puts it) my children’s meals consist mostly of goldfish, or graham crackers. Cereal is always a fallback. Good ol’ trusty.
This is like the fourth or fifth time I’ve sat down to finish this entry, and each time I do, I’m like,”WHY am I writing this, again?” I feel completely unworthy of the advice I’m giving. I’ve got friends who are way more motivated and organized than I am, who should be writing this, and who could contribute way more! So just keep this in mind. I am constantly asking for advice from my family and friends. I was only half way finished putting this series together when I had a conversation with a friend about couponing! NO! I don’t really coupon! WHY!? I just don’t know enough! So there you go: Everyone has to start somewhere, and everyone is in a different place, a different pace and of a different temperament. Take something I do that might work for you and your family, tweak it, make it better, then share it with me! Or take something that I do totally wrong, and relieve me of my ignorance, please!
That said, let’s set the foundation about what my family and I consume:
I’d probably qualify myself as semi-crunchy. (crunchy= granola hippie or, as some have called me, “Earthy”) If I had the funds and inexhaustible drive to search for the optimum health foods—- I’m not gonna lie, I still would probably drive through McDonald’s and order some fries and a Coke. I try to maintain a balance of healthy food choices, and ingredients, but we allow some junk. That’s us in a nutshell.
It all boils down to what I’m willing to sacrifice. Health, money, or time?
If I were willing to sacrifice my money, my health and the health of my children, I’d buy a ton of frozen foods and prepared meals. We’d eat out often. I would never cook.
To me, I like to believe that my time is well-spent cooking meals for my husband and children. By doing this, I’m saving money and I’m looking after the health of my family. There are many days during the Bare Minimum Mode when I can barely find a minute to pee, let alone cook a meal. So here is what I do:
My Basics for Meals:
- Stick to what you know: Now is not the time to try recipes which contain ingredients you’ve never tasted before. I can’t afford the time or money on a meal experiment.
- Don’t be enslaved by brand names. We buy the store brand for just about everything save for a few items that I definitely notice a difference in flavor/quality or ingredients. It saves money. I always laugh, thinking of the Dave Ramsey line about Heinz 57 Ketchup vs the store brand ketchup “…Heinz claimed to be thicker, tastier. The store brand is accused of being watery, uglyyy …and made in the same factoryyyyy…”
- It pays to shop around. There is a particular store which I refer to as The Russian Storefront. I can’t stand shopping there. It’s always cold, they’re always out of essential groceries, and their produce sucks assmar. I don’t like it, my husband doesn’t like it, and even my oldest boy whines “NOOOO, I DON’T WANT TO GO TO W**-***T!” when we pull into the parking lot. But guess whaaaat: the groceries they do carry are cheaper than everywhere else. Shopping there cuts our grocery bill in half. I go elsewhere for the other items. I go to Target when I want a vacation. Tarjay Vacay!
- We buy fresh and organic to an extent. I’m aware of the partially hydrogenateds, the high fructose syrups, and the artificial sweeteners that are packed into nearly all dry grocery foods. I buy organic if it’s
everon sale- mostly, I wash fruit in a water/vinegar mix. I read the labels and avoid buying food for my boys containing any of the above ingredients. At first, it took a little extra time at the grocery store, but now I know what’s semi-healthy and that’s what I go back for. I also have ambitions to drown -er- grow a tiny garden this summer with the aid of my mother and my green thumb husband.
- I make the bulk of my meals from scratch. Cooking from scratch is the best for my family because I can better control what ingredients go into the dish, the recipes generally make larger quantities or are easily doubled, and it’s cheaper. No, I don’t roll out and make my own pasta, milk my own cow, nor churn my own butter. I definitely buy some frozen foods, I put half a pack of instant vanilla pudding into my cookies, and I always keep a box or two of cake mix for an easy dessert when family visits. We buy a frozen pizza every two weeks and it qualifies as our “ordering take-out”
- We never go out to eat.
I internally freak out pretty easily when we go out, so eating out with three baby boys is a trifecta for me.
Imagine me, for a moment:
Attempting to discreetly wrestle a 4 month old under the bewildering fabric of a nursing cover while he flails his limbs, gazes distractedly at the fabric’s print, perhaps screaming, perhaps squalling, while I’m having letdown (MILK EVERYWHERE). Baby perhaps sputtering, coughing, or possibly drowning, whilst my middle child may or may not be wailing in protest of the bondage of highchair-ery, or of the crackers he’s not being fed quickly enough because I’m busy with the noodly nursing baby and the fabric which feels like the volume of a ship’s multiple sails yet also like a simple tea cozy because noodle boy is now wrapping himself with it, negating its purpose and threatening boobie exposure. All the while, my husband frantically waits (in a forced, nonchalant manner) for the YouTube app on his phone to detect WiFi to silence the middle child, while our oldest boy jovially rattles on about EVERYTHING he sees, does, tastes and touches, as well as providing the sound effects of pirate life and animal bellowings because he loves to hear his own voice- but who can blame him?
