The Truth About How Cooking Healthier Foods Has Saved Me Time (and dirty dishes)

Raise your hands, wives, if you can recall a day you spent extra time on your hair, makeup, and outfit so you could impress your husband – only to have him not even notice. Now leave your hands raised if you can recall another day you pulled your hair into a 5-second messy bun, never changed out of your mis-matched sweats from yesterday, and forgot makeup existed – only to have your husband give you a second appreciative glance, grin, and say, “Well hey there, Cutie.”

Rest assured, he appreciated the nice hair, great outfit, and perfect makeup day too. Perhaps he was just too distracted or busy at the time to say so. Let us all be thankful he loves us on our “prettiest” days and even (especially) on the days we’re singing “oh where is my hairbrush?”

What does all this have to do with saving time while cooking healthy food? Everything. It very much relates in every way.

The Surprising Truth About How Cooking Healthier Foods Has Saved Me Time (and dirty dishes)

See, one day recently, I was having an “I can’t keep up, what even is a kitchen, I don’t feel very well, we have got to get this assignment done” kind of a day. I don’t even have to tell you what my hair looked like (and I recommend you save yourself the embarrassment of trying to conjure up an image). More importantly, dinner prep kept getting pushed farther down the to-do list.

I finally found two minutes (and a bit of energy) at lunchtime to put some frozen chicken into the crockpot, dump on some bbq sauce, and crank it to the “hi” setting. At least we’d have some meat ready before the boys left for drum lessons and basketball practice, thought I.

The chicken cooked itself all afternoon. Just before dinnertime later that night, I stir-fried some carrots and broccoli with a bit of olive oil, garlic, and salt. I grabbed a jar of applesauce from the pantry and declared it a meal, such as it was. My hair though. There was nothing that could be done.

Would you believe? My husband walked into the kitchen after putting in a 10-hour work day, saw the food I had “prepared” and not having any idea of the ridiculously short amount of time I’d spent cooking said, “Wow! This looks fantastic! What a great meal! Thank you!!”

saucy chicken3

Not that he isn’t equally appreciative when I have taken the time to roll out homemade noodles or have produced a fresh loaf of bread. But his gratitude reminded me of this:

  • A meal doesn’t have to be complicated to be delicious.
  • Sometimes the healthiest meals are the very simplest.

The busier I have become through the years, the simpler our meals have needed to be. I’ve noticed that the simpler our meals have become, the healthier they are.

Isn’t that unexpected?

And here people still think cooking healthy food takes all kinds of extra time.

Take it from the girl who took five minutes to cram frozen chicken into a crock pot, and then threw out a few veggies just before meal time. Learn from the mom who has learned to make a complete meal of Parmesan Broiled Fish with veggies in record time (10 minutes, start to finish, thanks for asking).

I believe the simpler we keep our meals, the healthier they can be. Stop making healthy food complicated. Focus on the basics (meat, veggies, fruit). Save the special, longer-to-make meals, for special occasions.

Just think. We might even find more time in our day to change into a cute sweater before dinner.


Psst! If you join Simple Meals, you’ll have more time to change out of your mis-matched sweats. We promise.


I Add Spinach to Salsa Chicken (and Nobody Cares)

I’ve talked in the past about how I add fresh spinach to several different foods for added nourishment. Read more details about this here, but below is a list of foods I’ve added spinach to successfully:

Most recently, I tore up a bunch of spinach leaves and added them to our Salsa Chicken for our Build a Burrito Bar. Here’s the thing about adding spinach to Salsa Chicken: No one can even tell.

spinach in salsa chicken

I mean, I tear and I tear and I tear. (I make it sound like it’s hard work. Tearing spinach is a two-second job, and mostly I just tear spinach leaves in half by the handful.) I probably put four ounces of fresh spinach into a big pot of Salsa Chicken. (Four ounces of spinach is a lot of spinach.)

Then I let the spinach cook in with the meat and salsa before I shredded it all together. The spinach adds nourishment, but doesn’t change the flavor or even the look of the chicken. I think the spinach just looks like part of the salsa once it’s all cooked down. See how pretty?

spinach in chicken2

I really don’t try to hide nutritious ingredients in my recipes, but neither do I always announce what all I’ve put into the food while I cooked it. I’ve done this “add spinach to Salsa Chicken” twice now, and when it was all said and done – my kids are none the wiser. To them, it just looks like I’ve made Salsa Chicken. Therefore, they proceeded to put more fresh spinach on their burrito as they build it. Nutrients on top of nutrients. How great is this?

As an aside, I’ve taken to snacking on fresh spinach while I’m cooking with it. It barely tastes like anything and it’s refreshing. Plus if I’m super hungry while I’m cooking it helps me feel like I can wait until meal time to eat with the family.

