Spending Less Time in the Kitchen (& Menu Ideas for Winter Suppers)

I unapologetically align myself on the radical homemaker side of the spectrum. I've been doing this work called making home for nearly two decades. It's safe to say homemaking is my longest running professional gig.

And a huge part of that work, the central feature in fact, is food. The procurring, planning, cooking and serving of food.

Three summers ago, after a particularly busy week in the kitchen (special occasion meal and a giving meal prepared for a hungry group of people) I took time to count the actual hours I spent each week on food related chores.

It turned out I spent what amounted to a full time job in food related tasks.

That was an eye-opening experience for me, but it also put into perspective why I had limited time for other things - like writing and other beyond-the-hearth professional pursuits. I was a full time cook.

Before we moved last year I spent some time dreaming about (and writing those dreams down) what I wanted my days to look like in this next stage of family life. One outcome of that process was realizing I wanted to spend less time in the kitchen (so I could do other things, like write).

Yet, I am totally committed to cooking for my family and believe in living our values of plant-based, slow food principles in my kitchen.

A litte side note about these two principles. Local eating has taken a hit in our move since I am having to start from scratch in learning my local food sources and community building. I'm giving myself grace during this time of "figuring it out".

Also, when you are local loving, plant-based eater living in a northern climate you live with the constant tension of what you believe is best nutritionally and supporting local food production.

We err on the side of plants, ie: we're not going to become meat eaters now just because there's a lot of locally grown meat and other animals products available all winter long. We are very thankful for trucks that supply us with fresh and frozen produce all winter long.

Living our food values is a messy and complicated business, but that's life.

Now back to the narrative... so, how exactly did I plan to spend less time in the kitchen while eating lots of veggies, practicing slow food principles of cooking from whole food ingredients, and not rushing this hugely important nutritional and social cornerstore of our lives called eating?

Surprisingly (if you know me), I didn't have it all planned out but I knew one thing I needed to do.

Outsource

This is a popular word in my internet circles these days. All these online, entrepreneurial mamas talking about what they outsource in their lives - virtual assistants, childcare, grocery delivery services, etc.

None of those are applicable to me. Instead, here's what I outsource in the kitchen:

1. Clean Up & Basic Tasks

I'm still the head chef. I want to be. Cooking is not just one of my jobs, it's actually part of my mission to nourish my family and those who share our table.

But that doesn't mean I need to do all the cooking and all the cleaning up.

Enter able-bodied family members. In our new routine Damien cooks breakfast every day. This is when I write. I am totally out of the kitchen during this time. I do what's left of the clean up when I finish my morning writing time, but that is my only breakfast contribution.

I cook both lunch and supper, often with the help of sous chefs (aka: kids) assigned to chopping and washing vegetables. Lunch is a shared family meal, usually salad. After eating, I wash my bowl and cutlery (we all wash our own eating things) and my job in the kitchen is done. The clean up crew, Damien and the kids, do the entire clean up.

I generally use those clean up times for e-mail, blog maintenance and photography work.

Not cooking breakfast or doing meal clean up has freed up about 1-1.5 hours in my day. Enough time to make a difference in working towards some of my professional and creative goals.

What about snacks? I would be remiss if I didn't point out that my kids are old enough to fend for themselves for snacks.

I stock the cupboards and fridge with things we want them to eat - nuts, rice cakes, whole grain crackers, nut butters, popping corn, frozen, fresh and dried fruits. Then when they are hungry mid-morning and afternoon I say (with a smile), "help yourself!"

Most days I either make a smoothie or some other snack - fruit nut salad, healthy cookies, or popcorn - in the late afternoon.

2. Vegetable Prep & Convenience Foods

Frozen vegetables are my new best friend. I've always used them but this winter, even more so.

I like the Arctic Gardens brand, which are vegetables grown and packaged in Ontario and Quebec. That's about as local as I can get these days.

These come in handy even more since we rarely eat out anymore. When we lived in Maine we ate out once a week, every Sunday night after our hike we'd eat out at a hole-the-wall, fresh and fast (& cheap) Thai food restaurant.

Sometimes we ate out more than once a week because the college where Damien worked offered "families eat cheap nights" in their dining hall, complete with vegan bar (though the kids and I almost always had pizza too!).

There is no Thai food where we live, unless we cook it. There is no cheap college dining service. Where we live there is no such thing as healthy, cheap food, except maybe Subway, if you consider that "healthy". There also isn't a lot of unhealthy, cheap food either - yay for that!

