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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Changing how I do dinners, to meet "new" demands

When the old way of doing things no longer serves its purpose, then changes have to happen.

I haven't been feeling well, for many months. My energy is just gone most days. I'm still waiting on the results of some tests. For the time being, I need to make changes to some ordinary tasks, like dinner prep.

Growing up, my mom prepared a fresh, new meal, every evening. From a diner's point of view, this is very appealing. You get a new dinner every evening. Meals are freshly cooked, retaining color and flavor. And there's lots of variety in each week. From the cook's perspective, this takes a whole lot of time and energy.

So, I'm taking notes from some of you. I am cooking once, and serving 3, 4 or 5 times, and, in the same week. My Cheap & Cheerful Menus will reflect this. I get out my largest stock pots and cook BIG. And I cook EASY, like rice and beans, EASY, or a vat of soup, EASY. Complicated meals are completely out of the question right now.

If I had freezer space, I could freeze most of the servings, and have more variety on a weekly basis. For now, with my limited freezer space, we're just dealing with a lot of repetition. However, I do vary the side dishes, when possible.

The good news is, this is working. I am able to give myself more time off from physical work, as well as spare some time for appointments and various self-help practices.

I hope to get the results of those tests very soon. And then I can go from there and get on the road to a solid recovery.

Sometimes, food has to be just food.

Have you ever had to change your "old ways" to meet "new" demands? Life is a challenge, isn't it?
What are your favorite Cooking Big meals? Soups and casseroles are always good candidates for Cooking Big. Do you have a favorite soup or casserole recipe, that translates well for large amounts?


  1. Hi Lili, I am sorry to hear you've not been feeling well. I am adding you to my prayer list. Hope you get some answers soon.
    I have had to live with a new normal after cancer and ensuing treatments. My energy levels have never completely returned to what they were, but some days are better than others.
    I only have 2 to cook for so I really don't do large amounts. Just the usual whole chicken, roast, casserole, crock pot meal, etc. and refrigerate/freeze portions for future meals.
    Jo Ann

    1. Thank you, Jo Ann. I really appreciate prayers. I'm hoping it's nothing that can't be taken care of easily.
      I have great empathy for cancer survivors and how the disease and treatment can be so debilitating. I pray your energy levels grow, with time.

      This afternoon, I'm roasting a whole turkey. Like your whole chicken meals for two, a whole turkey should give a family of five lots of leftovers to get through the next several days!

      Have a lovely day, Jo Ann!

  2. Lili,

    I'm so sorry you haven't been feeling well. I hope you get your test results soon, and are on a speedy road to recovery. I'll be praying for you.

    I've been cooking less these days since life is so hectic. I usually cook three weeknight meals. I cook a meal on Monday that we will also eat on Tuesday, a meal on Wednesday that we will also eat Thursday, and a meal without planned leftovers on Friday.

    The meals we like that will last us two nights are baked spaghetti, baked chicken Alfredo, various chicken and rice casseroles, chicken and biscuit casserole, vegetable soup (with or without beef), beef stew, potato soup, sloppy joes, and chili. Like you mentioned, I try to vary the sides dishes so it doesn't get too boring.

    For Friday's meal without planned leftovers, I usually make something fairly easy liked some kind of baked chicken, tacos or fajitas. Then on the weekends, we usually have homemade pizza one night. My husband likes to grill, and smoke meats. So the other night of the weekend, and sometimes lunches, he will handle the meat, and I only have to make side dishes.

    It's really simple, but it's what is working for us right now. Maybe it will change as the weather gets cooler, outside activities dwindle, and my son's fall sports are over. No one has complained yet. As you said, sometimes food has to be just food.

    Feel better soon!

    1. Hi Angie,
      Thank you for your prayers and well wishes. I appreciate them.

      I like your list of favorite meals, cooked in larger batches. I'm thinking either chili or sloppy joe's might be a good one for after the turkey I'm roasting.

      Sometimes, simple is just what works. And when you have more time, again, you can change things, as you like.

      Have a great day, Angie!

  3. Hi Lili, I also will add you to my prayer list, and hope that you are feeling better soon. Simple meals are the way I have always done it. While I have always been impressed with the variations in your meals, I have never felt able to do the same. Spaghetti and salad, a rice and bean dish, a simple bbq chicken recipe, baked potato soup and homemade pizza on Friday night are regular meals for us, and always leftovers.
    Take care,

    1. Hi Mary,
      thank you! I appreciate prayers.
      your dinner ideas sound yummy and easy enough -- thanks!
      have a wonderful day, Mary!

  4. Lili, Sorry that you haven't been feeling well. For someone with no energy, you've been accomplishing amazing amounts. I have no idea what your problems are but I can think of several things, that could leave you feeling poorly with no energy, that can be easily treated --thyroid problems, vitamin deficiencies, mineral imbalances, migraines, dehydration, medicine side effects, etc. Hoping it is one of those for you. (I've dealt with most of these at one time or another.)

