Wednesday, February 25, 2009

In a slump....

Not just the markets, but we are too:) Add in the fact we are looking at needing to make a major lifestyle change in how I cook, snacks we eat, etc.....I really need to work to combat it.

So I'm wondering just how I can stock my pantry to our best advantage. I've never been a big menu planner, but I think that has to change now. For the girl who up until 3 or 4 years ago thought the perfect mac n cheese came out of a box..... Hamburger helper used to be a mainstay in our diet.... - this has to be an attitude adjustment. A good one, I think.....

So I have a question a couple of questions for everyone:
  • What are some items in your pantry that you consider essential to cooking from scratch????
  • What do your kids eat for snack foods? I need low sugar, healthy snacks now....
  • Is there any value to a freezer inventory? I pretty much have an idea what is in there right now...but don't know quantities.....with 2 big chest freezers and 2 refrigerator/freezer combos....we've got lots of storage space.
  • What in the HECK do I do with dried mixed beans and dried kidney beans (other than bean soup, chilli and baked beans?)
  • Any good down home cooking cookbook ideas......
  • And most importantly (to me) give me some good, quick, easy recipes for dinner. We are SICK of the same old stuff.......keeping in mind that Todd is really and meat and potatoes kind of guy.....and my cooking style could best be described as the lazy cooking from scratch style...

I know....these aren't difficult questions at all.....right?? haha



Patty said...

I am not a “Healthy Cooking” type of person but I do cook a lot from scratch and my freezers and pantry stay well stocked on sale items, flour, and grains.

First, let me suggest a cookbook; More-With-Less by Janzen Longacre. The book has recipes for healthy simple basic recipes.

Second, don’t try to buy all your stock pile too quick or you will pay way too much. I like to keep a lot of flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, baking soda, assorted spices, dry beans, rice, etc. on hand so I have a variety to choose from when I want to cook something; most of these items were purchased when on sale and I slowly add to it.

All items sold in a store can be made from home. So, begin by searching the web for copy cat recipes and made from scratch recipes. I am still amazed at what can be found on the internet.

What to do with mixed beans? I never buy my beans mixed since you are limited to what you can do; instead, I purchase each type separately and cook them in a plain state, packaged into 2 cup portions, so they can be used in various recipes.

Snack for kids? Popcorn is a family favorite; made on the stove in a pot! Aside from this I feel made from scratch brownies, cookies and pies are better than packaged ones from the store since you know what is going into them. However, I still buy pre-packaged foods just for fun when I am able to buy it cheap.

What’s for dinner? I too get tired of the same thing. You could try doubling your recipes and freezing the extras so you have a quick meal in the freezer for the days you don’t want to cook.

I am so looking forward to seeing the suggestion others offer!

Niki said...

I have tons of freezer space to and do try to keep a loose inventory, just so things don't get forgotten for 2 years.

For bean recipes try and google. Ireally like Allrecipes, it's my favourite recipe site.

Yo could try copycat recipe sites to make homemade versions of hamburger helper and other processed meals your kids like.

I have some recipes on my blog that you might like. I tend to cook from scratch most of the time.

I love cookbooks by Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa. She has two you might like the first is called At Home and the other is Family Style. Use your library, borrow a ton of cookbooks before deciding which you'll buy. Mark Bittman How to Cook Everything is also good.

Lists of Pantry staples are everywhere right now, google it, check blogs and there are several recent books on that subject I guess because of the economy.
Hope this helps,

isolada. by design said...


Funny you mentioned the beans. I keep beans, brown rice, grains and whole wheat/whole grain pasta (when I don't make my own & if I want an elbow or something besides spaghetti & flat noodles) on hand, always. We love beans and rice as a go to, anytime.

I happen to have a few ways of how we use beans on my cooking blog. And I reference recipes on the net. Patty is right. There's SO much available on the net. RecipeZaar is a good one with something for everyone. There are so many recipes it makes me a little crazy, but it's a matter of browsing. Smitten Kitchen and Simply Recipes ( are others I go to when I need a new idea.

I do like the cookbook, 366 Delicious Ways to Cook Rice, Beans and Grains by Andrea Chesman. I would only recommend it, however, if you're to use these frequently. Again, there's plenty on the net that a book isn't always necessary.

