“She’s standing by the stove – stirring
Her cat is in the kitchen – purring
It smells so good in here
I just wanna close the door and hook the latch
Cause she’s makin’ everything -
And I mean everything-
She takes a little, makes a lot
Careful sis, its kinda hot
Is there more inside that pot?
When this song comes on our “toddler” Pandora radio station my kids (ages 4 and 2) always exclaim with excitement, “MOM! It’s your song!”. Technically, this song is about a grandmother (which I am not, obviously) and of course, I do not make everything from scratch. I’m happy, though, that my kids realize and already appreciate everything I do make from scratch since most of it requires considerable time and effort.
So what do we really eat? When I started to collect my thoughts for this post, I thought the first place to turn was my kitchen. What do I generally have on hand? Where did that food come from? When/how do we eat it? I think a “pantry tour” is probably the best place to start.
In general, I shop at our local grocery store Hannaford, Honest Weight Food Co-Op (HWFC) which is about 40 minutes south of our home, and the farmers market. Additionally, we buy all our pork and beef direct from local farms, we raise our own chickens for meat and eggs, and all of our milk is delivered from a local dairy. For me, where our food comes from is as important as what I am actually buying. In addition to my regular refrigerator pictured below, we also have a large upright freezer in the basement that comfortably holds all our meat. We buy beef by the side (half a cow) or quarter and all our pork by the side (half a pig). All our chicken is frozen whole, which is usually how I cook it. Right now we have about 1/4 pig and about 6 chickens in the freezer and there will be plenty of room to fit the new side of beef I am picking up from West Wind Acres this week. Also, we have 10 meat chicks coming to raise before winter, and I am hopeful they will fit as well, once grown & processed (thankfully my parents live nearby and have a huge freezer too!).
There is only one section of my kitchen missing from these photos – the baking/tea area, which is a “spinning” under counter cabinet, so it was tough to photograph. Inside is tea, coffee, hot cocoa, nuts for baking, shredded coconut, various flours, sugar, agave, cocoa & carob powders & baking chocolate, oils (olive/walnut/coconut/sesame), vinegars, flavorings & extracts, baking soda/powder and salt. The majority of this cabinet’s contents comes from HWFC, purchased in bulk or large containers.
How do we eat all this food? First of all, we eat the vast majority of our meals at home. My kids go to morning preschool on alternating days and are both with me for every meal, every day of the week (they are served a snack at school which other parents bring on a rotation). In general, we eat as a family (or mom + kids when dad is working) meaning they are served and are expected to eat whatever we are eating, with exceptions for very spicy food or “new” or “different” things (i.e. the eggplant parm we had last week – both had to try two bites, my 2 year old ended up eating most of it and my 4 year old didn’t like it so he got an extra piece of cheese to boost the nutrition/calories for his meal). Usually, we are a “three square meals a day” family but again, there are always exceptions. Here are some samples of what we eat through an average day:
I start every day with one or two cups of black tea, usually with vanilla soymilk OR regular milk & a little sugar. My husband makes coffee on the weekend. We don’t have a regular coffee maker but use a french press. Christina made us roasted coffee beans for Christmas, otherwise we usually have a stash from when my in-laws have visited… they bring their own since they know they can’t count on us to have it! The kids drink water, orange juice or apple cider when I get it from the farmers market – it doesn’t last long when we do have it. On the weekend, they often get hot cocoa (ovaltine + milk) as a treat.
- Fruit: the kids eat a banana each just about daily. Or, we have melon, grapes, berries; whatever we have on hand.
- Yogurt: homemade from local whole milk for me & kids, Stonyfield fat free for husband – plain (me) with homemade jam (my son) or granola (husband and daughter).
- “Breads”: English muffins (usually homemade, sometimes Thomas’ when I don’t feel like making them or run out), raisin bread toast (from grocery store), or homemade bread toast (whatever we have on hand). OR waffles/pancakes, which I usually have homemade & frozen from double batches made on the weekend. Occasionally we have bagels (either homemade or from a local bagel shop), but this is a treat. OR oatmeal, either made from “old fashioned” or Irish oats OR from instant packets (kids love these as a “treat” breakfast).
