(Continued from Part 1. This concludes the article.)
This is what I’ve heard over and over from young moms, working moms, professional working parents, older adults, and all kinds of people: We have no time to cook from scratch. We’re barely keeping our heads above water on the daily. I can’t keep up with the dishes! Groceries have gotten so expensive!!
Here is my advice: start small and involve the whole family. Meal plan together. Hey, it’s fun! You can talk about it over a meal – pick one when you’re all together. In another chunk of time, and this is especially good to do with children who need to learn how to do this, make an ingredients list from the meal plan. Shop together. When you go shopping, if you actually do that in person, take one or more children with you and give them assignments to find the ingredients for the meal plans on each aisle. You’ll teach them about reading the labels and about cost. If you’re like some people, and you order everything online to be delivered or curbside pickup, see if you can assign the task of ordering to an older child, review the “cart” before purchasing.
There’s a lot of learning to be had about which foods are better than others. Yes, involving the family takes time, but it also makes them invested in what they’re going to eat and it teaches everyone. They also get to experience “the cost” and at some point can take over the responsibility. I heard of one family that did something clever. Each child was given a “food allowance” so that when they went grocery shopping, each child bought his or her food for the week. What a shock that would be for young people to realize their $25 or $50 doesn’t go very far. What do they learn? They learn to collaborate with one another and count their pennies. “You buy the milk, and I’ll buy the orange juice!”, or “I’ll buy the meat, and you buy the vegetables!” It sounds like a fun experiment. Over time, food choices are refined and budgets can be tightened up. (Once your pantries are full, you’ll be shopping at home.). This is one way of involving the whole family should you feel it important to do so.
Now, here’s where “batch cooking” comes into play. Once you have a full pantry that you’ve built up over time and within budget, this is easier to do. If not, you need to buy ahead for what you need later by purchasing twice as much as you need on any one shopping trip. Let’s say, you’re going to make a meatloaf or a lasagna, double the recipe, serve one and freeze the other. Do that for every main meal. Going to make muffins or loaves of bread? Double or triple the recipe and freeze the rest. Soup? Same thing. Breakfast burritos? Same thing!
I can hear you screaming, “You want me to double my already insane grocery bill?” Yes, if you can, but just for a time. If you’ve already invested in bulk purchases, you already have the food in-house at a greatly reduced cost. But, if you have not stocked up in advance, this might hurt. If you can only double the amount of food for one meal, start there. If you doubled the food for 30 days, for instance, you won’t be cooking the next month at all, or going to the store much, because it will already be done. Do you see how this works? It’s actually just as easy to make two meatloaves, as it is to make one, and takes about the same amount of time.
If you’ve stocked your pantry, then you’ve already avoided the sticker shock. You can also learn how to “stretch” meals. That used to be a common thing. Like, one pound of hamburger made two meatloaves because the recipe was stretched using fillers such as breadcrumbs or oatmeal. A whole chicken was cooked, deboned, skinned, and the meat shredded, in order to make 3 casserole dishes using pasta as the “filler”. Our modern way of life has lost a lot of the traditional ways that are worth learning and re-instituting.
Great batch cooking candidates: granola, muffins, breads, soups, stews, chilis, marinara-based sauces, casseroles, etc. As you plan, think about what is and is not a candidate for batch cooking. How about homemade frozen pizzas?!
There are some instances where batch cooking is not a good strategy. A freshly grilled steak cannot be frozen and then re-served. Yuck. But, spaghetti sauce with meat can indeed be frozen! Certain types of bread don’t freeze well. Sourdough and wheat bread do. French breads don’t do so well in the freezer, but many sandwich breads will do great. When I bake bread, I bake 4 loaves at a time and 3 go into the freezer. It only took a couple of minutes longer, and because I bought organic flour in bulk, the price per loaf is about 50 to 75 cents.
I’ve gotten to the point that I can take almost anything out of the freezer or pantry and pull together an entire nutritious meal for my large family when they visit. Mostly because I’ve “cooked ahead”. There’s no racing to the grocery store or panicking because I don’t have a particular ingredient. Although that does sometimes happen, it’s just rare.
While my strategy may not be for everyone, it has helped me tremendously. My weekly food bill is non-existent. My annual food bill is a fraction of what it could be because I stay out of the grocery stores and purchase in bulk.
The most beneficial part of my plan was to commit to not eating processed foods. All those sugars, salts, syrups, and unpronounceable ingredients are not in my food. Cooking from scratch has, unintentionally, caused me to lose a lot of weight. I don’t experience “crashing”, which is common with processed foods. I’m not apt to reach for junk food, if a) there isn’t any in the house, and b) there is something healthier available in the pantry. I feel better than I have in a long time.
