I was reminded in a conversation recently that when our seven children were still at home, the two most difficult weeks in the year were the first week of summer and the first week of school in the fall. Why? There were always monumental shifts of lifestyle –bedtimes, wake-up times, wardrobes, time deadlines of all sorts, transportation issues, and probably the most jolting – eating patterns.
This year things have been even more complicated and stressful, with many schools and workplaces not knowing if they would be opened or closed, or when, or for how often, or how long, and then making some rotating schedules so people could be prevented from being too close to too many people for too long and thus contract the Covid-19 virus.
With added stressors to parents of school-age children, especially, this year, people are looking for ways to economize on time – get everything done that needs doing, including three meals a day, — and it’s a tough go.
How do we get everything done without compromising the quality of our food, when there are so many forces in the world right now making things so convenient?
There is more processed food on the grocery shelves and in their freezer chests than ever before, and small catering businesses and mega food corporations alike are marketing convenience, so that we never as much have to slice another vegetable again if we want to pay someone else to do it for us, at, I might add, the additional pricing it takes for the packaging, advertising, and transportation costs involved.
Processed food, in general, is never going to be as good a fuel for our bodies as the food we prepare at home with far less processing and additions to increase shelf life or enhance color.For more about that subject click here.
Given that eating foods closer to their natural state with minimum processing involves time consuming planning, shopping, prepping, preparing, and cleaning, what are we to do when time is more precious than ever? How do we preserve the nutrient dense content of our food without resorting to take-out or pre-prepared, or processed foods?
Let me share a few kitchen hacks that can help to save time and sanity, and perhaps get more joy out of meals – those eaten at home as well as those that get packed off to schools or workplaces. Don’t sacrifice good nutrition for costly convenience.
1. Do some menu planning. With a little focused attention, lining up the meals for the home for a week or so can be done very quickly. Doing it as a family can help to cut through all the bickering about likes and dislikes to a workable consensus of good food with the emphasis on healthy eating.
2. Make a shopping list and remember to take it to the store. This will enable you to get everything you need for the week, instead of running here and there for this and that, which also takes precious time. To save more time, try creating a reusable shopping list which includes all the things that you usually by every week. It can be edited digitally, or you can print one out and laminate it, then add specific items for this particular trip. There are lots of options here, but a list is a very good thing, and will ultimately be a time saver.
3. Read the recipe thoroughly before you start preparing the food. Does something need to be soaked or chilled, or thawed, or something else that takes more time than you have? Know those things in advance, so you know when you have to do what. Also, this knowledge will help you to choose which recipe for which day, depending on your time availability.
4. Make enough for leftovers. If you’re making a meal anyway, double the recipe and use the leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch. After dinner, for example, dish out the leftovers into individual containers that can be easily carted off in a bag the next day.
5. Utilize freezer space. Make an extra batch and then freezer for a dinner a week or so later. And if you’re chopping up vegetables, chop ahead and freeze in baggies what you don’t use for this meal and have them pre-chopped for another recipe.
6. Simplify meals. Choose recipes that have 6 ingredients or less, or adapt them to have fewer ingredients. To further simplify, choose or adapt recipes to match what you already have in your house for other recipes.
7. Prep in advance.Make it a family event. Meals in which everyone has had a hand in preparing are overwhelmingly more appreciated by everyone involved. If you set out all your ingredients, chopped, peeled, and juiced in small dishes before beginning the assembly, you will cut down on trips to the refrigerator. Many meals can be pre-washed, pe-cut, and conveniently stored for the week, then quickly grabbed for various recipes.
8. Clean as you go. Keep a sink or bowl full of soapy water to soak dishes as they are used. Keep a rag on hand for quick clean up of spills. By the end of the meal prep, you’ll have far fewer messes to clean and the dishes you’ve used will be almost clean.
9. Keep a container or two on the counter for food scraps. Instead of having to put scraps into the proper bin each time you chop something, throw all of those scraps into a bowl that you can toss or compost at the end. I usually have two bowl – one for compost, the other for trash.
10. Keep your most-used utensils in a jar close to your workspace, perhaps next to the stove. Having them in sight and at arms reach saves you the time of searching for a favorite wooden spoon or spatula. Keep the pots and pans near the stove, strainers near the sink, and knives near the cutting boards if you can.
11. Make breakfast the night before. Put smoothie ingredients into the blender and store it in the refrigerator overnight, then just add water and/or ice in the morning and blend. Or, soak some oats, nuts, and seeds for granola. Chia pudding is easy to make before bed and is a quick and easy breakfast choice.
12. Keep an ongoing shopping list. The rule in our house has always been, if you use the last of something, add it to the list, (ours is on the refrigerator), then you don’t have to do the mental work on shopping day about what you need.
Good routines add efficiency to providing the healthiest meals possible even in busy, troubling times. Healthy eating is a good defense against all illness, including major virus onslaughts. Your immune system will thank you for keeping it strong and functioning well.