Thrifty and Practical

Why I cook and some fall recipes for the win

Meal planning for the win.

The past few years I’ve gotten the question, “Do you like to cook?”

The first few times I was asked I never knew what to say. Then one day it dawned on me. I like to eat good food, which has led to me experimenting in the kitchen and finding recipes I enjoy.

When Josh and I were first married, we had $25 a week to spend on groceries. We were college students on a very limited budget. A package of hotdogs to add to our mac and cheese was splurging. We ate ramen noodles, mac and cheese, eggs and toast, apples, bananas, and carrot sticks. We drank the cheapest whole bean coffee we could find and called it good.

Transitioning from attending school full-time to working full-time did several things, but the biggest area of life it impacted was our grocery budget. For the first time ever we had money to spend on food! When we were both working full-time, it became super easy to eat out or order in. For about 2-3 years almost half our meals were not made at home. Then I went back to school full-time to get my Master’s Degree, and although I was paid to do so it definitely did not match the salaried job I left behind. Thus began my cooking adventures.

Everyone is at a different place in life when it comes to food, but here are a few things I’ve learned from Michael Pollen (if you haven’t read any of his books – do it. Do it now.) and different friends who became role models for healthy eating. I’m not an expert by any means and it’s a continual journey.

  • Meal planning is essential. Not that everything has to be overly planned, but that there is at least a loose idea in mind what type of food you’ll be eating on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.
  • Variety is fun. For a long time I would make the same 5-8 meals because it was easy and I knew what to do. One day it dawned on me that being adventurous with food is fun – even if there are some flops in the kitchen.
  • Fresh is best. We were part of an amazing community garden for a few years and store bought anything pales in comparison. This year we weren’t able to do a garden so the bulk of our fruits and veggies were purchased from the Farmer’s Market.
  • Homemade is worth the effort. As much as I love food, cooking can be a giant effort with 2 little kids running around. What I realized is that no matter what season of life I’m in, there will be valid reasons (*cough* excuses) not to cook. I have found that if I do 3-4 larger home-cooked dinners a week, it usually supplies enough leftovers for the days I don’t want to be in the kitchen.
  • Inspiration and cookbooks are necessary. I love Pinterest for inspiration and I love cookbooks for stockpiles of recipes. One of my favorites is Simply in Season because it narrows down recipes according to what foods are in season. I love choice, but sometimes it’s overwhelming and this provides a diverse, yet limited number of options for each season.

A few thoughts on meal planning and things I’ve learned:

  • Breakfast for dinner rocks.
  • Going vegetarian once a week forces me out of my box.
  • Mixing up the type of grain is super helpful just to narrow down options. For example I try to do each of these once a week: quinoa (or some other whole grain), rice, bread, and pasta.
  • Green salad or roasted veggies are super easy and always delicious. (Getting the cook right on the roasted veggies can be tricky, but that’s where trial and error as well as cookbooks are so helpful!)

What are your favorite go-to meals for the fall? What are your favorite fail-proof recipes?

Here are my top 5 fall recipes!

  1. Baked Spaghetti Squash
  2. Kale Salad with Apple and Pomegranate 
  3. Slow Cooker Indian Butternut Squash and Red Lentil Curry
  4. Pumpkin Muffins
  5. Pumpkin Oatmeal

Cheers and happy cooking, friends!