All that to say we eat out a whole lot less.

This is a good thing but I really did like my Sundays off cooking. So now, Damien whips up a pot of Asian noodle soup for Sunday supper. It takes less than 30 minutes to prepare with a frozen mix of veggies.

I also love the simple addition of frozen chopped spinach to nearly any soup, stew or sauce to add the nutritional punch of greens. Remember, there is no kale where I live, spinach is the only green I can find reliably. Might as well use frozen.

In my kitchen, this counts as convenience food.

One other time saving vegetable I'm enjoying is pre-washed baby spinach for our smoothies. Yes, it's more expensive, outsourcing always is. But the fact that I actually make green smoothies regularly is worth that extra cost.

I'm discovering other little convenience foods for those nights when I'm just not going to get supper on the table unless it's super easy.

Instant, whole grain, brown rice. I'm sure it's nutritionally deficient and not as healthy but as an emergency measure, I love it. I discovered this product while looking for a backpacking rice option.

Of course there are the usual convenience food suspects in our vegan, whole food kitchen - canned beans (for nights I forget to get beans going earlier), jarred and canned tomato products (there are no BPA-free boxed products available here), whole grain crackers and rice cakes, a few other sundry items.

Outsourcing - family help and using a few frozen and "convenience" products - were my main strategy for spending less time in the kitchen.

But this next point I didn't plan for it just kind of happened.

Reaping the Rewards

When we first changed our diet years ago I had to spend a lot of time re-learning how to cook and how to shop. Time, as far as I'm concerned, that was well spent. We have our health and a very good food foundation in our children's younger years to show for all that effort on my part (patting myself on the back right now).

But man, did that it ever take a long time in those days to plan our food.

This coincided with raising littles and I would spend whole days, in between nursing and attending to children, just thinking about food - finding recipes, planning a menu, figuring out where to buy what I needed (I've always grocery shopped on a budget).

Now I'm reaping the rewards of all that work. Yes, we are always tweaking our diet towards better nutrition. But I've done the main part of the work already and have binders full of tried and true family approved recipes.

Here's the ironic part, after building up those binders I can go a whole week or more without even cracking one open and cook from experience-based knowledge.

Wow, I really am a professional cook.

I feel like jumping for joy at this point in writing. I've accomplished something! All these years of cooking for my family, I know what I'm doing - in a vegan, mostly gluten-free, whole-food kitchen.

Menu Planning on Auto-Pilot

And just like with any learning curve, I've reached a sweet spot (till my next learning curve) where I can fly on auto-pilot.

This has saved a huge amount of time in menu planning. If I'm in the mood, or there is something special to celebrate that week I can spend a bit longer menu planning. But I don't have to.

I use a meal rotation as a guide for menu planning, which changes with the seasons. You can find my summer rotation and menu planning here.

A fixed weekly menu (based around a food theme, not specific recipes) hugely simplifies menu planning. I can insert different recipes as I feel inspired. But this winter, a season of non-inspiration in the kitchen (but huge inspiration elsewhere!), I have returned to easy-to-cook favorites over and over again.

Weekday supper rotation:

  • Pasta
  • Beans/Lentils
  • Curry/Stirfry
  • Roasted Roots
  • Potato

Beans, lentils and potatoes often take on the form of soups and stews. Which we eat several times each week.

Weekends:

This is what I've learned this winter: it's ok to hit repeat on the menu plan. It has saved me so much time and my family is happy with the food I cook. Win-win.

One Pot Meals

This is a good time to remind you all that I am a one pot cook, which you might have gathered from the above menu plan.

I wrote an article on One Pot Meals for Heather's current Whole Food Kitchen course. I'm going to share a bit of that here.

Tips and Tricks for incorporating more one pot meals in your kitchen.

1. Start with stirfries

If you want to include more one pot meals in your menu start with more familiar offerings like stirfry over rice.

Start eating a few more of these and experimenting with ingredients - different seasonal veggies and a couple different sauces. Schedule a stir fry night in your menu plan.

What I love about stirfies is how easy they are to pull together once the chopping is done. Ask for help with the chopping and you'll have a meal ready in under an hour.

2. Don't overcook the veggies

Just because it's served in one bowl doesn't mean it has to look like gruel.

Unless it's supposed to be pureed, like a soup, learn how to time cooking veggies so they retain their textures.

