Real Food, Fast: Tips for Working Moms

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Please welcome Millie from Real Food for Less Money. Millie went back to work recently. She learned a ton from juggling her usual commitment to serving real food on a budget and the added load of being away from home 50 hours a week. In this guest post, she shares all her tips and ideas to make Real Food, Fast a reality for other working moms (or dads). She’s convinced me! This post is full of such wisdom, you’ve got to read every word. Thanks, Millie! –Wardee

Recently my husband and I decided that I would sign up with a couple of temporary agencies. I used to work full time outside the home but it had been two years since that time. When I worked before, we did not eat a real/traditional/whole foods diet. One thing that Joe and I knew was that even if I was going to work, we did not want our nutrition to suffer.

Would it be possible for me to work at the occasional ‘job’ and still eat well? We were not too concerned about the short-term, part-time assignments, but what if I was working a full time assignment that lasted for a week or longer? At this point in our food journey, I am making pretty much everything from scratch and some days I spend a fair amount of time in the kitchen. Honestly, I love my time in the kitchen and it doesn’t seem like I am in there that much. But even so, there is no way that I can continue that and work full time (plus do all the other things that needed doing around here). In addition, just because I was going to be working on occasion, our grocery budget needed to stay the same. We didn’t want to fritter away any money I made on ‘convenience’ foods.

Before I signed up with the temp agencies, I did an experiment to see just how little time I spend in the kitchen, yet still prepare high-quality, nutrient dense meals. I also did a bit of research. Cara @ Health, Home and Happiness did a week long experiment, Traditional Food in Real Lives, and I scoured that series for ideas. I also looked for slow-cooker ideas and found many recipes at A Year of Slow Cooking that would work with a little modifying. (The author of that blog cooks gluten free. While this is not something we need at our house, I know many do).

My experiment in limited cooking was encouraging so I went ahead and signed up for work, telling both agencies that I only wanted temporary work. A week or two at the most would be ideal for me. Even better would be a very short term assignment of only one or two days at a time. My second assignment was not quite what I had requested. It was to be two or three weeks while someone was out on medical leave. That two or three weeks actually ended up being seven weeks. Seven weeks of full time work!

40 hours to a work week doesn’t sound bad. But I was really ‘at work’ for 50 hours per week, if I counted the one hour lunch and the hour daily drive, too. And that was if I didn’t have any stops to make on the way home! I discovered a few things during my working experience that I know will benefit me for my next temporary job — and I hope will help others to put real food on the table, real fast.

You see, I believe it is possible to work full time and still provide my family with traditional, healthy foods. Here are the simple lessons I learned, tips that help me when I am working outside the home.

GNOWFGLINS weekly menu plans

Have a Plan

Making a weekly (or monthly) menu plan is something that I have done most weeks for a few years now. While working, I especially found that I needed to have a plan in place. Many of the meals need to be started in the morning either by soaking or putting in the crock pot. I make sure to add a ‘to-do’ section to my menu plan so I know what I need to do each day to make meals happen. Plus, by having a plan in place I can do a bit of prep on Sunday afternoons when I have a few spare minutes to ‘play’ in the kitchen. I aim to lay out my plan for the week by Saturday evening, which helps with my Sunday projects.

My motto for my weekly meal plan is Real Food, Fast. The meals do not have to be fancy, but they do need to be healthy and real. I do not want to plan something that is time consuming or would have me standing at the stove forever. Having my plan ready also allowed me to pick up any needed groceries during my lunch on Monday. If you are new to meal planning, you may benefit from having someone else do the planning. GNOWFGLINS now offers menu planning (free sample)!

muffins

Once my plan is in place, my week starts on Sunday. I usually make 4 loaves of bread, a double batch of sourdough or soaked muffins, tortillas (if on the menu for the week), and a fresh batch of No-Knead Sourdough Bread (Bucket Bread). Plus, start a batch of stock and put the first part of the week’s meat in the fridge to thaw. I know that sounds like a lot of cooking, but it really isn’t a ton of hands of time. I start the things to soak in the mornings. Bread just needs baking after that, and the muffins only take a few minutes to finish mixing up (to save time on clean up I bake the ‘muffins’ in a cake pan and tell my family it is breakfast cake instead of muffins). The only thing that takes a bit of time is the tortillas and if I get two cast iron skillets going, that helps. A teenage daughter rolling out the tortillas is a great bonus!

Keeping a batch of Bucket Bread on hand is wonderful. I learned to make it the Sourdough eCourse. Regular sourdough loaf bread is perfect for sandwiches, while the bucket bread makes beautiful artisan loaves that are perfect alongside soup or some kind of saucy meal. Plus, the bucket bread can also become rustic english muffins, flat bread (perfect as a base for Gyros) or even cinnamon rolls. The cinnamon rolls are so easy to make after work to bake for the next morning’s breakfast. I highly recommend the no-knead sourdough bread for any busy kitchen.

