This week I received a question from Amanda. She writes:
I just finished reading Nourishing Traditions and feel pretty swayed by the evidence for the benefit of this type of diet. I am just left thinking that this type of cooking is only feasible for families with a stay at home parent, so I am hesitant to even try. Even with your menu planner, it seems completely unachievable. Is this community entirely populated by families with a stay at home parent, or do people have success even with two working parents?
Amanda, I think I can speak to that. I believe that there are many people interested in real foods but they’re in a time crunch due to work, illness in the family, an elderly parent, a special needs child or something else that consumes large amounts of their time. No matter the reason for the time crunch, there are things you can do to help.
Let me give you a better idea about my schedule. My husband works full-time plus a considerable commute each day, leaving him little time to help in the kitchen except on weekends. I am a work-at-home mom (WAHM). My job is normally 35-40 hours a week or more in front of the computer or doing other administrative tasks such as paperwork and filing, in addition to the time spent in the kitchen developing and testing recipes, filming and the like for the Menu Mailer and the Real Food Cooking School. That can take 20 hours a week. Therefore, I routinely work 60 hours a week or more, six days a week. So while I am at home to do my job, that doesn’t mean I’m available to hop into the kitchen all the time. And sometimes when I’m filming, I’m not turning out finished dishes, instead I’m turning out ingredients or parts and pieces, so when filming is done, I still have to cook dinner! I definitely have a time crunch going on.
The biggest thing that has kept me on track is to keep myself from having to think. Instead, I plan, organize and write it all down. I keep lists so I don’t forget anything and nothing falls through the cracks. I don’t have to think, I just have to follow the list when the time comes. That also clears up mental space so I’m not constantly feeling like I need to remember everything. I can just concentrate on the task at hand.
The only way I’m able to do the job that I do and feed real food to my family is due to organization and planning. I plan all meals at least 48 hours in advance to ensure I have enough time to soak, thaw or do whatever else I need to do. I prefer to plan a week at a time. Once the meals are planned, I write out what I need to do and when, so I don’t forget anything. Yes, things like the Menu Mailer will definitely help to keep you from having to spend a few hours each week planning, giving you more time in the kitchen.
I also do preparation after grocery shopping. I cut up any needed veggies, make sauces, soak and cook grains, whatever I can do ahead that saves time during the week. Package everything up and stash it in the fridge or freezer so you have it at the ready when you need it. The Menu Mailer has a section of post-shopping planning to tell you what you can do head, on a weekend, to cut down on kitchen time during the week.
I do very simple breakfasts and lunches, and they’re on a set rotation. I don’t have to plan those. Half of the time, lunch is leftovers from dinner the night before so I don’t have to worry about it. I leave one morning open each week, usually Saturday, to try a new dish if I want to. I do have a couple of very simple meal plans that only require thawing that I keep on reserve for times when things go nuts and I have little time to get meals on the table. I recommend you make up a meal plan or two that are meals that require 20 minutes or less of hands-on time with no other advance prep other than thawing meat to have for those crazy weeks.
I also believe it’s important to simplify as much as possible. Keep meals to 30 minutes or less of hands-on time on the days that you work and leave the fancy stuff to the days you’re off and feel like getting in the kitchen. Cooking ahead was also a major time-saver for me. Batch cooking side dishes, main dishes, whatever you need and freeze them so you have extra meals on hand that are heat and eat. I normally batch cook on my day off. When I batch cook for a busy period, I will rotate through two or three meals for dinner each night so the kids don’t complain after having the same meal multiple nights in a row.
I learned to clean as I go. I start cooking with an unloaded dishwasher and load as I use things, so I don’t have a dirty kitchen facing me when we’re done eating and I’d like to relax. I try to touch things only once. Handling them to put them into the sink then having to handle them again to load the dishwasher meant I was wasting time with dirty dishes, and they also contributed to the visual clutter, which really bothers me. I trained my kids to scrape their plates and put their own dishes into the dishwasher after a meal or directly into the dishwasher if they’re helping prepare the meal. My daughter and I alternate after-meal put-away and clean-up, and soon my son will be old enough to help out, too.