    In the meantime, there's nothing wrong with a bowl of cereal and fruit for supper and maybe a hard boiled egg.

    1. Thank you, live and learn.
      I hadn't thought about dehydration, so I'll work on that one. Thyroid and vitamin d deficiency are a couple of things my doctor tested me for. Both of those would be relatively simple to address.

      I just hate not having energy, or being in a fog all day. Today is good, though. So I am counting that as a blessing.

  5. I'm sorry to hear you aren't feeling well. You will be in my prayers. I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia several years ago and my symptoms dictate how my day goes. I also cook easy meals with planned leftovers. This week so far has been baked ham with baked sweet potatoes and a bar from the freezer, bean and ham soup with cornbread, baked chicken thighs and baked potato with roasted veggies. Tonight will be chicken vegetable soup with left over chicken and roasted veggies. Some days That is all I'm able to do. I eat and I cope. Prayers.

    1. Thank you.
      I can only imagine how difficult your days must be, with fibro. So sorry that you deal with that daily.
      Yum. You're making me hungry! Especially the ham and sweet potatoes. I have a ham in the freezer, still. Just need the sweet potatoes. Maybe next week. . .
      I've got a turkey roasting right now, and usually I'm not too keen on the smell (I mean aroma) of turkey. But today, it smells amazing. I must be hungry!
      Thanks for your input, and prayers!

  6. Lili I am sorry you are not feeling well. I will be praying for you. We have been doing simple for a long time as it is still warm here. We have baked chicken with potatoes and veggies once a week. Then we have planned overs nothing fancy. Like chicken on salad and maybe chicken on pizza and soup. We usally have burgers once a week with oven fries. We also have really easy sometimes. Like bean burritos with store bought tortillas. Some times I buy the peppers and onions in the freezer section at dollar tree so we can have fajitas. Grilled cheese and some soup or fruit is also a stand by. Yes we also do a big pot of beans and just eat them for a few days. As the weather cools I will put the crock pot to work so I don't have to.I understand about not feeling well and still cooking. If I am having one of those days I try to cook in the morning and get dinner out of the way. Hope you find out soon.

    1. Thank you, Patti, I appreciate your prayers.
      Cooking as early in the day as possible is what I've discovered works best for me, too. Then if I just crash in the afternoon, we still have a healthy meal. And if I'm not decisive enough to make my own lunch, I can have some of the dinner for my lunch.

      I'll check our Dollar Tree for frozen peppers and onions. Especially in winter, those would make a very quick and affordable meal, along with tortillas and some meat, for fajitas. thank you!

      have a wonderful day, Patti!

  7. I hope that you find answers and bounce back quickly.

    I do a few things that I find helps. I used the pressure cooker or slow cooker whenever possible. Knowing I have something going makes my day easier.

    I've also started batch cooking things. If I cook rice, I cook enough for a couple of meals and just refrigerate it. With a little variance I can use it all week -- fried rice, burritos, a quick casserole, or toss into soup.

    Take advantage of every time saver you have is my advice. Slow cooker, batter breads versus kneaded breads, etc. And ask your family for help. I find a little time on the weekend with a little more help from my family makes the week go easier. This is the only way I seem to survive school, seasonal work, etc.

    1. Hi Busy Bee,
      Thank you for the well wishes and advice.
      I've still not tried a pressure cooker. But I'm looking into them. They sound like real time-savers for things like beans and rice. Oh yes, I totally agree about cooking lots of rice at one time. When I can't think of anything else to make, egg fried rice, made with the leftover rice, is super simple. And I like your idea of adding it to soup, too.

      have a great day, Busy Bee!

    2. I have a friend who swears by pressure cooking things like beans and rice, but after "The Great Pea Soup Disaster of 2003" (as we fondly refer to it around here) I haven't been brave enough to try again.

      Just know that if it stops making noise part way through, it's a very BAD sign, and you should remove it from the heat IMMEDIATELY! Failure to do so could result in the thing popping its safety valve and spraying a fine layer of whatever you're cooking all over the entire kitchen... literally... floor to ceiling! Ask me how I know! :-)

    3. Oh my gosh! Nope, don't want that happening!

    4. Although they say that you can do it, I always learned to not cook things like beans in a pressure cooker. The beans are small enough to clog the pressure relief spout and then you can have a problem. However, pressure cookers are great at cooking meat quickly with very tender results. Actually, they have all kinds of fancy pressure cookers these days that don't require much watching.

  8. Sorry to hear you are not feeling well. Sending prayers your way .
    I have RA and my biggest complaint is the fatigue . To work around this I budget my day and make time to rest . On days I feel better I get more done this seems to happen in the spring and fall.
    You take care of yourself and am praying for good test results .

