Make Your Time in the Kitchen Go the Distance!
A Growing Wise Kids Column
The time-crunch challenges that accompany the blessing of children can be overwhelming; just getting out of the house can be an accomplishment, not to mention the addition of jam-packed schedules with ball games, dance recitals, field trips and playgroups. Regardless of life’s extra curriculars, food must be a top priority to adequately nourish our families, to keep their bodies brimming with vitality and their brains humming with clarity. Meal planning is the answer, especially for those who feel “too busy” to cook. With just a few tweaks in your kitchen time, strategic list making and a few new organizational techniques, you will be on your way to having meals ready at the drop of a hat, while still keeping true to the principles of nourishing traditional diets.
As detailed in the book Nourishing Traditions (NT), proper nutrition requires some forethought and preparation. The paramount principle is to eat whole, naturally raised foods. This includes organically or biodynamically grown produce that is eaten raw or properly cooked. Naturally-raised meats (seafood, poultry, beef, organ meats, and eggs) are extremely nourishing, as are dairy products from pasture-fed cows and goats, which should be consumed mostly raw or fermented.
Traditional fats and oils are critical to health, even more so for the young, and include butter, lard, goose fat, extra virgin olive oil, and the tropical oils coconut and palm. Grains, nuts, and seeds should be properly prepared by soaking, sprouting, or sour leavening to rid them of anti-nutrients. This process inactivates enzyme inhibitors,1 which would otherwise hamper digestion. Phytic acid, a component of plant fiber that reduces mineral absorption, is also neutralized.2,3
Enzyme-rich, lacto-fermented foods and beverages should accompany each meal, such as kefir sodas (recipes found in Eat Fat, Lose Fat by Mary Enig and Sally Fallon) as well as apricot butter, sauerkraut, and pickled cucumbers (all found in Nourishing Traditions).
Finally, bone broths are an easy way to enrich your family’s diet with minerals and other healing nutrients, as well as improve overall digestion.4 Please note that the scope of this article is limited to the more general idea of meal planning and does not go into detail about the NT basics of broth making, fermentation, and sprouting. While these techniques should be included in your meal preparation routine, much more discussion is necessary to do them justice. Therefore, future articles in this column will be dedicated to these topics to fully explore ways to incorporate them into a family-focused, time-crunched lifestyle.
For those of you just getting your feet wet with preparing traditional foods, you may be asking, “How in the world am I going to incorporate all these ideas into my family’s meals?” Once you understand the core principles and your cupboards are stocked with the basic desirable items (and de-stocked of the undesirables), you will be on your way. Try one new step at a time and build from there. Consider making at least two NT-style dinners a week. How about every breakfast and snack while you are catching your breath and getting your NT ducks in a row? There is no wrong way to make positive changes to your diet. Just be sure to do it at your own pace so the changes are lasting. Add a dash of meal planning to whatever starter technique you choose and, voilá, you are on your way! For those seasoned traditional diet cooks out there, allow these meal planning ideas to put a renewed spark in your kitchen routine and revitalize your adventurous side.
Meal Planning Bennies
It’s four o’clock in the afternoon and you suddenly realize you haven’t even thought about dinner. Sound familiar? We’ve all been there. Throw a hungry pack of kids into the mix and it can be downright scary. Meal planning to the rescue! When you have the peace of mind that your meal is in progress, the whole house will seem calmer.
Having a plan and a well-thought-out grocery list reduces haphazard shopping and cuts down on wasted food. It also shrinks the food bill and the number of trips to the store. Ultimately, meal planning will make your cooking sessions in the kitchen more efficient and save you oodles of time. Trust me, the initial time investment to get you set up will be worth the effort. So let’s get started!
