Tag Archives: cooking

How To Get Home Cooked Meals On The Table More Easily

How To Get Home Cooked Meals On The Table More Easily

Home cooked meals are generally healthier and cheaper for your family than eating out or making convenience foods. But they take time, and all too often parents struggle with finding the time to prepare a home cooked meal. It doesn’t have to be all that hard, however. Take a little extra time when it’s convenient for you, and you can cut down on the time it takes to make healthier meals for your family.

Plan Ahead

Planning ahead is one of the most important tools you have in cooking at home more often in less time. Planning ahead allows you to know what you’re cooking for each meal, what ingredients you need, how much time you need to make it, and so forth. It saves you from debating each day what to make, or wondering what to buy at the store. You’ll know what you need.

Planning is best done with current grocery store specials and seasonal produce in mind, especially if you get produce from a CSA or other arrangement where you have little control over what veggies you’ll have. Don’t plan on having something you aren’t sure you will have the ingredients for – that’s an easy way to get desperate enough to resort to convenience foods or a meal out.

Chop Early

Many ingredients can be chopped days before you need them. If you’re as lucky as I am and have kids who love to snack on vegetables, having chopped vegetables also means you have healthy snacks ready for them. If you’re planning a stir fry or other meal with chopped meat, that’s another easy item to cut up in advance.

Cook Early

You can even cook some things early, so long as they reheat well. I don’t like to precook vegetables; it’s too easy to turn them into mush with repeated heating. When you precook vegetables, make sure they taste good to you after being reheated. Fortunately, many taste good raw or can easily be prepared along with your main dish. Lots of vegetables are wonderful roasted, for example, and may do well in the oven at the same time as the main dish.

Beans, on the other hand, are easy to prepare in advance. I like black beans, and usually have a bag of cooked ones in the freezer. I make a large batch, then freeze them in ice cube trays, moving them into a bag after they’re frozen. The cubes make it easy to get just the right amount of beans into my recipe.

You can also cook meats early. Once again, be careful about reheating, as meats are easy to dry out.

Use Your Crockpot

When days are rushed, I love my crockpot. It’s pretty good other times too, but it’s an absolute delight on those days when I otherwise wouldn’t have time available to make a home cooked meal.

It takes time to find really good crockpot recipes. Bad crockpot recipes take away all the flavor of otherwise good ingredients. I don’t recommend cooking vegetables in the crockpot all day – they’ll be soggy and flavorless. Add veggies later in the day if you can.

Think Raw

Not all foods have to be cooked just because they’re a part of a meal. I often let my kids pick which raw vegetables they want with their dinners. It ensures their enthusiasm, as they all love a variety of raw veggies. My youngest, for example, is utterly obsessed with bell peppers, no matter the color. But sometimes she’d rather just eat a carrot or some snap peas.

There are plenty of books out there to help you make quick homemade meals. Having good recipes is a big part of making homemade meals quickly. Here are some that look promising:

The Elliott Homestead: From Scratch: Traditional, whole-foods dishes for easy, everyday meals
Operation Dinner: How to Plan, Shop & Prep for Easy Family Meals
Michael Symon’s 5 in 5: 5 Fresh Ingredients + 5 Minutes = 120 Fantastic Dinners
The Food Nanny Rescues Dinner: Easy Family Meals for Every Day of the Week

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Meatless “Shepherd’s” Pie

For our Earth Day dinner last night, I made a recipe called Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie. Well, approximately. I didn’t have all the ingredients. No Vegemite or similar, and we were out of carrots. But I came pretty close.

Cooked the lentils and barley in veggie broth for about an hour all together. Threw in some garlic and a variety of spices. Sauteed some chayote squash and asparagus, and added them when the barley was close to done. Added in some frozen green beans. Thickened the remaining liquid with a flour and water mixture.

Topped with mashed potatoes and some mozzarella, then threw the thing in the oven for long enough to melt the cheese.

In other words, I didn’t follow the recipe very precisely. I took the idea and ran with it. That’s pretty much how I cook.

I did most of the cooking in my cast iron skillet. I love that thing. No transferring a hot mess into a casserole dish to cook in the oven, and it really saves on cleanup.

A Hit?

Finally, a new vegetarian recipe that went over well with my family. My oldest daughter in particular loved it. It took my husband nearly two hours before he said “you know, you could just add the lentils to regular shepherd’s pie.”

I was wondering how long it would take him to get to the “just add meat” stage.

That’s longer than usual, though. And he agrees with my point that it is a good meal on its own and really useful for saving money or just not having to worry about whether or not there’s any meat defrosted.

One step at a time. One step at a time. I’m just glad to have a new, highly acceptable vegetarian meal to rotate in.

How to Choose Green and Healthy Cookware

If you’re like me, you regularly spend time cooking for your family at home. It can be both a chore and a delight. But have you ever bothered to think about whether your cookware is both environmentally friendly and good for your family?

It’s a thought that’s easy to skip. Cookware is something that once you have it, you’ll probably take it for granted, at least until the nonstick coating wears off.

That’s one of the biggest problems with Teflon cookware. That stuff comes off bit by bit through the years, guaranteeing that you will have to replace it regularly, and that your family is eating bits of Teflon. Not really what I want in my food, even though nothing is proven health-wise about it… unless you’re a bird, in which case I understand concerns have been demonstrated. Teflon can create a gas called PFOA that is poisonous to them when used at high temperatures.