I also learned to make wise purchases. Instead of making some things from scratch, I sometimes purchase them instead. For example, I sometimes purchase coconut milk instead of making it from scratch. Tomato paste, too. And now that I’ve said that, I’m hearing gasps of horror from some readers. Why do I do it? It’s less expensive for me to purchase these items rather than make them, so I go ahead when the time is more important that the money. I purchase BPA-free cans of coconut milk and the tomato paste comes in glass jars. I’m fine with these choices, even though some people would be shocked to hear that are real food blogger doesn’t make her own everything from scratch 100% of the time. I just don’t have the time all of the time, and when I do have time I consider things like making stock and preparing liver to go into our ground meat dishes more important than the occasional can of coconut milk. When I do have time, I make it from scratch.
I’ve also gotten my kids involved. If they’re old enough, having them help in the kitchen can be some quality family time while they learn necessary life skills. If nothing else, they do schoolwork at the bar while I cook.
Finally, I learned to do what I can with what I have, where I am. I learned to not beat myself up over less-than-perfect meals, because the stress was likely more detrimental than the non-organic veggies were!
My good friend, Millie Cooper from Real Food for Less Money, was also a work outside of the home mom (WOHM) and is currently a WAHM. I asked Millie if she had any advice for you. Here’s what she said:
Over the weekend I plan the menu for the following week and do any needed shopping. During the work week I keep our meals extremely simple. If we are going to have something fancy it is saved for the weekend when I have more time. During the work week my goal is to have supper on the table no more than 30 minutes after arriving home.
After the menu plan and shopping are completed I then take an hour or two to do any prep needed for the week. This could include making bread, making items for breakfast that only need a quick reheat (or can be served cold), cooking vegetables (for reheating with healthy fat later), and any other things that can help with the supper time crunch. I rely heavily on a crock pot. If I’m going to do a stew in the crock pot I’ll cut and prep as many of the ingredients as possible in the evening and then put it all in the crock pot in the morning, turn it on and have dinner ready when the day is done.
I keep ingredients on hand for quick meals for when my plans fall apart. Already cooked beans, meat and tortillas are kept in the freezer. I also keep ingredients to make a quick dishes like a homemade Pad Thai style dish (rice noodles, Pad Thai sauce that have ingredients we’re okay with, scrambled eggs, cabbage, carrots). Eggs in Marinara and Emergency Goulash are two more favorite quick dishes.
Millie blogged a series about WOHMing. Click here to read it.
Amanda, I hope this is a help to you. I believe real food does take more fore-thought for women who work outside of the home, but it is quite doable.
Readers, It’s Your Turn
If you live in a situation that causes a time crunch, how do you make real food doable for your family? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below, or you can submit a guest post for publication.
Ah, this is something I know about! I work full time, in addition to having a bit of a social life, training to become a professional belly dancer, studying Italian, and job hunting so I can move 3,000 miles away. My current living situation is in a condo with my mother, who’s retired. I have been doing traditional foods for four years and she now does what amounts to a low-carb primal diet. Like KerryAnn said, advanced preparation and planning are key. Get a slow cooker if you have to. I have a friend who periodically preps slow cooker meals in bags to freeze, so she can pull them out on the days she is out of the home (she’s a freelancer) and have a full meal ready when she comes home. Keep things simple with the meal planning.
And for the changes to the types of food, start slowly. find one or two changes to make and do those until they are consistent. Trying to make all the changes right away means you’re going to crash and burn.
Soli recently posted..Where things stand – an update
Crock pots! And, having a stocked pantry and freezer. I don’t meal plan, yet, but I find that having basic ingredients, I can turn out something nourishing quickly. A jar of stock becomes soup, along with frozen vegetables and white rice. Pasta sauce quickly becomes spaghetti. We eat simply, but heartily. Ad, most dinners become lunch for the next day.
Also, please do not let “I can’t do everything” turn into “I’m not going to start at all.” I started last year just changing out which fats I cooked with, and increasing coconut oil and butter. The more changes you make, often the better you feel, and changing fats is the easiest and best change for you. (Giving up gluten is really good for you, but can be harder, so quick and easy to start!)
Amanda B. says
I have a full time job, toddlers, husband and real foodie. My biggest suggestion on living and eating the food/drinks as set forth in Nourishing Traditions is to find the things you really enjoy eating/drinking and make those items priority. For instance, I realized that it was WAY too much for me to make milk kefir, water kefir and kombucha, amongst other items and I eliminated the water kefir for time (and sanity) savings. I feel that even though there are thousands of items that you can ferment and make, you need to find what works for your family. I was almost burnt out when my husband encouraged me that I can only do so much.