Getting Started: Meal Planning Basics
The fundamental premise of meal planning is to make every meal and food prep session go as far as possible. First, organize your family’s top 10 to 12 favorite recipes. Either keep a simple list that details where your recipe is found or create your own cookbook. In addition to turning to my trusty (and quite tattered) copy of Nourishing Traditions for numerous scrumptious dishes, I have also created a personalized “Allbritton Family” cookbook in a three-ring binder. My top recipes are typed up and printed out, placed in protector sheets (so food spills can easily be wiped away), and organized into categories, such as meat, slow cooker, Mexican, sides, and so on. This personalized cookbook allows for your family recipe repertoire to grow as you find new favorites. The initial time putting this together will pay off 10-fold once you get into the swing of meal planning every week.
Now take a few minutes to clean out and organize your freezer. If you have a separate full-sized freezer in the basement or garage, that is even better, but not necessary. Be well stocked with glass baking and storage dishes that have air-tight lids (Pyrex™ produces a line with a wide variety of sizes) and plastic freezer bags. A toaster oven is handy for re-heating and thawing foods and also takes the place of a microwave quite nicely in many situations. By the way, if you have a microwave, it’s best to demote it to retro planter or footstool; better yet, get rid of it!
Another item to procure is some sort of accessible pad of paper and pencil to jot down grocery items as they run out. I found a magnetized holder for a small pad of paper with a pencil slot that sits right on the fridge. While in the midst of cooking is when you notice items that are running low. Having this list accessible every day helps keep staples well stocked. You can take note right away, whether you are down to your last teaspoon of sea salt, final bag of your favorite herbal tea, or the last pound of grass-fed beef. Other family members can also easily contribute to the list. This on-going list gets incorporated into the main list you create while planning your week of meals before you head to the store.
Finally, pick a way of keeping track of your weekly plan of meals. Try a special meal calendar, your daytimer, a sheet of paper in your cookbook binder, or a dry-erase board attached to the fridge. Jot down the name of the meal and if necessary, which cookbook it comes from and the page number. Also, find a way to remind yourself of pre-preparation steps. Personally, my meals are included right along with my list of daily tasks. This way I know when I need to marinate meats, soak tomorrow’s oatmeal, or start thawing out a frozen pre-made dinner for the following evening.
When preparing food using traditional methods, a useful habit to get into is to think about what you will be fixing for dinner while cleaning up from breakfast and pondering the next day’s breakfast plans before you hit the sack. Staying one step ahead is half the battle!
For some, it may be helpful to plan breakfast, lunch, and snacks for the entire week in addition to the evening meal; this can be particularly helpful with little ones at home. This habit also takes the guesswork out of what to send in everyone’s lunch boxes for either work or school. One idea is to keep a master list of all your easy prep or favorite recipes for these additional meals. This way, when you are planning, you can simply plug these meals into your list with minimal effort. Now sit back with a refreshing glass of raw milk or kombucha—it’s time to personalize your meal plan!
Time Saving Meal Prep Methods
Try incorporating one or more of these preparation methods into your meal planning routine.
Purposeful leftovers: The first trick to making each meal go the distance is bulk cooking, or what I like to call purposeful leftovers. Begin with one of your top family favorites that freezes well. Instead of making one batch, make two or even three. Large pieces of cookware or multiple pots are useful here. You are already in the kitchen chopping, mixing and cleaning, so why not mass produce? It takes a bit more time initially, but the leftover rewards will be priceless on those days that feel more like 12 hours long instead of 24.
Purposeful leftovers work well for meals such as meatloaf, casseroles, sloppy joe mix, lasagna, tortilla stuffing like chimichangas or tacos, soups, empanadas, granola, waffles, pancakes, muffins and cookies. Once your extra batches have cooled, keep the leftovers you want for the next few days in the fridge and transfer the rest to a glass storage container or freezer bag and freeze. (See the side bar for inspiration.)
The same concept can be useful on a smaller scale. For example, make more oatmeal than you need for breakfast and save the rest for yummy oatmeal pancakes for the next day. Use the extra sautéed veggies from last night’s dinner in the blended soup tonight. While cutting cabbage, onions, and tomatoes for a taco dinner, cut extra for an egg burrito or omelet the next morning.