    1. Hi Dee,
      Thank you for your prayers. I'm still waiting to hear the results.
      That's an excellent tip, to budget your day, and make time for rest. I've been trying to do better with both of those. I'm glad you have found ways to manage your RA.

      Have a wonderful day, Dee!

  9. Lili, I'm sorry about your ongoing fatigue. Of course I'll pray for you! I'm not sure I can add much to what everyone has suggested, but I do find that a whole chicken, 5 hours in the crockpot, makes 2 meals for our family of 4--roast chicken 1 day, and whatever I want to do with leftovers the next. Someone mentioned baked chicken--I think that's possibly the easiest of meals. Throw in potatoes and all you need is another veggie for a side. Soup is also good, although personally, I think all the veggie chopping is tedious. Maybe that's a reflection on my chopping skills. ;) Double batches of chili ... quick breads instead of yeast breads ....I have mentioned before as a resource--her soups are delicious and make large batches. She also has a whole wheat quick bread recipe that I can whip together in 5 minutes which makes a great side. Feel better!

    1. Hi Kris,
      Thank you.
      Whole chickens are really great for getting a couple of meals our of one cooking. I may even be willing to spring for the slightly more expensive chickens which seem to be better cleaned on the inside. (The cheapest ones aren't cleaned very well. Cleaning out poultry is a nasty job, IMO! Yuck!) I will look at averlecooks' soups. I've gone to her website a few times, since you've mentioned it. Thanks for directing me there! Mmm a whole wheat quick bread sounds like a good alternative, to go with soup, too.
      Thanks again, for your prayers and ell wishes, Kris! Have a great day!

  10. Lili, so sorry you are not feeling well. I remember going to the doctor in my fifties, maybe forties and telling him that I am tired often. He ran some blood tests and nothing was found. Eventually, it passed, and my energy resumed without medical intervention. I hope and pray your health is good and this is just one of those phases. But it is always good to get it checked out. For me, because I am pre-diabetic and have lots of emotional baggage from childhood, I think that sapped my energy, sometimes a lot more than others and still does today.

    Aging is playing a big role for me. I can see the difference from ten years ago when I could put 10 hour days. I have to accept the changes, but initially it is hard to believe since your mind still wants to go. I don't think you are there yet like me, but changes do occur gradually. I hope this is all that is.

    In the meanwhile, there is nothing wrong with taking good care of yourself and going easy on meal preparations. Frankly, I think you're well deserving of a forever break from fancy meal prep...but I'm on the other end of the spectrum anyway lol, where food doesn't matter too much to me since once it's eaten it's gone lol

    What works for us, since it is just husband and me, is cooking when we find the inspiration, and otherwise eating leftovers. Last night for example, we ate Kalua pork with cabbage (from roasting two pork shoulder roasts which we froze in sections for future meals), and our usual variety of vegetable side dishes. Sometimes I'm satisfied with only side dishes and a bean patty (from frying a 5c dried bean batch and freezing IQF).

    Since we eat so informally, it helps to have our favorites every now and then. Maybe you could serve a favorite for each member of the family, and alternate turns, so there is comfort in place of variety.

    I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers that you will hear good news.


    1. Hi YHF,
      I'm so sorry you went through that period in your life. That just sucks. It must have been frustrating to know that something was off, but no one could tell you what was causing it. You have my sympathies. I'm glad that it mostly passed, though. I completely agree with emotional baggage adding to fatigue. Just in this last month, I've noticed every time I get emotionally upset about something, I feel completely wiped out for the whole day and into the next. When you're fatigued already, the emotional stuff just feels physically overwhelming, not just emotionally tiring. The mind-body connection is very strong. And then adding the pre-diabetes, well, that could just tank any energy you have.

      Thank you for your kind thoughts and prayers. I'm hoping it's something that will pass, or that can be simply treated (like a vitamin D deficiency -- I'm already making certain to take it every single day, even through summer).

      have a wonderful day, YHF!

  11. So sorry that you have been struggling, health wise. Sending some strong vibes that this will soon be behind you. Smart to cook a big meal for intended planned overs. Use the crock pot, make soup, a sandwich night. Turkey and the fixings one night, turkey-bean enchilladas/tacos/chilli the next, BBQ "pulled turkey" the following to mix it up, flavor wise. Day 4: a turkey-cheese pannini, day 5 soup of course! Be well!

    1. Thank you, Carol!
      The turkey is in the oven as I type. I love your ideas for mixing things up with the leftovers, too. thanks! A change in flavors can make leftovers seem fresh.

      have a great day, Carol!

