Real Life Confession: I can't do it all.

I have a cold. I have a high-need toddler. I have a small kitchen. I do not have a dishwasher that works. I have a limited budget. I'm overwhelmed.

I light of these circumstances and a foreseeably very busy fall, Steven and I have made a decision: This school year, we will be eating one "convenient" meal per week, and eating out once a week.

That may not be a shock to you. You may be thinking "well gees, we eat out a lot more than that!" or "only one convenient meal!?" But please understand: I'm an idealist. I don't want to let any processed convenience foods into our home. Our budget is tight and unpredictable, which means high-end "healthy" processed food is off limits. Right now we almost never eat out unless absolutely desperate, or if parents are visiting.

But something's gotta give. I dream of the day that I have a child old enough to really help in the kitchen, or an older child who can entertain a younger child while I cook. But almost-two is a hard age to have your mom cooking real food meals all the time.

Steven suggested we have one "convenience meal" a week. And I said, how about one "convenient meal." The difference? Convenience meal makes me think of lean cuisine and ready-made lasagna. Convenient meal means something that is easy to prepare but not necessarily out of a box or full of junk.

So here's my list of healthy-ish convenient meals. If you have any suggestions, leave them in the comments! I know I may need to sacrifice my ideals once in awhile in this season of our lives. I just don't want to sacrifice them too much. ;)

Convenient Meals for a Busy Season
1. Spaghetti with meat sauce (brown some meat, throw in ready made sauce, cook pasta, done.)
2. Trader Joe's nitrate-free hot dogs with whole grain (store bought) buns.
3. Hamburgers with store bought buns (Does anyone know if frozen french fries have crap in them?)
4. Frozen pizza (ideally something without hydrogenated oils, MSG etc.)
5. Grilled cheese with store-bought (MSG-free) tomato soup
6. Quesadillas on corn tortillas with canned black beans
7. Nachos: tortilla chips, canned beans, taco meat if there's time, salsa, cheese, etc.
8. Sandwiches with (gasp!) nitrate-free lunchmeat

I would also love some slow-cooker recipes that involve only a few ingredients but minimal processed foods. Does that exist? Share in the comments!

As for going out once a week, we made a list of our favorite mid-range restaurants and we'll rotate between them. We will probably go for lunch since it can be a lot cheaper. We'll also save coupons for our favorite pizza place. :) And we'll pray that even though our food budget will expand slightly, God will provide for us, and make our home a peaceful place.

What tips do you have for eating well during a busy season, or for keeping a toddler entertained while you cook?


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  2. Slow cookers are a godsend. I will just throw some pre-cut up stew meat and frozen mixed veg (thawed first) into the crockpot with some water and seasoning and in a few hours, a tasty stew with no work. This also works for soup, baked beans or pulled pork.
    I also make fritattas with frozen veg. Cover the veg with lots of eggs, bake for 45 minutes and it's set.
    Or a fillet of fish wrapped in foil for easiest baking, and microwaved peas.

  3. Here's one I used to do before we went peanut-free. Chicken thighs thrown in the crock pot with diced and/or crushed tomatoes, green chilis, (the original recipe calls for canned, I have some concerns about the BPA in cans of tomatoes but I haven't made it around to finding a better alternative when I need something convenient), honey, cumin, and cinnamon. Cook on low for a few hours. Mix in a few tablespoons to 1/2 cup peanut butter depending on how much chicken you're using, and then serve the whole thing over rice, couscous, or whatever. :)

    By the way, your list there is pretty much our same convenient meal list. Sometimes you just have to get food on the table while the toddler climbs your leg. I aim for one or two of those meals per week, depending on what our plan is for duty days (when hubby can't leave the base so we need to either eat at a fast food place there or pack a picnic dinner) and when I run out of food and am just too exhausted to do anything other than order pizza, lol.

    Oh! Something else I used to do before learning to make my own pizza crust, was to buy the pre-made crusts and then load it with my own sauce and topping. Very tasty, easy, and marginally healthier than most of the frozen ones. Not horribly expensive, either.

  4. If you don't have the same problem with a soup-hating husband that I do, soups and stews are a pretty easy thing to make both healthy and in large batches. For example, I usually make a double or triple batch of chili in my crockpot and freeze what we don't eat. That's something very easy (and filling) to defrost on a busy night.

    I don't know if you make your own chicken or beef stock, but that's one way I stretch my food budget. A little stock from my freezer, some onions/garlic/spices, and whatever else I can wrangle from my fridge or cabinet and we have dinner.

  5. You can get french fries with out much junk in them but they are hard to find.
    For simple crock pot, we like to throw some pork chops in with cut up apple and a bit of apple juice and maybe some cinnamon and clove. Let it cook and then you have yummy-ness.

  6. Ok so I TOTALLY KNOW WHERE YOU ARE COMING FROM. I made a giant word doc of favorite crockpot recipes. Can you remind me to find and email it? I like crockpot365 blog and cookbooks. Easy to modify for few ingredients/whole foods. Also, I take a big chunk of time one day to chop and prepare in bulk. Then it really is "convenient" while not necessarily convenience... And we should chat about prices of stuff b/c I have found great prices on Applegate Farms stuff around here. You could freeze those hot dogs prob. And would a bread maker cut down on time for you?

  7. oh and I am asking for this cookbook for Christmas. And a cast iron dutch oven :) http://www.gloriouspotmeal.com/

    Toss it all in one pot and it cooks. :)

  8. I'm loving these comments! Thanks guys! Our time at Blue Lake has actually been great training for making simple meals this year. You'll read soon about how our cabin has no kitchenette and we're cooking our own food anyway! I'll be spending some time in the next couple weeks compiling a simple meals doc. Thanks for the tips!