My 10 Favorite Kitchen Tricks

by Sally on November 19, 2014

10 Kitchen Tricks That Save Time & Money -- from Real Mom Nutrition

As a home cook, I’m a little bit lazy and a whole lot frugal. If there is a way to save money or time, I will try it. Not every effort is successful, but once in a while I stumble upon a kitchen trick that’s a real keeper. Here are my ten favorite:

1. Do-It-Yourself Chocolate Peanut Butter

10 Kitchen Tricks That Save Time & Money -- Real Mom NutritionI like Nutella and Justin’s Chocolate Hazelnut Butter as much as the next person. But sometimes it’s not wise for me to have a whole jar of it in my house (for obvious reasons such as lack of self-control). So occasionally I make small batches of a cheaper, quick-and-dirty version using peanut butter: Place a few squares of chocolate (or handful of chips) in some peanut butter, microwave for 30 seconds or until melted, stir, and spread on whatever you want. Use the ratio of chocolate-to-peanut butter that suits your tastes.

2. Chopping & Freezing Onions

10 Kitchen Tricks That Save Time & Money -- Real Mom Nutrition

I love adding the flavor of onion to dishes, but my kids don’t like big chunks of onion in their food. So I use my mini-chopper (this is the one I’ve had for years) to create very finely diced onions–almost creating an onion “paste”. Sometimes I process several onions at once, especially if I have too many and don’t want them to go to waste. Then I transfer the diced onion to freezer bags, and press flat. Then, when I have a recipe that calls for sautéing chopped onion, I just grab a bag, break off a chunk of frozen onion, and throw it into the pan.

3. Letting Dough Rise in the Microwave

10 Kitchen Tricks That Save Time & Money -- Real Mom Nutrition

Having trouble getting dough to rise? Place a glass measuring cup of water in your microwave (yes, that’s my microwave, not a wall oven) and heat it on HIGH for several minutes until it boils. Turn off the microwave, place your covered bowl of dough inside the microwave (keep the hot water in too), and shut the door. The warm, steamy air will allow your dough to rise faster.

 4. Soaking Dates in Milk for Smoothies

10 Kitchen Tricks That Save Time & Money -- Real Mom Nutrition

Dates are an easy way to sweeten a smoothie, but they can be hard to pulverize in a standard blender. I got this trick from a Real Mom Nutrition reader after posting a recipe for this yummy Peanut Butter Breakfast Shake.  She suggested soaking the dates in a dish of milk kept in the refrigerator, which softens them up so they blend quickly and smoothly. Now I do this too and it works great!

 5. De-Stemming Kale Quickly

10 Kitchen Tricks That Save Time & Money -- Real Mom Nutrition

To quickly pull the leaves away from the tough center stem, hold the kale leaf in one hand and slide your other hand along the stem. Then make this easy Sweet Tart Kale Salad.

6. Soaking Apple Slices in OJ & Lemon

10 Kitchen Tricks That Save Time & Money -- Real Mom Nutrition

I saw this trick on Pinterest and it’s one of my favorite lunchbox hacks ever. Slice an apple, pour the juice from one lemon and one orange (or OJ if that’s what you have) over the slices and refrigerate. Pull out slices to pack in lunch boxes (they won’t brown) or eat them straight from the juice. Many people already do this with lemon, but the orange adds sweetness and balances out the sour of the lemon. My kids go nuts for these.

7. Making Bacon in the Oven

10 Kitchen Tricks That Save Time & Money -- Real Mom Nutrition

I’ll never go back to making bacon on the stove after discovering this method. The bacon cooks so evenly, with barely attention from me (and with no grease spatters all over the stovetop). Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and place bacon slices on foil, bringing the foil edges up and over the edge of the pan. Bake for about 15 minutes or until desired doneness. Some readers also suggested putting a baking rack on the pan and laying the bacon on the rack, so the fat drips down and away from the bacon.

8. Assembling Freezer Smoothie Packets

10 Kitchen Tricks That Save Time & Money -- Real Mom Nutrition

To streamline the morning routine, I sometimes package up ready-to-go smoothie packets for the freezer full of fruit, greens, and extras like flaxseed. In the morning, just pull out a packet, dump it in the blender, and add cold water or milk. This is an especially handy way to preserve greens that are getting past their prime.

9. Using Uncooked Lasagna Noodles

10 Kitchen Tricks That Save Time & Money -- Real Mom Nutrition

Lasagna is one of my favorite cold-weather comfort foods, but I hate the extra time-sucking step of pre-boiling the noodles. So instead of buying the special no-boil noodles, I use my regular whole wheat lasagna noodles (this is a favorite brand) and simply skip the step of pre-boiling them. The key is using a healthy amount of sauce (in addition to sauce between the layers, be sure the entire surface is covered as well), and bake the lasagna tightly covered with foil.