Base ingredient doubling: When roasting one chicken, do two instead. Same goes for a meat roast or fish. This will give you plenty of leftover meat for other dinners and make a nice addition to breakfast and lunch menu items. Let’s say tonight you have roasted chicken, gravy, mashed potatoes, and sautéed veggies. You can stop there and freeze the rest in desired portions or start making different dishes right away, such as chicken soup, egg scramble with chicken pieces, chicken salad and chicken potpie. Don’t forget use the carcass in your next batch of homemade chicken stock.
Multi-Batching: Take a day and mass produce several dishes all at once. Maximize the use of your kitchen equipment and appliances. For example, have a roast in the slow cooker, brown rice and a pot of chili on the stove, baked sweet potatoes in the toaster oven, and two casseroles in the main oven. Freeze in meal size portions and save for later. This method is great for families with both parents in the workforce coming home right when tummies start to rumble.
Try this multi-recipe arrangement on for size one weekend morning. Plan on putting together some Nourishing Traditions waffles, but quadruple the recipe (overnight soaking is involved, so plan ahead). A waffle maker with a timer, or just a separate timer, allows for multi-tasking with other recipes since constant attention is not necessary. Once cool, store the extra waffles in freezer bags for a quick breakfast item that can be toasted at a moment’s notice. When making the waffle mix, save those extra egg yolks to add into a smoothie made with frozen mangos, bananas and kefir or yogurt. Now make a double batch of ice cream and use the extra egg whites to make either coconut macaroons or the Coconut-Almond Kisses found in Eat Fat, Lose Fat for a nice little after-dinner treat or lunch box meals. Finally, throw together the ingredients for Apricot Butter in Nourishing Traditions to use on all these fabulous waffles, using fresh, refrigerated whey from a previous kitchen session.
Share with friends/cooking groups: Cooking with friends is becoming a popular trend. Get a few of your closest pals together who share your same dietary principles and pick a day to cook three or four batches of several dishes. Share the shopping responsibilities, get some meals made, and enrich your friendships at the same time. Another idea is to simply swap extra meals with others to spice up your menu.
Personalize Your Plan
While making your lists, consider the following options to give them a personal touch.
- How often do you want to go to the store? Once a week is usually the minimum to keep your produce as fresh as possible and save time, unless of course you have a flourishing garden! Another resource is Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms, which provide a wide variety of goods, such as grass-fed meats, raw dairy products, pastured poultry and eggs, as well as fruit and vegetable produce. Many times CSAs also make whey, broth, sauerkraut, and other delectable items that may save you time in the kitchen.
- Take stock of what you have in the pantry, freezer, and garden before heading to the store. This is an excellent time to also clean out the fridge, which helps cut down on wasted food.
- Go through your calendar and make adjustments for days you are short on time or have scheduled commitments. Your meal choices should reflect your available kitchen time.
- When deciding what to have for meals during your week, consider these fun options.
- Involve the family, especially the kids. This makes them feel part of the action, even more if they participate in meal preparation. Moreover, teaching them the value of home cooking is a true gift.
- “Pizza Fridays” or “Hamburger Saturdays”
- Some families like to have a food theme for a particular night of the week. Don’t forget to make extra of the base ingredients, for example, if pizza is your theme of choice, make three or four batches of Yogurt Dough at once and freeze the rest for the next few weeks.
- Share the joy of cooking with all family members. Everyone in the household can contribute to planning, shopping for, and making dinner in some way. Have Dad prepare the feast on a certain night of the week or even give the older kids the reins on occasion.
- A full meal can be created by just cleaning out the leftovers for a “smorgasbord” night.
- Experiment with various cooking methods. Try casseroles, slow cooker dishes, and stir-fries in the wok. A method can even be designated for a certain day of the week. For example, say, Thursday is slow cooker night where the meal is prepped in the morning and ready when everyone gets home.
- Cook ethnic cuisine one night a week—try Mexican, Italian, Greek, Indian, or Asian.
