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The thing is, though, you are not doing just one of those things. You’re doing 5 or 10 or 20 of them. That can get really overwhelming! Sometimes I’m too tired to “do it right,” as I’m sure many of you are. Being newer to real food and thinking about all the stuff you need to keep up with is crazy, too. Where to even begin? (I’m working on a book on how to organize and streamline all this stuff, though! No idea when that might come out.)
Still, despite your best intentions and plans, sometimes it’s not happening. Or you forget to do the preparation you need. Have you ever looked at your meal plan and said, “Well, I forgot to make stock and I didn’t soak the beans…guess we’re not having soup tonight.” Instead of resorting to picking up processed food from the grocery store or worse, fast food (ick), try some of these tricks below so that you can always throw together a quick, real-food meal in a hurry.
5 Real Food Shortcuts and “Cheats”
1) Make Extra and Freeze It
I did this right before Jacob was born, with beans. I cooked up maybe a pound or two of dried beans (a couple different varieties) all at once. It doesn’t take any longer to do two pounds than 1/4 lb. I cooled them, and froze them in 2-cup portions. You can also freeze them “prepared,” like refried beans, Mexican black beans, hummus, etc. This same principle applies to cooked chicken, marinated meats (mix meat and marinade in a bag, and freeze it uncooked), gravies and sauces, waffles and other breads, or entire meals. How nice is it to just walk over to the freezer and pull out dinner? And at the time, cooking a second portion isn’t any harder than making the first.
2) Freeze Stock
Another necessary component of soup (as well as gravies and sauces) is stock. Make a huge batch of it and freeze it. You can freeze it in large containers, or in ice-cube trays. I do both the ice cube trays and 4 – 6 cup bowls. That way I use a bowl to make a pot of soup, and a few ice cubes to make some gravy or add to a sauce.
3) Keep Frozen Fruit and Yogurt on Hand
Don’t know what else to make? Just make a smoothie. You can toss in raw egg yolks, milk or yogurt, whatever you like. Perfectly delicious and nutritious, and fast. When I don’t want to make yogurt, I buy a quart of plain yogurt from Trader Joe’s. They have a “European style” container that has nothing but milk and culture in it (no pectin or other yucky ingredients). If you don’t have a Trader Joe’s near you, Dannon makes a quart container of plain yogurt that also contains nothing but whole milk and culture, and you can buy it in any grocery store. This is reasonably frugal and super nice to have on hand.
4) Keep Frozen Veggies on Hand
They’re not as nutritious as fresh. So what? They go into soups or stews (which can be super quick if you have frozen stock too), they can be steamed and served on the side (a couple of times we ate just a bag of broccoli with butter, sea salt, and grated cheese for dinner). They’re cheap too. Spinach can go into aforementioned smoothies. They’re so versatile!
5) Buy White, Unbleached Flour
Okay, I know, white flour. But I’m serious. This is an emergency back-up supply, if you’ve forgotten to soak anything and you need a fast meal. Something you can bake at home with little warning, including lots of whole milk, pastured eggs, real butter, etc. is going to be better than lots of stuff you could buy at the store. I used a bit last week when I forgot to prepare lunch ahead of time. I used raw butter and grass-fed milk to make biscuits, then pastured sausage and more milk to make gravy. It was a pretty darn healthy last-minute lunch, despite a small amount of white flour. It was lots better than running to Wendy’s.
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Real Food Doesn’t Have to Be Hard
You do not have to serve a gourmet meal to consider it real food. You do not need to do anything fancy with your ingredients to make it a meal. It doesn’t matter if your family eats their cheese in slices or grated over a complicated chicken dish. Really.
Here are some quick meal ideas:
- Canned tuna (mixed with homemade mayo if desired), carrot sticks, smoothies.
- Scrambled eggs (plain or mixed with sausage)
- Biscuits and sausage patties or sausage gravy
- Taco salad (with beans, if you have those frozen)
- Grilled cheese on sourdough (you can buy real sourdough in many health food stores, and Costco)
- Italian chicken tossed with brown rice pasta and canned diced tomatoes
- Frozen waffles (that you made) with any protein (cheese cubes, bacon, sausage, peanut butter…)
- Yogurt with fruit or granola
- Leftover meat with apple slices (and almond butter, if you like)
- Broiled steaks (takes 10 – 15 minutes if they’re thinner)
- Burger patties without buns, cheese cubes, fruit
- Pita pizzas (recipe coming in my book on feeding toddlers)
- Vegetable stir-fry (add pre-cooked shrimp if you like)
Okay, so none of these are meals you’d feed to company. Who cares? They’re food, real food, that you can feed to your family now. My kids are constantly grabbing chunks of cheese, bowls of frozen fruit, jerky (if I’ve made any) or leftover meat, etc. and calling it a meal. Yogurt and smoothies are common, too, and now that I’m getting into milk kefir (more on that later) I offer that for snack, too.
Image by aMichiganMom
Can I Just Buy It?
Sometimes you really do just want to buy something and not mess with making it. So here’s what I buy sometimes:
- String cheese
- Pretzel Crisps (thin pretzel snacks)
- Sourdough bread (Trader Joe’s whole wheat or Costco’s white)
- Yogurt (Trader Joe’s European style or Dannon)
- Any organic fruit or veggie (or non-organic, if not on the dirty dozen list)
- Blocks of cheddar (Tillamook or Cabot from Costco’s)
- Various nuts (which should ideally be made crispy)
- Dried fruit (cranberries are the kids’ favorite)
- Various fresh fruit (bananas, apples, pineapple, grapes)
- Canned tuna (from Trader Joe’s, packed in water)
- Organic boxed mac’n’cheese (maybe once a month)
- Fruit snacks (the type that are fruit juice + pectin and no artificial junk)
- Various frozen fruit (pineapple, mango, strawberries, peaches)
- Brown rice pasta (and very,very rarely, white pasta — like twice a year rare)
If you have some of these things on hand, you can make something work for sure, even if you have no time. It won’t be the perfect, fussy, I-made-it-all-myself-including-milking-the-cow-and-growing-the-vegetables meal, but so what? We live in the real world. Avoiding processed food and restaurant meals is far more important than creating gourmet dishes. Take the short cuts, save the time, and use that extra to take on a fun new kitchen project. Or just spend more time with your family. 🙂