Cooking with Limited Spoons

I have an autoimmune disease. This means that there are days where I can only accomplish the bare minimum of my duties. There are other days where I get out of bed, and my body says NOPE, so back into bed I go. Thankfully, I do have some days where I have a little surge of energy, and I often use it to do one of my favorite things, which is to feed my family.

Because I never know when the gods will grant me that surge, I have to make preparations ahead of time so that I can quickly act on it. I also tend to make huge batches at a time, so that the household can eat off of it for days. I try to use minimal dishes (one big pot is my favorite!) so that there’s less to clean up at the end. So, after several years of trial and error, here’s a “how to” on getting the most out of what you have.

A big pot of Thai Red Curry
Thai Red Curry. Amazingly delicious, easy to make, and healthy!
  • Gain some skills. Learn how to make the basic “one big pot” meals, such as soups, bakes, stews, casseroles, curries, beans and rice, and chowders. You can find recipes for all of these dudes at the bottom of this post. Once you make one of each kind of thing, you’ll find that you can swap out ingredients and make all kinds of new foods that aren’t actually new – but they taste like it! Compile simple recipes and practice swapping veggies and proteins.
  • Narrow your options. Make a list of the veggies, grains, proteins, and spices that the folks in your household can all happily eat. Keep it handy – Take a picture and keep it on your phone so that you can reference it from the grocery store if you’re out of ideas.

A kitchen table filled with all sorts of vegetables, butter, other ingredients, cooking implements, and a laptop.
I might also be cooking with ADHD, but that hasn’t been verified yet. Either way, this chaos eventually became dinner and dessert.
  • Stock the pantry. Keep plenty of the different dry grains, dry proteins, canned goods, and spices on hand. Rices, pastas, quinoa, lentils, couscous, and dried beans all keep in the pantry for years. Canned beans and veggies do, too. So do canned soup stocks, and spices stay good for a long time if kept in a cool and dry place.
  • Spice it up. Stock up on spice mixes that you know your household will like. We’ve got big containers of Creole spice, za’atar, Italian herbs, Old Bay, curry mixes, pumpkin spice (no shame), masalas, harisa, and “taco seasonings.” You can usually find these mixes already made, or you can find recipes and make your own.
  • Go shopping. When you head to the store, focus on fresh vegetables and any meats or fish that you’d like to use. Only buy what you think you can use that week, or proteins you can freeze for later.

Elizebeth wears pink goggles while holding an onion and weilding a cleaver.
Goggles for onion cutting. Indespensible.
  • Prep veggies ahead of time. Cut, chop, dice, and keep them in tupperware containers in the fridge until you’re ready to cook them up. This usually takes up the most time and energy for me, so I prefer to do it the day or morning before I plan on cooking. Sometimes they sit in the fridge for most of a week, and that’s fine. They’re ready when I am. There is also zero shame in using canned or frozen vegetables.
  • Cook it up. Again, I go for meals where you can throw it into a large cooking vessel and let it work its own magic. I usually make some kind of “substrate” to go along with it – rice, grits, pasta, quinoa, etc. Those help to make the food last longer, and give folks the option to choose their own adventure for textures and flavors, too.
  • Help it get eaten. The last trick to getting the most of the food that you’ve lovingly slaved over is to make sure it gets eaten. I portion the batches out into plastic containers, usually two to three portions in each. I tape a piece of paper to each with the contents, sometimes dating them, as well. On the outside of the fridge, I use a dry erase marker and literally write a list of prepared foods that can be found on the inside. That way, people can see what their options are before they even open it up, and erase the dish when they take the last container of it. We’ve had so much less food waste since we’ve started doing this, and honestly, if it’s the only tip you take from this whole post, it was worth it.

An open fridge showing containers of food with lables on them.
It takes a little extra time to label everything, but it’s really worth it in the long run!

Conclusion. Do what you can with what you’ve got. If you have the energy and you want to make food, get it done in a big way. Feed your people for days on healthy, delicious food that wasn’t too hard to make and didn’t cost too much, to boot. Don’t spend hours and hours on an expensive recipe that will be completely consumed in less than an hour. I mean, you can, but I wouldn’t make a weekly habit of it if you only have so much energy to spend.

Bon Appetit!

Appendix

A couple of my favorite base recipes. Don’t forget to double or triple the recipe to make it last!

Chowder: https://www.spendwithpennies.com/creamy-seafood-chowder/

Curry: https://www.budgetbytes.com/15-minute-vegetable-curry/

Tuna Noodle Casserole: https://thecozycook.com/tuna-noodle-casserole/

Etouffe: https://grandbaby-cakes.com/shrimp-etouffee/

Slow Cooker chicken: https://www.themagicalslowcooker.com/slow-cooker-shredded-chicken/

Red Beans and Rice: https://damndelicious.net/2019/04/15/red-beans-and-rice/

Basic Veggie Soup: https://www.cookingclassy.com/vegetable-soup/

Enchildas: https://www.gimmesomeoven.com/best-chicken-enchiladas-ever/

2 responses to “Cooking with Limited Spoons”

  1. Brilliant! I wish I’d had your advice when I had 3 kids at home with all their after-school activities! Now with only 2 of us it’s hard to get through a big batch of food, and we only have a tiny freezer. But I have a shortlist of main-dish recipes that make about 6 servings each (e.g. quiche, lemon noodles, beans & rice with coconut milk). I usually cook one or two of these big batches on the weekend, and then I can count on a couple of “leftover nights” when I only have to zap some frozen veggies and I’m done.

    Liked by 1 person

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