- Don’t forget to expand your family meal repertoire by skimming through your cookbook collection on occasion to find a new recipe to try. If the family gives it a ‘thumbs up’, add it to your growing personalized family cookbook.
You’re nearing the end of meal planning boot camp! Are you still with me? Hopefully you have taken just a few of the ideas to jump-start your family into more organized meals, which will ultimately save you time. The best part of what you are about to put into practice is that you can often get away with only cooking three or four fresh meals each week as you optimize purposeful leftovers and frozen meals. Occasionally you may have to use some quick thinking for fresh side dishes, but staying organized should make meal time preparations more manageable.
Making “The List”
Get comfy in your favorite chair and get ready to put your plan together. Before going to the store, sift through your personalized cookbook, Nourishing Traditions, or other resources and write out your meals for the week. Then jot down needed ingredients on your main grocery list to coincide with those recipes (be sure to take note of what you have already). Eventually you will create a list system that works for the layout at your particular natural foods grocery. For example, my list has the columns of produce, grocery, dairy, frozen, bulk, and other (toothpaste, soap, etc). Be sure to include ingredients for side dishes, snacks, lunch, and lunch box items. Grab your on-going list from the fridge and add that to this main list and you are ready to head out to the store!
As the old adage goes, a failure to plan is a plan for failure. Consistent home-cooked meals based on Nourishing Traditions principles are possible, even for the busiest of families. Use meal planning techniques to reduce mealtime stress, put more money in the bank from food bill savings, bolster your cooking creativity, and give yourself extra leisure time that you can spend with your children!
Purposeful Leftovers Sample Meal Game Plans
JUST STARTING OUT: If the concept of purposeful leftovers is foreign to you, don’t get overwhelmed, just start slow, one recipe at a time! My favorite recipes to make in bigger batches are breakfast foods. Getting nourishment in my family in a timely fashion in the morning tends to be most challenging. If I have frozen waffles, pancakes, or French toast pieces in the freezer, breakfast is just a toaster oven click away. You can’t go wrong with the waffle and pancake recipes in Nourishing Traditions. For French toast, take your bread; dip it in a mixture of eggs, egg yolks, and raw milk or coconut milk with some cinnamon and nutmeg added. Fry these up in some coconut oil and you’re done. Another idea is to make a big crust-less egg quiche with potatoes and veggies to fill a large baking dish. Although this doesn’t freeze well, it is easy to make and reheats nicely and may even make enough breakfasts for a good portion of the week.
GETTING MORE COMFORTABLE: Once you begin feeling confident in your meal planning and purposeful leftover abilities, start to make extra of your family’s favorite ingredients or side dish items, such as brown rice or beans. Freeze the leftovers and keep your stash in mind the next time you think about making that ingredient. Before you know it, you will have a good supply of your most used items in your freezer.
NOT FOR THE FAINT OF HEART: Here is a nice example of purposeful leftovers using three Nourishing Traditions recipes and one provided below, which all together can equate to eight or more family meals. For one night’s meal, prepare pizza with Nourishing Tradition’s Yogurt Dough recipe as the crust (remember it must soak 12 to 24 hours, so plan ahead). Make two extra batches of the dough and freeze them after the soaking process. This hearty-crusted pizza can last two or even three meals depending on family size, hunger, and side dishes. Next, prepare the Slow Cooker Shredded Beef Tostado dish (found below), along with the Mexican Rice Casserole in Nourishing Traditions. While making rice for the casserole, double the Basic Brown Rice and freeze the leftovers. Again, this Mexican fiesta can last several nights. The final recipe in this purposeful leftover succession of meals is Maria’s Empanadas in Nourishing Traditions. This recipe makes 24 pockets, which in itself is a great amount to have a few for dinner with plenty leftover (wrapped in foil and frozen) for additional dinners or even a fast lunch entree. This delicious recipe calls for the Yogurt Dough and Basic Brown Rice that you have frozen to help make the preparation of this dish less intensive. Any remaining rice can be stirred into a soup or fried with chopped veggies.