- Scrambled or boiled eggs regularly, ham or bacon as a treat not usually more than once a week. We usually have an abundance of eggs but a side of pig only comes with so much bacon, so we conserve!
- A “regular” breakfast consists of some kind of fruit for all, usually yogurt for kids, a bread choice for me & kids, and eggs just about every other day.
- Peanut butter & homemade jelly sandwich (on homemade OR store bought sliced bread – we like the Hannaford “All Natural” as a store bought alternative) OR dinner leftovers from the previous day or two OR sandwiches made from leftover meat & cheese or canned tuna OR Quesedilla (store bought tortillas, store bought cheddar) OR soup/salad/bread, from frozen homemade or occasionally canned. OR Macaroni with butter or Mac & Cheese - sometimes with veggies disguised in the sauce and sometimes Annie’s as a treat.
- With one of those choices, we have some kind of vegetable – usually carrot sticks or cucumber slices and sometimes also have a little fruit. I also occasionally eat a big salad or a frozen burrito for lunch, which the kids don’t usually eat. Occasionally, we also have “snack lunch” which consists of a plate with a variety of choices from the “snacks” section below.
- Kids drink milk or water, I drink water. Sometimes I make lemonade as a treat from **GASP** unsweetened Kool-Aid, made with half the recommended sugar amount. I also make a lot of iced “sun” tea in the summer with either black or herbal tea or a combination.
- Granola bars (usually homemade, I also buy Kashi bars occasionally)
- Triscuits (there is no alternative to the real thing!) or “circle crackers” (fake all-natural Ritz type crackers, my son’s favorite) & cheddar
- Homemade cheese crackers (kind of like cheez-its, but made with real cheese and not fake orange color)
- Homemade graham crackers
- Homemade bread + butter
- Fresh fruit
- Applesauce (usually home canned)
- Pretzels, tortilla chips (both store bought), carrots or cucumbers with hummus or guacamole (both homemade)
- Dried fruit & nuts – especially shell on peanuts or pistachios, kids LOVE this
- Popcorn, homemade in our “wiffie popper” (actually called the Whirley Pop) with olive oil and often topped with butter, always salted
- Smoothies: homemade with ice, milk, water or juice, banana, yogurt, frozen berries (Usually picked by us in season & frozen, until we run out which usually happens mid-winter despite my best picking efforts each summer! Then store bought.) My kids love these too and ask for them frequently post-nap time.
- Edamame - we get the frozen in-the-pod kind in the mini steam-in-the-microwave bags, which is a huge waste of packaging but an enormous convenience that I am willing to pay for (in $ and in waste generated).
- Homemade pizza (homemade dough, sauce, store bought cheese, assorted veggie toppings or meat if we have it leftover)
- Grilled or roasted meat (pork/steak/chicken) + starch (homemade bread, oven roasted potatoes – this is the one food my kids are truly picky about, rice/quinoa) + veggies (broccoli/cauliflower/green beans/squash)… options & combos are endless.
- Pasta with veggies (“primavera” style) or tomato sauce, sometimes with a protein like cannelini beans or meatballs or sausage.
- Chicken & dumplings (I WILL post this recipe someday!) or homemade soups & bread in colder months. Vegetables are usually included in the dish.
- Tacos made with ground beef & black beans. I use the Simply Organic taco seasoning packets and store bought taco shells or corn or flour tortillas. We serve them with shredded cheddar, lettuce and salsa (either fresh, home canned or Pace Picante, which is what I grew up with). Truth be told, we eat tacos almost once a week because my kids love it and eat a TON, plus we buy beef by the half-cow so we have a lot of ground beef in the big freezer.
- Quiche, usually when we have an egg overflow issue.
