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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Balancing Act: Healthy Dinners in My Home - It's Been a Long, Rocky Road, Part 1

As I mentioned in my last blog post, I come from a long line of amazing cooks that stopped suddenly one generation short of me.  

Do you remember that Sesame Street song "One of these things is not like the other?"  That's me.  All the women in my family are fabulous cooks...and then there's me.

For whatever reason, I came home from my honeymoon, ready to launch my new household, with 3 skills.  
1. Boiling water
2. Browning meat
3. Opening cans

Seriously.  It was really that bad. 

So, if this is you, and you feel really overwhelmed by the idea of feeding your family homecooked meals, I have good news for you!!  You can learn! 

Here are the stages of my (currently 14 year) journey from "The Kitchen is where we keep the TakeOut Menus" to "20 meals a week for a family of 9."   We still have a pizza night, for all you math people out there.

The Kitchen is where we keep the TakeOut Menus
Dec 30, 1999 - June 2004

In this stage we are eating fast food or restaurants for the majority of our meals, with occassional frozen dinners and frozen one-skillet meals.  

In our first apartment, we had almost no cabinet space for all of our lovely dishes from the wedding, so I kept clean dishes in the dishwasher....and I didn't care!  Because I didn't need a dishwasher!!  Every meal came in it's own styrofoam package or a sack!  I never had to clean a pot, or wash a dish.

I also couldn't figure out why I felt so poor.  Brian and I were both working and we had no children, but the money just evaporated from the checking account.  Weird.

(Funny story from this inlaws came to visit me in my tiny house in Abilene when Brian and I were in college.  Patty had to make the shopping list and cook at MY house.  Please believe me, I really had no idea how to feed people that did not involve a broken drive-thru microphone.)

Everything in my Pantry is Square
July 2004 - Dec 2008

In this stage I realized I needed to start feeding my family food that I bought at the grocery store.

So, I would go get 12 boxes of Hamburger or Chicken Helper, then look on the back and see what I needed.  Hmm.  Eggs, Butter, 12 pounds of meat. Done!!

For real.  I am not exaggerating.  I would call Brian and say "So, Do you want Stroganoff, or Cheezy Lasagna, or TexMex Chicken?"  

In the back of my mind, I still knew this was not normal, or the way I wished I fed my family.  We would go over to other people's houses, and they never fed us Hamburger Helper.  So, I would collect magazines and cookbooks and try to cook out of them, but this is how that would go...

I would choose a recipe.
I would look around my kitchen and realize I was 10 ingredients short.
I would go buy the ingredients.
I would have a heart attack at the $55 grocery bill for one meal!!
I would cook the $55 meal and then go back to Hamburger Helper.

I couldn't figure this out!  Why did people say cooking at home was less expensive than fast food? Why did they say "cooking from scratch" was less expensive than frozen food? 

By this time we had 4 small children, and we would fill our trash can every single day.  Half of it was diapers, LOL!  But the other half was wrappers.  Individually wrapped granola bars, Individually wrapped fruit roll ups, Boxes of macaroni and cheese, Boxes of Hamburger Helper, Boxes of cookie mix, Cans of chili, Cans of Corn, wrappers and wrappers and wrappers.  

We were creating SO MUCH TRASH!  I remember thinking that half of what I brought home from Costco was wrappers and boxes.  And, of course, our grocery bill was still crazy high, because when you buy 24 individually wrapped granola bars, and you have 3 toddlers, they each want 4 granola bars a day...or maybe 6.  So that $250 shopping trip would last us 2 days.  At least that's what it felt like.

(Funny story from this Stage - My fabulous Stepmom Janet gave me a huge crockpot for my birthday, and I was thinking "When will I EVER use this??"  HA!!  She's a really smart woman, and I had no idea what a valuable thing a humongous crockpot is!) 

Here's my growing family - 4th of July 2005. Ages 3,1, and 5 weeks!

Jan 2009-May 2009

God is so good.  He knew I was struggling, and He had an ingenious solution.  

We were way over our heads in debt and my good friend Meaghan (and her husband Chad) ran a boarding house for single women.  She would only charge $400 in rent for a room, and this covered rent, electricity, cable/internet and GROCERIES!!  Seriously!!

We were at the end of our lease, so we prayed about it, gave away as much furniture and stuff as we could, and moved into the boarding house.  Brian and I stayed in one room, and our 4 children stayed in the other, and we reduced our total living expenses to $800 per month!!  We were also living with Chad, Meaghan, their 3 small children, and 2 single our family of 6 makes 13!  In one (large) house.

And for 5 months I got to watch Chad and Meaghan buy groceries and cook meals for 13 people.  

Here's what they did, that I never did....


They did not buy a cookie mix.  They bought flour, and baking powder, and chocolate chips, and butter.

They did not buy frozen one skillet dinners.  They bought celery, and peppers, and chicken, and rice and teriyaki sauce.

They most certainly did not buy granola bars and chips, as they had found these things disappeared FAST.  Instead, they bought fruit to snack on.

This was my epiphany.....  


*Going back to my $55 recipes from the earlier years, I now realize it is because I had no ingredients in my house.  So, if I needed a teaspoon of basil, I had to buy a $10 jar of basil.  In order to cook meals at home, you much have lots of spices, lots of staple items like baking soda and flour, lots of condiments like salsa, soy sauce, and garlic, and it is very helpful to always have at least one onion in the house. ;)

And so, eight and a half years after my wedding, I had finally learned how to cook
20 Meals a Week for a Family of 9....

but the journey wasn't over. To be continued in Part 2!

Summer of 2009. Ages 7,5,4,2

1 comment:

  1. love this! I used to make boxed Kraft mac and cheese and frozen fish sticks when we were first married :)