“A Day In the Life”: One day to cook, 4 days to cover.

I recently had a reader ask me to write a blog about how to put plant based eating into practical application. She wrote about her busy, busy schedule of school and twins and a Hubby who wouldn’t be able to take on the cooking responsibilities. I totally feel her, minus the twins part. We all have crazy, busy lives and figuring out how to incorporate healthy, home cook meals into the routine can be a challenge.

The original spark to starting this blog was a good friend’s request for a blog showing the real life challenges and perks to plant-based cooking. I have been wanting to write more on this but life is, well – busy. Today I decided I would take the bull by the horns. My pantry is messy, my refrigerator isn’t looking its best and I didn’t have time to run to the grocery store. It struck me- this is exactly what the reader was asking for; how to make this work in real life! I work 24 hour shifts on top of a commute, so I am gone a minimum of 27 hours for every shift, sometimes this can span to 32+ hours if work is busy. We are one of the many families that is facing the strain of the sequester, which translates to me working any over time that is available. This current pay period has me at 135… so needless to say, I totally understand how hard it is to find time to make this healthy eating work. To up the ante, we have to eat healthy and mind our newly tightened budget.

This week I have one full day off. I just finished a tour of about 90 hours and I go back tomorrow for another 48. I have a two year old and an 11 month old at home and a S.O. who works until dinner time every evening. He can manage dinner if he has to, but I don’t like to leave it for him to fuss with after a 10 hour day at his job. The kids go to bed early, which means dinner is early too. Everything runs behind if I leave it for the S.O. to figure out at 515 every night. My solution for this is big batch cooking.

Today I started by thumbing through a few cookbooks and jotting down some ideas based off of what I knew I had on hand. Time is of the essence here, I couldn’t run to the store for a quick grocery trip and I don’t want to spend 2 hours on every recipe. I depended on my all-time favorite cookbook author, Lindsay Nixon to lend me 4 days of fast, plant-based meals. I pulled all of my selections for today from Everyday Happy Herbivore (my first love in the Happy Herbivore series). I selected meals that are listed as quick and easy. Lindsay breaks her cookbooks down into user friendly categories and one of the most convenient options is the “30 minute” or “quick” feature. Today I chose only recipes that fell into this category.

My most recent go-to cookbooks: The Happy Herbivore series and Peas & Thank You.
My most recent go-to cookbooks: The Happy Herbivore series and Peas & Thank You.

I have a pretty good idea of what I need to keep on hand at this point in my plant-based journey. We have been vegetarian for about 16 months now, and vegan for ten. (You can read more about my switch here). The transition was the hardest part, but I will save that for another post. I am keeping it real so I am including photos of my pantry and freezer exactly as they are today. I suffer from an undiagnosed case of OCD and it drives me more than crazy when things are a mess. Take my posting of disheveled pantry photos as a sign of solidarity because it pains me to even look at it.

The fridge in its most honest state. I didn't even wipe up the crumbs.
The fridge in its most honest state. I didn’t even wipe up the crumbs.
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I am still stream-lining the fridge door. A dear friend left me a ton of great cooking supplies when she moved and although my favorite cookbooks are “oil-free”, I am still hanging onto her stash for when I reach into my other vegan cookbooks.
She needs an overhaul, but who has time for that?
She needs an overhaul and updated organization, but who has time for that?
The upright freezer we found on Craig's List for $80.
The upright freezer we found on Craig’s List for $80. It doesn’t self-defrost but the price was right.
I never cook a batch of beans, rice or oatmeal without cooking extra to freeze. I told you this was an honest photo, so there is also a bag of frozen breast milk.
I never cook a batch of beans, rice or oatmeal without cooking extra to freeze. I told you this was an honest photo, so there is also a bag of frozen breast milk.
The kitchen freezer.
The kitchen freezer. Cranberry juice popsicles, bananas, pomegranate, veggies, an oatmeal breakfast mix, and some more breast milk.
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Frozen waffles for busy mornings and my breakfast staple: flax and chia seed.
My spice collection. This is by far most costly part of my transition. I realized once I started cooking plant based that I had used a narrow selection of spices in my prior 29 years. I spaced out these purchases and built up my stash over time.
My spice collection. This was by far the most costly part of my transition. I realized once I started cooking plant based that I had used a narrow selection of spices in the previous 29 years. I spaced out these purchases and built up my stash over time.

