It is week 6 of the Real Food Experience. Can you believe it? Over the past 5 weeks, we’ve learned more about what real foods are and how to incorporate them to our diets. We’re systematically eliminating the”junk” we eat and replacing it with healthy, all natural, real food. To help stay the course, this week we are talking about creating systems, tips to help you get organized in the kitchen, and make food preparation easier.
The biggest complaint I hear about a real food diet is how much effort it takes to cook real foods. When you cook from scratch, it takes a little more time and effort than just picking up a convenient “something” at the store. However, the effort is rewarded with healthy, nutritious foods that you can feel good about feeding your family.
A healthy system is one in which all the parts work together. Systems are easy to maintain when you find things that make it work effortlessly. A healthy diet is an easy system where you shop, cook, and eat in a way that is good for you and the way you live. Everyone has their own methods and strategies for helping them in the kitchen. What are some of yours? What helps make things easier for you in the kitchen?
I’m all about find ways to streamline things in my home and make things easier on me. There are only so many hours in the day and who wants to be stuck in the kitchen all day? Over the years, I have found what works for me and my family. Here are a few tips I use and they can help you in the kitchen too.
Meal planning saves you time and money. Meal planning forces you to think about the foods you will buy, cook, and eat. You can plan weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, whatever you are most comfortable with. Check out this How To Create a Weekly Meal Plan for more tips and a handy planning printable for you to use. Meal planning saves you money by forcing you to create a plan and buy ingredients to execute that plan. If you create a grocery list, you can stick to that list and only buy what you need. Food doesn’t go to waste and you can avoid “splurge” shopping on extra items you don’t need.
I like to meal plan on Saturdays. I’ll sit down with the weekly sales flyer for my favorite grocery stores and see what’s on sale. I’ll check what foods I have on hand and plan my week full of meals based on those things. My dinners are planned out, but my lunches and breakfasts are generally a list of foods to have on hand (yogurt, bread, salad fixings, soup, etc.) I start my meal plan on Sunday and run through the following Saturday. If you need ideas, you can find all my meal plans online.
Shop once a week
Take a look at what is in season and what’s on sale for the week. Plan your meals around those items to save money. If you go to the store only once a week, you will have one opportunity to spend money on groceries. I know for me it’s those “Ohh, I forgot this or that” trips to the store that get expensive. Avoid them by making your list and sticking to your list.
I like to go shopping Saturday mornings. The farmers market is open is I want to see what local farmers have or I can head to the store.
Buying bulk items saves $$$
Buying staples from bulk bins or in bulk can save you money. You save because you aren’t paying for unnecessary packaging. Store these items in glass jars or containers in the pantry. I like large mason jars. This is what I buy from bulk bins:
- dried beans and lentils
- dried herbs (Natural Grocers has the BEST prices on these)
- cane sugar
- oats (steel and old fashioned)
- dried fruit
- rice (large bulk 15 pound bags)
Prep after grocery shopping
After you arrive home from the grocery store, farmer’s market, harvest from your garden, etc. prep your fruits and vegetables. Wash, prep, and/or cut up any fruits or vegetables you might need throughout the week. Store prepped foods in glass of plastic containers so you can see what you have on hand. It will save you time doing it this way versus prepping for each meal.
Create your staples like salsa, salad dressings, snacks, and other simple foods on the same day you go grocery shopping. You have everything out already, so might as well do everything at once. Plus you will only have to clean up once. That’s sounds like music to my ears. What about you?
Save time by repurposing leftover foods. The idea of “Cook it once and use it twice” is a great one when it comes to eating healthy. Here are a few examples:
- Make a roasted chicken or crock pot cooked chicken one night for dinner and use leftovers the next day or two in quesadillas, salads, or soup.
- Buy extra ground beef to make a meatloaf one night and then beef tacos the next.
- Cook extra rice for dinner one night and make fried rice the next.
- Cook chili one night and then serve chili and cheese baked potatoes later in the week.
