Monday, January 20, 2014

Real Food, Real Convenience

As I think back a few years ago, I remember all the convenience foods I used to eat.  Mac and Cheese for the kids, boxed muffin mixes and cakes, and canned anything - fruit, veggies, soups, beans, etc. We frequently ate bottled spaghetti sauce with boxes of pasta, taco seasoning packets or taco kits, boxes of Asian fair, or frozen bags of skillet meals.  I used to have a steady supply of frozen chicken nuggets, fish sticks, veggie steamers, hot pockets, pizzas (lots of frozen pizzas) and low fat microwave meals.  When it was time to make a meal, I basically heated water to boil something, warmed it up in the microwave, or put a frozen meal in the oven.  Occasionally I would use my crock pot but mostly for pre-made frozen bags of slow cooker meals.

Since my natural, REAL food journey began last January, I have come to realize that just because I'm eating real food now, does not mean that I have to give up convenience.  There are days that I simply don't have time to cook several hours in my kitchen like I would like to.  So over time, I have figured out how to make real food AND store it for days when I need a quick meal.  

Check out my family blog post about the kitchen items I use on a day to day basis.  It's entitled, Go Go Gadget Kitchen!

Some of it requires canning but I also freeze things, dry things, and just refrigerate stuff.  It does require a bit of planning and some time to make it all happen but the reward is getting to eat wholesome yummy food at a moments notice.  I usually grocery shop every two weeks when my husband gets paid.  I watch the ads closely and buy in bulk whenever possible.  Then I usually take a full day to prepare foods that I know we will go through in the coming weeks.  Below is a list of ideas on how to keep your pantry and fridge stocked for convenience.

Beans:  I buy dry organic varieties so I know what's being cooked into them.  To make sure I have them readily available I usually cook a large batch and freeze or can them for future use.  THIS site explains the canning process.

Shredded cheese:  To avoid the extra additives that are put in bags of shredded cheese I simply buy blocks of cheese and shred it myself using my kitchen aid.  But you can shred it by hand too.  Just shred a bunch and keep it in a zip lock bag in your fridge.  Then it's ready to go when needed.

Broth:  I used to use bouillon cubes all the time.  Now I only use real broth.  Sometimes I do have to purchase some at the store as I go through it a lot.  But about once a month I will buy a whole chicken and make in in the crock pot.  I'll use the chicken in a recipe and then put all the bones back in the crock pot full of water and let cook over night.  After I strain it, I will either can or freeze it in manageable batches for future use.  

Applesauce:  We used to buy the little cups of it a lot for the kids.  It's still not a bad option for toting around on trips and such.  But I now shop for apple sales and make a large batch of applesauce.  Then I can it for future use.  We even have reusable squeezable bags that I can put it in for trips or outings.

Salad dressing:  It's very easy to just pick up a bottle of dressing at the store.  But it's also easy to grab a mix that you've prepared ahead of time and shake it up in a bottle for immediate use.  This SITE has a ton of great mix ideas.  And you'll find you will save a lot of money too.

Baking mixes:  I love being able to grab a mix and quickly whip up muffins, brownies, or even cookies.  That's why I make my own mixes and keep them on hand.  Having mixes around also encourages the hubby to make things too as he doesn't have to start from scratch!  Again, THIS SITE has a lot of great ideas.  

Breads:  I mostly make and eat fresh bread now, but my life would be much harder without my handy bread machine which I use at least every other day.  If I know I'm having people for dinner later that week I might make a few loaves and freeze them ahead of time.  Contrary to my previous way of thinking, thawing out frozen bread does not make a huge difference in taste - especially if you are toasting in in the oven anyway.  So don't be afraid to freeze your bread.  It will save you time in the long run when you're making dinner and don't have time to make a loaf from scratch.

Seasoning mixes - By taking the time to make taco seasoning, and gravy mixes, I don't have to worry about buying them at the store anymore and I know we are getting nutritional and tasty food without extra junk.  Plus they are ready to go when needed.

Canned fruits and veggies:  I shop sales (and grow my own in the summer) and can fruits and veggies when possible.  If we are low on fresh fruit, my kids love canned pears, pineapple, or applesauce with breakfast.  For a quick side at dinner I will heat up a jar of green beans.  For more on canning check out THIS POST.

Bottled sauces:  Instead of buying pre-made sauces like enchilada sauce, pasta sauce, pizza sauce, BBQ Sauce, or salsa, I now make my own and can them.  You can also freeze a lot of these sauces as well.

Soups:  When I make soup, I make huge batches of it so that I can freeze or can the leftovers for future easy dinners and quick lunches.  It beats canned grocery soup any day!

Pasta:  I always have pasta on hand to make a quick dish any time I need to.  I make large batches of pasta about every 2 or 3 weeks and store it in an air tight container in my pantry.  No need for processed pasta.

Snacks:  I like to dehydrate fruit to have crisp, sweet snacks on hand.  But I also keep a container of organic popcorn kernels around for my air popper for a quick salty snack.  Sometimes I make graham crackers and store them in air tight containers.  Check out this POST for more snack ideas.

Frozen Pizza:  Our family LOVES pizza night.  So I make sure I usually have pizza crusts on hand in the freezer, pizza sauce canned, and mozzarella shredded in the fridge for a quick healthier version of frozen pizza.

Buy in Bulk - Label well:  Finally, the best way to save money and the environment is to buy things in bulk.  I buy all my grains in bulk now and use recycled containers with labels to make it quick and convenient to get to.

I'm sure there are many other ways to make convenient food available at home.  It's not as hard as feels at first.  And it is so rewarding.  What kinds of things do you make and store ahead?

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