The goal for today was to use the small window of time I had to prepare 4 days worth of food. I usually like to work on a weeks worth of meals at a time but I realized that I couldn’t devote my efforts this evening solely to cooking. I had a mountain of laundry staring at me and a weekends worth of clutter screaming to be organized. My projected time frame was 4 hours, factoring in 1,265 interruptions from my beloved offspring. I have found that its actually easier to prepare meals in bulk because I only have to deal with one load of dishes and I only need to pull my spices out one time. I haven’t found many meals that aren’t reheatable. I fix them, label the containers and leave little notes about any preparations that need to be done on the day of.

A weeks worth of cooking using the Happy Herbivore Meal Plan. getmealplans.com
A weeks worth of cooking using a Happy Herbivore Meal Plan. http://www.getmealplans.com

Todays list from Everyday Happy Herbivore:

Lo Mein – pg 195

Skillet Frijoles Negros – pg 176

Arroz Amarillo – pg 162

Bell Pepper Stir Fry – pg 140

In addition I wanted to fix my own Chickpea “Tuna” Salad recipe for a quick snack with crackers or for lunch for the kids.

My recipe for Chickpea "Tuna" Salad. This time I included tofu to substitute hard boiled egg. You should try it!
My recipe for Chickpea “Tuna” Salad. This time I included tofu to substitute hard boiled egg. You should try it!

I started cooking at 4 pm and I left the kitchen at 930. In the mean time I fed the family dinner, cleaned up the 18 handfuls of dropped food from under the kids seats, put the baby to bed, read “Little Bear” and “Spoons” to my Princess, tucked her in, switched three loads of laundry, cleared the living room floor of toys, and loaded the dishwasher. Once I got started I realized I didn’t have enough chickpeas for my Chickpea “Tuna” Salad so I decide to cook a batch of garbanzo beans. (I much prefer to cook and freeze than to buy canned. It’s cheaper and I don’t have to worry about the reports of contamination caused by the can’s liner).

One beautiful batch of garbanzo beans!
One beautiful batch of garbanzo beans!
Bell Pepper Stir Fry with tofu from Everyday Happy Herbivore. One very satisfied customer!
Bell Pepper Stir Fry with tofu from Everyday Happy Herbivore = one very satisfied customer!

I have a really great app called How to Cook Everything Vegetarian and it has an easy to follow quick soak method for beans. This is only one of the reasons why I love this app, I strongly recommend it. There is something about having a paper cookbook in hand. I like the smell of new paper when it arrives, I like the ability to mark and tab it – really make it mine. But I can’t discredit the Kindle and E-cookbooks though. The ability to search per ingredient and narrow my selection by key words really does make it easier than flipping endlessly through a paper cookbook, reading each ingredient individually. Using the quick soak method I learned from this app, I threw four bags of garbanzo beans on the stove to cook while I was working on my other meals.

Super handy app!
Super handy app!

I read through the instructions and get a feel for what each meals requires. I like to pull all of my ingredients out one time and cluster them into groups across my workspace. I feel like this saves me a lot of steps back and forth to the pantry while I cook. I sort out what things will take longer (like the beans or cooking rice and pasta) and get those started. Then I just start working my way through the list, one or two recipes at a time. My beloved Aunt gave the an Emeril Cookware set seven years ago, and as I go I just wash the skillets off and reuse them as needed. At the end of the night I throw them all in the dishwasher for a final wash. I fond one really good trick is to buy my veggies frozen. This saves me the time of slicing and preparing them and it also allows me to keep a variety of vegetables in the freezer without needing to have so many fresh and on hand. I buy them when they are on sale at 10 bags for 10 dollars, so this saves me money in the long run. I prefer to buy organic but my local grocery doesn’t offer every item I need as organic and as the sequester is breathing down our necks, I have relinquished my “mostly organic vegetable list” to normal, run of the mill veggies. I wish I could only offer my family the pesticide free organics, but I have to do the best I with what I have.

I had never cooked with tofu until a year ago, now it is a staple in our meals.
I had never cooked with tofu until a year ago, now it is a staple in our meals.

At the end of the night I fed my family the Bell-Pepper Stir Fry which I added tofu to and it was a big success. I stacked four quart sized bags of garbanzos in the freezer along with two quart sized bags of Arroz Amarillo rice. I never take the time to make rice, beans, or oatmeal without preparing three to four times more than I need. This saves me the time and effort later when I can pull the bag out of the freezer and defrost it in four minutes flat.

Five and a half half hours later.
Five and a half half hours later.

Happy, Healthy Eating!

What are your tricks of the trade? How do you feed your family healthy, home cooked meals while maintaining a budget? What would you like to see more of on this blog in the future?

5 thoughts on ““A Day In the Life”: One day to cook, 4 days to cover.

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