- Beans (usually black) and rice. I generally cook dry beans rather than use cans, but I do usually have cans on hand as well since cooking dry beans takes 12-24 hours advance planning for soaking.
- Stir fried assorted veggies with or without some sort of meat, served with rice and usually edamame.
- Occasionally we have seafood – either shellfish with pasta or rice OR salmon, served with a starch & veggie, like the meat options above. I have mixed feelings on the sustainability and safety of seafood, but we all love it and have it as a treat once in a while. When I get it, I try to buy from the farmers market, or the new fish market in our town.
- With dinner, kids drink milk or water and adults have water or seltzer (we have a Soda Stream).
We do occasionally eat out for dinner, usually as a family. Quick or last minute places include Chipotle or Moe’s or occasionally Five Guys or Hattie’s as a treat. More planned/nicer dinners take place at Harvest & Hearth or Cantina (upscale pizza & Mexican in our town). We probably eat out as a family 2-3 times a month. Additionally, my husband and I eat out with friends or sometimes for his work functions at much fancier restaurants in our area. This probably accounts for one or two meals a month. Because I spend 99% of my time with toddlers, these dinners are a HUGE treat and we often go “all out” with appetizers, dinner, desserts, etc. I love my life with my kids but I look forward to and really appreciate these occasional nights out – the fancy food as well as the adult-only time.
Sweets & Treats
When it comes to sweets & treats in our family, we divide on our preferences unlike most of the rest of our food.
- Kids: For occasional rewards and special treats, we have lollipops (Yummy Earth Organic) or Smarties candy, and to be honest we still have some leftover Easter candy. The kids also love ice cream, and my husband often gets Stewart’s ice cream on his way home as a family treat. We also love going to the Ice Cream Man in the summer months. I also sometimes buy Lucky Charms to offer as a treat/special snack. The kids think it is candy (it basically is). And in the spirit of honesty, my husband and I love it too and occasionally sneak it for breakfast or a snack when we have it.
- Me: I am a home baked anything junkie. Cake, cookies, cupcakes, brownies, scones, muffins, etc. I try to only bake once a week, which is hard. I’d rather bake a LOT more, but I know its not the healthiest form of home cooking. Basically ALL the other food blogs I read regularly are baking blogs. I don’t post many baked goods on FSC; I am (was?) a bit of a closet baker.
- Husband: Salty treats are more his thing. He occasionally picks up the supplies and makes hot peppers stuffed with cheese and wrapped in prosciutto, heirloom tomatoes with fancy olive oil and balsamic, homemade nachos (cheese melted on chips topped with home canned jalapenos). I enjoy these things too, when he makes them – I just go to the sweets first. He also usually has some kind of beer in the house for a treat, whether its a fresh growler from the local brewery, the latest batch from his friends who brew, or the standby bottled IPA.
Also, we both like homemade cocktails and enjoy experimenting with new recipes. I haven’t enjoyed these for the past few months due to pregnancy, but once baby is out I am sure we will be back to mixing and enjoying the occasional “real” margarita (tequila + agave + fresh squeezed lime), mojito or basil & citrus cocktail.
A big part of how I make this all work is semi-organized meal and grocery planning. Since I became pregnant with our third child last spring (8 weeks to go – woohoo!!!) I made the decision that grocery shopping with two toddlers wasn’t working for me anymore. What used to be an enjoyable experience had turned into rushed, stressful trips littered with potty breaks, “accidents”, fighting out of boredom and often ended in tears (mine as much as theirs).
So, I decided that I would try to make a weekly trip alone (!) on Sunday afternoons, at least to Hannaford. I still go to the Farmers Market midweek with the kids, and visit HWFC monthly (or s0). Committing to just one weekly trip to the grocery store, however, meant that I would need to plan ahead if I wanted to avoid ad hoc midweek trips. For years, I had been making rough plans of our weekly meals but with a new grocery plan I needed to make more specific plans to be sure I have enough ingredients for dinners and staples for the rest of our meals and snacks. I got the nifty stick-on “whiteboards” pictured above and have been successfully and faithfully using them for about three months now. Sunday mornings, we talk about our plans for the week (like any nights out for my husband’s work or social reasons) and any ideas or requests for meals or groceries for the week. I erase the board, plan the next week of meals, make my grocery list and head to the store.
