5 Real Food Shortcuts and “Cheats” |

5 Real Food Shortcuts and “Cheats”

admin January 18, 2012

real food shortcuts

Image by mazaletel

Okay, let’s face it.  No single task in “real food cooking” is really that big a deal.  It doesn’t take that long to put flour or beans to soak, or bottle your kombucha every two weeks.  Really.

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.

Image by andrewmalone

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. 🙂

**Entered in Homemaker Help at Raising Arrows, Real Food 101 at Ruth’s Real Food, Kitchen Tip Tuesdays at Good Cheap Eats.**

What are your real food shortcuts?

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  1. This post came in at such a great time. I am always trying to find ways that I can make dinner quicker and less of a hassle. I have a 1 year old who is super clingy and all she wants to do is be picked up and you have to watch her because everything goes into her mouth. So hours in the kitchen is not possible anymore. My first was completely different he is three years old now. I always find that something simple is always best. If I don’t have time to do an elaborate meal i run to my rice cooker, let it cook my brown rice, and throw some vegetables in a skillet and then the rice once its cook and do a stir-fry. A good tip that I found works GREAT for the days you forget to soak the beans (I read it in a blog but don’t really remember which one SORRY!) is to cook your beans until they boil and then turn off the heat and leave them alone for an hour. Rinse them off and add new water and continue to cook them. This has worked wonders for me for the days I have forgotten to soak them. Days when I have no idea what to cook we do breakfast for dinner (usually consists of eggs with something else), or we make a big salad with some form of meat.


  2. Scrambled eggs is one of my favorite back-up meals. The best part is that veggies and meat can be added in and make those eggs go far on the plate. I like to use veggies that need to get eaten right away using this method if I’m not planning a veggie soup soon.


    • Karen- for a yummy twist to your eggs, add some cream cheese! I still buy store bought cream cheese -organic, at least- and I will add about 1/3 of the block to 5-6 eggs. Just take that 1/3 and cut it into smaller pieces and throw into the eggs that you have already scrambled and cook as usual. It makes the eggs so creamy and yummy. Its great alone, or with vegggies and meat, too! I love to serve this to overnight guests because they just can’t figure out what is making the eggs so creamy. They can’t believe it when I tell them cream cheese. Even my daughter who won’t eat cream cheese -unless its in cheescake!!- loves these eggs.


  3. This post was amazingly helpful in realizing my goal of living my life more fully (outside the kitchen) while remaining vigilant about food quality and safety (as both my children have severe food allergies). In the past few months, I have scaled back considerably on the menu planning. Often, I will just prepare a meat (throwing a whole chicken in the crockpot is one of my favorites… especially since Earth Fare had the free chicken offer) and then just serve fresh fruits and veggies as a side. My children refuse “normal” carbs like rice and potatoes, but will try homemade biscuits and breads (which thankfully can be made in large batches and frozen). I appreciate your ideas and will incorporate some of them in my “gourmet” meals as well 🙂


  4. Being a full-time working mom of two little ones, I think “frozen” is key. Yesterday my husband and I popped out some precooked black beans (I made ahead of time), peas, and corn from the freezer; mixed it with sausage and spices, and wrapped them in fresh soaked homemade tortillas. The little extra planning in the morning before I go to work can save an hour in the evening.


  5. You have NO idea how much I need this!!! With working full-time and wanting to start my family on a real food lifestyle, it is HARD for me to find time to make a wholesome meal without pulling out some box of prepared stuff. Thanks Katie!!!!


  6. LOVE this! Practical and honest! 😀 So if we eat great 95 % of the time then we shouldn’t stress over that 5 % right? I mean, stress is harmful to health just like a sugary donut, LOL! 😀 The freezer is definitely our best friend! When we move into a bigger place (hopefully this summer!) we plan to buy a chest freezer and make full use of it! Right now, my freezer is always over flowing (tiny top of a fridge freezer!) but I still get my bone broth and frozen cooked beans in there along with veggies, fruit, and pre-browned/cooked beef/chicken. It is how I survive in the kitchen since leaving boxed/frozen dinners as a thing of our past! 😀

    P.S. You gotta check out the e-books this talented lady sells! I have all four and they are awesome! 😀 Great info and recipes!


  7. I love this list! We don’t have kids yet, but hubby and I both work 40 hours a week outside the home (sometimes more) and some days I just don’t have time to make a “real meal,” but I always have time to make a “real food” meal. Great suggestions! We like boiled eggs, chicken/black beans/raw milk cheddar on spinach, raw veggies in homemade hummus, raw fruits, quick thawed & cooked fish with seasoning, and last night we had cooked lentils on top of toast, then topped with swiss cheese & baked in the oven until cheese was melted. YUMMY!


