Do you loathe kitchen work? Do you stumble in at mealtime, realize there’s nothing to eat, and then proceed to microwave a frozen dinner or call for a pizza? Is figuring out dinner for your family the last thing you feel like doing after a long and tiring day? Is doling out lunch money your preferred way to pack everyone’s lunch?
If you said ‘yes’ to any of these questions, you can join my club! Personally, if given the choice of homesteading jobs, I would spend all day in the garden. Someone else can take the kitchen and cleaning work. Just so you know where I stand. But, there are a few things that have helped me learn to enjoy kitchen management and to take control of this important component of homesteading.
Because, you see, what you eat is 100% more important than whether you have a garden or chickens in the backyard. You have to start somewhere, and if you and your family are not healthy, then this thing will not work. And I don’t mean sticking to a diet that someone/somewhere says is superior. I mean a diet that cures what ails you and gives you more energy than you ever thought possible. Whatever that is for you, look for evidence of health or dis-ease and dare to believe that 95% of what afflicts Americans, including degenerative what-haves-you, can be cured by diet. When you feel great, homesteading is the most awesome and rewarding thing you’ve ever done. When you don’t feel great, this homesteading thing is positively the hardest thing you’ve ever done. I’ve written before about how important good food is. If you forgot about that, DO NOT PASS GO: go back and read my post about prioritization on the homestead!
First Things First
Have you joined a CSA yet? Seriously, if you are new to homesteading and have dreams of growing lots of your own food, you need to join a CSA now. There are so many programs to choose from in your area. We’re heading into fall and winter now, but if you live in Cincinnati, you can sign up for Green B.E.A.N Delivery and get a box of fresh/local/seasonal produce every week, and it will go through winter. If you’re not prepared to deal with massive amounts of produce in the kitchen, homesteading will be no match for you. You will die face-down in your carrot patch from exhaustion, trying to garden a huge space while dealing with it in the kitchen all at once. If homesteading veterans feel overwhelmed in the late summer, you can bet you will feel more than that. It might even make you feel like quitting and abandoning your garden that you worked so hard in all spring and summer, which is a waste of all of that effort. So do yourself a favor, start with the important aspect of EATING healthy food (which needs to be PREPARED by someone other than the pizza guy) and then go on to do the gardening. Sure, have a raised bed or two, but do not go all American on us and take out the whole lawn in your first year. Instant gratification has never worked in your favor. Except maybe if it’s chocolate.
Stick to the Plan
So. Back to my original point – if you’re still following this, which is: it’s hard for me to get motivated to spend lots of time in the kitchen. You know what makes it even harder? Not having a plan. I did three things (in addition to 4 years of CSA membership) that both encouraged and forced me to get my butt in the kitchen more often. I had to choose to spend less time doing other things, so be prepared to re-prioritize how you spend your “down” time. You might be watching a few less shows on the tele, or spending less time on Facebook. Incidentally, did you know that you can give yourself a time limit on time-sucking websites with programs like this one?
1. C-S-A. *said in a stadium chant kind of way.* Did I already mention that?
2. Get rid of the microwave. I’m not kidding. That thing is gross and it’s zapping my food. Yes, the jury’s out, then in, then out, on whether microwaving is bad for my health or whether it’s more energy efficient…it’s just weird. Three years ago we replaced our microwave with a toaster oven and we couldn’t be happier. NO MORE TV DINNERS AND FROZEN BURRITOS AS BACK-UP. Now what??? Now I must spend money on real food and its preparation, which is better money spent!
3. Menu Planning. Remember the old saying ‘A failure to plan is a plan to fail’? In the homestead, we-only-eat-fresh-food world, a lack of planning = food emergency! Menu planning is a complex goal that will take time to master. For one thing, you really want to stay within a budget. (Budgeting: Have you tried the envelope system)? But you also want to be cooking with real food, no boxes, very few cans. And you want to double or triple recipes whenever possible, and get those meals to stretch, saving you time (and money). It’s a challenge, but just remember, when you have a plan, it’s harder to have a pizza delivered. I won’t go into basic cost saving ideas, there are websites out there for that. This is about making whole meals out of fresh ingredients, day after day, and planning for the prep work involved in making it happen.
Pick a day of the week to do your menu planning. I sit down at a cleared table with my cookbooks, computer, a pad of paper, my Very Important mug o’ coffee, and my grocery list. Plan out 3 meals a day for 7 days, minus the meals that the kids will be at grandma’s and you have that lunch meeting, etc. I do this based on what produce from the garden (or CSA box) needs to be used up. Yes, breakfast is a meal, not dessert! I hope you’re still not eating cereal for breakfast! Some people stretch their menu plans out to an entire month at one time, with grocery shopping done as often. This sounds awesome, but I haven’t been able to make that work. The produce I have to work with changes too often. My stop at the grocery store each week is minimal since I buy necessary household items in bulk and the produce comes from the yard.
Choose a Menu Star of the Week. Whether you’re using produce from the garden, CSA, farmers’ market, or grocery, choose one or two ingredients to “star” for the week, say kale. I’ll get a boatload of kale and chop it all at once, store it in a container in the fridge. Then it goes into every omelette, stir-fry, salad, or side dish, etc. that I can fit it into that week. One prep, lots of meals. The benefit of eating seasonally and locally is that your ‘stars’ will be chosen for you!
4. Bulk Prep. To make that menu work, the prep work has to be done. I do the preparation two ways.
FIRST, I try to pick one day of the week (probably Sunday for all of you part-time homesteaders) to do as much meal preparation as I can. I’ll prepare as many of the proteins as possible and chop as many of the vegetables as possible. Doing this as a family or partnership is way more fun. But I might not get it all done.
So, SECOND, on the menu plan for each day, I’ll list what needs to be prepared for the following day. For example, if tomorrow we’re having kale salad with salmon for lunch, then today I’m spending my evening chopping vegetables and packaging it all up and preparing the salad dressing (you make your own – right? – with vinegar and oil – to save money and avoid those rancid carcinogenic oils at grocery store?).
Example Daily Menu Plan at Tenth Acre Farm:
- Breakfast: Egg Muffins (made on Bulk Prep Day and reheated)
- Lunch: Kale Salad with can of wild caught Alaskan salmon (chopped and assembled the night before, packaged for transport)
- Dinner: Pot Roast Stew (using leftover pot roast from earlier in the week, made on Bulk Prep Day and reheated)
- After Dinner Prep: Make Pesto and Turkey deli slice roll-ups for tomorrow’s lunch using thawed frozen pesto cubes. Pack a coconut almond bar for a lunch snack that was made on Bulk Prep Day. Thaw bacon for tomorrow’s BLTA (avocado) dinner sandwiches.
And to be perfectly transparent, I’m not perfect. Some weeks Bulk Prep Day is foiled by unscheduled events. Then each day after that seems to be a fend-for-yourself kind of thing, some meals getting done, others not. Then we eat out a few more times that week. It happens. But we try to avoid this at all costs. I have lots of soups and stews pre-made and in the freezer. In a pinch, I can pull one of those out a day ahead of time for a meal I know I won’t be able to prepare for. It’s also important, if you’re staying on budget, to reward yourself for sticking to the plan. We budget in one dinner and one weekend brunch meal out per week.
MORAL: Never walk into a meal hungry with no part of the meal already underway from a previous day (= failure=pizza delivery)! This is how we can eat fresh meals and eat without relying on the microwave. Better for us and the planet, and one step closer to making our homes into units of production rather than units of consumption. Bon Appetit!
What’s your favorite kitchen success tip?