I repeat, we never eat out. I know I will someday be wined and dined, but I don’t even want it right now.
- Generally, I cook 2-3 HUGE meals (dbl batch) a week and freeze half of each, so that I have two meals I don’t have to cook the second week.
- The rest of the week I keep very simple. Meat & veggie, with pasta or rice.
- I freeze nearly everything. Especially uncooked veggies or cooked pasta or rice. Those items thaw nicely and can be used or added to any meal with ease. Here is a pretty good Pinterest link on the basics of freezing food. I have hopes to save for a deep freezer un jour…
Pinterest is a great source for meal ideas, if you know what you’re looking for!
- Breakfast burritos- I’ve shared this one before, here. It’s such a great breakfast go-to. Instead of wasting $6-9 dollars on a small box of 4 frozen (full of mystery ingredients) breakfast burritos, taking 2 hours (which includes stopping to change diapers, feed children or get them to nap) on a Sunday afternoon gets me 2 weeks worth of breakfast for my husband and I. I don’t know if that can be beat!
- Bacon, Egg, & Cheese Biscuits. OH.MER.GERSH.
- Cranberry Pecan Chicken Salad– I make this maybe twice a month instead of buying lunch meat. It’s mostly to feed ME. It makes a quick sandwich, and I save myself from grazing or eating the boys’ graham crackers as a meal. I cut this recipe in half. It calls for 4 large cans of chicken, I use 2, etc.. However, I used more Greek Yogurt than the recipe calls for. This is a flexible recipe. I used chopped almonds instead of pecans, I added way more celery because I love the crunch.
- Pasta Milano- A chicken dish derived from a recipe from Macaroni Grill, it’s my favorite dinner. Full of flavor, freezes and reheats wonderfully. This recipe calls for only 2 chicken breasts, three strips of bacon and half a pound of pasta, so it’s fabulously easy to double and freeze for a quick meal next week. This one does take a little more time than the other recipes, but once you get the method down, it becomes second nature to throw it together. If I can do it, so can you!
- Chili– There is no such thing as a small pot of chili. I’m not a huge chili fan, but my MIL’s recipe converted me. I just found the above Pinterest recipe today, and it’s nearly identical. I do not double this recipe. In fact, I cut it in half (only 2lbs of meat, etc.) and there is still enough left to freeze for dinner next week in addition to lunch to send with my husband to work for a few days. It can be served by itself, or over rice or pasta. You don’t have to use beef. I use a mix of beef and italian style sausage. My sister makes chili with ground turkey, and I think it’s delicious. A very flexible recipe; one can use the beans they like, can add potatoes or extra vegetables, make it spicy or sweet.
- Polska Kielbasa with vegetables- This one is my easiest go-to. Chop up veggies of choice, sauté to desired tenderness, throw in diced Kielbasa and brown. Serve over rice. You don’t even need any sauce or dressing with it because the Kielbasa is so flavorful.
- Crock Pot Roast. I haven’t made this in a long time, but the secret ingredients make all the difference! This is another flexible recipe, as you may add veggies and serve with pasta or rice.
- Crusty Bread- This is hands down, my greatest Pinterest treasure. It’s a three ingredient, no-knead bread. I whip it up in a bowl at bedtime, let it sit til the morning or until the next evening, throw it in the oven, and I have fresh bread with dinner (spaghetti night, anyone?), or toast for breakfast, or extra bread when I’m out of regular sandwich bread. It freezes nicely.
I recently cut my dough in half and made two mini loaves: cute little baby loaves. I used to work at Jeff Ruby’s and they serve bread with a salty crust which I still think about and drool, so I sprinkled coarse sea salt on the top of one loaf before baking and it turned out beautifully. Make sure you read the instructions carefully, and read the comments for further ideas and tips. Before my mom gave me a dutch oven with a lid, I simply used my crock pot with foil as the lid to bake the dough. For these two loaves, I used two of my mini crock pots with foil. Chopping fresh rosemary and mixing it into the dough before baking is absolutely delicious. The blog gives other flavor ideas that sound lovely!
So there you go! visit my Pinterest board for more ideas. As far as food goes, I try to pin recipes that are realistic to accomplish, and that I’ve tried and approved.
Next week I’ll post my final part to my Bare Minimum Mode series: How I function with 3 Boys at home.
Please message or Tweet me with your Bare Minimum recipes!