That being said, there are so many items you can do ahead and freeze (soaked doughs for pizza) or make a double batch of tortillas when you only need one and freeze the rest; the little things that simplify your life. We don’t eat processed foods and I don’t feel meal times are any more difficult now than before implementing Nourishing Traditions.
Good luck and good health!
I work full time, though I’m often able to do work from home several+ hours each week. I do a fair bit of batch cooking. I make spaghetti sauce and soups in bulk, eating some for dinner and lunches that week, but also putting some in the freezer. I also like having basic meal components in the freezer, like cooked ground beef, roasted chicken and homemade turkey sausage. Whenever I’m able to get my vegetables prepped and chopped ahead of time, our vegetable intake noticeably increases. The slow cooker is my friend. Also, whenever I’m making dinner, I’m thinking about making extra for lunches or another dinner that week. I try to be on top of what’s in my fridge and freezer, so I can maximize leftovers. Extra rice from last night’s dinner, plus leftover roast chicken in the freezer? Thaw the chicken, add some (hopefully already chopped) onion and carrots, and I have a stir fry! It’s funny, some of our favorite quick meals were discovered when I hadn’t planned well and had to experiment with a mishmash of ingredients. I also like to have a homemade batch of dill dip in the fridge, which makes it easier to get vegetables into my husband. He’s far more likely to snack on carrots and cucumber if there’s some dip.
I used to stress out a lot about not having this down perfectly, but I’ve let a lot of my extreme expectations go. I don’t always know when I’m going to get home from work. It could be 4:30 or 7:00, and it can change last minute. So I have to have a certain amount of flexibility in my meal planning, and just roll with it. DH has long been overwhelmed with helping in the kitchen, in part because I have so many food intolerances. I’ve become better at making sure there are simple, easy to prepare meal components available, in case I’m not feeling well.
Just reading this is overwhelming to me. I admire so much the moms (and dads, too, but in my experience it is mostly the moms) who can take care of their kids, work, take care of their home, cook, clean, run all the errands needed and still have time for their spouse. I wish I had a fraction of the energy you do!! 🙂
I just finished freezing a bunch of food. I bought grass fed beef, organic chickens, etc. and a bunch of veggies. I came home and googled some recipes. I did the crock pot chicken, and then put the bones in to make bone broth over night in the crock pot. With the chicken I made and froze enchiladas with chicken and bean and some fajita chicken for fajita salads using some pizza sauce I had in a glass jar in the cupboard and veggies. I froze two meatloafs with ground kale in them. I froze a beef and cabbage recipe. I froze chicken and pineapple kebobs just as a casserole, no sticks. I froze the broccoli and chicken casserole . . . what else? Oh, I froze taco salad meat mixed with herbs and zucchini. And I did a crock pot coconut red lentil soup. but we ate it for 3 dinners in a row and didn’t have to freeze it.
I did once a month meals with the OAMM website twice, and got the hang of it through that. If you follow someone’s freezer meals plan once or twice you’ll be able to do it yourself. Now I didn’t even follow recipes, I just bought a bunch of staple items that I keep on a computer list, bought whatever veggies caught my eye, and then went home and googled some simple recipes. The only meats I precooked are the shredded chicken from the whole chicken that is in the first 2 recipes. Everything else I mixed all the onions, spices, etc. that the recipe called for but froze it raw. So now I just thaw and cook.
You chop your veggies the night before and put them in containers in the fridge. I went crazy and bought 10 bags of chopped onions this time around, they are not as good but it saved me a ton of time and I was freezing everything anyway. Then you can easily substitute into simple recipes. If they called for a veggie I didn’t have, I used what I did have. I had extra cabbage so I threw that into one of the dishes. If they suggested you brown the meat separately I spiced the meat appropriately and froze it, and then bagged the other ingredients separately.
So, you shop and cook. It took me an evening and half a day. Then the next day half a day. One evening later I still have a whole chicken frozen and I baked and froze an acorn squash and a rutabaga I had on hand that I didn’t use. So I already have one thing I can thaw and stick in the crock pot to put something else together with when I run out of everything else that I froze. I also have breakfast and lunch on a rotation and a list on the computer for staple items to make both of those.
So maybe try simplifying the recipes and freezing ahead, because sometimes it’s not the actual cooking that is the problem, it’s the THINKING that trips us up. If you thaw it a day (or two) ahead in the fridge you just come home and pop it in the oven or on the stove.