So the two questions I’m finding that I get asked the most is how can we afford to cook everything homemade and natural/organic, and how do I have the time? …but basically the REAL answer to both questions is that I can’t afford NOT to. My little MissE is allergic to… a lot of things. Food coloring, preservatives, tomatoes, citric acid, MSG, wheat… and those are just are “for sure” ones. It was to the point that no matter how careful we were or what we didn’t give her, she had hives with every meal. Eventually they were just always present around her mouth. So we gave up. We gave up over-processed, over colored, and over preserved foods. We started making things from scratch… like really from scratch. What we filled in it’s place was fresh, tasty, healthy food. We are healthier for it, and so are our children. And for the first time in MissE’s little life, she is hive free.
It started with when we moved from the apartment (affectionately dubbed “the little house” by my children) to “the house.” We started a garden and we practically have a farmer’s market in our backyard (I know, how great is that?!)… and so we made the decision, for both health and financial reasons, to go scratch. Threw out all the boxes and over-processed crap, and never looked back… well, maybe an occasional glance, but only to say, can you believe we ever ate that stuff?! Yes, the initial set up of buying all the cooking and baking ware and goods will cost you something, but we cut our grocery bill in half, therefore quickly recouping the initial costs. And then there’s the, “I wish I had time to cook. You’re so lucky you have all this time to cook since you’re home with the kids.” (insert irritated-by-your-condescension laugh) First of all, because of my daughter, I really don’t have a choice, I HAVE to cook this way, and number two…it actually doesn’t take as long as you think it does. Seriously. I can MAKE noodles/pasta in the amount of time it takes to boil the water. And in the same amount of time it would take you to make a box of hamburger helper, I can make a homemade version. And it will be so much better for you, and it will taste so much better too. Seriously. Plus, since I’m making it all from scratch and have the things necessary to do so at home… I go to the grocery store WAY less. And I LOVE not having to do that so often! Plus, the less you go, the less you’re tempted to buy things that you don’t need! For me, the key to the time I spend cooking, is organization. Keeping my supplies…supplied. And having things that can have multiple purposes. Or doing things in advance. Or whenever you have a few free moments. Already making an alfredo/tomato sauce for tonights meal? Double it and put the rest in the fridge/freezer for next time. (Frozen sauce really take very little time to thaw.) Cooking up some chicken to throw in that alfredo sauce? Cook some extra to go on salad for lunch tomorrow. Easy things like that. And when you’ve done some of these steps, when you have nights where you just don’t feel like cooking…you’ll have something easy to throw together. Or simple enough your significant other could do it! Really. And trust me, hubby cooks breakfast on the weekends…and that’s about it (at least during the winter- during the summer he does quite a bit of grilling, when he’s home before dinner time anyhow), so I make the meals myself, so I know some days we just don’t wanna do it! But anytime we’ve “taken the easy route” and gone out to dinner 3 things happen: 1) by the time we get to the restaurant and receive our food- we could have cooked and eaten a meal at home. 2) we’ve paid for food that in general would have tasted better if I’d of made it myself. 3) we have to deal with the kids in a restaurant.
Now, how do we afford to do this? (Again, really no other option, but…) There are lots of helpful hints. Buy in season. Buy in bulk. (we ♥ Costco and on-line… lots of good deals there, and lots free of charge shipping) Buy local. Freeze, dry, can, store… figure it out. And do it. You’ll never regret it, and as it is with lots of things, you will be pleasantly surprised by how easy it is. Seriously. And make the most of what you have. Yogurt on sale? I’ll buy a ton and make frozen yogurt popsicles (my kids prefer them to actual ice cream or regular popsicles, which they can’t have anyways!), or fruit roll ups. Also a great idea for when you have yogurt that is about to expire and you don’t want it to go bad- freeze it! We try to waste as little as we can, so if I have a bunch of tomatoes about to go bad- I make tomato sauce, and freeze it or can it. Spices I’ve boughten fresh over the winter and don’t use up- I dry it. Which basically saves you twice. Because you got the fresh spice and then when cooking you don’t have to buy an expensive bottle of anything, because you’ve already got the fresh/recently dried, better tasting stuff anyhow. Another great tip that I’ve learned is stocking up on things that are naturally (or regularly) made gluten-free. You’ll be surprised by how many things there are (Trader Joe’s even has a list in it’s store -that you can take home- that has all of it’s products that are gluten free). We were so thankful that our favorite (as a household) snack is chips and salsa. Bread (for sandwiches and toast) is the thing we miss most. In the beginning I was pretty good about making bread weekly, but haven’t been so good about it lately. Although we’ve learned other tricks, like PB&J roll ups on corn tortillas. Add a little nutella and they think it’s a special treat! PS. trader joe’s is a GREAT find! Things are so reasonable that you’ll want to buy everything! And they have a great selection of gluten free things (including one of my favorite things- Almond meal… double the amount of what you’d find at the store for less than half the price! Score!).
Another thing that really helps -that’s SO simple- is: make friends! Farmer’s markets are great for that! We (truly) go every week, so by the end almost of the summer almost every stand would have some little treat waiting for my kids every week, because they knew we’d by, and they’d come to know us. We buy our beef from a hobby farm (which is a great money saver on organic, hormone-free, icky-stuff-free beef) that’s owned by a friend of my mother-in-law. We get eggs from *a guy through hubbyman’s work who raises chickens. We get corn from a friend of my Grandparents who farms. Seriously, people are willing to share- if they know you’re interested. Our neighbor knows we love veggies and such and so whenever people give her things from their gardens- she brings it over to me! So reach out- post a facebook status that says, who knows where there’s a crop share available? Or who has extras from their garden? I bet you’d be surprised with the responses, I know I have been. Farmer’s markets are my favorite way of buying produce, and the cheapest as far as buying organic and pesticide free go too. Yes, organic food stores (and even organic in your neighborhood grocery store) can be spendy, so you should figure out what’s in season (it’ll be cheaper) and stick to the most important ones to go organic on. They’re commonly referred to as “The Dirty Dozen.” (think- celery with no protective “skin” against pesticides vs bananas with a peel you don’t eat anyways.) Another thing, make cyber friends too! I was amazed with how many blogs and sites I found with people with similar ideas and lifestyles as my family. Support and good ideas all in one! Plus, real mom recipes are the best kind- you know, ones a real person has actually made. Someone who maybe has a bunch of kids running around and a husband and a life and still cooked a meal, and was willing to share it… chances are, it’s gonna be a good one. (plus that takes so much of the guess work out on your side!)
When we first started making things from scratch, and then again when we went gluten-free, we got lots of comments about how much time it would take, how hard it would be to find anything to eat, and how expensive things would be. We muddled through anyways. And through intentional shopping and eating, we’ve found it to actually have been a really good experience. And we believe our kids will be healthier for it. Which in today’s society, is unfortunately becoming more and more rare. I have a lot more to say about intentional eating, and living… but I’ll save that for another day. Monday Funday means no TV/DVDs/Computer Games for my kids and so… it’s interactive, which requires my participation!
Maybe later I’ll let you in on our afternoon’s adventure- making cannoli! I loved when my mom would make it growing up, and so now I’m continuing the tradition! Plus, my kids love cooking along side of me! I love traditions and getting my kids involved- so it’s a double bonus for me! And them!
*we now get beef, pork, and hopefully soon- chicken from him too!