Tag Archives: cooking

How to learn to cook without being overwhelmed

Kitchen utensils for bakery cooking on color background, Top vie

Does learning to cook sound like an exhausting, mentally overwhelming task to take to you?

Here’s a little secret. When I got married, I could. not. cook. I’m not exaggerating. Hamburger Helper was a feat. Dry chicken was my specialty. We were not bringing home much money, but I know some months our dining out spending inched a little too close to 4 digits. A large portion of that was due to my husband traveling for work, but still – it was ridiculous.

So what changed? How do I now enjoy cooking and actually cook meals my family asks for over and over? Well, the reason behind it was that I didn’t exactly have a choice. Our location and budget changed, forcing me to get serious about feeding my family (of 5 then) at home. However, I’ve put together a few things that helped me along the way and will hopefully also help to make your journey from drive thru extraordinaire to dinner bell(e) queen a little easier. If I can successfully learn to cook and actually find some joy in it, I’m certain pretty much anyone else can too.

*this article contains affiliate links*

  1. Start SUPER Simple
    Super duper simple. When I first started cooking, I’d search for things like “3 ingredient _________” or “4 ingredient ___________.” No joke. If it had too many ingredients or steps, I skipped it. Learning a totally new skill is overwhelming enough with 3 kids 3 and under at my feet. I sure didn’t need 15 steps and/or 10 ingredients, 4 of which I had never heard of! You will be surprised how much you can cook with only a few ingredients. You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated dishes for it to taste good.
  2. Make Your Own Seasonings
    Making your own taco or fajita seasoning is a great way to dip your toes into cooking from scratch! The actual cooking process isn’t much different (if at all) from using the pre-packaged seasonings, it’s healthier, and you can tailor it to suit your tastes!
  3. Get a Slow Cooker
    A slow cooker can make many recipes less complicated. There are tons of recipes out there that only require dumping in the ingredients, stirring, and then waiting on that slow cooker to do it’s thing. Soups, pulled pork sandwiches, and bbq chicken, are all quick and very easy with this method. (Check out my Slow Cooker Pinterest board here.)
  4. Get Organized with Meal Planning
    THIS was a huge one for me. The phrase “meal planning” sounds way more intimidating than it actually is. Meal planning just means an organized method to plan out your meals and keep track of what you are planning to eat and cook. Find a calendar arrangement you like, and write it all down, even if it’s just frozen pizza for lunch. Make a plan! I also recommend putting notes on the calendar for anything you have going on that would interfere with being able to spend time in the kitchen. DO NO TRY FANCY NEW RECIPES ON BUSY DAYS. Kids have practice? Not a good day for trying a new recipe with 15 steps. That’s a day for a sandwich, maybe a new hot sandwich. Maybe not.

    I’ve done a few articles about the methods I’ve used for meal planning. I started out putting pen to paper, which I still recommend for meal planning newbies, as mentioned here, and more recently I have switched to using an online planner subscription, Plan to Eat, which I shared about here. For both methods I prefer a full monthly calendar layout, even if I’m only planning a week or two at a time. It works best for my life, but feel free to do a weekly layout if that works better for you.

  5. Do not get too discouraged when that recipe everyone raved about online tastes terrible.
    It doesn’t mean you did anything wrong. Sometimes you follow a recipe exactly, and it just tastes bad. lol I’ve thrown a few in the trash after just a few bites. A couple never even made it to the table. I’m not a picky eater either, so those were rough.
  6. Get disposable dishes.
    This one is probably going to be a bit controversial, but stick with me. I’m not saying use paper plates every meal for 6 months. (Well, if you want to, do your thing, but that’s not what I’m getting at here.) You’re saving money compared to your previous dining out spending habits, so invest in some disposable plates or bowls for nights when you are planning to try a more complicated or time consuming meal. If you finish cooking and you feel proud of the meal you have prepared, you may just decide you would rather eat it on your regular dishes. You also might decide that was a lot of mental work, and it definitely took longer than the 15 minute prep time the recipe claimed and opt for an evening with less dishes.

These are just a few of the things that helped me as I taught myself to cook. Have you taught yourself to cook? If so, I’d love for you to share any other tips you may have in the comments.

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Filed under food, Homemaking

{Meal Planning 101} 8 Tips to get started meal planning

mealplanningimage

Meal planning is essential to our large family budget and the functioning of our household. When I started meal planning, life got a little easier! It saves time, money, and my sanity. I’ve been saying for a year or more that I would do this post, and for some reason I’m just now getting around to it! It’s probably best that I waited though, as I have tweaked things and am a bit more organized than I was then. Here are some steps to get you started meal planning. Remember, these ideas may work as is for your family or may need to be changed up a bit here and there to fit your needs.

