Recipe for Successful Meals

We all need to eat. And I know lots of people who, as soon as they finish one meal, start thinking about the next one. Yet, I am constantly amazed by the number of people who don’t cook. How can people seriously enjoy eating out all the time? Especially when it’s fast food! Don’t get me wrong … I do enjoy going out to eat now and then, especially when it’s for sushi or crab legs or to celebrate something special. But I can’t imagine having to pick something up at the grocery store deli or at a drive-through window every day. I like my food with a little less salt and grease and fat. Now, I can’t say I cook healthy all the time, because I don’t. But when I make our meals, I can control the amounts of those substances that go in my food. I like that.

Plus, I guess some part of me enjoys cooking and baking. It’s my way of sharing a bit of myself and nourishing my family and sometimes my friends. I know some people really don’t like cooking at all; others simply don’t think they have the time. But with a little planning and all the cookbooks, blogs, and recipe sites out there, it is actually quite easy to come up with a few quick meals for really rushed days as well as some more substantial meals you can prep ahead of time and throw in the crockpot or oven.

RECIPES While my husband, Bart, would happily eat the same things over and over again (he’s fairly easy to please), I am always on the lookout for new recipes. I currently subscribe to a couple family and recipe-based magazines. Sometimes, I get behind on reading and they begin to pile up. But I keep them near the couch for when we are watching (non-recorded) TV so that when the commercials come on, I can pick up a magazine and quickly flip through the pages.

I look for recipes that sound yummy, but then I scan through the ingredients and preparation info. If it contains way too many ingredients, things I’ve never heard of, or too many steps or too much time to prepare, I skip it. If it looks like something I might actually make, I tear the page out and put it in my coupon drawer in the kitchen.*

I also subscribe to a couple weekly e-mails from different companies (see my suggested links at the end of this blog post). I look at the main page and if something catches my eye, I’ll go to the site and check it out further (or keep it in my in box to review later). If I get too busy, I just delete the e-mail as I know there will be more recipes to consider the following week. When I find a good recipe online, I print it out and add it to that same kitchen drawer or sometimes they even make it directly into what I would call my “working cookbook.”

OTHER OPTIONS When I attend a gathering and someone makes a dish I enjoy, I ask for the recipe. Accumulating good recipes from friends and family members is another way to build up your collection of meal or snack ideas to try. And, of course, these days there is Pinterest. I don’t know how many recipes and recipe bloggers I have found from pinning yummy-sounding or tasty-looking photos to my own boards.

Then, there’s the old standby—the thousands and thousands of printed recipe books out there. If you have some cookbooks that you haven’t looked at in years, try to get them out during commercial breaks or maybe even take them with you to look through when you’re in the car pool lane. Bring some sticky notes with you and flag any interesting ideas you come across that you’d like to try.

I recommend three different options for keeping track of these cookbook recipes that you’d like to try. 1) You can write down the name of the recipe, the name of the cookbook, and the page it appears on in your working cookbook so you’ll know where to find it again. 2) You can make a copy of the page and add it to your working cookbook. 3) Or (and I know some people will shudder at this) you can actually tear the page out of the book. If it is not a special book that you’d like to keep intact, and you know you aren’t likely to keep pulling that cookbook out for one or two rarely used recipes, make things easier on yourself. Then donate the book or pass it on to a friend who may appreciate some of the other recipes. (I also suggest donating or giving away cookbooks, or any other books, that are just accumulating dust on your shelves, even if they were gifts.)

Recipes also come directly on product packaging and on index cards at your local grocery store. There is no end to what you can find if you look around. Just don’t go crazy collecting recipes you will never use. It’s a good idea to occasionally go through your collection and get rid of recipes that either didn’t turn out that well or that you still haven’t made after many months (or years).

Have fun collecting good recipes, but remember, the goal isn’t to see who can collect the most recipes. The point is to actually use the recipes to provide a variety of meals for you and your family. One hint though—if you already cook, don’t go crazy and make a new dish every night. Most people don’t like that much change. Continue to use your standby family favorites, but once or twice a week, try something new. It will either become another favorite or a flop. Believe me, you’ll know whether it’s a keeper or not.

Bottom line—you’ll find that you are spending less money, probably eating better, and maybe, just maybe, even learning to like cooking.

  • *Later, when I have time, all recipes will be reviewed again for feasibility (will I actually ever make this?); those that remain keepers get put in my working cookbook.
  • My working cookbook is an ever-changing 3-ring binder full of page protectors. It usually stays on my kitchen counter and it sometimes contains a number of other useful pages, like lists of what’s in the freezer, what’s in the pantry, and what’s for dinner (menus for one to two weeks at a time), which I’ll talk about in another post.