My weekly plans make good use of my crockpot. Beans, stews, roasts, whole chickens … just about anything can be cooked in the crockpot. If I am using a recipe that calls for sliced vegetables, I cut those up the night before and keep in the fridge. A few minutes of prep work in the evening, dump it all in the crockpot in the morning, put the lid on, plug it in and turn it on. The last two are pretty important! I hate to admit to forgetting one or both of those steps at times! ;)

I also utilize planned-overs. I make a big pot of beans in the crockpot as the basis for two or three meals, and most of the work is done. Cooked beans take only minutes to reheat. Same with precooked chicken or beef roast, or if you live in Wyoming, antelope roast. :D

I also choose meals that go together quickly. Something like:

  • stir fry, using quick cooking thinly sliced meat (like this yummy Curry Lo Mein)
  • a soup that uses the nutrient-dense broth that I make for the week (I try to always keep a half gallon of broth in the fridge and at least the same amount in the freezer)
  • something that can be pulled out of the freezer, like a delicious ready-in-20-minutes burrito meal: beans and tortillas from the week before along with leftover rice, shredded cheese, green onions, tomatoes, sour cream and salsa (anytime I can put something in the freezer for later, I do)

Breakfasts are very boring here. :) I used to try to make something different each day, but we seem to eat the same things on a regular basis. During the week we have soaked oatmeal, sourdough toast and eggs, breakfast cake or maybe yogurt with fruit. Weekends I might make pancakes (extras can be frozen for quick breakfasts during the week) or soaked baked oatmeal (can also be cut in squares and frozen).

Having a plan for the week is the best course of action. But sometimes you need…

A Back-Up Plan

Sometimes my great plans fall apart, like the time a helpful someone put the crockpot full of soaking beans on high. It is never good to wake up to the smell of burning beans and seeing those beans stuck to just about every bit of the crockpot. For those times, a back-up plan is necessary. Having a premade (homemade) meal in the freezer would be ideal.

My usual back-up plan meal is breakfast for dinner. Sourdough pancakes are quick and easy to make (just keep sourdough starter on hand) and so tasty topped with a warm fruit compote. Make the compote by heating up frozen fruit right, and sweetening it with a little honey and spiced with a little nutmeg. Serve that along with scrambled eggs and you’ve got a hearty dinner.

Another thing we really like are open-faced salmon melts. Slice bread or use an English muffin half, top with wild salmon salad and shredded cheese, and put under broiler until cheese is melted. Salmon patties are good, too! With broth in the refrigerator, many soups will go together in no time. One of our favorite quick soups is the Chicken Coconut Soup from Nourishing Traditions. It uses few ingredients (broth, coconut milk, fresh ginger, lime juice, salt and chili flakes) and is ready in about 20 minutes. This soup isn’t quite hearty enough for a main entrée for my family but is great with sandwiches.

I’ll admit that my biggest struggle when working away from home is planning and preparing my own lunches and snacks. I learned alot my first week working away from home! I couldn’t seem to get breakfast eaten before I left and forgot my lunch a couple of days. The next week I made sure to take a snack with me, and that helped immensely. The breakfast cake idea (above) works great as a snack, and I buy some of those fruit filled breakfast bar things from Azure Standard that have okay ingredients. I asked my husband to remind me to make my lunch each day — this helped me get into the habit myself.

My lunches are usually leftovers. Michaela left a comment on my blog once stating that when she is making dinner in the evening, she immediately pulls out a lunch size portion for her husband’s future lunch. I do that for myself, or I pack something simple like bread with soft cheese, and fruit and veggie sticks.

It is important to take a few extra minutes in the kitchen as I can. One time, some friends gave me half a dozen or so tomatoes that needed to be used. About 25 or minutes later, I had 2 quarts of lacto-fermented salsa jarred up. Making soft cheese is another thing I do during this working season. Soft cheese takes very little hands on time to do and the results are soooo good.

I am fortunate that I already had a good grasp on cooking real food when I went back to working full time. I was recently asked if I thought that a person new to real food and working full time could do this. My opinion is YES! When I think back to how my family began our real food journey, with baby steps, I believe anyone can make the transition to real foods with the same game plan. It won’t happen overnight, but by making slow deliberate changes, these changes can be lasting and easy to maintain.

Do you work full time and still manage to prepare nourishing meals? What are your favorite tips for Real Food, Fast?

This post may contain affiliate links. We only recommend products and services we wholeheartedly endorse. Thank you for supporting Traditional Cooking School by GNOWFGLINS with your purchases. Our family thanks you!

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Comments

  1. says

    Millie, I just can’t thank you enough for sharing your wisdom! I know this post is going to help so many people. Thanks for taking the time (when you’re so busy right now) to write all this down for us! God bless you and your family.