*This article contains affiliate links. Ordering through these links would be a blessing to our family, but will not alter your pricing.*

1. Get a blank calendar.
I started out just printing a basic calendar from my printer presets, but eventually designed my own and laminated it to reuse and rearrange meals easier. I recommend ultra fine tip dry erase markers to write on it. However, for true beginners I suggest printing a new calendar every month. At the end of each month, tuck those into a folder for easy meal planning later! Get stuck? Just pull out an old calendar and copy the meals to your new one, rearranging as needed. This makes meal planning on those crazy days super easy.


meal planning calendar  

2. Get out your planner.
In meal planning, it’s important for me to take into account what we will be doing each day. This way I know what days would be best for trying new recipes and which days would be best for leftovers. Or maybe I need to utilize my InstantPot or slow cooker. For instance, I don’t want to plan a huge, complicated meal on a day I know we have homeschool co-op. Fill in a small note on days of big events, activities, or practices for the whole month.

3.  Start with meals you love!
Start with family favorites. I started my meal planning with meals we knew and loved, adding in a new recipe here and there. Do not feel pressured to cook something new, fabulous, and pinterest-worthy every night! It’s just not necessary! If you love to cook and have the time however, go right ahead and enjoy! Don’t forget to include side dishes on your meal plan calendar!

4. Organize your recipe search.
I prefer Pinterest for this, but there are lots of ways it can be done. Here is a sample of how I organize mine. Hopefully it will give you ideas for how to best organize your recipes for your use.
Feed Me
My basic food board I add recipes to that I want to try as I find them.
Feed Me (Slow Cooker)
– Same as above, but all slow cooker meals. It helps speed up my meal planning if I don’t have to sift through other recipes to find one for an evening I know I’ll need a crockpot meal for.
Recipes We Liked
As I try new recipes, winners get added to this board.
Recipes We Liked (Slow Cooker Style)
Again, same as above, but crockpot meals.


However, I also have a notebook of recipes I have printed out, made copies of, or pages torn from magazines. I have them hole-punched and in a 3-ring binder with labeled dividers to separate them into categories such as: breakfast, chicken, beef, slow cooker, slow cooker soups, desserts, etc. Also, remember I said when I first started I printed a new calendar for each month? I stored those calendars in the back of my recipe binder.


  

5. Don’t be afraid to repeat meals!
This can make meal planning go much faster. Sometimes it’s fun for me to challenge myself and cook lots of different meals in a month. Other times, I’m a super busy large family mom and need to simplify our meal plan. in Fall and Winter, Thursdays are chili night at our house. Homemade pizza is a Friday night regular around here. This Fall, Monday will be a crockpot meal or prep-ahead and toss in the oven meal, as we will be attending our homeschool co-op that day. Tuesdays I change up the recipe each week, but it’s usually a Mexican dish.

6. Leave room for leftovers!
Pick a night that you will be busy or tired from a long day and declare it leftovers night. Not only will this be another easy space to fill on your meal planning calendar, it will also mean less food is left in the fridge and forgotten about.

7. Make your grocery list.
As you write meals on your calendar, make a list of everything you’ll need for that meal, even if it might already be in your freezer or cabinets. For items needed for multiple meals, I use tally marks next to that item to keep track of how much I’ll actually need.

8. Look through your cabinets and freezer.
Get an idea of what you already have on hand to work with. Mark items off your grocery list if you already have them.

I hope these tips help you get started and in the habit of meal planning with a little less headache. If you have success with my method, let me know! I’d love to hear from you. If you change something up to better fit your family, I’d love to hear about that too.

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Filed under cooking, meal planning, motherhood, organization

You can freeze that?

Want to know a secret about me? I freeze everything. Okay, maybe not everything, but a lot of stuff. I have two freezers, and I use them both to their full potential. I often get into conversations about cooking or groceries and mention having something in my freezer when the person I’m speaking too gives me a strange look and says, “You can freeze that?” I often have leftovers, a freezer meal or two, cookie dough, and maybe some muffins or homemade burritos waiting to be devoured, but here are a few other things you may not have thought about keeping in your freezer.

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Chopped veggies
I have ziploc bags bell peppers, onions, and celery chopped and ready for use in my freezer at all times. If a recipe calls for half an onion (or one of the others), I cut up the rest and store it in the freezer. These are great for later recipes, pizzas, or omelets. I have also stored leftover diced tomatoes, onions, and peppers all in the same bag for quick omelets! I cook a lot, so this is a great time saver for me.

Broth/Stock Starters
I always have a bag in my freezer where I dump carrot, onion, celery, etc. extras. The last carrot that’s on the verge of going into the trash? Toss it in. The celery that’s not quite crunchy? Toss it in. Then when I have some deer bones or cook a whole chicken, I have everything I need to make my own broth.