The use of PFOA in making nonstick surfaces is decreasing already, as the EPA is working with companies to eliminate its emissions and product content by 2015.

Even if you aren’t concerned about the Teflon, having cookware that you have to replace regularly isn’t exactly environmentally friendly. Wouldn’t you rather have stuff that lasts longer?

Cast Iron Cookware

Cast iron cookware is my absolute favorite. Heavy, takes a little extra care, but it lasts just about forever. My favorite skillet is a cast iron skillet that was handed down to me from my grandmother. So long as I take care of it, I may very well be able to hand it down to my own grandchildren.

Cast iron cookware does release a little iron into your food, in part depending on the acid content of the food. That’s not a bad thing, as many people need a little more iron in their diet.

You do not need huge amounts of oil to cook in cast iron. Keep your cookware well seasoned, and it is beautifully nonstick.

Best of all, even if you don’t have someone to inherit cast iron from, you may be able to find it in antique shops or thrift stores. There’s also plenty of new cast iron out there to be bought if you just aren’t having any luck.

If you don’t want iron leeching into your food, there are ceramic coated cast iron pans you can buy also. They come in some nice colors as well.

Stainless Steel

If you want something a little lighter, go for stainless steel cookware. These often have a core of aluminum or copper to help with heat distribution. I grew up using my mother’s stainless steel skillets, and they worked quite well. Quite reasonably nonstick too.

Old, dinged up stainless steel cookware can leech some chemicals, but only in small quantities.

“Eco Friendly” Nonstick Cookware

“Eco friendly” nonstick is a bit newer to the scene.It uses a nano coating, which not everyone is comfortable with, as the technology is quite a bit newer.

Thermolon is what the coating is usually called, and I have some concerns about whether or not it is really worthwhile. Looking at online reviews, people love it at first, but within a couple months in an awful lot of them start to have problems with food sticking badly to the cookware.

This type of cookware, for all it gets trumpeted as being green, I am much concerned is more of a greenwash. It’s not green if frustration with stickiness causes you to replace the pans in short order.

They’re also apparently quite susceptible to chipping, and some manufacturers recommend you hang them rather than store in a cabinet or drawer. I consider durability a part of being green, so these don’t do well in that respect.

Overall, despite the number of people calling this type of cookware green, I’m not convinced. I suggest sticking with more reliable types.

edited to add

Glass Cookware

I had a reader point out to me that glass is another great choice. I don’t know how I forgot my beautiful glass cookware. My Pyrex cookware is wonderful for cooking and storing the leftovers. You have to use it in the oven, not stovetop, but it’s amazing stuff. Wonderfully easy to clean since you can put it in the dishwasher if you like.

One Small Change Month Three & Month Two Review

Month three of the One Small Change challenge already? How did that happen?

Month two’s challenge of washing my hair with baking soda and vinegar went pretty well. It’s a different feeling, and one I’m still experimenting with. Hair still comes out soft, but a different kind of soft that takes some getting used to.

This month’s challenge is going to be a bit more difficult for me. I want to get my family to eat at least one vegetarian dinner a week. Getting others involved is always a little more difficult.

The hard part about this is how my family generally reacts to vegetarian meals. There’s one that everyone enjoys, Sand and Shells, but that’s it.

My husband always says either that it would make a great side dish or suggests adding something to it, such as chicken, bacon, ground beef… you get the idea. He’ll accept the occasional vegetarian meal, but as a weekly thing may push his habits a little.

The two older kids are each challenging for this in their own way. Neither likes beans just now, although my son used to utterly adore them.

My oldest daughter loves barley in soup but not otherwise. She hates all nuts and nut products, except once in a while when she will enjoy cashews, but is just as likely to hate them the next day. She loathes couscous.

My son is just plain variable in what he will eat on any day, even favorite foods. He’s still highly resistant to all unfamiliar foods. On the plus side, he would take peanut butter as a food group if I let him. Except when he wouldn’t. He enjoys couscous sometimes.

I have some hope that a recipe with lentils will do well. They’ve all enjoyed those in homemade chicken soup, to the point that my daughter begs me to make it. Might be possible to get them eating lentils in another recipe.

I’ll probably start the first week with Sand and Shells, just because they go over well and the leftovers go into my daughter’s school lunches. Very easy lunch for her to bring, something I really appreciate in a leftover. This will also give me time to start looking up recipes and getting any ingredients I don’t already have on hand.

Plan Regular Vegetarian Meals – Green Step By Step

While not every family is up for going completely vegetarian, most can enjoy the occasional vegetarian meal. Incorporating vegetarian meals into your regular rotation is a great way to cut back on meats, which are much less environmentally friendly as well as less healthy when eaten in the usual American excess.

Decide how you want to go about it. You might try buying a vegetarian cookbook or you can check out vegetarian recipes online.

Think about how often you want to go vegetarian. I try to have any lunches that I’m not eating as leftovers be vegetarian and I also regularly cook vegetarian meals for dinner. For you it might be once a month, once a week, whatever works.

It can take some experimentation to figure out what works well for your family. Some people have a very low tolerance for changing their eating habits and you may have to go more slowly. On the other hand, you may hit upon a well loved vegetarian meal that quickly goes into rotation for your family. Mine loves Sand and Shells, for example.

Eating vegetarian meals gives you a lower environmental impact from that meal, and you’re likely to be eating something healthier as well. You might be surprised at how delicious some of these meals are.