Baby Step 7: Einstein’s Elephant -or- ReCon Convenience

Elephant skin is so tough they call it ‘hide’.  Have you ever wanted your hands to be as soft as ‘hide’?  Ever heard admiration expressed as, “Oooh.  This is as soft as an elephant’s hide!”  I’m guessing you haven’t.  Well, we at the pantry have been pushed up against the side of the elephant in our Baby Steps elephant-hide_kgr-0464kitchen for a while and it’s time for a breather.  And Einstein isn’t as bothered by this elephant as we are because he understands the elephant much better and on a grander scale than do we.

The bumpy, rough-hided elephant of which I speak, is TIME.

“Finally, Bigg Sis, you are going to talk about time….It’s about time because I haven’t got much, and I’m thinkin’ all this cooking you do takes a lot of TIME!”

I hear your shouts of frustration rending the space-time continuum….. Oh sorry, we’ll let some disciple of Einstein address that.  In the meantime, Baby Step 7: ReCon Convenience.  For this step, we are all about figuring out time as it relates to eating healthfully.  One of the major objections that most people have to cooking and eating real food is that it simply takes too long, and one of the reasons most people offer for buying carry-out and convenience foods is that they can get dinner on the table faster.  We want to challenge these assumptions, and help you figure out your own time as it relates to how you eat.  A few questions:

1) Where is my time currently wasted in regards to food procurement and preparation?

2) Where is my time wasted when I think I’m actually saving time?

3) Where will I find the time that is the difference between pulling something out of the freezer and heating it up and preparing something with real food ingredients from scratch.

4) And finally, will the Sis sisters come clean my house for me on a weekly, or I’d even settle for bi-weekly, basis?

I’ll start with the last one.  No.

Okay that was a bit harsh.  We might clean yours if you’d clean ours, It  might at least be more interesting to clean someone else’s house for a change.  Back to Baby Step 7.  We’ve given the other three questions a longer think and want to share some of our thinks with you…

1) POSSIBLE TIME WASTERS

* Too many trips to the grocery store.  (This was a biggie for us).
POSSIBLE SOLUTION: Extend the period of time between grocery store trips.  Plan your meals for a period of nights, make a shopping list and get what you need.  We currently aim for 2 trips to the store a week.  One main trip after planning and another trip later in the week for the produce that won’t make it a week and/or the things I forgot!  Better than the previous 3 – 4 times per week.
STEP: come up with a plan for planning.  A time to do it, a system for recording and sharing, and a goal as to how often, or for what period of time.  Here is mine.

* Not making use of leftovers :
Always, always always make extra food and especially extra grain (rice, barley, quinoa, etc.) as these can be used in future meals (including some really fast and healthy breakfasts*).  Leftovers rule!  What is faster – making a sandwich for a lunchbox or placing leftovers in a container.  This can be done while cleaning up the evening meal as well…. 1 for Mom, 1 for Dad and 1 for whichever kid will eat that particular leftover in their lunch.
STEP: Make sure you have containers for holding leftover meals and grains.  Choose a meal to try this with, or a grain to try this with.  If you plan 2 meals in your planning time period that use the same grain you can make enough for both at one time.

* Going it alone – (I am woman, hear me roar and/or ‘nobody else does it right!’)
Make use of your technology and invite help.  My son loves to shred veggies in the food processor.  It’s like running branches through a wood chipper… what could be more fun than that?  I do believe that a food processor is a good investment in saving time in the kitchen. It shreds, it creams, it chops, and many of them are now dishwasher safe.  But honestly they are not hard to clean.  And if you plan ahead you can chop or shred the veggies for the next night’s dinner as well and only clean the machine once.
STEP: Figure out the pieces of preparation that can be done by your child or other adults in the house.  Put on some music everyone enjoys and boogie down while you cook.

BabyStep7

2) ReCon Your “Convenient” Meal

* How convenient is a convenience stop? Sometimes the kids are melting down and they need something placed right in the pie hole before everyone is a puddle on the floorboards of the car.    We’ve all been there and we have to do something, and it might include fast food or snacks from a convenience store.
Try to stock reasonably healthy snacks in your car for just such occasions.
Include knowledge of your schedule when you plan meals.
STEP: A) Time yourself when you make the stop for a convenience meal or a convenience snack, or for a pre-made dinner at the grocery store.  See how long it takes and write it down. So you stop the first place you see and buy some convenience foods.  How long does that really take?  It depends on where you are, but even if something is close by, you have to park, walk in, choose (with much advice),purchase and go get back in your car.
B) Challenge yourself to make a meal, perhaps including leftover grains, or even scrambled eggs and salad in that same amount of time.  For extra fun, compare the price of your homemade fast meal to the price of your “convenient” dinner.

3) DEVELOP A LIST OF QUICKIES

You might be surprised at the number of recipes out there designed to be ready in 30 minutes or even 20 minutes.  There are 2 types of recipes for you to consider:

A) the kind that is actually 20 – 30 minutes from start to finish

B) the kind that is 20 – 30 minutes of prep time but requires some time in between steps for something to boil or roast.  These are still possible if you have someone at home who can start that step for you if you are not there.  Alternately, a crock pot or a rice cooker can go a long way to help some steps be done by the time you get home.

