by Charlotte Siems
[break][/break]Back in my high school days we had a class called “Home Economics.” A classroom in the school was dedicated to a full-fledged kitchen, with a table and chairs and pink applicances and aqua gadgets.
[break][/break]The teacher looked like Betty Crocker, the very model of homemaking efficiency, apron and all. The class gathered around for a cooking lesson on making brownies. One student cracked an egg, another one measured the flour—I kid you not. I don’t know why they thought that cracking an egg would prepare teenagers for life in their future homes, but that was the system.
[break][/break]A few years passed and I married and had a tiny kitchen of my own. The menu for our early married life included an awful lot of frozen pizza. This was 30 years ago, folks. Think cardboard. Awful is the right word, and my husband is still not fond of frozen pizza to this day.
[break][/break]I learned to grocery shop and cook and plan meals by trial and error while adding a baby to the family every year or so. Fortunately my skill grew as the family expanded and I managed to adequately feed the multitudes on a limited budget.
[break][/break]It is a fact of life in a very large family that time is precious. I suspect that the same is true for very small families. Here are three thoughts on the subject of feeding the family based on a small budget and a busy schedule.
[break][/break]Be careful of food advice. Much of it is offered in a way to complicate the whole process. TV food shows are fun to watch and yes, special occasions call for some extra effort. But when it’s time to cook for our own families, we are the final authority. You decide whether food will be nourishment or entertainment. There is a balance between gourmet dishes cooked with sauces and exotic spices in a special non-dishwasher safe pan, and simple, everyday food. If you’re feeling a time crunch, food may be the place to simplify. I check labels and avoid certain ingredients, but I’m not above an occasional can of Ravioli on a hectic day.
[break][/break]Write it down. Many a time I wandered through the grocery store trying to figure out what to have for supper or worse yet, what to have for supper every night that week. A simple list of your family’s favorite meals can be a lifesaver when your brain function is a little foggy. We tend to eat the same things over and over, and if you had a list of 18-21 meals you’d be good for the year. You could even divide it up into main dishes, side dishes, breads, etc. and mix-and-match. The key word is simple. Use the list of meals to write a grocery list for the week and you’re on your way to efficient shopping.
[break][/break]Stock your pantry with mostly inexpensive “real” food. Certain foods are more nutritious, filling and cheap. Eggs, beans, rice, pasta, cheese and tomatoes in various forms can be combined in delicious and savory ways to feed your family. Omelets, beans and rice, spaghetti, enchilada casserole, chili—these simple dishes fit the criteria of easy recipes and plain ingredients. Keep it simple, keep it real. The more you eat homemade, the more you avoid chemicals and scary ingredients. Your budget may not allow for quantities of organic produce and food from the specialty organic section of the grocery store, but you can make good choices in the rest of the store and feed your family well.
[break][/break]After catching the nachos on fire in the oven as a young bride, I determined to get this cooking thing down right. With determination, lots of mistakes, asking questions and reading cookbooks, I finally got to the point that I can whip up a meal for 15 or more on a regular basis without batting an eyelash. Just like anything else, practice makes, well, better. Cracking eggs was just the beginning.