recipes you know by heart

The winner of the book Waking Up White is commenter #8 Lynda.  Send me your address, Lynda, and I will get the book headed your way!Make Your Own Pizza

I read a couple of interesting articles about food yesterday, the first titled Why So Many Low-Income People are Overweight and the second The New Face of Hunger. Reading those stories with my ‘momma-goggles’, I got thinking about the types of skills that my own kids would need to make wise food choices later on in times when budgets are tight.

Obviously being able to walk into a store and know what types of foods give you the biggest bang for your buck is a huge part of being successful.  (Here are a few of the ways I save at the store.)  Each time I bring my kids along with me to the store, I encourage them to check unit prices and be on the lookout for good deals. I’ve also talked with them about the kinds of foods that are best for budget-stretching and for our bodies. Sure, they’ll cave in to spendy and unhealthy junk at times as adults– don’t we all?  But hopefully shopping with me now will give them a basis for shopping affordably and in healthy ways later on.

Another component of success in the kitchen, especially, especially when life gets busy, is being in the practice of cooking efficiently.  Brown that ground beef and chop that chicken as soon as you get home from the store.  Double recipes and freeze part for another day.  Habits like these decrease overall time in the kitchen and make meal prep much less intimidating.   I’m guessing that a lot of people who struggle to make their grocery money last all month do not habitually do these types of things.   I’m hoping that involving my kids in these types of tasks as kids will help them be more likely to remember these huge time and money-savers as adults.

One final skill that’s huge in my mind is the ability to make at least a few meals without a recipe. Sure, it’s easy to google recipes these days, and I’ve been told by my kids that anyone who can read, can cook.  That’s true to a certain degree.  But there’s something really empowering about having a few recipes right in your head– a few simple meals you can just do, without resorting to any reference books.  It is a huge step toward feeling truly capable in the kitchen.

My quick and cheap favorites include pasta carbonera, Molly’s 10 Minute Chicken, and Thai chard wraps.  In addition, my ramen-loving kids have all mastered Veggie Ramen Stirfry. (I make them add veggies if they want to eat ramen.) They also can make their own pizza, including crust from scratch.

That’s a great start, but this school year I’m going to work on helping them expand their ‘know-it-by-heart’ cooking repertoire even more. I’m going to ask each of them to choose 2 recipes they enjoy, and then have them each cook one of those recipes once a week during this school year. I’m interested to see what they’ll choose to make, and it will be neat to see them gaining competence in the kitchen.

What are some of your favorite by-heart recipes?  Which meals do your children enjoy the most?


Also of interest

103 Family Friendly Recipes

Can Africa’s Fertile Farmland Feed the World?


  1. Hi Mary,
    We spend a lot more on our food per person than you do, and have made a conscious decision to spend more on good healthful and sustainable food to spend less at the doctors office and have less impact on the earth. But we still do try to be careful with cost, concentrate on nutrient dense and healthful foods (sustainable, local and organic when possible) Focusing on nutrition, environment and local economy. We also don’t eat gluten or dairy, but love our local grass-fed meat!
    Some favorite, go-to, no-recipe meals at our house are:

    Fritatta, either with or without meat. Think of it as a crustless quiche, or a home-made version of a Bisquick magic pie. Yum! And great as leftovers.

    Stir fried brown rice and…clean out the fridge. I make our brown rice in advance, soaked and cooked and ready in the fridge or frozen in family meal portions.

    Beans and Rice…We soak and cook our beans and then store for use. Add seasoning, meat optional and rice.

    Soup, starting from home-made broth, either meat broth or veggie…then clean out the fridge!

    Some great resources to consider…”An Everlasting Meal” by Tamar Adler and the Fundamental EBooks at GNOWFGLINS. Great ideas for how to whip up a healthful and affordable meal.

  2. We have several recipes that we just throw together.

    Burrito Bowls (bowls of: Beans seasoned with cumin or taco seasoning, rice with lime, shredded cheese, lettuce, chopped tomatoes, sour cream, salsa, etc. Everyone builds their own bowl.)

    Taco Salad

    Lentil Rice Bake

    Cheesy Potato Bake (know as Funeral Potatoes because they get taken to so many after funeral meals)

    Breakfast Burritos (which we never have for breakfast)

    Homemade Mac and Cheese

    We also eat breakfast for dinner a lot. Hashbrowns, toast, eggs and fruit. Pancakes. French Toast, etc.

    I love the cookbook “More with Less Cookbook” which is full of Mennonite recipes.

  3. LOVE the burrito bowls and frittatas – the less meat and prepackaged, the healthier the meal and less spent. Rice and corn tortillas are both easy to use and less expensive. You can spend a ton on breakfast cereal, and most are not at all a healthy way to start your day.

    I’d love to have you take a look at my product Mary, to make meals fast and easy. – like bringing the restaurant home.

  4. I vividly remember my first encounter with a Food Stamp recipient back in the 1990’s. At the time, anyone receiving food stamps in that town had to attend a 2 hour workshop with a nutritionist. I worked with the nutritionist. Bless her heart, this teen momma put a box of mac and cheese — unopened — into a pot of boiling water. I was in a rural community that could teach basic skills, but I can only imagine in the cities it’s nearly impossible. I think you’re dead on with easy “off the hip” meals. Any chance for a teen friendly cookbook anytime soon? With shopping and pantry list? I’d love for my sons and daughter to be prepared to cook healthy, frugal meals for one or two people while they’re at college. Family Feasts, the Single Suppers edition 🙂 I can see a “Go buy these things. Do these things when you get home. Now here are 30 meals that will take 10 minutes or less” being a huge hit!

  5. My kids LOVE ramen! It’s been my nemesis since we started to remove toxins and artificial stuff from our diet. We recently discovered that we can use ramen or lo mein noodles from the Asian aisle (ingredients: wheat flour and salt) and homemade or organic chicken stock. I let them salt it up as much as they want but at least there’s not all of those 15 syllable ingredients. 🙂

  6. Dawn Van Haaften says:

    I’m one that goes right to getting that whole chicken I bought at the store (usually at least 4 of them) in crocks to get meat shredded and frozen in advance for my go to recipes. Most of which I get prepared before freezing. Some of those favorite “by memory” recipes include an easy chicken tortilla soup (using just shredded chicken, a jar of salsa (now which is homemade from the garden rather than store), 2 cans of northern beans, chicken broth, and pepperjack cheese) SOOO yummy! I make a lot of chicken dishes just because it’s usually what I buy in bulk at sale prices, so I make a lot of chicken fajitas, chicken with rice and black beans and whatever garden vegetables are producing. Other favorites are different variations of egg casseroles, and since I’m a Midwest gal, ground beef casseroles like tator tot casserole, baked taco casserole, beef and noodles.

  7. Not every person receiving food stamps is serving poor nutritional meals. This is a sad stereotype.

    • Absolutely right. In fact, one of the pieces highlighted a gal on food stamps who was using some of that money to buy garden plants. She’d also taught herself to can food, and did some foraging in local woods for wild foods to supplement their diet. It was very impressive.

    • I was unable to finish my thought but to continue, eating healthy is expensive. It is not always lack of knowledge or being lazy. It is a lack of affordable food on a very small budget.

  8. Mary, Have you heard about this cookbook?
    It’s a free ebook onling designed for people on food stamps. Yummy, inexpensive recipe ideas, very flexible and adaptable, based primarily on veggies rather than meat. I’ve printed it out and am really enjoying some of the recipes and its overall approach to flexible, good cooking.