I made stir-fry this evening in 25 minutes and I was not hurrying like I do on nights when one of us is going to an early TaeKwonDo class.  I can make pasta from scratch in 30 minutes.  It’s faster if I saute double veggies and freeze, then that part is done next time around.  You can also have a pasta sauce ready at the touch of a blender button, and as fast as the pasta is ready – you can eat!

I made veggie burgers the other day which took a prep time of only about 15 minutes but then they had to bake for 40.  I made a bunch, froze the leftovers on the cookie sheet they baked on and now we have a stock of burgers on hand for nights with no time.

STEP: Choose one (or more nights) that you are going to try a quick recipe.  Here are a few of our faves – under the A category of 20 – 30 minutes, and the B category of 20-30 minutes of prep time with some boiling, roasting or other timed event in between.

A) Anything Goes, Fast Burrito 

Pesto Pasta with Veggies and Nuts

Mushrooms Pignoli

Noodles with Asian peanut sauce

Varia-Bowl Category A if using noodles or pasta, Category B if using grains -unless you have leftovers ;-)

B) Herbed Zucchini 

Kichadi (a quinoa based dish)

Sushi Salad  (with leftover rice it is in category A)

Beet Soup (Crock Pot)

Mustard Tempeh  (with leftover rice it is in category A)

Lentil Casserole

* Fast and healthy breakfasts: barley, oats, more oatssweet potato

Remember that one of the most important elements of Baby Steps is that it is okay to make these changes a little at a time.  If you eat a healthy fast meal once or twice per week and/or send a healthier lunch once or twice per week more than you do now, then you are improving your health lifestyle.  Everyday brings new opportunities to make good choices about food.  So ReCon commercial convenience! …and find ways to have your own healthy convenience instead! 

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16 responses

  1. Great post! Something we all talk about (not having enough time), but are not sure how to go about saving it. I like your “plan” for meal organization. It’s good for family members to see this when they are hovering over the kitchen waiting for a meal, but you are heavily preoccupied with something…”check the plan and go ahead & start it!!” I scream (in a nice voice, of course).

  2. This was so well explained! On making shopping faster, one day I decided to create a shopping list doc that had all the things I buy weekly or almost weekly. Before shopping I take a printed list and check off what I need and add anything else I need. It takes only a few minutes but I can zoom through my store in about half the time with that list and I only go once a week!

  3. Definitely takes a step at a time to get healthier. The biggest thing is, we have to WANT to do it, even if it isn’t always easy.
    Thanks for sharing at A Humble Bumble!

    • Thank you for hosting Barb! I am so glad that you like our Baby Steps series. Just last night we were out and about later than intended and I realized I had some sunflower seed pesto and all we had to wait for was pasta to cook and frozen veggies to heat and we were eating! So much better than carrying out!

  4. Pingback: Shweet Potato Stew | my sister's pantry

  5. Nice article!
    Where will I find the time that is the difference between pulling something out of the freezer and heating it up and preparing something with real food ingredients from scratch?
    Often the answer to that question is to do the preparing when you do have time and make a big batch, then freeze some of it so you have something to pull out of the freezer and heat up on another day! You referred to this in your article, actually, with sauteing double veggies to freeze. I have done this sometimes, and it’s great! (My only caution is to let the food cool before putting it in a plastic bag or box–don’t want melted plastic in the food!! Some people freeze in glass, but I’m too nervous of cracking it.)

    My family likes quick breads like Raisin Bran Bread for breakfast, snacks, or with baked beans. We have 4 bread pans, so I always make 4 loaves at once; it isn’t much more work than 1 loaf, using my giant mixing bowl. Then we have 1 loaf at room temp for eating, 1 or 2 wrapped up in the fridge, and the other 1 or 2 in the freezer for later.

    I also like to freeze ingredients like cut-up veggies or grated cheese (for some reason, grated cheese freezes fine, but a block of cheese that’s been frozen has a weird texture) or cooked beans in handy portions of 1 or 2 cups, ready to add to recipes. This allows us to buy large amounts of fresh produce on sale, 2-pound blocks of cheese, and #10 cans of beans even though we have just 3 people in the family.

    • Hi Becca! Thanks for sharing your wonderful methods with us! There are so many things that can be frozen. Your raisin bran bread sounds very tasty as well! Come back again ;-)

  6. Pingback: Slow Cooker Burritos | my sister's pantry

  7. Great tips! I find it helps to have a list of meals I can make in under 30 minutes taped on the inside of a cupboard door. then on those days I am so overwhelmed I can’t even think what to cook, i don’t have to I just pick something from the list. Thanks for sharing this post with the Hearth and Soul Hop.

    • That is a great idea Alea. Even better than having the ideas in my head because sometimes, that is not good enough! I’m going to do this – thanks for sharing!

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