FREEZER FRENZY: Don’t let an unruly freezer stop you from maximizing your leftovers. Label all containers. Masking tape and a permanent marker work fabulously for this, and if you really want to stay organized, have a list on the freezer of all the frozen meals you have available for later. Freezer chaos is easily avoided with detailed notes.
Slow-Cooked Shredded Beef Tostados
3 pounds beef chuck roast
2 medium onions, sliced
2 cups beef or chicken stock, homemade preferably
5 tablespoons chili powder
3 tablespoons onion powder
1 tablespoon each cumin, garlic powder, paprika, powdered oregano, and Rapadura (evaporated cane juice)
2 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1 or 2 small cans diced green chilies
3 tablespoons arrowroot powder and enough water to make a paste
1 package sprouted corn tortillas (Food for Life brand)
3 or more tablespoons olive oil or melted lard for tortillas
TOPPINGS: Shredded raw cheese, lettuce, tomato, avocado, salsa, sour cream, cortido (recipe in Nourishing Traditions).
Place beef and onion in slow cooker. Combine stock and seasonings in a small bowl. Pour over beef and onion. Cook on low for 6-8 hours or until tender. Remove largest pieces of meat to bowl or cutting board and shred with two forks. Add arrowroot paste to the leftover juices at the bottom of the slow cooker. Once thick, stir in the meat and chilies.
While the meat is cooking, prepare tortillas. Brush both sides with olive oil or lard and bake in the oven for 5 to 10 minutes until crisp.
Place the meat on the tortilla and top with toppings as desired.
An NT-Friendly One-Week Meal Plan for Breakfast, Lunch, Snack and Dinner
Below is a simple (well…as simple as Nourishing Traditions principles can be) one-week meal plan that may offer some inspiration for your own family. Notes are given when extra portions should be made as well as the more extensive “meal prep notes” that explain preparation suggestions to get you ready for the meals ahead.
B – Bacon (baked in oven at 350°F) and pancakes (recipe in Nourishing Traditions). Serve with maple syrup or, if you are feeling ambitious, top with whipped cream and berries. NOTE: Make a double batch of pancakes and freeze what is not eaten, or simply keep the unused batter in a jar in the refrigerator to make pancakes another morning.
L – Wild caught canned salmon mixed with chopped hard boiled eggs, raw yogurt, a little mayonnaise (or Sour Cream Sauce recipe from Nourishing Traditions), crispy nuts, celery, and relish on a piece of sourdough bread with a glass of kombucha (store-bought or homemade). NOTE: Make enough salmon salad for lunch on Monday
S – Popcorn made with coconut oil, topped with melted butter, sea salt and nutritional yeast.
D – Grilled or fried beef or lamb patties with grated liver or heart mixed in, all the fixings (lettuce, tomato, onion, homemade ketchup, mustard, avocado, and sprouted whole grain bun or sourdough bread), baked potatoes, and sauerkraut (homemade from previous kitchen session or purchased raw product). NOTE: Make extra patties for lunch tomorrow.
MEAL PREP NOTES: Soak pancake batter on Friday for Saturday morning. Start your crispy nuts for the rest of the week (if not already prepared). Take chicken broth out of freezer for soup tomorrow.
B – Egg scramble (made with two whole eggs and one or two egg yolks) cooked in coconut oil or butter with sautéed veggies, topped with shredded cheese and a dab of sauerkraut.
L – Leftover meat patties from Saturday’s dinner with sauerkraut, a small green salad and leftover popcorn.
S – Fruit salad made with a touch of sour cream or crème fraiche, stevia or maple syrup and shredded fresh or dried coconut. NOTE: Make enough fruit for a snack on Tuesday.
D – Cream of Vegetable Soup (recipe in Nourishing Traditions) made with frozen chicken broth from a previous kitchen session along with shredded potatoes fried in lard and/or coconut oil, topped with fermented homemade ketchup. NOTE: Make extra soup and store in appropriate portion-sized containers and freeze.