We've no children so snacks are not huge in our house, except we do like popcorn and hubby has this thing for flatbread (which could be homemade) with peanut butter.

If I have onions, garlic & peppers, I can make a meal of anything. Again, I agree with Patty, buy on sale those things you need to buy. With your garden coming on strong soon & the meat you've processed, you'll be in excellent shape.

Keep us up-to-date. With everyone's different life circumstances perhaps on change, it should be fun to know and be in community in regards to healthy eating and happy living in these economically fragile times.

Good Wednesday to you & yours!

Ana :)

Nicole said...

Subscribe to Taste of Home Cooking, Simple and Delicious, etc - cooking magazines, whatever suits your fancy....and make your own cookbook!

Get a photo album and insert the recipes you cut out. Try them all, keep the ones you like, throw away the ones you don't.

I started this idea before I got married, and now have a "dinner" cookbook and a "dessert" cookbook.

This will have all your favorite recipes.

I also have a Betty Crocker cookbook, it's a 3-ring binder and is helpful because it has basic recipes and also helps like substitions, measurement conversions, etc.

Good luck!

Miri said...

This will be fun! You will be so glad you started this. You'll save money and it'll all be YUMMY!

My husband was a "meat and potatoes" man too... diehard. Now he really enjoys our Tuscan-style eating.

I use beans (agree the mixed are not the best value or most versatile) on average four times a week. Sometimes more often if I'm making bean-n-cheese burritos for the girls for lunch. I cook my own "refried" beans, black beans and more. They are the staple of our menu planning.

Snacks... hmm. Fruit, homemade muffins, quesadillas, cheese sticks, tortilla chips, handful of cereal (still contemplating making my own granola).

Have fun!

Gizmo said...

OMG-I can't wait to read everyone else's responses too.

I can't help you with the beans issue. We are not big bean eaters here. A cookbook recommendation - not really, but I will recommend JudyL's Patchwork Times. She is the most EFFICIENT cook I know!!

Snacks -- That's easy! Unfrosted cupcakes, fruit muffins, homemade cookies (make them slightly smaller to stretch each batch), apple or banana chips, homemade fruit roll-ups, applesauce, slices of angel food cake. I'm forever freezing Amish Friendship Muffins (just bake the bread into cupcakes).

I think a freezer inventory is essential. You need to know what you have and when you need to use it by -- so you can be more space/cost effective! This inventory should be right next to your canning/preserving inventory. I keep mine on the refrigerator door.

I agree with the others -- search for copy cat recipes for baking "mixes".

Scrappy quilter said...

I can't wait to see how this turns out for you. We've been working on this too. I cook from scratch all the time. One of my favorite recipe books is Better Homes & Gardens Biggest Book of Slow Cooker Recipes simply because there are so many recipes for using the slow cooker. I would also highly recommend the More with Less cookbook mentioned in one of the comments.

I would also suggest you visit your local library to see what they have before you purchase any cookbooks. Ours has so many recipe books that are wonderful.

One other thing we've found that works on our healthy lifestyle is walking. It's been so cold and we really miss it. Our family physician was really impressed with our numbers.

Philigry said...

not sure if i can helo here, but i can try.
my kids snack on nuts, fruit, or cheese sticks...oh, and dry cereal. I usually keep things like flour, butter, eggs, milk, and sugar on hand to bake from scratch. I have the same problem as you have with getting sick of making the same things over and over. I do try to make almost everything from sratch.
I usually make an italian dish like baked ziti, or lasagna. then i get red meat, chicken, and fish, fresh veggies, and i always have rice on hand. then i fill in the rest of the nights with soup and sandwiches, hot dogs, stuff like that. i know it is hard to change, sounds like you are on the right track though!

marit said...

Sorry I can't be of any help, but I know I should be following your example!

Janice said...

Wow, sounds like you are on a search for change. Good luck!!

Snacks my kids eat after school are graham crackers dipped in milk, saltine crackers, granola bars, grapes (when they are on sale), popcorn, tortilla chips, I don't know if these are healthy but its what they will eat.

I used to be really good at menu planning. I would plan out 7 meals for every two weeks and make a list of the items that I would need to buy for these recipes. I have lately changed my shopping.
I am trying to stock up on food that we eat more of. I want to have a three month supply of food for meals that I know my kids will eat. It is so hard to write down all that I do. It would be easier to visit with you on the phone about this. I enjoy food planning and stocking up on food storage.
I'm not perfect at it but I attempt to do my best. It is hard and can feel overwhelming.