Alone. In peace. And quiet. It is truly a wonderful thing!
In addition to our Sunday planning, I also use the lower section of the whiteboards to keep track of anything we run out of during the week, and also plan ahead for my from scratch staples cooking (like crackers, granola, hummus, etc). It seems like a lot of work but this system has actually saved me a tremendous amount of time, money on randomly purchased groceries, pantry space on said random groceries, and daily stress figuring out what to cook for dinner. Believe it or not, since implementing this system, I usually spend an average of $80-100 a week at the grocery store and farmers market combined including food and household goods like paper towels, toilet paper, toiletries, and pull-ups for our not-quite-potty trained 2 year old. This amount does not include meat (purchased in bulk or raised at home) or milk, which is delivered mid-week and paid for monthly. HWFC trips are additional as well and are usually for “stocking up” on baking needs or for special treats like fancy cheese.
I recently posted a photo of some freshly canned jam on Facebook and a few days later my cousin chastised me (in good spirit, of course) for making her feel bad for “not being so domestic”. I felt kind of bad and hoped it didn’t seem like I was showing off or acting superior for all my “from scratch” efforts – neither is my intention. To be honest (this is what I told her that night), I cook the way I do and make a lot of things at home for a few reasons:
- I am cheap, and am always trying to save money. I do splurge when I am out with friends and enjoy my fair share of exceptional chocolate & vanilla for baking and fancy cheese for snacking but in general I try to make more at home because I find I can eat (and feed my family) higher quality food for less if I make it from scratch. My brother once said about my financial philosophy in general, “Liz would rather have the best of the best and less of it rather than a lot of something that is medium or low quality”. This absolutely applies to how I feel about food, and just about everything else I “consume”.
- By and large, I think homemade food tastes better. Home cooked meals AND from scratch pantry staples are also generally “healthier” (i.e. meaning fewer ingredients since shelf stability isn’t an issue) and fresher. Just like I do my best to feed my kids local, organic (when possible) produce, meat and milk, replacing “packaged” foods with a homemade alternative is also preferable in my opinion. Do I think I am a “better” parent because of this, or my kids will turn out “smarter/faster/etc” than the next kid? Not really, and who knows, but either way it makes me feel good to do it, so I do.
- I LOVE to cook, bake, can, etc (I am also an avid knitter and seamstress). Something about creating things by hand, whether its food, a garment or a gift, is inherently a part of who I am. Creating is a form of entertainment, stress relief, emotional/intellectual stimulation and is just plain fun for me. I like eating and selfishly enjoying what I have created as much (sometimes more honestly) than I do sharing. Sharing or gifting and pleasing someone else is wonderful, but I don’t cook or create for recognition or approval. I do it because the act of doing it simply makes me happy.
I also want to mention here that I don’t make everything from scratch, and some things I just don’t want to. For example, I occasionally make aioli as a treat or for a special recipe. For the occasional “regular” times I need to use mayonnaise I am, admittedly, a committed Hellman’s fan. I don’t care for anything else in my tuna or chicken salad or on a fresh sandwich (I am also kind of particular about certain things). Recently my husband bought store-brand light mayo. I promptly threw it away, which was a complete waste of money – but the stuff just wasn’t suitable for my consumption or worthy of space in my fridge. Also, for just about everything I do try or like to make from scratch I have a perfectly suitable store bought alternative which in many cases we do often buy. Examples include crackers, granola bars, and sandwich bread.
At the end of the day, my goal is to have a healthy, satisfied family that enjoys and appreciates good food and the special time that family meals offer.
“She takes a little, makes a lot
Careful sis, its kinda hot
Is there more inside that pot?
I’m hoping so and thinking not
She gave us much more than we thought