(ie. keeping everyone fed and clean…er, fed at least)
There are all sorts of challenges that people, and especially families face to stay organized and keep their lives running smoothly. Add in gardening or animal care where you never know what may come up and activities are weather dependent, and you add a whole new set of complications. Here is what we have found to be the most helpful.
- Use your calendar!
With multiple people going in several directions at once, one calendar hung in a central location is ideal. We list doctor appointments, sports, meetings, vacations, school events etc. Everyone has a central place to look. I have a duplicate on my phone, because I tend to be the one organizing cars and coverage…It’s handy to write a phone number right next to the appointment if you think you may have to change it at all.
If you are really organized you can color code. I tried once color coding the six of us but that didn’t work well. What does work for us is to code by type. For example, school vacations and early release days in red, doctor appointments in blue, games in green, whatever color scheme works for you.
When you can see at a glance what is happening for the week or on a given day you can see how to fit more activities into one trip. For example, this week I knew my eldest had a Covid screening to be able to move into his college dorm. Also, my youngest needed to go to the hardware store for some parts. I needed to pick up prescriptions and drop off papers at the bank. By looking at the week ahead, we could figure out how to schedule these all into one efficient trip, rather than two or three trips into town. If you’re really organized you can look at the forecast and take the weather into account too and plan around a trip to the beach or running errands on the rainy day.
- Freezer meals
If you’re at all like me you get sick of cooking for your family. Every. Single. Day. We all need some tricks up our sleeves for the days you just don’t have the energy to cook, or the days you just don’t have the time.Let’s face it, take-out or delivery would be great but it’s hard on the budget and they don’t always deliver to rural areas at 9pm… the middle of the hay field or garden would be handy though.
Use your freezer and your crock pot like your life depends on them. You can freeze whole casseroles to just pop out and heat, or “dump meals” that get dumped right in the crock pot, minimal additions and heated, or marinated meat that makes grilling a breeze. Sometimes you may want to plan ahead and defrost the food the night or morning before you cook it (I don’t recommend trying to grill frozen chicken for example), but some things can go straight from freezer to the oven, if the dish can handle it.
I like freezing casseroles right in tin foil pans, covered with tinfoil with the heating directions written right onto that tinfoil – even my family can handle making dinner then. I like the tinfoil because my “regular” pans are still available, but dinners are ready to grab n go. They can go straight from the freezer to the oven and I have no fear of glass cracking. Or if we are going somewhere else (hemp harvesting season for example, we all help each other out) I can bring the pan of food and not worry if I don’t get the pan back. I do tend to reuse the pans several times, until they get too many tiny holes.
I love getting a great deal on meat, then marinating and freezing it. Through freezing and thawing it has a chance to really absorb the flavors. Plus, it’s easy to grab the bag of meat, heat out to the grill, while that cooks, warm up some frozen veggies and look: a healthy meal that took almost no work today and clean-up is a breeze too. This one actually is a pretty easy cleanup when you’re freezing it too.
The second part of this grand scheme is that left overs get portioned into individual servings and frozen. These then make handy snacks or single serve grab meals that can go straight in the microwave.
You can go about freezing these meals in two ways. In the first, you just double recipes for a while when making regular dinners and freeze half of what you prepare (I do this often with soups and shepherd’s pie). In the second, you take a day and doa massive prep of all sorts of meals, and then not have to for a while. Both are valid ways to do this, and I have done it both ways.
Here are some of our favorites:
Meatloaf (bonus if you freeze a batch of mashed potatoes to go with this. They thaw a little soupy, but will dry out while you heat them a little extra.)
Shepherd’s Pie, this we eat about once a week in the winter so I make two at a time, and freeze one. Being a casserole of ground beef, creamed corn, and mashed potato there is no danger of losing texture.
Chili – This we really only eat in the winter, but the advantage (beyond time saved) is taht the peppers are always tender. Everyone has their own recipe, but keep in mind the order you add to the bag if you are transferring it to a crock pot. If you are afraid that prolonge heating might make your tomato pieces gets mushy, for example, you might want to put them into your bag first so that they end up on top when dumping the bag into your crock pot. If you’ll be heating on a pot on the stove you are probably stirring more often, and it won’t matter so much.
Lasagna and Stuffed Shells – I often freeze up a pan of each of these at the same time, if I am taking a day to cook. There’s a good chace I’ll prep chili in the same day. These two recipes use almost identical ingredients so prepping the second dish takes almost no time. You do want to be sure that the pasta is completely covered in spinach or sauce or something moist that will stick to it. If not, you risk freezer burn and drying out the pasta. It’s still edible but it does not taste that great, which defeats the purpose.