I’ll often make a whole chicken for Sunday dinner and incorporate the leftovers later in the week. We typically eat leftovers for lunch. Soup is one of our favorite ways to use leftovers. You just throw it in a pot, add broth, seasonings, and your ready to go. No fuss and no waste.
Clean Out the Kitchen
Every few months, clean out your kitchen. Go through your pantry cabinets and see what you have on hand. Go through the freezer and inspect foods for freezer burn and age. You never know what you might find stashed away in the very bottom of the freezer. Plan on a Kitchen Sink meal plan week, a week of meals using only what you have on hand. Meals like this can really get your creative juices going. Plus. this prevents food waste and will help you keep the kitchen clean.
Kitchen Sink weeks also help me to organize my kitchen. I can clean out the pantry shelves, check expiration dates, and sort foods. This just makes it easier to see what I have on hand and eliminate 10 cans of canned tomatoes or 3 bags of raisins.
Get the Family Involved
Have the family help in the kitchen. My kids all love to cook. It’s important for them to learn how and in the kitchen we get some great quality time together. Kids can help prepare breakfast, salads, desserts, bake, etc. Make eating real food a family experience and they will be more likely to embrace it.
Invest in Good Quality Kitchen Gadgets
Tools can save you time and effort in the kitchen. Quality kitchen tools make preparing and cooking food so much easier. This is very important when you don’t want to spend all day in the kitchen. Here are a few tools I can’t live without in my kitchen.
Slow cooker – This is a time saver for any cook. You can throw everything in it and forget it. After a few hours, you have a wonderful, home cooked meal. Make everything from homemade broth and chili to lasagna in your crock pot. You can easily find one for under $20.
Stand mixer – From kneading bread to slicing vegetables and mixing batter, my stand mixer does
double triple duty in the kitchen. I don’t have a huge kitchen, so I need to maximize the tools I have. Many stand mixers have available attachments to do even more; ice cream maker, pasta maker, sausage grinder.
Blender – If I can impart one piece of advice on blenders, it’s that quality counts. This Vitamix has been worth the money we paid for it. We make smoothies, nut butters, hummus, dips, soups, salsas, homemade larabars, raw applesauce, and more with it. The money I saved from making those items at home has more than paid for my blender.
Juicer – We juice several times a week. I bought my Breville from a friend that didn’t use it. So I got it for much less than retail. Juicing provides me with a great sources of nutrients and vitamins. I make fresh fruit and vegetables juices to drink and to use for popsicles.
Rice cooker – When you eat a lot of rice, especially brown rice that takes longer to cook, a rice cooker is a great splurge item. Rice comes out perfectly every time. It also makes great hot breakfasts like steel oats and farro grains. Like the slow cooker, I can throw everything in and start it up or set the timer to be ready when I need it. I bought this rice cooker cookbook when I bought my cooker. It has been a great resource of recipes and new inspirations for me.
A Great Set of Knives – You will be chopping, slicing, and minced quite a bit. A good, sharp knife is essential to any home cook. Spend the money here too and get a good one. You won’t have to replace it for years.
Cookware – You can’t cook without cookware. Everyone has their preferences. I have mine too! Mine are a mix match of different brands that I like. You want pans, pots, and bakeware that distribute heat evenly and are easy to clean. A Dutch oven, enameled cast iron pot, is a great investment is you want to braise or slow simmer stews or other dishes.
Find a System That Works For You
These are some of the tools and tips that work best for me. Fellow contributors are sharing what works for them as well. Be sure to click over and read these other articles too!
Exploring Tips on Kitchen Organization and “Mise en Place” for Fitness and Life from The Kitchen Chopper
This week’s Real Food Experience Challenge is all about finding tools and practices that will work for you in maintaining your healthy, real food diet. I hope these tips and ideas help you to find practices that work for you and your family.
I’d love to hear how you get organized in the kitchen. Share your tips, ideas, and tools in the comments below!
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