Thursday, December 4, 2014

How to Stock a Kitchen for Healthful Eating in a Busy Season

There are times in life when you just can't spend much time in the kitchen.

Right now I have a sweet little baby who, added into an already full day of caring for a family and a home, makes kitchen prep time pretty limited.  But there are other reasons we find ourselves in survival mode.  Maybe you are packing up a home and moving (we've done this many times), or in an intense school season (like when my husband studied for the bar exam), or work season (like my first year of teaching).  Maybe someone is ill or pregnant.   Or maybe it's just holiday season!   No matter what the reason, it is suddenly challenging to keep up with your kitchen routines, even if they are simple.

In these seasons of survival, my husband and I  have learned how to be extra kind to ourselves, to be gentle with our expectations, and to try to do the best that we can with what we can.  Move softly, I tell myself, when I feel my heart squeeze in panic over the day's schedule.  And even as I swaddle a baby, or wipe a face, or tell a story, I try to remember that I am worthy of the same gentle care.   I accept help.  I even (swallow) ask for help.  And then I let things go.

For me, though, I have realized that I can let go of the toy situation on the floors or leave piles of laundry for later, but I cannot completely let go of feeding myself healthful foods.  After my second pregnancy, my body was so depleted that I was finally driven to search for a way of eating that could more deeply replenish my body; that is was brought me to traditional foods.  Since then, I have enjoyed a diet rich in nourishing fats, broths, and fermented foods, and my body has grown stronger and more resilient.  After this third pregnancy, then, I committed to try to care for myself as well as I could during the pregnancy and afterwards.  I packed my freezer with wholesome meals, broth and grassfed butters, stocked my fridge and pantry with as many ingredients as I could, and then asked friends to bring me home cooked meals for the first few weeks, so that I could avoid eating out.  But while dinner was brought to me, lunch and dinner were more challenging.

So, what did I do?  I spent a little more at the grocery store and a little less time in the kitchen.  I made sure that I had plenty of easy-to-grab foods in the fridge (because when the little boy is hungry, he wants to eat now, even if the baby needs to be nursed). And then I set aside either an hour (Sunday afternoons work for me right now) to prep a few things for the week, or I set aside a few minutes here and there to restock as my supplies run low (I only have three minutes at a time, so none of these require much hands-on time).

Everything listed below I was able to purchase at my regular grocery store, but I am also fortunate enough to live near a grocery store with a well-stocked natural section.  The list below is long, and I do not buy or make all of these every week, because that would be too much time and too much food for my family, but instead, rotate between them. These are the "extras" that I spring for, or the foods that I do take time to prepare, to help pull me through the rough patches.

Quick lunch - mixed greens salad with blue cheese and homemade vinaigrette, boiled egg, sourdough toast with liver pâté


Veggies - Buy cucumbers, peppers, celery, carrots - whatever you and your family enjoy, and cut them up and corral them into one container.  This makes for quick meal preps and easy snacks.  Pair these with a dip, put them over salad greens for a light meal.

Salad Greens - If you can, buy organic, washed and ready to use.

Avocados - So fast and easy, and extremely nourishing, Mash with lemon and salt for a quick spread or dip, or just pop out half an avocado over salad greens for a very quick salad.  If you're really pressed for time, slice open and just eat with a spoon.  I've done this more than once in the past couple of months!

Seasonal Fruits - Choose ones that are easy to prepare, such as grapes, apples, pears, bananas, clementines. Now is not the time to be gutting pineapples or cantaloupes!

Applesauce - Buy unsweetened, single ingredient of apples.  Great for school lunches, or for when you run out of other fruit in the house.

Frozen Vegetables - Green beans, peas, broccoli, spinach, or whatever you like.  When I am busy, I rely heavily on these.  I especially keep these on hand when friends are bringing me meals because we usually need extra vegetables at the table.  I also hate throwing out produce that has gone bad,  so when I know my time in the kitchen is limited,  I force myself to resist the buying too much fresh produce.

Sweet Potatoes - These are so easy to prepare (almost no hands on-time) by steaming or baking, and they are very nourishing, delicious, and satisfying.  We eat these with a healthy pat of grassfed butter or coconut oil and a shake of sea salt.  They are my go-to easy side for a meal.


Hummus.  Dare I admit that I buy this?  Yes, I do!  While yes, it is far more nourishing and affordable to make hummus, I do buy it at times like this.  This week, I have been rolling with laughter watching this hilarious musical parody where an Arab American mocks store-bought hummus, and while I agree with him completely, I have to come clean:  I very occasionally do buy it!!!   I buy plain versions, sometimes organic, and I avoid the Sabra brand, for political reasons.

Liver Pâté - Liver is a mighty powerhouse of nutrients, and the most nourishing foods you can eat when you are under stress or fatigued, or recovering from illnesses.  Don't skip this one!  If you are unfamiliar with the benefits of liver, read this article by Chris Kessler. You can make pâté, of course, but right now, I am buying it.  Spread it on crackers, bread or veggies.

Salsa - We buy fresh salsa sometimes, to dip or spoon over foods.

Homemade Vinaigrette - I make simple olive oil and vinegar dressings, shaken up in a minute or two.

Labani - Also known as "yogurt cheese," this is quick and easy to make, (find my recipe here) and again, can be used as a spread or a dip, drizzled with olive oil.  If I can't manage to make yogurt (find my tutorial here), I do this with a little store-bought yogurt.