Here are some of my favorite sources—in no particular order. Check them out!

www.betterrecipes.com/blogs/daily-dish/ (Easy. Elegant. Everyday.)

www.SavingDinner.com (menus, recipes, and shopping lists to get your family back to the dinner table)

http://www.bettycrocker.com  (recipes from Betty Crocker—sign up for their Dinner Made Easy newsletters)

www.bhg.com/recipes/ (recipes from Better Homes and Gardens)

www.TasteofHome.com (recipes from Taste of Home)

www.SuperKidsNutrition.com (saving the world one healthy food at a time)

www.EatBetterAmerica.com (part of Live Better America—healthy recipes/healthy living)

www.SixBurnerSue.com (cooking fresh and eating green with Susie Middleton)

www.UrbanPoser.Blogspot.com  (yoga & vibrant gluten free living)

www.BrokeAssGourmet.com  (recipes to keep your taste buds happy and your wallets thick)

www.Picky-Palate.com (original family style recipes for even your pickiest eaters)

www.EatWholly.com (tasty tips, yummy kitchen tricks, and entertaining videos from Wholly Guacamole)

Food for Thought

I decided to make today’s post food-focused because most of us are often thinking about food in one way or another: like what we can have, what we can’t have, what we crave, what we’re thinking about making, what we hope someone will make for us, etc.

I’ve heard/read several people, most recently my nephew Kevin, complaining about how expensive it is to eat healthy, especially when you’ve got several family members to consider. He’s right. It’s hard, but not impossible. I just came across this article from Care2.com on 18 Easy Food Swaps to Save Money that I think would be a great read if you are tempted to fill your cart with less healthy, cheaper foods. Maybe it will give you some ideas.

Also, I just have to promote this new “Lunchables” alternative that I found at Target — from GoPicnic. Really, they are great for kids or adults, but I compare them to the lunch/snack option that I know some people buy for their kids, because even though it is labeled as a ready-to-eat meal, for most adults, I think it would be more like a great afternoon snack. I’ve only tried one so far–the one with hummus–and it was pretty darn tasty. In fact, I’m looking for a box of those baked crackers now; I really liked them.

Anyway, they say GoPicnic meals contain no trans fats, no high fructose corn syrup, and no MSG. Three of the four boxes I picked up are also gluten free. You can learn more about them online at GoPicnic.com, but they sell them on their site for $5, and I got them at Target for $3.51. Try them out and let me know what you think.

Besides looking for a good price on healthy foods, I know many of us are also looking for ways to save time with meal prep. In the February issues of Real Simple magazine, I found this article on “hearty and healthy slow-cooker recipes you’ll use (and love) forever.”  (I’m still getting caught up on some of my magazines.) I think there are a few recipes shown online that weren’t in the print version of the magazine, and vice versa, but check out this slideshow to see if anything catches your eye. If you find something you like, look to the right and below the description of the dish, there is a link to “Get the Recipe.”

And speaking of recipes, I have purchased menu mailers from Leanne Ely of Saving Dinner in the past; they help you quickly and easily make meal plans each week, and they come in a variety of categories (low carb, low fat, meals for two, etc.). Leanne has just paired up with Dr. Terry Wahls, a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, to introduce the Paleo Bundle to share the critical link between the foods we eat or do not eat and the health we have or do not have. The bundle includes five audio lectures from Dr. Wahls; a Paleo Primer, to introduce you to what the paleo way of eating is all about and give you some basic guidelines to get your pantry stocked; and a one-year subscription to Menu-Mailer’s Paleo plan, which provides you with various recipes and helps you customize your meal plan and shopping list. Pretty cool stuff.

And finally, for today: Did you read my last post? In it, I mentioned a recipe for Impossibly Easy Mini Cheeseburger Pies from Betty Crocker, which I hadn’t yet tried. Well, I made them last night. They were very easy and very good. You make them in a muffin pan and then add toppings like you’d put on your burger. I put my garnishes/condiments directly on mine; Bart preferred to dip his in a mustard and hot sauce mix. (We treated the mini-pies like finger food.) You definitely need a side with these or you’ll want more than the 2-pie serving per person. (I had 2; Bart had 3.) We ate these with sweet-tasting corn on the cob. Yum!

I definitely recommend this recipe; however, I felt like it needed a bit more of the baking/Bisquick mixture. I suggest using 3/4 cup milk, 3/4 cup Bisquick mix, and 3 eggs (1-1/2 times the original recipe) to fill up the muffin pan more.

Well, that’s all I’ve got for today. I hope at least one of the items I posted was useful to you. Personally, although I love using the crock pot, I don’t really want so much of a “hearty” meal at this time of year. I prefer something lighter. Does anyone have any good, healthy summer-time dinner ideas? Please share.

Hope today fills you up with all good stuff.