In our year of getting things done, I am really working at getting things streamlined and sustainable around here… getting into good habits and then keeping them. In January I focused on creating good computer tactics and in February I am going to take a look at the kitchen and just getting kitchen related things organised. Yes, I do want to clean out our cupboards and clear our counters of the things we don’t use… but I also need to look at what we are cooking when… which tasks I can hand over to the kids and things we can do to make our kitchen time fun time rather than always dashing to catch up…
This, it turns out, is a bit of a “how we do it” kind of a post, I am collecting together our ideas on how we have streamline our “feeding of the many kids” situation… because if I didn’t have some sort of plan in place I would never do anything else. In fact over the recent holidays I felt like I didn’t do anything else… because somehow holidays and friends and lingering over meals for hours meant that on a lot of days… I was up making breakfast and then cleaning up to make lunch, followed by cleaning up to make supper and then cleaning up… on repeat. I don’t mind it when we are on holiday and the table is moved outdoors into a shady spot, but I could not live that week in and week out. We are certainly back into the groove of meal planning.
Getting Food Onto the Table
- Eating from Scratch: We make and eat most of our food from scratch and it wouldn’t occur to us to buy convenience food, let alone take outs. That doesn’t mean we never ever eat a take out pizza, for example, but it is more like twice a year than once a week. The first question many folks ask is how do you survive without ever eating take-outs… and that’s easy enough. In the olden days when we had less than a handful of small children we were chatting with them about eating out. The conversation was about how takeouts are really bad for us and over the long term will make us really ill, and my small children being convinced of the obvious, refused to eat take-outs from that day on. Take-outs for daily nutrition are off the menu. So when my kids say they are having pizza for dinner they mean from scratch, right down to the tomato sauce. Otherwise the more processed any food is, the more expensive it becomes and the less value it has for your body. If we had to eat a product like breakfast cereal we would literally need a box a day and can you imagine trying to find a cereal that everyone liked. We choose to feed our kids food with better nutritional value for less of the cost. Time is essentially the cost here, it takes longer to prepare food from scratch, but for us, that is time well spent.
- Shopping for the Se7en Thousand: We do meal plan, loosely, but most folk would imagine that with a house that serves at least thirty meals a day and actually more than that every day, that we would have a massive pantry and we would buy bulk and save. Buying bulk and saving is a bit of a misnomer, and we prefer to shop a little bit everyday. Maybe these are habits collected from our travels in Europe where we had teeny tiny apartments, and teeny tiny kitchens and we always brought fresh food on the day. Also, we do live in an urban environment, with three supermarkets within walking distance, it would be different if we lived on the far side of the outback. When our kids were smaller we did do a big monthly shop, it was easier that way, but we found ourselves heading for the store in-between big shops and just gave them up. Now that they are older, storing food for the month would be slightly ridiculous. Lets just talk about one staple, oats: we would need at least eight boxes a month, where would we keep everything else?
The father person tends to stop at the store on the way home from work, if there is anything special I need then I message him, but otherwise because we meal plan he pretty much knows what we need for dinner and what we will be eating on which day. Honestly, it would be slightly ridiculous to stock up for months in advance… where would we keep the food we needed for an extended time anyway, especially when the local store has plenty of shelves to keep our groceries for us, before we buy them anyway. That doesn’t mean we don’t take advantage of specials, we do wait for a good price on our staples before we buy them. And there are a few things that if I see them on special I do grab, but only if we are going to eat it over the next few days. We have a strict daily budget, and just can’t exceed that. Otherwise, I have to smile when friends say they are having a no spend month until they have eaten their pantry flat… because we pretty much do that constantly.
- Making Ahead: There are a few things that I make and store ahead. For instance we always have jars of chunky apple sauce and roast tomato sauce in the fridge. Console jars are my friend and if I am going to make a little apple sauce then it is just as much work to make a lot of it. These sort of basics are essential to quick meals, basic muffins with chunky apple sauce, or porridge with apple sauce… or if visitors arrive, quickly create an apple pastry with apple sauce and pastry we keep in the freezer. Once every week or two I make a large pot of apple sauce. On the in-between weeks I make a large batch of roast tomato sauce that you can use as a pizza base, on pasta with herbs, in bolagnaise or lasagna, or for soup. The list is endless and we keep it in jars in our fridge.
When we were first married I cooked ahead, and then with countless small children that became impossible and it was literally survival. Meal planning helped because removing as many decisions as possible definitely lessened the time it took to prepare and get food on the table. “It’s Monday it must be pasta” is a lot easier for an exhausted mom to get through than, “It is getting close to dinner time, what should we have?” During the survival years, I didn’t cook ahead at all. But now that all our kids are of an age where they can peel and chop and grate we do tend to cook ahead.