I've learned to not cook all the veggies at one time. So if I'm making a curry I start with sauteing onions and garlic, then add my curry powder till fragrant, then add my "hard" vegetables and some liquid. Cook that for a bit, then add your soft vegetables. That way each vegetable gets cooked to its best texture.

Part of people's aversion to cooked vegetables mixed with other foods, I believe, is that they are often over cooked.

3. Eat cooked vegetables at supper, and raw other times of day

Some vegetables lend themselves well to being cooked with other foods. Use those for your one pot meals and eat raw veggies other times of day.

We eat a large salad, with beans, most lunches.

I aim to include a cruciferous vegetable (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, bok choy, collards, kale - there are others, but these are the most common) at each supper. They are super healthy and cook well into one pot meals.

If a one pot supper meal once in a while doesn't have a green veggie at all (for example, one of my go-to easy recipes is baked potato topped with a tomato bean sauce) it's ok. Not every meal needs a perfect combination of veggie, starch/grain, and a protein.

Here's some One Pot inspiration. Most every supper we eat is a variation of one of these.

  • Bean and vegetable sauces served over grains, potatoes (white or sweet) or winter squash.
  • Soup, stew & chili. These are the mainstay of our winter diet. Minestrone, lentil, potato broccoli, or split pea soup. South American or Sweet Potato African stew. Bean and veggie chilis, baked beans. There are so many possibilities.
  • Stirfry or curry served with whole grains.
  • Casseroles and baked dishes.
  • Whole grain pasta topped with sauce.
  • Pilafs and fried rice.
  • Salad meals. These are a big part of our summer diet. Any grain, vegetable, and protein combination. Tabouleh, Asian Noodle Salad, quinoa and chick peas, brown rice and black bean. Experiment!
  • Wraps or stuffed pitas. Not really "one pot" but eaten all together.

Take Aways

This was a really long post so I'll re-cap the take aways:

  • Ask for help in the kitchen.
  • Frozen veggies are your friend.
  • Pick a menu plan, hit repeat.
  • One pot meals are wonders.

and,

  • If you're spending a lot of time in the kitchen now establishing healthy patterns for your family - it will pay off!
How do you spend less time in the kitchen, or simplify that area of your life?

Renee Tougas participates in affiliate marketing, including the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. Whenever you buy something on Amazon from a link you clicked here, I get a (very) small percentage of that sale. See disclosure for further explanation.

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  • Jen @ Anothergranolamom

    Jen @ Anothergranolamom on Feb. 27, 2012, 3:26 p.m.

    I use many of these same techniques to manage my time in the kitchen. Although I love to cook, I know there are other important jobs I should be doing as well. Therefore, I try to simplify the meals I plan (instead of some really fancy recipes I would love to try), and have my kids cook 2 nights a week. My teenagers are an excellent cooks, and make wonderful meals for us. They also do clean up after their meals. Although this takes some planning and directing time, it ultimately reduces my time in the kitchen. Thank you also for your input on being a plant based eater in a cold climate. We are struggling with that right now -- meat is cheap and vegetables expensive in February where we live, and my storage from last summer is almost used up. There are so many tugs on my conscience, it's hard to know if we benefit the earth more by saving the trucking or by not eating corn in its carnivore form. Since my main reasons for being a vegetarian are ecological concerns, it is something I wish I could chart on a spreadsheet and know the exact costs to the environment. Thanks for sharing your ideas.

    reply

    • Michelle

      Michelle on Feb. 27, 2012, 10:05 p.m.

      Since you mentioned that your reasons for being a vegetarian are ecological, check out Barbara Kingsolver's book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. She address this in her book (it's about the one year her and her family eat locally). Her husband has asides in the book where he talks about the costs to the environment. . .it's very interesting.

      Michelle

      reply

    • Free Angry Birds

      Free Angry Birds on June 6, 2012, 3:12 p.m.

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      reply

  • Lori

    Lori on Feb. 27, 2012, 3:45 p.m.

    I really appreciate the time you are taking with your "instructional" posts. It helps to have the "how to" ideas. I have slowly gone "whole foods" in my kitchen. I am doing Heather's Whole Foods course, and I realize how lucky I am that I have already adopted so many of the principles. I would say that I am "beyond organic", and really take a lot of time, thought and energy for the sourcing of our food. I am now focusing a lot of time on the preparation of the food as well. This need came from belonging to a CSA in a new region, where I got my basket of beautiful produce and thought, what do I do with this? I can understand what you mean about "outsourcing" some of your tasks, such as pre-washed spinach. Can you imagine how much better off we would be if this is what "fast food" looked like to us all?

    reply

  • Elizabeth

    Elizabeth on Feb. 27, 2012, 4:18 p.m.