  8. Thank you so much for this encouraging post! I make some things with white flour on occasion, but I would rather have something homemade from my kitchen with white flour instead of fast food or other nasty processed items! It’s all about perspective sometimes!


  9. I’ve read in several places recently that frozen vegetables are actually healthier than fresh, if you’re just buying them from the grocery store. That’s because they’re picked at their prime and frozen right away, instead of picked unripe and weeks old by the time you buy them. We do still buy fresh veggies so we can enjoy them raw, but if I’m going to cook them anyway I have zero guilt about using frozen.


  10. Thank you so much for this post! I am new to real food, and sometimes beat myself up about not having all my meals planned and not making everything from scratch. I am newly married and work full time, so these ideas are so helpful!


  11. I’m new to real food eating and confused about what you said about white flour. If I don’t have time to soak something wouldn’t it still be better to use whole wheat flour?


    • Hi Kaila, depends on who you ask, but I would say no. My kids don’t tolerate the phytic acid in unsoaked whole wheat flour at all, and would end up feeling sick and having behavior problems if I did that. So if I don’t have time to soak, I go for white. Those who don’t notice any symptoms would probably choose whole wheat. I think that the whole wheat probably will cause damage even if you don’t notice it, though, which is why I recommended unbleached white.


  12. I love this list! My biggest challenge with making more and more real food is the pile of dishes!
    I just got into a routine of making our own granola and slow-cooker yogurt. It saves money and I know what’s in our cereal bowls, no junk and it’s pretty easy.

    I’m so glad I have both Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods nearby too for when we need to fill in quick with some healthy snack options.


  13. The only problem with crisping nuts is that heating destroys some nutrients in the raw nut. I love crispy foods, but find raw (truly raw) nuts to be delicious and crunchy without heating them. I add dried blueberries and cranberries and raw pumpkin seeds to the mix and it is a delish snack.


  14. Wonderful. Thanks for taking the pressure off. It’s nice to know there are other moms out there who really feel pressured like I do and that we can all mange it and be ok. Between the commute,work, kiddos, homework, sports practices, housework, shopping and making everything from scratch, I’m exhausted. It’s nice to think about the occasional cheat although, no white flour in my house no matter what! For that we’ll go for the all out cheat and go for good New York Pizza or authentic Mexican food. The house has to be white flour and white sugar free, period. oh well. Great ideas and again thanks for relieving the pressure and helping me feel like it’s okay to be human and flawed once in a while.


  15. I’m working really hard to get us there — to whole food eating. Thank you so much for all your help and advice!


  16. I’m new to this real foods thing. I grew up eating home-cooked food, but we also had our share of Kraft Mac and Cheese and Top Ramen. So some I know already, some is completely new to me. Trying to keep up is difficult, especially when I’m trying to figure out the terms. I knew about soaking the beans, but only because it was something we always did, no idea why. The flour, though- I’ve never heard of that. What, do you just add water to a bowl of flour or something? Then how do you use it after that? And does it matter what kind? I just get the unbleached white flour from the store.

    Soooo much to learn….


    • I have some posts on how to soak flour. Basically you add whatever liquid the recipe calls for (milk, water, oil or butter, possibly honey) and let it sit overnight. It doesn’t “soak” like beans do. The next day you would continue with the recipe. I have several soaked recipes on here, and I recommend you try one and follow it closely when you are trying out soaking for the first time.


  17. I’m curious about the pasta, you buy (occasionally as you said) white pasta? We’ve not have family success with brown rice pasta, and we aren’t GF, so we buy 100% whole wheat pasta, organic when we can find it. Wouldn’t that be a better choice? Just curious of you opinion. Thanks


    • Hi Courtney,

      Depends. My family doesn’t react well to unsoaked whole grains, so whole wheat pasta would not work for us. I typically buy the brown rice pasta because it’s low in phytic acid and they do okay with it. If I cannot I might buy white, but that is once a month or less.


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Hi, I’m Kate.  I love medical freedom, sharing natural remedies, developing real food recipes, and gentle parenting. My goal is to teach you how to live your life free from Big Pharma, Big Food, and Big Government by learning about herbs, cooking, and sustainable practices.

I’m the author of Natural Remedies for Kids and the owner and lead herbalist at EarthleyI hope you’ll join me on the journey to a free and healthy life!

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