MEAL PREP NOTES: Take roast out of freezer (if frozen) for tomorrow’s dinner.
B – Leftover frozen pancakes or pancakes made with leftover batter with whipped cream or homemade apple butter (recipe in Nourishing Traditions) and no-nitrate bacon or natural sausage.
L – Salmon salad leftovers from Saturday.
S – Banana fried in bacon fat (saved from previous bacon cooking session) topped with 1/4 cup of raw yogurt or cream.
D – Slow cooked shredded beef tostados (see recipe in sidebar on page 64) with a mixed green salad and homemade dressing.
MEAL PREP NOTES: Soak a double batch of oatmeal for tomorrow. Take out hotdogs and chickens from freezer, if frozen).
B – Cooked soaked oatmeal topped with butter and/or coconut oil, crispy nuts or nut butter, and a dollop of raw honey. NOTE: Store unused oatmeal in the fridge.
L – Two grass-fed, all-meat hotdogs with mustard and homemade fermented ketchup with a dab of sauerkraut.
S – Fruit salad leftovers.
D – Roasted pastured chicken (see the tasty recipe in the article “The Whole Bird,” found at www.westonaprice.org) with gravy made from the drippings and chicken broth (frozen from previous kitchen session) with steamed broccoli and a dab of sauerkraut. NOTE: Bake two chickens at once to have leftovers for the rest of the week.
MEAL PREP NOTES: Take corn tortillas out of freezer if frozen.
B – Egg yolk-rich omelet with raw cheese, leftover steamed broccoli from Tuesday’s dinner and sauerkraut.
L – Corn tortilla chicken quesadillas (using leftover chicken from Tuesday’s dinner) made with raw cheese, spinach and thinly sliced peppers, fried on both sides in lard or olive oil along with leftover veggie soup from Sunday’s dinner.
S – Tropical Delight Trail Mix recipe in Nourishing Traditions and a glass of kombucha.
D – Shredded beef tostado leftovers with salad and homemade dressing.
MEAL PREP NOTES: Take bacon out of freezer if frozen.
B – Reheated oatmeal topped with butter and/or coconut oil, dried coconut, frozen strawberries and honey or a few drops of stevia.
L – Fried bacon with thinly sliced sweet potato circles and chard sautéed in the leftover fat and kombucha.
S – Crispy nuts and a few cubes of raw cheese with a glass of raw milk.
D – Chicken Taco recipe from Nourishing Traditions using the leftover roasted chicken from Tuesday along with steamed cauliflower topped with butter and parmesan cheese.
MEAL PREP NOTES: Marinate salmon for tomorrow’s dinner.
B – Leftover frozen pancakes warmed in the toaster oven and topped with sweetened whipped cream or apple butter and smoothie made with a raw milk and/or kefir base.
L – Cream of Vegetable soup leftovers from Sunday with grass-fed, all-meat hotdogs and homemade ketchup.
S – Tropical Delight Trail Mix leftovers.
D – Baked salmon marinated in naturally fermented soy sauce and a bit of finely grated fresh ginger and a few pressed cloves of garlic, along with a green salad with homemade dressing, Basic Brown Rice II (recipe in Nourishing Traditions) and a dab of sauerkraut. NOTE: Use leftover salmon in the weekend egg scramble and make a double recipe of Basic Brown Rice II for a weekend dinner meal.
- Fallon, Sally. Nourishing Traditions. NewTrends Publishing, Washington, DC, 2001.
- Pitchford, Paul. 1993. Healing with Whole Foods. North Atlantic Books. Berkeley, California.
- Morris ER. Phytate and dietary mineral bioavailability. In Phytic Acid Chemistry and Applications, Graf E (ed). Minneapolis: Pilatus Press, 1986, 57–76 [review]
- Gotthoffer, NR, Gelatin in Nutrition and Medicine (Grayslake IL, Grayslake Gelatin Company, 1945), pp. 25-37.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Spring 2007.