I still hear the question, “When am I going to find time to do all this?” Honestly, if you never go grocery shopping and you only eat at restaurants or have prepared meals delivered, you probably don’t cook at all. In this case, you have plenty of money available to pay for others to do your cooking for you, and you probably have an empty pantry. Some of the things we learned in the last few years is that restaurants are struggling to make ends meet, the supply chain is fragile, and we can’t count on others to take care of us. I’d assume you would be interested in taking control of your own food security. The time factor is the same, no matter how or where you live. We all get the same number of minutes in life. It’s just a matter of prioritization. I don’t have a television so right there, I’m not distracted by “entertainment”. I don’t flush endless minutes down the drain on social media. There are minutes to be had, it’s up to you to grab them.
Again, if you want to learn to cook nutritious meals from scratch, transition slowly so it’s not overwhelming. Do you ever make pancakes or waffles on Saturday or Sunday mornings? Make several dozen, much more than you need, and freeze them in ziplock freezer bags. Change your thinking! I dumped the bioengineered and genetically modified Bisquick for a healthy, homemade, quick mix recipe for example. From that mix, I can make biscuits, pancakes, crumble topping for cobblers, or waffles.
Double one recipe each week until you’ve got the hang of it, then take on a second one, then a third, etc. Slowly, methodically, start to cook in large batches. The reward comes when you can pull it off a shelf or out of the freezer and warm it up. It will become second nature in time. You will find that you have more time available to you because you’ve stocked up and cooked ahead. You will have saved money too.
I’ve purposefully left out the “how to” of cooking from scratch because there are endless resources on the Internet. For those of us who were fortunate enough to grow up in a home where scratch cooking was the norm, it’s up to us to share our recipes and techniques with others. I can suggest a couple of resources to get you started on identifying healthy foods. The first is my “food Bible”: “Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and Diet Dictocrats” by Sally Fallon. A fantastic website resource is The Weston A. Price Foundation – for Wise Traditions in Food, Farming, and the Healing Arts. The foundation hosts lectures, conferences, and if you become a member you receive a publication, have access to discounts on conferences, and join an email list with helpful information including alerts on politically protecting food freedom. Getting involved in the “real food” movement is life-changing.
There are a couple of other notes that I can add: Learn to shop and eat with the seasons when certain foods are naturally available. For instance, apples are available in the Fall. This is when you can plan to make applesauce, apple pies, apple butter, etc., for the pantry/freezer. Learn which apples store longer in “cold storage” and then feed your family fresh apples for part of the winter. Buy them in bulk. Start thinking in terms of harvest times. When are tomatoes plentiful? Buy them in bulk, freeze, can, etc. When are carrots, potatoes, pumpkins, corn, berries, peaches, pears, cauliflower, broccoli, etc., normally harvested? At first it sounds overwhelming, but once you get the hang of it, you will be surprised at just how much food you can put away at the lowest price of the season.
You could create a “harvest calendar”, even if you don’t grow your own food. I think “U-Pick” farms that open up to the public are really fun to visit with children, or just by yourself. Go pick as much of whatever it is, such as strawberries, as much as you think you can process. Let’s say there are six harvest months in a year (there might be more or less depending upon where you live). Once a month plan to obtain what is available that month and process it. This is why I suggest an additional large freezer, because a lot of things can be immediately frozen and processed later. You can freeze whole tomatoes, for example. Did you know that when berries are ready to harvest, just about all the frozen berries in the store go on sale? Take advantage of that.
Scratch cooking has changed my life in a number of ways. Avoiding processed and genetically modified foods has assured the best possible nutrition at the lowest possible cost. Overall, I feel better! I have more available time to spend on other pursuits due to bulk purchases and batch cooking. However, I’m not a gourmet cook! If I can’t grow it or purchase it locally, or find it from a trusted source, then I go without.
A gourmet will insist upon finding that special ingredient and that’s not something I will do. I have a daughter who is a gourmet cook and she is learning about bulk buying and batch cooking. She recently took a leftover meal, rolled out a butter crust, cut up the meat and potatoes and vegetables, and made some delicious hand pies for the family. No more leftovers going to waste. She got herself chickens for the first time and is learning to raise them. The chicks will really enjoy gourmet leftovers! It’s all about being creative but standing on the economical and healthful principles of bulk buying and batch cooking.