Once a month I will make a massive mince and freeze it into meal size portions. I pop as many vegetables into this meal as I can and then I rely on kids kitchen skills to get the job done. One child peels onions and garlic, another peels carrots, another chops cabbage and another tops and tails courgettes. Everything gets chopped in the food processor (a dreamy kitchen appliance that I would rather not live without). The veggie’s get lightly fried and divided up into all our large baking dishes, the mince gets browned and added to the veggies… then a couple of cans of tomato sauce, as well as a jar or two of our own tomato sauce… and chopped garden herbs are added to the mix and it is cooked in the oven until all the flavours have mingled. Then they get divided into meal size containers and popped into the freezer and used up throughout the month.
- What’s for Dinner: Dinner is pretty much set in stone around here, you can tell the days of the week by it. Mondays are always a mince dish… we defrost one of our freezer mince meals and add beans, it makes it go a lot further, and then it may be a pasta meal, or it may be turned into pies, or cottage pie or even lasagne. Tuesday is my easy day, and so it is mac’n cheese night; Wednesday is “Granny comes over for dinner day” and she likes roast potatoes and usually crumbed something and salad; Thursdays we have curry, pita breads or wraps, or experiment with a new cookbook, we are always truing something new; Fridays we make burgers; Saturdays we usually have friends over or go to friends and Sundays have to be a quick meal after church, often a pot of beans or in winter soup that was made earlier in the day.
- Oats for Breakfast, not so Much: We had oats for breakfast for a number of years… day in and day out and everybody was happy… and suddenly, in the middle of last year, nobody was happy anymore. I realised that I was the only person at the table eating oats and everybody else had left the table and was making themselves something else. So we devised a meal plan for breakfast… Mondays, because Mondays are always slower after a late night, we have pancakes… everyone needs to start their week well; Tuesdays and Wednesdays we have oats, if I cook it over night in the Wonderbag and add apple and cinnamon to it, then folk will eat it; Egg on toast, and yes I will take orders… because everyone is particular about how they will eat their eggs; Fridays we make muffins the day before; Saturdays eggs on toast and Sundays, I usually make something easy the night before, because Sundays we dash out of the door to church, or we stop at the bakery and but croissants on the way to church.
- That Leaves Lunch: Sorting out a lunch plan has taken forever to establish… and for ages we just relied on whoever was done with school making a pile of sandwiches. But we started to faze out sandwiches and we have been working out a couple of meals that the kids can make themselves and that they can use some of their creative flair with as well. I have discovered that having a couple of leaves for them to pick from the garden is very inspiring… you don’t have to own a farm, a few varieties of lettuce plant or spinach and let them pick and select a few leaves for their meal, and there is no end to the inspiration of fresh herbs… Meals that are working for lunch at the moment: All you can find salad (we usually have lettuce and tomatoes and anything else they can think of to add to a salad), with either tuna or boiled eggs; Imaginative coleslaws have come to the fore this summer, I don’t want my kids to like coleslaw because of the mayonnaise (I can’t make it and shop bought is full of all the wrong stuff), so we have been using a dressing of plain yogurt and a drizzle of lemon juice, they love it; crustless quiche, which is so incredibly easy… toss some spinach and bacon in a pan, swizz it around, put it in a baking dish with herbs and cheese or feta… whisk together a couple of eggs together and pour them over and pop it into a medium oven until it is set; add what you like to home made rolls or a flat bread; Chinese noodles with veggie’s; and I discovered that my kids love stew (especially if it has dumplings on top) and the father person hates it; so on our big cook day, I make a large stew at the same time and freeze that for a lunch time treat.
- And I can Hear, What About Snacks: We don’t really eat snacks, there are always apples on the counter and for starving teen boys a loaf of shop bread (which is very much disdained, they all prefer home made bread). That being said, friends do snack… so there is usually popcorn they can pop or my kids love to bake if a friend is coming over, what’s not to celebrate and I am all for the occasional treat.
- Delicious Deserts: We tend to only eat desserts on very special occasions, and they are pretty seasonal… lots of fruity crumbles, or milk tart… both of these I make double and we have the second one for breakfast the next day. In winter it is baked apples all the way… or a baked lemon pudding. This summer we have eaten tons of roast peaches… it looks splendid and is pretty much “everything free” for all those visitors with unusual dietary requirements. Slice and take the pips out of your peaches, drizzle some honey on them and roast them in the oven until they are soft enough to put a skewer through them and they are starting to brown. We have served them with cream or ice-cream or yogurt and everybody loves them.
And the Se7en + 1th Thing…
This week I am going to be working on the getting things done in the kitchen and will definitely get back to you with some projects next week… as we chat more about kitchen organising next week.
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