Thursday, June 24, 2010

Eat In and Save; The Cheater-Pants Meal

Yesterday I was reading on a new site Imagine a Happier You which helps women to work towards a more stable position financially.  Several women commented they felt they were spending too much money eating out, and were frustrated with time and energy being at a premium.  I have been thinking about it, and I want to dedicate several blog posts to this problem that gets many of us.  First, you should know the main reason I don't take my family out to eat:

Once upon a time, about 3 years ago, my husband decided it would be nice to take the children to a restaurant.  We entered a family-friendly establishment (Dee's, I think), and seated 6 children 2 parents and 1 babe-in-high-chair.  The excitement was high as the waitress approached with water in glasses and straws all around.  Children began to blow straw wrappers and pat the tiny puddles of water left on the table every time they pulled the straw out of the glass.  We did survive ordering the food. So did the waitress.  But then it was time to wait for the food....and wait....7 children get fidgety and one of them (I still cringe to think about this) discovered that there was gum stuck to the underside of the table.  Sequence of events: Child in question feels a bump under the table.  Head of child ducks under to see what it is.  Child sits up and announces loudly, "Hey, there is gum under here!"  Six children disappear in the blink of an eye, all heads under the table to investigate.  Ugh! Trying not to draw too much attention to ourselves (ha, ha!) we encouraged the children in strong voices to get up off the floor. (Did I mention ewww!)  They continue to discuss frankly and openly the type, quantity and colors of the gum. Finally mediocre food came from the kitchen.  The children played in it.  We paid for the mostly uneaten food, leaving a large tip for the unfortunate waitress, and headed for home.  The children wanted food the minute we walked in.  Sigh.

Now you have an idea of my background.  This story plus the fact that I am a tight wad keeps us from eating out.  But I still have many of those times when the fridge is empty or unappetizing, or I am tired and just want someone to mother me instead of the other way around.  So, what to do about it?  Many times when I am tempted to run out for something, I tell myself, "It will take 20 minutes either way."  By that, I mean it will take 20+ minutes to drive away, decide on food, pay for it and bring it back, or it will take 20 minutes to put on one of my emergency back-up meals.  When I look at it that way, it seems to take just as much time and energy to run for something.  The main thing to remember here is that what we are really dealing with is hunger and comfort.  Hunger can be taken care of almost instantly, a can of soup, carrots and dip from the fridge.  You can think so much more clearly and be so much braver if you eat something small and instant in the moment.  The comfort part is the most intimidating.  We are hungry, we need comfort after a rough day, but there are all the faces of our loved ones swimming in front of us, they want to be fed and comforted too.
My first tip for this is to stock some cheater-pants meals.  Ones that take so very little time and effort that you can satisfy that first wave of need without compromising your sanity.  The following are some ideas I use:

1)  Western Family Alfredo packets.  Boil noodles, add practically instant sauce, throw in left over meat if there is any.
2) Canned spaghetti sauce, same drill.
3) Canned chili and tortilla chips. Heat and eat.
4) Tomato soup and cheese sandwiches (I can get away with just tomato soup and saltines, but I am a hero if I have oyster crackers or goldfish crackers.)
5) Taco soup: 1 can chili, 1 can corn, 1 can tomatoes.  Stir together, heat, serve with chips and cheese.
6) Instant mashed potatoes and gravy from a can or mix. Stir in left over meat or meat from the freezer (more on this in an up-coming post).
7) Eggs.  The magic protein that cooks so fast!  Scramble eggs, serve with toast. Top with cheese if you feel festive.
8) Egg variation: open 1 can chicken noodle soup, add it to 4 beaten eggs.  Scramble all in a bit of butter, serve over toast.
9) Pancakes and syrup. (esp. if you have a pancake mix on hand!)
10) Biscuits and gravy. (canned or Bisquick biscuits and gravy from a packet or can)

If I serve a cheater-pants meal, sometimes I find that after I am fed, I feel better, so I make dessert...or maybe I feel entitled, so I make dessert.  In either case, a brownie mix can stave off the next wave of just-before-bed munchies.  I'd love to hear some of your quick and super-easy meals! (I can always use a few more....)
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If you are visiting, welcome! I am in the process of a Vulcan Mind Meld with my computer to put all of my right hand recipes for feeding my family on here as fast as possible. Please come back often and stay awhile. There are so many exciting things to come!

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A clearing house for all my favorite recipes. All my food musings. All my favorite cookbooks and kitchen gadgets. If you enjoy it here, and find it useful, welcome!