Broth
When I make a batch of chicken or deer broth, I divide it into bags of 2 cups each and freeze it. It helps to lay the bags flat, as they take up less room frozen that way.

Fruit
Buy up those end of season, too ripe to last more than a couple of days fruits, and chop them up to freeze! Those are great for smoothies! Bananas too ripe but you don’t have time to bake? Put the whole thing in the freezer. When you’re ready to make banana bread (or another tasty treat), just thaw it and squeeze it into your mix.

Potatoes
Sometimes I buy lots of potatoes, and then our week gets crazy, and I have to rearrange my meal plan. Instead of having sprouting potatoes, peel and cut them to whatever size you like and blanch them. Then they can be frozen without fear of having a bag full of brown potatoes in the freezer.

Beans
I don’t remember the last time I bought canned beans. Raw beans are cheaper, easy to cook, and usually healthier. I’ve found bulk cooking to be easiest with beans. I like to cook a few different kinds and then store them in 2 cup quantities (most cans are 15 oz.). These are great for chili, soups, quesadillas, crockpot recipes, etc., pretty much any recipe you would use canned beans for.

Cheese
We love cheese and use tons of shredded cheese. I buy a lot when it’s on sale, and I toss the extra bags into our extra freezer.

Milk
This is the one most people give me strange looks about. We use a lot of milk. We are 25 miles from Kroger, and the smaller stores nearby are much more expensive, so this saves us a lot of money. I buy 5-6 gallons every 2 weeks, most in half gallon jugs.  I’ve found those thaw better. Those little circles on the sides of the milk jugs? When the milk expands during freezing, those pop out, so the plastic doesn’t crack. After the milk is thawed, shake it to mix it back up, and it’s good to go.

Bread
This is another one some people are weirded out by. There are a few tricks to it though. First, really cheap bread doesn’t freeze/thaw well. Second, it is best to not leave it frozen for long periods of time, though it would probably last longer if it was double-bagged. Ours is usually never frozen more than a couple of weeks, so I haven’t tried doubling up the bags.

Eggs
This isn’t something I freeze regularly, but on a few occasions I’ve been given more eggs than we could use in a reasonable time. I first crack them into muffin tins, stir a little to break up the yolks, cover with plastic wrap, and place in the freezer. When they are frozen, I pop them out of the muffin pans into ziploc bags. I will say, I’ve only used frozen eggs in baking. They might do fine for breakfast eggs, but I have no experience with that.

Is there anything you freeze to save time or money? I’d love to hear about it!

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Filed under Food & Drink, grocery shopping, saving money, tips & tricks

Tball Begins & a Call for Slow Cooker Recipes

Our schedule got a little more hectic in the last couple of weeks with the start of tball. Our two sons are playing on the same team, and last night was their first game!

tballboys

Daddy has turned into an extra coach. With 3-5 year olds, it’s all hands on deck.

But with the extra time being taken up by games and practices, meal planning has become a bit more challenging. That’s where you come in. 🙂 I need more slow cooker recipes or easy prepare-ahead meals! Pinterest is full of ideas but I’d like to see what my readers love for ball game nights (or dance or gymnastics or piano or church – whatever your kiddos are involved in). Leave a comment with a link to a yummy and easy meal your family enjoys.

And here are a few more pictures for you to enjoy.

boyrunning

playingtball
boyrunningtobase
boyjumpingonbase

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Filed under daily adventures, Food & Drink, raising boys

3 ingredient biscuits

I know you are reading that title and wondering what kind of cardboard I’m eating, but I promise they are good. My husband even approved, and he’s a very honest critic!

Technically there are 4 ingredients, (2 are optional!) but one of those is melted butter that I poured on top of them. This is actually a combination/variation of a couple of different recipes I found online. I never have what recipes call for, so I just substitute, adjust, and see what happens.

*Please excuse the sippy cup, pacifier, etc. on my counter. My kitchen will never be spotless. 🙂 I also forgot to take a picture until there were only 2 left. Oops.

Here’s what you need:

3 C. self-rising flour
1.5 C. milk
1 Tbsp sugar, optional
4 Tbsp. butter, melted, optional

Heat the oven to 450°F.

Lightly grease a baking sheet, cake pan, or whatever you want to use. I actually used a pizza pan just because it was on top in the drawer.

Mix the flour with the milk, and add a tablespoon of sugar if you want to. Drop by large tablespoonfuls onto the greased baking sheet.  Pour melted butter over top.

Bake for about 20 minutes, or tops lightly browned.

Take them out of the oven and enjoy!

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Filed under Food & Drink