    I love hearing how other people balance time concerns, good food, and budget matters! Living in an equatorial zone, we are blessed to have fresh fruits and vegetables year-round. This comes with its own challenges, however, as there are no canned or frozen goods. So everything has to be made from scratch: no pre-washed spinach or salad greens, no stewed tomatoes, no canned beans to be used in a pinch, etc. Obviously this takes a lot of time. Also my husband is allergic to beans (except for chickpeas and lentils) and tofu is too expensive for us, so we do eat meat about once a week, as well as eggs and milk products. (In addition, vegetable prices have sky-rocketed in 2012, so we're rethinking once again how to structure our meals.)

    To cut down on kitchen time, we do the following: -use a pressure cooker for brown rice, potatoes, beets, and chickpeas -have a number of meals that are in weekly or biweekly rotation, including lentil soup, some kind of curry with rice, butternut squash soup, and quiche -do a majority of food prep and shopping over the weekend, since we both work outside of the home during the week -eat boring breakfasts; granola or eggs -when we do have meat, it is something that can be cooked once and then spread in small quantities over a number of meals

    reply

  • Jill Foley

    Jill Foley on Feb. 27, 2012, 4:54 p.m.

    Thank you for all this great information. I'm in the beginning stages of redirecting my family's food choices, and although we don't plan to go vegan (or even vegetarian), I appreciate your insights. Your experience encourages me to continue - even though it may seem overwhelming and the learning curve seems high right now.

    reply

  • Kristina

    Kristina on Feb. 27, 2012, 5:08 p.m.

    I loved this post! It's so good to know other people struggle in the kitchen and to read about how they solve their problems! I work full-time and help my husband during my off hours on our small farm. We do eat meat but are blessed to be able to grow our own...we know what goes into our meat! ;) I've found that by taking an hour or two on Sundays and bulk cooking, my evening meal preparation is a lot simpler. Here are some things I do (varies each week):

    -cook up a large batch of brown rice or beans and freeze in smaller portions. -boil eggs to use for salads, sandwiches, snacks. -chop up vegies for stir fries, snacks, salads. -prepare a large batch of vegetable, potato, or chili soup. -mix up a batch of tuna salad or chicken salad for lunches. -during summer, I will make a large noodle/vegie salad or cole slaw to add to our meals. -bake a batch of cookies or brownies or a cake or pie.

    These are just a few of the things I do to keep insanity out of the kitchen when 6 p.m. rolls around. :)

    Kristina

    reply

    • renee

      renee on Feb. 28, 2012, 6:30 p.m.

      I appreciate your insight Kristina, as someone who works full time (I'm assuming away from home, plus helps on your farm). Your strategies are helpful to anyone who wants to economize their time in the kitchen. Thank you for sharing. 

      reply

  • Cindy

    Cindy on Feb. 27, 2012, 5:17 p.m.

    Hi Renee,

    Love your posts! We have so many veggies and fruit here, it's awesome! But, like you, we do not have kale or collards, which I miss immensely!! We do have a veggie that grows all over our yard called Mexican tree spinach. Check it out! It has sooo many nutrients!

    Hey... any chance you could share Damien's asian soup recipe? I am obsessed with soup!

    Love and miss you guys! Cindy

    reply

  • Natalia

    Natalia on Feb. 27, 2012, 7:11 p.m.

    Brilliant post, as usual :) It is great to see someone else who is choosing vegan over meat even if it means taking the decision to forgo local for other principles. We are the same - we are lucky enough to get a local organic veg box each week (like CSA in the US, a bit) but one of the big local foodstuffs here is meat, and dairy, and eggs.

    I still haven't gotten the hang of menu planning - I kind of try and then fall off the wagon after a week. But I find that now I have been doing this cooking thing for a little while if I have staples at the very least I can 'whip something up' from the basics. Going vegan meant cutting down our recipe book collection, which then led me to trim down to books I know I will use, will teach me something, and has the kind of food we like to eat. It makes such a difference to have a few books you will actually use, rather than being overwhelmed by a huge collection of books where you will only cook one or two recipes from each.

    reply

  • Becky @ Sowing Little Seeds

    Becky @ Sowing Little Seeds on Feb. 27, 2012, 9:38 p.m.