  12. Lili,
    I'm sending prayers for your improved health as well. I'd agree with Carol. I love turkeys, hams and chickens for the planned leftovers. Some additional options for the turkey are turkey pot pie, turkey divan (turkey, rice, broccoli casserole), turkey a la king over rice or toast points and turkey tetrazzini. I often do a "rotisserie" chicken in the crock pot for several meals too, and it makes the best broth for soup with all the spices. Feel better soon! Lynn

    1. Hi Lynn,
      Thank you for the prayers, as well as great turkey ideas. I haven't thought of turkey a la king since my childhood. I'll have to look up recipes. I think my mom used to make that.

      Our turkey last night turned out really delicious. It had been in the freezer since November, but was still really good (just one small freezer burnt spot). It felt good to eat autumn foods again.

      Have a wonderful day, Lynn!

  13. Hope you feel better soon and get some answers. Cheryl

    1. Hi Cheryl,
      Thank you. I thought I'd hear yesterday, but not yet.

  14. I'm so sorry that you're feeling crummy. Personally, your level of energy for cooking etc. has always amazed me. I think I'd be opening a vein if I had to cook a full dinner every single night! Anyhow, I applaud you for taking steps to lighten your load, and I'm hoping should the tests reveal something, that it's an easily correctable, "hooray all better" sort of a thing.

    In terms of cooking, I'm sure many of my techniques won't translate well since you're cooking for 5 people and I'm cooking for one or two, but here's what works for me.

    When I cook, I try to look at it like I'm preparing for a never ending rotating potluck of sorts. The goal is to stock the fridge with a few main dishes, some salads, some veggies and some starchy sides. For example, at the moment my fridge has a big bowl of cole slaw, half a bowl of "chop salad" - cucumbers, peppers, cherry tomatoes, basically things that don't wilt, half a lasagna leftover from movie night with CatMan's yesterday, some roasted cauliflower, and a big tray of deviled eggs. My cooking plans over the next few days include making salmon patties, and doing something with a few sweet potatoes that need to be used up.

    Anyhow, with a fridge like that I can mix and match to throw together dinners that are all easy but not exactly the same from night to night. I seldom make more than one extra thing to go with what's already there, but I always make enough of it to add it to the rotation so to speak.

    The other thing I do is just cook up a big batch of something that can be used many different ways. Rice is a good example. I'll make a big pot of it, and then use it in a bunch of different ways throughout the week. Put gravy on it one night and serve it with chicken, serve it with a stir fry the next night, Mexican the next... you get the idea. I do the same thing with meat - I'll often just toss a bunch of chicken in the oven and cook it having no idea what I'm gonna use it for, but it's SOOO much easier to toss something together with cooked chicken than it is to start from scratch.

    Anyhow, I'm not sure if any of that would "scale up" or not, but that's what works for me.

    I sure hope you're feeling better soon. xoxoxo

    1. Hi Cat,
      Thank you, for both the ideas and well wishes. Your fridge sounds like it's ready for meals at any time. I'll be right there!

      Seriously, what sounds really good about your fridge is you can make yourself a quick meal from lunch/dinner foods, for breakfast if you want. As part of this feeling crummy has gone, ordinary breakfast foods don't appeal to me at all now.

      I think I will try cooking larger side dishes, too, especially things like the cole slaw. My usual way is to make enough for the one dinner. But I could do 2 nights' worth from one head of cabbage. I think you method does scale up. The only limitation is fridge space. They really don't make large enough kitchens for the type of fridge a big family needs.

      Thanks again, and I hope you're enjoying some lovely fall cycling weather.

  15. Hi, Lili. I echo everyone's else's sentiments. Sorry you're not feeling well. A few years back, my doctor starting treating me for an MTHFR deficiency. I started taking methylfolate & it was like a light bulb went on. The fog cleared & I felt like myself again. Now I'm having that low energy feeling again & my (new) doctor is testing me for the same things your dr. it testing you for (she's also looking at hormones, including cortisol levels). Because of my energy levels & how busy things are these days, I've been keeping meals on the simple side, too. On Tuesday nights, I always make an extra big dinner (like filling the Nesco roaster or 2 crockpots) because my MIL & FIL join us for lunch on Wednesdays. They help the kids with science & math that day, while I attend Bible Study Fellowship with my littlest 2. So they stay for lunch that day. My second daughter does help with meal prep & I'm starting to get my oldest son (15) & youngest daughter (11) in on the action, too. That has helped lighten the load. Prayers for you. Melissa

    1. Hi Melissa,
      I'm so sorry you've been going through an exhaustive period, too. It makes it so hard to keep up with normal work. I pray your new doctor finds an answer for you. I've never heard about MTHFR deficiency. I'll look that up.

      That sounds like a good plan you have for your Tuesday night dinners, and probably a real help to have some of your kids helping. It will be good for them, as well as help you. My daughters help on weekends, and I really appreciate that.

      Thank you fro your prayers. I'll say a prayer for you, as well. Have a wonderful day, Melissa!


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