I suggest to start with writing down the items you know you will need the most of and work on stocking up on one item at a time.

Its a crazy thing!!
If you go to and click on Provident Living this will give you all the help you need with building a food supply and with a list of the basic items you will need. I love this website.

Janice said...

Just letting you know to go to and this takes you straight to the ideas that you will need for food storage and also emergency preparedness. Its awesome!!

Cheryl said...

Google OAMC (Once a Month Cooking) and you can find lots of sites with recipes that freeze well.

My favorite go-to recipe is chicken pesto pasta. I used to make my own pesto from basil grown in my garden, back when I had a garden, but now I buy store-bought pesto. (Pesto freezes well, too.) I cut chicken into bite size pieces and cook it in a pan, and add vegetables (whatever is on hand) and cooked pasta. Toss with the pesto. Very yummy -- even my picky four year old loves it. You can use frozen vegetables in a pinch, but usually we use whatever is fresh.

For snacks, we get organic cereal bars, fruit, carrot sticks, cheese sticks, and peanut butter on crackers. For a treat, I'll let her have fruit snacks (though they are basically candy).

Alton Brown ( has a recipe for homemade granola bars that I haven't tried yet but I bet is very yummy.

Judy T said...

Wow! That's a lot of questions.
As far as essential pantry items. We always have the basic baking stuff, oatmeal, cornmeal, a variety of pastas (I make my own sometimes but I'm generally too lazy) and rice. I do have lots of varieties of beans and lentils as well.
Snacks are a current issue at our house as well. The homemade granola and granola bars I made were a big hit. They eat a lot of tortilla chips, string cheese and fruit as well. We used to have poptarts and fruit snacks but gave them up about 6 months ago. I can make muffins but they generally don't last long enough to be used for snacks later. This is an area I'm still working on.
As far as freezer inventory- I did a full inventory when we got our beef in January. I had a bunch of old, cheap dry erase boards that I magneted onto the side of the freezer and we're keeping a running tally. It's something I had never done before but I'm finding it useful. Now if I can just get people to reliably add and subtract when they get in there.
I'm also looking for new ways to use beans. Soup and chili get old. I do sometimes make my own refried beans and we like beans and rice. I also have made bean and/or lentil burgers. The boys aren't really thrilled with them but the rest of us like them. I have a cookbook called Bean Banquets by Patricia Gregory that has lots of ideas.
I'll second the idea of the More with Less cookbook. I love that one- it's one of my favorites. And from the people who brought out all those crock pot books I have 'Fix-it and Enjoy it'- a book of non-crock pot favorites. There are LOTS of good ideas in there.
I'd recommend a trip to your local library. I know ours has lots of cookbooks you can check out. I like that because that way I can try new recipes without the expense of buying a new cookbook. I know there are lots of recipes online but there's something satisfying about having the actual cookbook in your hands.
I'm a lazy cook-from-scratch cook as well. We eat things like chicken and noodles, spaghetti and enchilada casserole. Tonight it's stir fry with marinaded tofu over rice (vegetarian night). And yes, my children eat tofu.
Good luck. I'll try to remember to post our weekly menu plans every once in a while. I've found that planning ahead is so important! It's hard to use those beans if you don't have them soaked ahead of time.

Julie said...

Oh wow! This was a lot of fun to read!

I'm single w/out children, but am trying to prepare more at home and trying to eat healthier too.

Some things I might add...

Check for blogs in your area that post grocery ads - that is if you don't get the paper. I don't subscribe and depend on two local blogs that tell me what the good deals are at the three grocery store chains in are area (they even tell me when there is a coupon to use).

I read this on a blog and it makes a lot of sense... make a list of all the dishes you make/like. If they're not from memory, write which cookbook you got it from and the page number. Sort your lists into groups; breakfast, beef, chicken, etc. Then when you're stuck and bored, refer to your list and maybe you'll recall something you haven't made in a while. It will also help you when you go to plan your grocery trip.

Someone mentioned before, but I like Judy's blog. She will occassionally list what they're eating and that often gives me ideas.