    OH, thank heavens! I thought that there must be something wrong with me because I will spend what seems like an entire day or more planning meals for a 2 week period, and then another day at least in shopping/preparing/storing/washing/chopping the ingredients. I have just started on this whole foods journey less than a year ago. It is hard when the kids are all so little and require alot of time too. It makes me hopeful hearing that you used to spend so much time on these things as well but have now found your "sweet spot" Thanks for this valuable info. You should write a book ;)

    reply

  • Kika@embracingimperfection

    Kika@embracingimperfection on Feb. 27, 2012, 9:55 p.m.

    I prefer simple foods so meals aren't complicated. We repeat some basic 'themes', for lack of a better word, which simplifies meal planning. But really, I wanted to say that your post encouraged me today in a way you probably were not intending. I had a bit of an emotional break down today - just in so much pain and not able to keep up with housekeeping, meal planning, other life tasks. So it was the idea of outsourcing which spoke to me and I decided to reach out and ask for help. Not an easy thing to do- very humbling.

    reply

  • Abigail

    Abigail on Feb. 28, 2012, 3:24 a.m.

    I echo another commenter, in appreciation of the time you're taking! I like how your blog has bullet-point how-tos, but with lots of text and example bookending those take aways and main points. I'm a talk-it-out girl, so I love all your rationales and fleshings out. :)

    reply

  • Jennifer Schmidt

    Jennifer Schmidt on Feb. 28, 2012, noon

    Ha! I'm not spending less time in the kitchen, rather so much more! Since converting to a real whole food kitchen, it is taking up my life as you described. I'm just starting to get into a groove with things though and we're really starting to see the rewards for our family- namely very healthy little ones with boosted immune systems and new adventurous eating styles. What could make a mama happier? :) So thank you for taking the time to put this very informative post together. It was quite inspirational and has given me a few more helpful tips and tricks to incorporate into my cooking.

    reply

  • Pamela

    Pamela on Feb. 28, 2012, 6:09 p.m.

    I love this post! Your "this is how I do it" posts are my absolute faves. I have been using some of your previous tips in the past two weeks to simplify my time in the kitchen as well. Specifically, I made out a list of dinner themes for each day of the week. I'm also granting myself a little bit of grace in that not every meal needs to be nutritionally perfect (a weekly pancake night is acceptable), and I'm using some healthy convenience items such as prepared salad dressings (Annie's - yum!).

    My dinner themes are: Monday - whole wheat pancakes & eggs (sometimes with a green smoothie) Tuesday - Sandwiches, veggies & dip or salad, green smoothie Wednesday - Open night to try new/more complicated recipes Thursday - ditto Friday - Soup and Bread (I go to the store on Friday's so I can get a good fresh loaf of something yummy) Saturday - Brown Rice, Steamed Greens with sauce, Tofu or Beans Sunday - One pot meal of leftover rice, steamed veggies, rice, and maybe some sauce

    I've also made a lunchbox "map" for my girls' school lunches, which has helped as well. We use Laptop Lunches bento boxes, which have four containers each. The four boxes are now: Sandwich w/ nutbutter, fruit, veggies & dip, and healthy dessert (like homemade larabars or raw brownies). I can do the veggies, dip, and dessert ahead of time for the whole week.

    I'm also whittling down breakfast options. After seeing that a lot of people simply eat cooked whole grains every morning, that's pretty much what we are doing on weekdays. My girls are not so hip on it, but we might mix it up with a batch of granola or muesli every now and then.

    Wow, that's a ridiculously long comment! Sorry! I just get jazzed about your kitchen talk. :-) I consider you my secret kitchen mentor!

    -Pamela

    reply

  • Melissa

    Melissa on Feb. 28, 2012, 9:06 p.m.

    I'm another one that does bulk prep. I rely on cooking for the week, on the weekend to simplify things. Each weekend I try and make a soup/stew and either a casserole or pasta sauce. These end up being quick lunches, and sometimes breakfast or dinner, throughout the week with a portion also put aside in the freezer for those days when a 'frozen dinner' is needed. Baking usually works like this too where I'll bake a batch of muffins and freeze half right away. If I'm planning on doing something with beans, I'll soak them and use a pressure cooker to speed things up, always making more and then freezing extras by the cup for future use.

