Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Who's got time?

Homemakers have been searching for ways to speed up meal preparation ever since the first cavewoman decided that she was spending too much time slaving over a hot fire. Through the years many timesaving methods and products have been developed. However, the modern homemaker must evaluate expense in terms of money and time when using them. In the following recipes the cost of the food is more, but the meal is prepared in a jiffy.
Better Homes and Garden Encyclopedia of Cooking, Volume 15 (1973)
Yes, we're busy. But someone once told me that people make time for the things they think are important. That's why I make time to cook. Food and health are important to me. I love good food, and I hate wasting money. Shortly after moving to the country seven years ago, we drove into town one night and ate at a buffet. I suddenly realized that most of the food came from cans or a freezer. Why was I wasting my money? My family could have eaten the same foods at home for about 20% of the price we were paying. I would have only had to open a few cans or boxes and heat up the contents. My then-9-year-old daughter could have done as well. And we had also wasted the gasoline and the time that it took to drive to and from the restaurant.

After that experience I started considering the time issue more carefully. Was I really saving time by eating out? Plenty of nutritious meals can be prepared in less than 30 minutes, which is the amount of time it would take most people to simply travel to and from a restaurant. After you add in the amount of time you spend waiting for your food at the restaurant, you're up to 45 minutes or an hour of wasted time. Instead of spending 30 to 60 minutes fighting traffic and waiting at a restaurant, you could spend that time with your family preparing food.

One of the ways we manage to eat real meals at home is that everyone in our family knows how to cook. My children learned to cook when they were eight or nine years old, and as they get older, the meals get more complicated. Everyone has their specialties -- Jonathan makes a great pasta primavera, and Katherine makes a delicious eggplant parmesan -- but everyone is capable of reading a menu and taking control of a meal when needed. I also have our bread recipe taped up inside the kitchen cabinet where I keep all the baking supplies. This is a picture of our queso blanco with marinara over pasta, and everyone in the family knows how to make it.

Another time-saving tip that I've learned is to double a recipe for a casserole and freeze half of it, or put it in the frig if I know everyone will be happy eating it again in a few days. It doesn't take any more time to double the recipe than it does to make a single batch. Doubling this Mexican turkey casserole is really easy to do. For the second casserole, just mix up everything except the chips, put it in a freezer container, and freeze. On the day you want to have the second casserole for dinner, move it from the freezer to the frig the night before, so it will be thawed when you get home from work, and you can put it in the oven.

When I make homemade bread, I use the Kitchen Aid, and I mix up enough dough for two or three loaves. It doesn't take any more time to mix up three loaves than it does to mix up one. I can make rolls for tonight's dinner and bake a loaf of bread that will be used for breakfast tomorrow morning (regular toast or French toast). The dough for the third loaf can be put in the refrigerator for a future lunch or dinner. Take it out of the frig a couple hours before the meal, put it into the bread pan, let rise, and bake as usual.

Of course, I can't talk about saving time without talking about using a crock pot. Whenever we are going to be busy all morning, I put lunch into the crock pot, so it's waiting for us when we come into the house at noon. If you're too busy in the morning to get it started, you can start the night before. Put everything into the crock pot and put it in the frig. In the morning, take it out, plug it in, and you're on your way out the door. If you tend to be forgetful (like me), then put a sticky note on your exit door that says, "Plug in crock pot," or just "Crock pot!" Here is my recipe for split pea soup, but there are also recipes right on the bag of dry peas that you buy at the store.

The crock pot's logical companion is the bread machine. I used to use a bread machine a lot! Now I have the Kitchen Aid and make multiple loaves at one time, but I do still drag out the bread machine from time to time. If you want soup and bread for dinner, put the soup in the crock pot, and set the timer on your bread maker to be done about the time you get home from work. I used to do this a lot when I worked full time in the suburbs. It's so nice to walk into the house and smell fresh baked bread and hot soup. For more on breadmaking, check out this post from a few months ago.

You can plan meals in tandem with one another. First make an extra big pot of chili for dinner one night. Then the following morning, put potatoes in your oven for baked potatoes, and set your oven timer so they're done when you arrive home. Reheat the chili and serve over the top. For more on baked potatoes and the two dinner concept, check out this post from January.

Just in case you're thinking that this is too complicated, and "My time is worth something," let me add one final thought. I used to buy into the idea that my time was worth something, and then one day I realized that my time was worth exactly what I was being paid ... which was ... um, nothing most of the time. Corporate America really wants us to believe that our time is worth so much that we can't be bothered with menial things like cooking -- and didn't McDonald's tell us in the 1980s that "You deserve a break today," which, by the way, was voted as the best advertising jingle of the 20th century. McDonald's realized that it was not selling great hamburgers -- it was selling a lifestyle. So, unless someone is paying me red hot cash to do something more lucrative than cook (and my other family members are similarly engaged), we realize that making our own homemade food is actually one of the smartest investments we can make in ourselves.


Anonymous said...

The amount of money I save cooking at home, making healthy meals saves me $$$ in lieu of the cost of eating out and health care problems for my family.

Not one of the 7 of is even close to overweight. Cavities are non existent in the kids - and we have put our kids on a path to healthy eating.

It doesn't mean that we don't splurge once in a while and have soda or a restaurant meal - but the money I save is "payoff" or a "paycheck" if you will, to us.

People that feel entitled and that their precious time is worth something are entirely missing the point of how much they would be making [saving] by not eating out or using convenience foods.

All of our kids can cook - and it covers the spectrum from breakfast, breads, casseroles to full on dinners. And our youngest is 11.

We have a saying in our home - If you can read [a recipe] you can cook. It works.

Deborah said...

That's excellent! And your comment reminded me that our food bill went down by about $5,000 the year after we moved out here, and most of the decrease was attributable to not eating out.

melanie said...

Amen. I regularly bake 7-8 loaves at a time and boy is it worth it!

Now to get the 12 yr. old cooking....hmmm...we might have to get her to eat more than veggie patties and fries for this to work...(*gr*)

Anonymous said...

Hey, great article, but it's hard to imagine eating soup since it's 99 degrees outside.

Deborah said...

Thanks for pointing that out, Anonymous! It's been in the 70s here for the past couple weeks, so I keep forgetting it's July! This is very unseasonably cool for us. Usually it's in the 90s for us too this time of year.

Anonymous said...

This is a great post. At first we saved a lot of money on food after we moved because we can't get delivery of any food and it's at least a 10 minute drive to get anything "fast."

Anyway, I mostly cook for breakfast and dinner, but lunch is my downfall. If we go into town to do errands, we are inevitably hungry and stop to get something, usually fast food. But if I really think about it, it doesn't save time. I could just spend that time putting together a lunch to eat in the car instead. At this point, though, it will take a while before the kids are convinced that a sandwich in the car is better than Hardee's!


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