Do you ever add spinach to recipes? What have you found success with in adding spinach?

How to Clean Cast Iron

Today you will have the honor of seeing my cast iron skillet covered in a layer of crusty scrambled egg residue. This is so special. Thank you for sharing this fine moment with me.

cast iron5

In describing how I clean my cast iron, I’m also going to reveal to you what is, in fact, my favorite of all the gadgets in my kitchen. It’s something I use many times each day (even more than my blender, and that’s saying something). I use this little gadget on cast iron skillets, on stoneware, and on my counter-tops to easily clean up flour or dough. My friends, allow me to introduce you to my BKFF (Best Kitchen Friend Forever) –

The Rubber Scraper

rubber scraper

It’s the best six dollars you’ll ever spend. Or if you already have the little brown ones that came with your Pampered Chef stoneware, you’re golden.

If you are one who hates cleaning your cast iron and even avoids using it entirely so that you don’t have to mess with cleaning it, I have two words for you: Rubber Scraper.

You guys. Cleaning cast iron is about the easiest job there is when you:

1) Soak the skillet or pot for a few minutes in hot water and
2) Use a rubber scraper to scrape all the food away.

If I didn’t have a rubber scraper, I would also hate cleaning my cast iron. I don’t even know how I would do it otherwise. Truly. How did Grandma clean her awesome skillets and griddle? I have no idea. Rubber scrapers rank up there in modern conveniences as high as cell phones and flush toilets. They are the exact same in their ability to improve life.

Allow me to present a step-by-step tutorial of my easy cast iron cleaning system:

1. Run hot water into the dirty, crusty skillet or griddle.

cast iron6

2. After a few minutes, use a rubber scraper to scrape away all the food residue.

cast iron2
3. Rinse the cast iron with hot water.

cast iron 1

4. Allow cast iron to air dry, or rub it dry with a tea towel.

cast iron 3

Before taking the above picture, I had just rubbed my skillet down with some coconut oil (or palm shortening – I can’t remember which). I rarely need to oil it down, but if you find your cast iron looking rusty or dry, rub in some coconut oil or palm shortening. They likes these fats as much as you and I do. Can you blame them?

Something to note:

Do not use soap on your cast iron.

It isn’t necessary and you don’t want it to absorb soap which will leech into your food. Hot water is all it needs. That and a rubber scraper.

Seriously, how did Grandma clean hers??

How to Clean Cast Iron

My favorite and most used cast iron pieces are…

A large skillet like this one:

cast iron 1

This big griddle:

cast iron 2





Those babies get used all the time at our house. Eggs, pancakes, meat, hashbrowns – my skillet and griddle make all of these naturally taste so much better!

None of you need to fear using your cast iron since you now know how to clean it easily! Rubber scrapers to the rescue. Who knew such a small, simple square piece of rubber would play such an important role in the kitchen?

Have cast iron? How do you clean it?

The Plan ~ Getting Ready for Freezer Cooking, Week Four – Meatless Meals

I love meat.  My body doesn’t function well when I go too long (you know, like an entire day and a half) without eating animal protein. Beyond that, sometimes, fish or chicken just isn’t enough. There are days my body needs beef and ain’t nothin’ else gonna cut it. I think this has something to do with my tendency to become anemic and the iron red meat provides. I truly do not feel well when I’m not eating enough beef, and on the contrary, I feel very, very well and much more energetic when I am eating plenty of cow.

Therefore, when some of you suggested that we do a freezer challenge that consisted entirely of meatless meals, I was like, “What? Why would we do that? Don’t you know that meatless meals don’t have any meat in them?”

Then, I (had a hamburger) and realized that these lovely ladies who made the meatless suggestion were actually brilliant. Meatless meals are a huge money saver, and good gravy – it’s not like I need meat at every meal. I just need it at least once every day. Meatless meals rock.  Let’s make some for the freezer, shall we?


We’ve taken a couple weeks off from freezer cooking challenges, and I don’t know about you, but I’m excited to hit it again. We’ve slowly been working our way through the {beef, chicken, and breakfast} meals I put into the freezer during the March/April challenges. The meatless freezer meal ideas I came up with are going to go together quickly and make for some super easy lunches on busy days during the next few weeks.

Here’s what is so great about the freezer cooking I plan to do:  I’ll be making a double batch of each recipe. That way, I can serve one portion of it to my family the very day I make it. Then, I’ll freeze the other portion to pull out another day. Work once, eat twice – it’s my favorite way to get ahead!

Join me!!! I want you to see how easy it is to get ahead in your real food kitchen. You’ll save money, effort, energy, time, and brain power.