  2. says

    I really enjoyed this post! A lot of great ideas-
    And by the way, we live in Wyoming as well and have a whole freezer full of antelope!! Love it! ;)

    • says

      Thanks Jill! Nice to meet a ‘neighbor’ :-) We do love antelope and are very happy to have our freezer full of it too (along with mule deer, of course).

  3. Delia says

    This is great. Millie, it looks like you might be from my neck of the woods. Although I no longer live in WY, my family is still there. I certainly do not miss the wind/winters!!
    Thanks for sharing.

    • says

      Delia,
      I hear you about the winters. It is snowy and windy right now, still kind of warm though at 30. It is those negative days with the wind blowing that chill me to the bone. Negative 30 is just cold!

  4. says

    I am so glad to see more posts like this. I work full time and don’t have a family (or a mate), so it’s really thinking about myself. The ongoing challenge is food for lunches at work, because I admit I am lazy and can’t always think of something to prep and am bad about making extra of dinner. So I am always on the lookout for more.

    Real food can indeed be done when people work. It just takes a plan!

    • says

      Soli,

      You are so right about it taking a plan! I do not think that I could ‘wing it’ and have any hope of us eating decently (or maybe eating at all).
      Have you tried doing homemade TV style dinners for your lunches? Watching people when I work heat up their ‘Lean Food Like Meals’, made me think that I should do some of those for myself but out of real foods. It would be so easy just to grab a frozen one on my way out in the morning. That is on my list of things to do.

      • says

        Millie, I’d love to be able to do something like that, but I think I need to get more insulated storage containers before doing such a thing. Even if I were still willing to use a microwave, the one in my workplace is one I wouldn’t trust.
        I am going to start following your blog and see how you do with bringing food. Any ideas for meals which travel well would be greatly appreciated. :)

  5. says

    i don’t work full time away from the home but i still found this post so helpful! we have been on our real food journey for about six months and it’s been difficult for me to get in the rhythm of it. what to do in the a.m., p.m. etc. it’s taking some practice to look at my menu plan in advance – thank goodness i was already used to menu planning – so i know what to do the night before.

    i’ve started both of the ecourses but i had to stop mid-stream because of craziness that erupted here on the home front! i’m looking forward to picking up where i left off after the first of the year.

    any more tips, tricks and pointers for the day-to-day life of real food from Wardee and/or millie (any experienced with real food for that matter) would be greatly appreciated!!

    • says

      Thank you Stacey! I know what you mean about getting a rhythm. I really found that adding a ‘to do’ section to my menu plan helped me alot (and then remembering to check my to do section). I do break my to do’s down by AM and PM in hopes to help me remember things.

  6. says

    Thanks for this wonderful post! I started a new job that has me working 40+ hours a week and I’m trying to balance the time between home & work. This week is the first time I’ve felt on top of the menu. I still need more things to pack for snacks & lunches for myself. I work as a nanny and have a tendency to snack on what I feed the kids – which is not always the best choice!

    I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one struggling through changing how we eat & not being home all day to make all the things I’d like from scratch. I really need to take the time to go through the Sourdough E-Course (I’m signed up, just haven’t had the time to do it!). I’d love to start making my own bread again! Just to find the time! :D

    Again, thank you for the tips and encouragement!

    • says

      You are very welcome Diana. I’m glad this week went well for you. I found I had a bit of a ‘learning curve’ with working and cooking myself.

    • says

      I know what you mean! When we first decided to switch to real food it took me a few weeks to get started. It all seemed so overwhelming! What worked for my family, was to take it slow. I started with the simplest thing I could- making broth. Once I was comfortable with that I started adding in other things but only one thing at a time and nothing more until I was comfortable with that. I found that making changes slowly worked quite well for me and helped me learn how to manage my time in the kitchen. I could not have went from the way I cooked before (limited) to where I am now overnight. My head would have spun off! I think that any changes made toward real food are beneficial. Best wishes for your real food journey.

  7. Toni says

    Millie,

    I really enjoyed your post! Even though I am not working full time I am homeschooling 3 and these tips are helpful!
    Blessings to you!

  8. Dani says

    I was working full-time when I began my food journey, and I have a one-hour commute both ways, so I know all about being away from the house for more than “40” hours a week! I am so blessed to see this post, and find that we share many of the same techniques–right down to the saving a portion of dinner before it goes on the table (because if I don’t, it’s not uncommon that there will be no leftovers!). I started with the Fundamentals course, and the weekly lessons helped me to get in the groove of doing a little bit more than I was before–otherwise, it WILL get overwhelming! I agree a plan is the BEST tool to stay on-task.

    I am like Diana, though, in that–although I have signed up–I have not been able to participate in the sourdough ecourse (in fact, I haven’t had much time to read any blogs, etc., so today is a treat for me!). I very much look forward to having some time in the near future to learn about that bucket sourdough bread… sounds fascinating!

  9. says

    I too work outside the home. What I do is eat the same thing all week. I do the cooking over the weekend and package it into daily containers. If I’m having salad, I’ll add the dressing in the morning when I pull it out.

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