This blog will give you some tips and ideas about cooking from scratch:
He just started a email scratch cooking class. You might be able to email him and ask to be included. The first lesson was on the proper prep and cooking temps of meat. Second lesson was on bread making.

Note, about his blog, don't read it if you're hungry and brace yourself, he uses butter and cream and other goodies!

Have friends wanting to do the same thing? Invite them to participate in a cooking day. My friends and I have done it a few times. We get together at someone's house or the church (which is the best). We bring pots, pans, BIG mixing bowls etc to share. We all bring tinfoil pans, tinfoil, plastic wrap and cook, cook, cook! We prepare dishes that can be frozen (ham/potato casserole, burritos) and make it bulk. Someone good with math does the prep ahead of time. Each person says how many they want of each dish (a serving for four, six, eight..) and that math person figures how to double, triple, etc the dish so that there is enough. Several others get together and do the shopping and we divide the bill. Buying in bulk helps reduce the cost.

I'll gather some recipes and post them soon(well within a few weeks, I'm short on time), so bookmark my blog and visit me soon.

I hope these ideas and those of the others help you and your family. You're not alone. I enjoyed your question and the answers and hope you'll continue to blog about this issue.

PS, who am I? LOL I am a one that would love to be a quilter, but am not a quilter. But this year I am going to make a small quilted wall hanging. I maybe writing you for help!

Julie, KS

Julie said...

I like this food blog...

Patty Sumner said...

running a rescue mission and having to feed many people on a low budget is hard but we alwys keep our pantry stocked with baking goods, four, cornmeal, powdered milk, sugar, etc. we also buy our butter when it is on sale and freeze it and set it out before we need it. Dried beans of all kinds are in our pantry, lentil soups and split pea soup. we wil buy a turkey or ham or both and bake and we do not throw out anything. we save the ham bone for beans or soups and the turkey, well we save the broth for soup or to cook with noodles. we seperate the white and dark meat for soups and casseroles. for snacks; we buy popecorn and animal crackers and graham crackers in huge amounts. they will last forever! we try to buy our meats once a month. we always buy what is on sale and build our menu around that. Best of blessings in what you are trying to do. Thanks for sharing. I hope this helps.

warren said...

I am not much help but the kids get animal crackers, graham cracker snacks and gold fish. How healthy they are is relative but all are better than snickers bars I figure!

A Spoonful Of Sugar said...

You are lucky to have so much freezer storage and lots of fresh ingredients. I make most things from scratch. My kids snack on fruit, raw vegetables, dried fruits, muffins (savory and sweet), cake (carrot; zucchini; pumpkin etc). During the colder months I use my slow cooker a lot - makes great casseroles, curries, soups etc. Have fun!!

Juliann in WA said...

A really great and easy dish is rice, beans, and sausage. You cook the rice, add a can of beans and some chicken broth, cut up some pre-cooked sausage or keilbasa (turkey light version) and pop into the oven to warm. With a salad or vegies it is a great meal. I look at those rice dishes in a box to get ideas and the create them on my own since I have food allergies that makes pre-package cooking almost impossible.

em's scrapbag said...

I keep a basket of fruit on my table for snack for my kids. Popcorn is also a quick, healthy snack. I keep my pantry stocked with pasta and spaghetti sauce. I use the make a mix cookbook a lot. I don't know if it is in print anymore. But it makes dinner prep much simpler and everything is homemade making it cheaper and healthier. I use beans to make hamburger go further when we have tacos, enchilladas and the like. Hope this helps. Good luck.

Sherri said...

Great comments you've received...I'm in the process of doing the same thing right now...I think inventories and lists help me save a LOT of money! I'm trying to get a larger supply of staples so that I don't have to go to the store so often!