Here’s what I’m planning to make, one at a time, during the next few days:

Join Our Meatless Meal Freezer Challenge!

The Grocery List

  • 32 ounces whole grain spaghetti noodles
  • 5 cups whole grain pasta – any shape
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 4 eggs
  • 4 cups (32 ounces) ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup (16 ounces) parmesan cheese
  • 8 cups (64 ounces) spaghetti sauce
  • 4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 6 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • 6 cups whole milk
  • 6 cups cooked black or pinto beans (or a combination of both)
  • 2 cups (16 ounces) salsa
  • 16-20 whole wheat tortillas (we like homemade tortillas)
  • 10 cups whole wheat flour
  • 9 teaspoons yeast
  • 3-4 cups pizza sauce (depending on how saucy you want your calzones)
  • veggies, olives, and other fillings for calzones
  • sea salt and pepper

I’ve created a downloadable and printable grocery list for you here:  Freezer Cooking Grocery List Four

 Who’s going to join me?

To help you out if you’re interested in some of the above recipes, the Let’s Do This! eCourse and {Healthy} Make-Ahead Meals and Snacks eBook are discounted to just $5 for the whole package. The recipes included in that package are some that we use all the time at our house to get ahead!

How To Get Ahead With Real Food Make-Ahead Meals (eCourse and eBook Now Available!)

Get out your mixing bowls, Pyrex, and freezer bags! The Let’s Do This! Getting Ahead in Your Real Food Kitchen eCourse and {Healthy} Make-Ahead Meals and Snacks eBook are now available for purchase! Join me as together we get ahead and save time (and money) while we feed our families healthy, delicious food!


The Let’s Do This! eCourse answers your questions about Getting Ahead in Your Real Food Kitchen:

  • I can’t even keep up – how am I supposed to get ahead?
  • I don’t have freezer space for freezer cooking, how I can I make this work?
  • Will this actually help me save money on food?
  • Will this really save me time and energy?
  • How can this work for me if I’m not an organized person?
  • My family is picky. Will this frozen food taste good?
  • I want to get ahead, but I don’t even know where to start…

Even if you already have a pretty good idea of how to work ahead in the kitchen to prepare meals and snacks ahead of time to make life easier – I still believe you will benefit from these resources. After all, you can never have too many healthy, make-ahead recipes!

The Let’s Do This! Getting Ahead in Your Real Food Kitchen eCourse includes five simple but detailed lessons:

  1. Getting Ahead for the Day
  2. Getting Ahead for the Week
  3. Getting Ahead With Snacks
  4. Getting Ahead During Spare Moments for Busy Moments
  5. Using Your Make-Ahead Meals and Snacks

Within each lesson, you will be given loads of practical tips and information, online links, downloadable worksheets and planners, and plenty of down-to-earth encouragement. Each lesson includes a brand new, exclusive recipe not found on my website or in any of my books. (Sweet and Sour Meatballs, Creamy Salsa Enchilada Casserole – plus three more delicious recipes you’ll love!)  In addition, I’ve recorded short videos for each lesson so that you can watch me in action – getting ahead in my real food kitchen.

sour_cream_enchiladas (1)

This Sour Cream Enchiladas (in Lesson Two of the Let’s Do This! eCourse)
recipe is SO easy to make, and has now become a family favorite.

This entire eCourse costs only $5 – total! Your purchase will allow you unlimited, lifetime access to all of this information. These lessons are online – or print them out if you prefer. There is no limit to how many of you can take the eCourse, nor is there a time commitment. Work through the lessons at your own pace, on your own time, in the middle of the night, while your kids are napping, in the morning, in the evening –  whenever works for you.

Let's Do This! eCourse
Learn how to get ahead in the kitchen to save time, money, and put real food meals on the table for your family efficiently. This five-lesson eCourse has loads of information, for a very low price!
Price: $5.00

While the eCourse includes helpful information to help you get ahead in the kitchen, plus five great new Make-Ahead recipes, we couldn’t just stop there. To go along with the Let’s Do This! eCourse, we put together an eBook filled with 33 more easy, healthy, real food recipes – all of which can be put together and set aside or frozen to be served when you need them. We’ve got you covered through breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. Only a few of these recipes can be found on my website – most of them are brand new and only found in the {Healthy} Make-Ahead Meals and Snacks eBook!


Here are the recipes you’ll find in the {Healthy} Make-Ahead Meals and Snacks eBook:

MAMS contents

All of these recipes have now become family favorites. I love keeping the freezer and fridge well stocked with great, easy foods my family loves!

