Keeping Foods Real When You Can’t Cook From Scratch

It’s week four of our “Conquering Real Food Frustrations” series by Debra (Sweet Kisses and Dirty Dishes), Sara (Your Thriving Family), Danielle (More Than Four Walls) and myself! If you missed them, check out the posts from the last three weeks:

As much as I love our real, unprocessed, from-scratch foods… I just can’t cook from scratch 100% of the time. I am fully convinced that our unprocessed diet is the best thing, but I’m also all for some grace when we need it! ;-)

There are so many things that can throw a monkey wrench into my well-laid plans, but I’m slowly learning how to keep some good nutrition coming, even when I need to cut corners.

Freezer Meals

When I know in advance that life is going to get crazy (in the weeks leading up to a due date, for example), I start doubling what I cook and freezing half of it. When the craziness starts, I can just pop some delicious and healthy food into the oven! This isn’t just for dinners, either. I also like to make breakfasts and snack foods to freeze.

This is a great habit to get into (still working on that!) so that you have something easy and healthy on hand for unexpected emergencies. Check out this post for ideas, recipes and tips when freezer cooking!

No-Cook Meals

This is great for lunch or dinner! There are so many things that can easily be included in a snack-style meal. Keeping an assortment of these types of foods can be a real lifesaver on busy days. For a list of ideas, check out my post on snack-style lunches!

Meals-To-Go

Fast food can be such a temptation when you’re going to be out (or in the car) all day. You can’t cook away from home, but you can plan ahead and take some nutritious foods with you! We usually do this for trips to the zoo, going on hikes, long car rides or anything else that will have us away from home (and the kitchen) for more than a few hours. Here are some of our favorite take along foods!

Healthier Convenience Food

When all else fails, I buy convenience food from the grocery store. I try to choose the healthiest version possible (that I can afford), which means “all-natural” and “organic”. That isn’t always available, but I do the best I can. I read the labels to make certain that there are no additives, such as artificial color, flavor or preservatives. I avoid MSG like the plague (bad reactions!).

Often, we will “doctor-up” a store-bought meal. For example, adding roasted garlic to sauces or extra cheese, herbs or spices to meals.

Wondering exactly what I buy? Here are some examples!

  • All-natural frozen pizza: This certainly isn’t full of great nutrition, but several affordable brands are available without any additives.
  • Fresh pasta: In our local grocery store (Safeway), I just discovered all-natural, organic filled pastas in the chilled section next to the cheese and produce! There are sauces to go with them (pesto, for example) and they are quite delicious. They are expensive, so this will be a very rare treat, but it would be nice to buy a few on sale and have them stocked in the freezer for those rough days. :-)
  • Prepared veggies and hummus: Just read the ingredients and make sure that there aren’t any bad preservatives and that the hummus is made with olive oil, not vegetable or canola oil.
  • Prepared fruit: Again, make sure that there aren’t any bad preservatives. You can dip them in…
  • Yogurt: I love to make my own yogurt from raw milk, but that doesn’t always get done. When I need to, I buy full-fat yogurt (organic, if possible).
  • Bakery bread: If I can’t make bread, we will sometimes get freshly made (preservative-free!) bread from a local bakery. This is extremely expensive, so most of the time we’ve been going without. Another good option would be whipping up a few quick breads.
  • Eggs: No, these are not a compromise food, but I do often stock up on a ton of eggs from the farm down the road because they are just so convenient! Yes, they do need to be cooked, but that is a quick and easy thing to do, so I don’t see them as something that requires a bunch of effort.
  • All-natural frozen food: We almost never do this (except for the pizzas) because anything that I’d feel okay about eating is insanely expensive! If I really wanted to get a few of these, I’d watch for the chance to combine coupons with sales. For all that effort, I’d rather just double one of my meals and freeze it, though! ;-)

And now, be sure to pop on over to visit the other ladies today as we talk about real foods in the real world!

    • Space can be such a frustration no matter how you cook. Danielle has quickly learned how to keep real food on her family’s plate even living in a camper. Read about her story and how to conquer the frustration of real food in small spaces.
    • Debra shares about balancing life through crazy seasons with at least some level of Real Food (which is very important with her family having food sensitivities). Read all about it in her post on Real Food and Real Grace through Real Seasons. 
    • Sara shares her husband’s constant question and clarifies some shopping questions in Real Food in Your Kitchen

 

What are some of your favorite ways to cut corners while still getting some good nutrition?