    Prep for breakfasts usually happens on the weekend too...I clean and cut fruit for morning smoothies and wash the spinach...there's just no way I or my partner will keep up with smoothies if we were prepping each morning. I used to buy the pre-washed spinach but most of it is sold in plastic containers that aren't accepted for recycling here and I just couldn't keep tossing them in the trash.

    At the moment my partner assembles breakfasts of granola/yogurt, homebaked goods w/jam, egg+veggie casseroles that are re-heated, while I work out the smoothie or get ready for work. And he does the clean-up after I head out the door (he has a 1-9pm shift so mornings are when we have a meal together). When I get home in the evening I put things away and start dinner, always making something that he can take for his main meal the next day. For the nights when I get home too burnt out to cook I turn to the 'frozen dinners'.

    It's not a perfect system but it helps us eat well. I'm the one that does the bulk of the shopping and menu planning...not sure about outsourcing that though as it's kind of 'my thing', if that makes sense. Anyways...a long comment offered on the chance it sparks an idea for someone else.

    reply

  • Johanna

    Johanna on Feb. 28, 2012, 11:44 p.m.

    Really loved this post! Menu planning/cooking is the hardest part of my homemaking job. In part this is because we live on a very tight budget (part-time income) while my husband pursues further studies. We believe firmly that groceries are not the place to scrimp, but since we're doing this debt free it is still much lower than we would like. We don't eat vegan, but my husband grew up vegan so we incorporate vegan meals. (I need baby steps!!!)We only eat meat a couple of times a week now, but I don't think I could go without dairy and such! Maybe someday!

    reply

  • Brittany

    Brittany on Feb. 29, 2012, 3:25 a.m.

    Ok, so your statement is TOTALLY me:

    "I would spend whole days, in between nursing and attending to children, just thinking about food - finding recipes, planning a menu, figuring out where to buy what I needed (I've always grocery shopped on a budget)."

    Thank you for letting me know that I am not alone. It often feels like an uphill battle, but one I feel is worth the hard work.

    Thank you, thank you.

    reply

    • renee

      renee on Feb. 29, 2012, 11:01 a.m.

      You're not alone. I've said quite a few times, especially lately as more moms with littles are hanging out here, that my life with young children looked quite different than it does now and this is one area especially. Simply because it was during that time we made so many changes to our diet. And of all that took so much learning time for me. But yes, it is worth the hard work. Just as all the effort you put into raising your littles is worth the hard work

      reply

  • Trisha

    Trisha on Feb. 29, 2012, 3:59 a.m.

    I haven't had much online time lately, but your blog is one of a few I try to keep up with. It's inspiring, thought provoking, and helpful. I love the idea of the themes for meal planning. One question- what do you use for stirfry sauces? It seems so many are either really high in sodium or full of artificial ingredients. Thanks for sharing your knowledge :)

    reply

    • renee

      renee on Feb. 29, 2012, 11:07 a.m.

      Oh thanks Trisha! I make my own. After reading your comment I went looking in my binders for a recipe to maybe share with you but I can't find any tried and true ones - I think they're all in my head (and then I make them different each time!) I usually use some combination of the following ingredients.

      tamari or soy sauce

      rice vinegar

      water

      garlic

      ginger (fresh or powdered for ease)

      tapioca starch (to thicken, you could you cornstarch - Damien can't eat corn)

      a bit of brown rice syrup if I want to sweeten it

      miso

      toasted sesame seed oil (a small amount for taste)

      tahini

      mirin (rice wine)

      My stir fries aren't as "saucy" as a dish of thick sauced vegetables you'd get at a Chinese restaurant, we use a bit of sauce for flavor but the veggies are swimming in it.

      reply

  • Trisha

    Trisha on Feb. 29, 2012, 12:16 p.m.

    Thanks! I don't know why making it myself never crossed my mind. I think I'll add stirfry to out menu for next week! Thanks :)

    reply

  • Jennifer @ kidoing!

    Jennifer @ kidoing! on Feb. 29, 2012, 2:53 p.m.

    I had a lightbulb moment recently as I was prepping for dinner and the kids were screaming for my attention.

    I was making something that needed to be baked (like a casserole, but I don't remember exactly what it was) and what I realized is that baked dinners (all in one dish) are so much easier than meals on the stove top.

    I prepped the ingredients, dumped them into a glass baking dish and was able to walk away from the kitchen for 45 minutes or so. In that time, I read the kids some stories, made a salad, set the table, etc.