Peanut Butter Dip - My husband makes this simple dip, using a minimal amount of coconut sugar instead of the sugar, and we eat it with apples for a sweet treat.  Otherwise, just use a single-ingredient peanut butter as a dip.


Boiled eggs - If I picked one thing to make a week, this would be it.  These are an absolute life saver to for me when I am a new mom, because sometimes I have to eat standing up, or extremely quickly, or while nursing.  I can eat these cold, standing in the kitchen, right out of the storage container.  Or I can slice them over toast, or over a salad.  My trick to getting my children to eat hard boiled eggs is to keep the yolks soft.  I pull them from the boiling water at about 5-8 minutes (depending of the size of the eggs), before the yolks become chalky,  and then everyone enjoys them.

Kefir - Though I usually make our milk kefir (a cultured milk drink, similar to a drinkable yogurt), this is a good time to buy.  I did manage to make some batches of kefir in the last few weeks, but I also bought.    We like the plain variety, but we also like to mix it with flavored kefir to make a less sweet smoothie.

Canned Tuna and Salmon - High in protein and healthy fats, this is always in my cupboard.  If you have three minutes, open up a few cans and make a simple tuna salad or salmon salad by mixing in the vinaigrette you already prepared and storing it in the fridge for later in the week.

Sourdough Bread - This is when I pass on making all of our family's bread (even though it really was pretty fast with this five-minute method).  But I only have three minutes at a time these days, so when I am at the store, I buy a loaf of sourdough bread.  Fortunately, my grocery store has started making a long-fermented genuine sourdough bread, so I don't have to make a special trip to a bakery.

Hot Dogs or Cold Cuts - Not regular purchases for us, but these can be helpful when you have little ones to feed lunch and a fussing baby who needs attention.  I like the Applegate brand because they are made from grass fed meats and are organic, but fair warning: the hot dogs are on the salty side.

Cheeses, Nuts, Dried Fruits - I always have these on hand, but during these survival times, I rely even more heavily on these nutrient-dense  easy foods and I make sure that I have a generous supply on hand at all times.  I choose grassfed cheese, when possible, unsweetened dried fruits, and roasted nuts without added oils (and I use my supply of soaked and dehydrated nuts).


I mixed and matched these foods for simple, easy-to-prepare meals. For example, lunch might be a sweet potato with butter and a side of broccoli (from frozen), or apples and peanut butter with a side salad, or a tuna sandwich with cut veggies.  Breakfast might be a glass of kefir, sourdough toast and a boiled egg, or, bread with labani and a piece of fruit.

When I had time, I also made a a quick batch of pizza bread (sourdough bread with tomato sauce and melted cheese), or a tray of soaked baked oatmeal,  or even a pitcher of smoothies, just to add some variety.

What would you add to this list?   How do you stock your fridge and pantry when you are in crunch season? What shortcuts do you take?

Related Post:  

*Real Food Advice for Keeping Sanity in the Kitchen


  1. This is so apropos for this season of my life. When I had more time than I knew what to do with during my pregnancy, and we lived in a much more agrarian, slow little town, I made EVERYTHING from scratch. Now my husband is in grad school in a big city, my baby is demanding, and I'm working from home, with a small kitchen and hardly any of my beloved kitchen tools. I was going crazy chopping vegetables all the time, until I told myself, "Just buy the salad mix." And you know what? Now we eat salad all the time. It's as easy as opening a bag of cereal. We're also lucky to live a mile away from a nice organic grocery store, where I can buy sauerkraut, kimchi, low-temp pasteurized grass-fed milk, etc.

    I am able to get a chicken, some beef, or pork butt in the crockpot every week, so that gives us meat to eat throughout the week. My husband is very careful to watch the baby during the time when I'm preparing the weekly meat pot, but if you didn't put any vegetables in and nobody interrupted you with chicken juice on your hands, I bet you could do it in three minutes. Our favorite ready-in-minutes meal is bread (I still make ABin5,) Kerrygold butter, cheese, olives, carrot sticks and a nice salami or leftover meat from the crockpot. Add a beer, wine or kombucha and you've got a seemingly fancy grownup meal in minutes.

    I also make use of my rice cooker more than I did. The other day I soaked my rice in it, rinsed and drained, dumped in a can of black beans (a bit of a compromise,) some ghee and a green chile, and just pushed a button. We ate it with cheese sprinkled over and I had leftovers with fried eggs over it.

    Thanks for these tips! It's a great reminder. I think I'll do something with my can of salmon tonight!

  2. Oh, I forgot to say that smoked salmon has been a lifesaver. I know it seems expensive, and if you compare it by poundage to chicken or pork it certainly is, but it's so nutrient dense and flavorful that we get three meals out of a $10 package.

    Also, a dip that I love for apples as a dessert or sweet snack is tahini and honey!

  3. One more! You've inspired me! A really quick and delicious soup: Two cans of chickpeas, water to cover, olive oil and an onion with the two ends chopped off. Cook until chickpeas are soft and onion is falling apart, serve with fresh olive oil, salt and pepper.

    1. Thank you for all of your tips! I am so glad that you have been inspired. I will have to try that idea with leftover chickpeas, after I make a batch of hummus.


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