Make Ahead Meals and Snacks
This eBook includes 33 easy, healthy, real food recipes – all of which can be put together and set aside or frozen to be served when you need them. We’ve got you covered through breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.
Price: $4.95

Trust me when I say that getting ahead in your real food kitchen and stocking your fridge and freezer with healthy, prepared food IS doable for you! What are you waiting for? Let’s do this!

Purchasing Information:

  • Because these products are downloadable and online, they are available to everyone, anywhere!
  • Once you purchase, you will receive an email with a download link for the eBook and specific instructions for how to access the eCourse. Instant gratification!

Preparing My Kitchen for Soccer Season

Bring on the soccer games, the soccer practices, the soccer referee schedules (for our older boys), and the general soccer craziness at our house! While the spring soccer season isn’t as intense as the fall season (college soccer takes place in the fall on top of our boys’ soccer) – I still find myself running a little bit ragged trying to keep everyone in clean, matching soccer socks during these weeks of games.

Having a few extra food items ready to warm up quickly to feed the family is helpful during any time of the year. But during soccer season, I find it especially helpful. Therefore, last week, I spent a few hours each day working to get ahead. As a result, I’ve got a freezer packed with healthy, easy to grab and heat meals.

In case you’re interested in seeing a few photos to document my efforts (and some recipe links to motivate you toward getting some food in your freezer too!), here you go:

I made a double batch of Taco Corn Fritters for lunch one day. We ate half, then I froze half. These will warm up great in our toaster oven.

I made two Green Bean Casseroles (using a recipe in this holiday ebook), but I added some hamburger meat to make it an “all in one meal”. These will be perfect to throw into the oven before or after a game. (And by throw, I really mean “carefully slide”. Please do not throw casseroles into your oven, especially when they are in glass dishes.)

These Creamy Chicken and Rice Casseroles didn’t make it into my freezer, as I served them all for High School Huddle on Sunday. But since I put them together during my “extra cooking days”, I decided they would feel left out if they didn’t have their opportunity for a photo shoot.

I prepared seven pounds of Chicken Fried Steak Strips, froze them on parchment paper, then put the frozen strips into freezer bags. These are wonderful to have on hand to grab out and cook up quickly. I was lazy and put several layers on one cookie sheet just to see if it would work. Yay! It worked. (Good thing too, or I would have had seven pounds of chicken fried steak in one huge rectangular chunk!)

We all love these Raw Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Bites – which sound like a dessert – but are really a high protein, healthy snack. They freeze well, or store well in the fridge.

The following picture is not meant to be motivating at all, but rather posted so that you can feel very sorry for me and say nice things about how awful it is that a mess like this happened in the middle of my hard working cooking time. (Woe is me.)  I had a pint of cream sitting on my counter that I knocked off with my elbow while grabbing a spoon. It was so very sad. :(  And for the record, cream really does splatter quite a long distance across a kitchen.

In happier news, I made Chocolate Chip Cookies for “just in case”. It’s always great to have a batch of cookies in the freezer to grab at a moment’s notice. However, these never made it to the freezer. I ate all 24 of them while consoling myself after I knocked the cream off the counter. Just KIDDING. I packaged them up and sent them with Matt to give to some college students. I think I did eat one or three first – just to make sure they tasted good.

I put my boys to work scrubbing 10 pounds of potatoes, which we baked and turned into frozen hashbrowns. Wow, it’s nice to have these in the freezer for a quick addition to meals.

I put together two big Lasagna Casseroles, which freeze very well and can be baked on a busy day.

Malachi was hanging out with me during one of my cooking times and asked me to take a picture of him doing his math. Hey, if a casserole dish is picture worthy, I’d say my seven year old deserves some camera time too. And no, we don’t require our children to wear fancy button-up shirts while they do their school work. But Malachi absolutely loves his shirt and tie combo and would wear it every day if we let him. Shucks, sometimes we do. Although I do try to wash it occasionally.

Here you see 48 Pigs in a Blanket. They are put together, but unbaked and now in freezer bags waiting for a day when I need something fast to throw into the oven. Oh dear – there I go throwing things into the oven again. Disclaimer:  No pigs will be thrown into my oven at any time during soccer season. After soccer season is over, no guarantees. Kidding. I’m kidding.

Last, I made a double batch of Chewy Granola Bars. These are awesome grab and go snacks. Shucks, if you need to throw these, it’s perfectly fine. Throw them into your purse or a bag, or even throw them across your mini van at your kids. Carefully, of course. Here is a picture of the bars right after I poured them into a pan, before refrigerating and slicing them.

Been throwing anything into your oven lately that we should know about? What are your favorite freezer meals? Do you feel sorry for me that I spilled all that cream?