By: Wendy Woerner
When I got married over 17 years ago, I did not know that much about cooking. I had made a couple of meals ‘from scratch’, but the rest consisted of opening a can, box, or bag. Through trial and error, a little bit of ‘talent’ passed down from my mom and aunts, and many blessings from God, I have learned how to really cook from scratch. Getting creative in the kitchen is something I now truly enjoy. I prepare meals daily for my family of seven, and I would like to share some helpful tips with you today!
1) When preparing a dish such as potato salad, pot pie, or potato soup, roast your potatoes and onions in the oven first. Simply dice the potatoes and onions, place on a cookie sheet, drizzle with olive oil, and add salt, pepper, and other seasonings as preferred. Stir gently. Make sure the potatoes and onions are in a single layer on your cookie sheet and bake at 400 degrees for 25-30 minutes. Prepare the rest of your dish as usual. The benefits to this method are the unique and delicious flavor that roasting the potatoes and onions together lends to your dish and the potatoes come out of the oven perfectly tender, so no more ‘mashed’ potato salad!
2) ‘Convenience’ foods such as pop tarts, muffins, and cereal bars are cheaper and healthier if made from scratch at home. Recipes are easily adjusted to suit allergy needs or if you’d like to throw in oats, wheat flour, or nuts to increase the ‘health’ factor. Double or triple your batches and freeze the ‘extras’. Do this a couple of times and you will have a stockpile in your freezer. Plus, they are easy to grab on busy mornings or as a quick snack. Pop in the microwave for about 30 seconds and they are ready-to-eat! Try my delicious Dairy-Free Oatmeal Apple-Cinnamon Muffins, featured over at Managing Your Blessings .
3) If your family is not real big on grabbing vegetables or fruits to go with the meals they prepare for themselves, leave a tray of fresh fruit on the counter. Dice or slice vegetables and store them in easily accessible bags in the fridge. This makes it much easier for your tweens and teens to grab a healthy snack or side to a meal. They will also have a more difficult time justifying not putting a healthy choice on their plates if you can just hand them a bag from which to select an already prepared fruit or veggie!
4) When preparing spaghetti, set the timer according to the package instructions. When the timer ‘dings’, scoop out a noodle and toss it at your microwave door or the refrigerator. If it sticks, the noodles are ready to serve. If not, boil for 2 more minutes and try again!
5) Add ALL of the ingredients to your pot, bowl, or pan! This may seem like a no-brainer, but with 5 kids around all day (we homeschool) our kitchen can get quite loud and distracting. More than once I have experienced a ‘fail’ in the kitchen due to leaving out an ingredient. Double-check the list just to make sure!
6) Get your kids into the kitchen to help you! Even at a very young age….12-18 months…..children love to help and are capable. Have a safe stool available or bring everything down to a lower table so your littlest ones can work comfortably. Allow them to add ingredients such as raisins to cookies, to sift the flour, or break an egg if they are a bit older. This will help all of you to connect over what could be a chore, and an added benefit is that your children are learning necessary life skills early on. By the time they are ready to get out on their own, they will also be ready to feed themselves, and their friends, well!
7) If you are a dairy-free family, do not fear, you can still enjoy some of your favorites, with a twist. We recently began the dairy-free journey and, besides not finding a good substitute for cheese yet, it has been relatively painless, at least for me. My 9 year old may offer a different opinion if asked! For breads and soups, I have found that the easiest solution is to simply replace the cow’s milk with rice, almond, or coconut milk in equal amounts in my recipes. I personally feel this actually lends more moisture to food items such as muffins and breads. Butter is easily replaced with a non-dairy version, such as that sold by Earth Balance. It is available in both the tub and stick variety, found in the organic section of my local grocery store. Coconut oil also works well, though I reduce the amount by about a third to make sure the recipe is not too oily.
Please let me know if you’ve got tips of your own to share. I’m always ready to learn how to save time in the kitchen, to try a new recipe, or to employ a new cooking method! Connect with me on Facebook or find me at Southern Test Kitchen, testing and sharing recipes. Be sure to say “Hello” while you’re there!
Wendy is a homeschooling mama to five who loves to encourage others along the homeschooling journey. She also considers herself a ‘foodie’ and is always ready to try a new recipe in the kitchen. You will find Wendy writing about homeschooling, food, and other life events on her blog, Following in His Footsteps. She has also recently begun a new venture with Southern Test Kitchen. Be sure to visit and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter, too!