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21 comments to Keeping Foods Real When You Can’t Cook From Scratch

  • Great ideas! I like to get Annie’s mac n’ cheese when they have it at the discount store, and a few other things like that. The only health food stores locally are pretty ridiculous, but maybe I should head to St. Louis before baby comes to supplement what I can freeze with what Trader Joes has to offer.

    • LOL- good idea! We only have a couple of tiny, insanely expensive health food stores here, so I’m making do with what I can find at the regular grocery store and what I can order on-line. ;-)

  • Good ideas. Our biggest downfall is the “running errands day”. It’s expected now that we’ll stop at some fast food place, so we really need to break the habit!!

    Lindsey @ GrowingKidsMinistry.com

    • That’s one of our struggles, too (I thought I was the only one!!). We used to start our shopping day around 10AM and then eat at a very healthy place for lunch, but now that we’ve moved we don’t have that place to count on. I’ve started going out just after lunch, but then we aren’t home in time to make anything other than a really quick and easy meal. I think I’ll have to start doing crock pot meals on shopping days so that we aren’t tempted to eat dinner out!

      Thanks so much for the comment, Lindsey!

  • Thanks for the ideas. We eat a lot of the healthier convenience foods. They work well when we don’t have the time to cook from scratch.
    KC

  • Great tips thank you! I also either freeze half of what I’ve made or plan ahead a bit and do a freezer cooking session with friends or a mini-session on my own. Pulling a meal out of the freezer is so convenient and you know exactly what you are eating. ~Alexis on behalf of everyone at A Moment with M.O.M.

  • Natalie

    I found this post on Frugally Sustainable and I just love it. Thank you for addressing this – it is a big issue for me! I have chronic fatigue and rarely have the energy to cook how I want to but I try!

    • I’m so glad you found us, Natalie! I’m very sorry to hear about the chronic fatigue. I had a really bad case of mono that left me with far less energy, but I can only imagine how hard it is to function long-term in such an exhausted condition. I hope my post had some helpful ideas for you!! Thanks for the comment. :-)

  • Great Ideas! I am so glad I popped over here to check out your post, I’m going to have to go back and check out the rest of the series! What a great idea and SO helpful! We all have real food frustrations from time to time and this is a wonderful way to encourage and inspire each other! Lots of blessings, Kelly

    • Thanks so much, Kelly! The other ladies and I discovered that we all had such similar struggles so we decided to share our solutions (or at least encouragement to keep looking for solutions!) with other people. It’s been a wonderful series to write. :-)
      Blessings!

  • One of my favorite shortcuts is to buy a large amount of an ingredient at a low price, prep all of it, use some in a meal, and freeze the rest in portions of 1 or 2 cups. Then they are handy to add to later meals. Examples:

    Shredded vegetables are easy to add to meals to increase the veggie content.

    Bigger blocks of cheese usually cost less per ounce. Grate the whole thing and freeze some for later burritos, pizza, casserole topping, etc.

    Buy a big can of beans, or cook a whole lot of dry beans, and freeze.

    • Great tips, Becca! The veggie tip is absolutely brilliant! There are many veggies that would have had a happier end if I had known this before. ;-) Thanks so much for the ideas!

  • We order Annie’s Mac & Cheese and Vegetarian Chili via Amazon’s Subscribe and Save. (Also the Pretzel Bunnies.) They’re great to have on hand for those times I’m just not up to cooking from scratch, and they’re a lot less expensive via Amazon, especially since we use Prime’s free shipping.

  • Eggs are our go-to meal when we are crunched for time. We almost always have them, and paired with some sourdough bread, crunchy seeds/nuts, apples, and/or carrots, we can come up with something nutritious and fast. Plus, my husband is happy to help make them for us, and that is a double helping of grace! :)

    • Yum! We’re crazy about eggs, too. It certainly helps that we have a farm right up the road with the most delicious eggs. The yolks are deep orange and the flavor is amazing. :-)

      Thanks so much for the comment, Kristen!

  • Heather

    I do a lot of the same things that have already been mentioned, but my favorite timesaving tool for quick meals is my pressure canner. I have a pressure canner, and one of the big electric roaster ovens. We’ll make up a huge batch of something in the roaster oven–spaghetti sauce, chili, taco meat, soup, beef or chicken bits in stock, etc, and can it. That gives me either meals that only need to be warmed up or ones where the time-consuming part is done–spaghetti that only needs noodles cooked, tacos that only need cheese grated and a jar of salsa opened or veggies chopped, and bits of meat in stock are the basis for all kinds of quick meals.

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