Michaela said...

now that I've seen your freezers, I think you don't need much to be all set for cooking from scrap for less.
The best person to talk to though, would be my mom, she is an expert of creating meal out of nothing. That's how I grew up and I try to do the same now even though it is only two of us.
Pasta (any kind, whatever they had on sale), rice, flour, potatoes, some kind of sausage or hot dogs and either beans or lentils always in stock. When I have all these and my spices of course i can make something any time. Since you have the meat available, sometimes the same type of meat with a different side and few extra ingrediants creates totally different meal. I always try to decide what to cook according to what is in my fridge or pantry. I sub for different ingredients in my recipes a lot.
Beans? Our favorite is bean soup, a very thick bean soup,or this (I don't know what to call it - cook them, mash them mix with a little left over ground beef, make balls and flat them out, roll in bread crumbs and frie). I do have a recipe for super lentil meatloaf, I think you could do it with beans as well. Google,, and all recipes are my friends. Sometimes, I just type in whatever I have on hand (for ex.: saurkraut) and get bunch of quick and simple recipes.
Summer, we eat out of garden mostly. I had way too many eggplants last year, (unlike tomatoes) so i search for all possible ways to use them up. Anybody needs many different ways to prepare eggplant, let me know!:)
For snacks, I am not sure, but I bet there is plenty online (granolas, muffins, trail mixes all homemade)

AverettLadyNana said...

There is a cookbook I bought back in the late 70's...I'll have to look to see if I can find it....Smallish book, hardcover,5x7 or such......anyhoo the writer of it was an editor of one of the Washington newspapers as I recall--the Post maybe...Don't think it was the NY Times. The point you say...she gave all these wonderful mixes you could make. Biscuit mix and that was so good I used it all the time. There was a shake and bake one that was SO better than the brandname...never liked the brandname but this was good. Spice mixes...seems to me hamburger helper mix too. If you're interested I'll check to see if I still have it and I can't imagine I threw it out as I RARELY throw out cookbooks...some I have two copies of one well worn I use and one decent I let people copy recipes I use from it when ask to copy my recipe. I literally have more cookbooks than the library. I inherited my illness from my mother who left me all her cookbooks in her will along with certain pieces of furniture and other personal items. There were duplicates which I did give to my daughters and my mother's best friend and her daughter who were/are cookbook junkies!

Valerie the Pumpkin Patch Quilter said...

The cost of food lately has had us really changing the way we eat and shop for food too. I've been doing alot of buying those buy-one-get-one kind of deals on meat and lookin' for the best prices around. I do a lot of freezing of portion sized meals when I make chili or stuffed shells I use old cottage cheese containers and things like that to freeze the extra for my lunches for the week. I love the idea of the once a month cooking thing with a group of ladies, but we're picky eaters and I always worry about wasting food we don't like. I'd say essentials in my home are, obviously meat, potatoes, and other veggies with a longer shelf life and multiple uses like broccoli/cauliflower/ kids snack on lettuce, canteloupe, cheerios, pretzels, oyster crackers, banannas, orange slices, and also as a treat I make snack mix...I mix cheerios, gold fish, pretzel sticks and semi-sweet chocolate chips in portioned zip lock baggies.

Vintage Girl said...

What a great post!! and the responses are wonderful. Snacks around here are fruit, popcorn, muffins, and now my daughter is loving peppers and dip(actually ceasar or ranch salad dressing) or cucumbers and cheese.

I am Arizona; a person, not a place. said...

I don't usually buy dry beans because I find them to be a pain in the butt to cook. Frozen beans are my favorite (canned beans just taste yucky to me). Most of the things I cook are Mediterranean style dishes (I married my husband for the!). Maybe I'll post some recipes on my blog...I've never thought of doing that, but it might be fun.

My girls will usually eat whatever I make, but my son is picky, picky, picky. He is a noodle man. I've been trying to get him to try new foods, but so far have not been successful.

I am Arizona; a person, not a place. said...

Oh, and I also do what one other commenter said: I have a list of all the dishes my family loves and when I am in a cooking rut I read over the list. Usually I'll find something on the list that I haven't made in a while, so that's what I make for dinner. I also have a few recipe books that I love and I'll look through those when I'm in a rut. I only have maybe 5 recipe books left in my cooking library because usually recipes in books take too darn long to cook. The ones I currently have are the ones with really good, healthy recipes that don't take all day to make.

I am Arizona; a person, not a place. said...

Oh geez, forgot one other comment.... snacks. My kids eat pretty simple snack foods; bananas, apples, or other fruits. I sometimes make "health cookies" but, of course, I don't call them that. lol! They're essentially chocolate chip cookies, but I add shredded zucchini and carrots to the batter and apple sauce in place of half the oil. They taste really good and my kids seem to only notice that there are chocolate chips in the cookies. :)