Soups – you can prep and freeze almost anything in a bag to dump into a crock pot or pot. However, try to freeze them before adding cream and add that just before serving, put a note right on the bag you freeze it in. The texture changes when it’s frozen, nor does cream do well for long periods in a crockpot. I know one person who has a couple soup bags in the freezer and she adds leftovers to them each night. You know when you have just a couple spoonfuls of peas left, what do you do with those? Soup bag! Keep adding leftovers and stock, occasionally add some herbs and seasoning.
Stew – This is an easy one to prep, I just try hard to remember the order of layering in my bag so that it gets dumped into the crockpot so the carrots and potatoes are on the bottom.I didn’t pay attention once, and my potatoes weren’t completely tender when we were ready to eat.
Sliced meats and veggies for fajitas. In this case I portion the different ingredients into separate bags as they take different amounts of time to cook, and some of my family is picky about what they want on their food. To heat, I may use several frying pans, or add to one sheet pan at different cook times. (For example, the onion and chicken go on the pan first, then later I add the peppers, etc based on the length of time each ingredient needs.)
- Preserving in your spare time (Ha! Make time for it)
Freezing, water bath canning, and dehydrating are all great options for when you find those great sales and have a day to put into the work. Really you can do a batch in just a couple hours if you are pressed for time.
Freezing is the easiest of these methods. I find that I like to freeze many things in freezer bags laid flat. This makes for easier storage later. If possible freeze them separated out (not laying on top of each other) so they freeze quicker. This leads to better taste and fewer ice crystals (which leads to freezer burn and spoilage). If you are freezing berries or blanched veggies, you can lay them out on a cookie sheet and freeze them, then bag them. This keeps the individual pieces from sticking. If you are doing a “solid” bag, think about the quantity you will be using and freeze accordingly. For example if I freeze shredded zucchini I do it in 2 cup amounts because that is the amount used in most of my recipes. I definitely don’t want to thaw and use a gallon of it in one sitting.
Often when I am prepping a meal, I’ll chop up extra peppers or ham or dice onion and freeze these in small containers or baggies. This makes it easy some morning for omelets or a quick add to a side dish for dinner. If all the prep work is done and you just add and stir, cooking is much faster and easier.
Water bath canning is easier than pressure canning as you can use any soup pot or large flat bottomed pot you have. There are zillions of easy pickle, relish, and jam recipes. You might want to start with a Pinterest recipe, then if you enjoy the process I recommend finding a couple good books of recipes. Be absolutely sure that the tops of your jars are clean before you put on the lid and that they seal completely. If you have a few that don’t seal, you can either re-bath them or put them in the fridge and use them soon.
Dehydrating is one of my new favorite things. A little prep work, then they run on their own, then a little final work. We dehydrate all sorts of fruits chopped small, to use in muffins and instant oatmeal. We dehydrate sliced fruit to have as a snack in school or hiking or at the beach. We make our own fruit roll-ups. I chop and dehydrate or blanch, chop and dehydrate veggies to jar then use in soups and casseroles. I just started slicing and dehydrating veggies to grind into powder and then add to anything for a little extra boost. I love beet powder!
- Paid Services
Don’t be afraid to use some paid services if it is what keeps you sane and running efficiently. There are all sorts of services that can save you time and mental clarity which may be entirely worth paying a little extra for.
For example, I HATE grocery shopping, so I “cheat” and order all sorts of things online to be delivered to my door. Sometimes these cost the same as the grocery store (figure in the cost of shipping, too), sometimes the same and sometimes a touch less. But saving me time and frustration of running to the grocery store or time in the store, is HUGE! Likewise, there is an app I sometimes use that let’s me shop online and pick up at my local grocery store. I pay ahead, and they will even put it in my car, if I want. When I was working 60 hours a week outside of the home, this was huge! Every once and a while I would make a mistake and order one steak when I meant to get four – oops! But they were awesome about special requests like: two ripe (yellow) bananas and 4-6 mostly green bananas.
Now I use Hello Fresh for three meals a week. This works out to a similar price to what I buy ingredients at the store, except it all comes pre-measured so there is little waste, and it’s super easy to cook. Most importantly, my family is trying new meals/foods! I do not like all the plastic waste from individual containers, but…I like it so much that I encourage you to start your cooking adventure now with HelloFresh using the following voucher code HS-8GWFSH2PP. Happy Cooking! Use this link to receive a discount on your first order, and it earns me a slight discount too!
Maybe you enjoy shopping and cooking, but hate house-cleaning. There are all sorts of services for that, too. Or seasonal activities for cleaning out your gutters, or plowing your driveway.