    Maybe this is already an obvious thing to most people, but it was an "aha" moment for me!

    reply

  • sara

    sara on March 1, 2012, 3:11 a.m.

    One thing I do is make a huge batch of beans every week that I incorporate into several meals. I have two to four meals that my family enjoys for each type of bean. So, it ends up that I rotate the beans we eat through the weeks. For example, last week, I made five cups dry kidney beans from scratch. Through the week I made a kidney bean and coconut rice dish we love which is very simple for a night when I needed simple. The next night, I made a lentil, kidney bean soup which made a huge batch and so we were able to eat it two nights in a row. Having the beans prepared in advance helped make the meals go together easily. We also used the leftover beans on top of salads for several lunches. If there had been any left on top of those things, I would have made a bean spread for a dip. Sometimes when I make bean dips, I will make a double batch and freeze one.
    The next week, I would start over with a different kind of bean. And repeat. This week, garbanzos will find their way into the kitchen. I will probably make a easy spinach garbanzo topping for rice, a batch or two of hummus, maybe some roasted chickpeas for a snack, and perhaps a garbazo/ roasted butternut squash salad. We also like garbanzos on our lunch salads.
    I also have found that make a huge batch of something, so that we can have one night of leftovers is very helpful. I would often double recipes which would only be enough for our dinner plus lunch for one or two of us the next day. One day I had an aha moment that I needed to double, double our recipes for leftovers. Yes, it took me quite some time to figure that out. But, now that I have, I adore having a leftover night and a night off from cooking pour moi. Last, but not least, we have three or so, "go to" easy dishes that even if they aren't on the menu plan, I can make in a pinch. I realized, too, that I wanted to be spending less time in the kitchen, so for me that means I have to not try new recipes all the time which is slightly addicting to me. So this winter, I try something new once every week or two. That gives me enough variety with enough repeats to make menu planning easy.
    One of the new recipes I made this week was your baked apples. Oh, my! What a treat. That recipe will definitely be going into the binder! Thanks for your post Renee. I am especially fond of kitchen talk!

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  • kyndale

    kyndale on March 1, 2012, 5:37 a.m.

    You are such a great resource Renee! In the winter we've been making soup with whole grain Mai Fun noodles which are gluten free. Tonight we made it with homemade broth, mushrooms and tofu with the noodles and broth. I should have added greens but I was tired. The kids loved it and ate it up.

    You and I eat so many of the same things. I'd feel right at home in your kitchen!

    ps. thanks for the link :)

    xo

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  • Sabra

    Sabra on Feb. 27, 2013, 1:16 a.m.

    Hi- Great article! I felt so in tune with your comment about kitchen time being a full time job. I hhave a baby and a toddler, and I work from home. I really gotta get out of this kitchen but still want to eat healthy. It would be so frustrating to have a whole day go by and realize most if it was spent in the kitchen! Having gestational diabetes during my 2nd pregnancy actually helped me learn how to eat healthier, but it does mean more time planning, shopping, and cooking (especially with the little ones). Can't wait till I can outsource to them! We aren't vegetarian but we do love our veggies. Here's what I do to minimize planning/cooking time:

    1) Do all my cooking, babyfood prep, and kitchen cleaning in the morning, try to wrap it up by lunch time. 2) Make enough dinner to have leftovers for lunch the next day (figured this one out while pregnant and running after my toddler), 3) Go vegetarian every other day, for example day 1: meat, day 2: veggie, day 3: fish, day 4: veggie, day 5: chicken, day 6: veggie, etc. (On day 7 my husband buys dinner. I don't care what it is just as long as I'm not cooking!) Having this "rule" makes planning so much easier. Veggie days usually are pasta, quiche, mexican, or beans.

    I could really use some help with the idea for stir fry sauces and bean dishes. Great article- thanks!

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  • cynthia

    cynthia on June 6, 2013, 12:54 a.m.

    I have to say this is all newto me. I have always been a meat eater . And have a niece who asked me to do this class with her and I am totally loving it. Not only am i learning how to creat a complete vegan meal so I cann serve her family more things when they come for the day , but i am slowly incorporating more vegan meals and less meal which include meat. And what am surprized to find so many of these dishes have wonderful taste and are beautiful to look at. I also did know you could freeze the tomatoes  which I definitly will try .Thanks for the great ideas.

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