10. Subbing Flaxseed For Egg

10 Kitchen Tricks That Save Time & Money -- Real Mom Nutrition

If you don’t have an egg for a recipe (or don’t want to use eggs at all), use flaxseed instead. Combine one tablespoon ground flaxseed and three tablespoons water, stir and let sit for five minute. Then add to recipes as usual. I’ve done this for pancakes and cookies.

Now I’d love to hear from you. Do you use any of these shortcuts? What are YOUR best kitchen tricks?

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. If you purchase a product through this link, your cost will be the same, but I will receive a small commission to help with operating costs of this blog. Thanks for your support!

{ 31 comments }

4 Foods I’ve Changed My Mind About

by Sally on November 17, 2014

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that I have a lot of opinions about food and willingly share them, even if they’re not popular with everyone (case in point: “My Kid Likes Junk Food. And That’s Okay.“) But reading back through the last five years’ worth of posts, I also see ways that I’ve changed.

As I read more, learn more, talk to more people, try new things, and hear your ideas in the comments and on my Real Mom Nutrition Facebook page, I occasionally change my mind about certain foods.

These are the four biggest changes I’ve made:

4 Foods I've Changed My Mind About by Real Mom NutritionTasting a fresh egg a few years ago was eye opening. I loved the deep, orange color of the yolk and the way the eggs cooked up lighter and fluffier than the store-bought kind.

When I made a point to look for them, local eggs weren’t hard to find. My farmer’s market had them. People I knew in my community started raising backyard chickens, and suddenly we were babysitting chickens in exchange for fresh eggs. When I couldn’t find local eggs, I started buying organic eggs. I know it’s not the same (and that terms like “cage free” are not as meaningful as they sound). But organic eggs feel like a reasonable compromise when I can’t buy local.

Bottom line: I’m on a food budget for sure. But compared to meat, even local and organic eggs are a fairly inexpensive source of protein. If I spend $5 on a dozen, that’s about 40 cents per serving.

4 Foods I've Changed My Mind About by Real Mom NutritionI’ve long been conflicted about eating meat, mostly because of the way animals are raised. Movies like “Food, Inc.” deepened my concerns. I wanted to take a step in the right direction and buy less (but higher quality) meat.

I started buying grass-fed beef in bulk from a local farmer, then chicken and pork at the farmer’s market. I began working with Applegate as a member of an advisory group called the Sandwich Board and had the opportunity to tour their company headquarters and visit the Rodale Institute to learn about organic farming and pasture-raised livestock. I respect Applegate’s mission of “changing the meat that people eat”. Their meat comes from animals that were humanely raised and never given antibiotics or hormones.

Bottom line: Reducing the amount of meat we eat (by instituting Meatless Mondays for instance) means we can spend more on the meat we do buy. I cut costs in other areas, like buying a lot of store brands and buying fewer convenience foods overall.

4 Foods I've Changed My Mind About by Real Mom NutritionWhen I began my blog five years ago, this wasn’t really on my radar. Then I spent months researching the topic for a Parents magazine feature story (read: “Are Artificial Dyes Safe For Kids?“). I decided dyes were worth avoiding. In my opinion, there’s enough scientific evidence that dyes have an effect on some children. The bulk of the research concerns the effects on behavior (and not just among children with existing attention problems). But worries have been raised about cancer risk too. Even if there’s nothing definitive, it just didn’t seem worth it.

Bottom line: We don’t avoid dyes when we’re out at parties or in other people’s homes, but I don’t buy foods or drinks with synthetic dyes. Food dye is an ingredient that does nothing except give color. With more manufactures using natural, plant-based colors, it’s pretty easy to avoid synthetic dyes when grocery shopping. Making more food myself makes it easier to avoid dyes too.

4 Foods I've Changed My Mind About by Real Mom NutritionI already buy some organic fruits and vegetables–things like apples and spinach that we eat a lot and tend to be grown with more pesticides. But I held out on organic milk because I wasn’t convinced it could work with our budget (we go through two gallons a week). There also didn’t seem to be proof that hormone levels differed between organic and conventional milk.

Research does show that organic milk may have higher levels of beneficial fats, thanks to cows grazing on pasture. But I made the switch to organic and local milk because I like the idea of cows given time and room to graze, and knew I was supporting that with organic milk. I also buy milk from a local company called Snowville Creamery, which sources milk from farms that use pasture-based, grass-grazing methods. I buy different varieties, from fat free to two percent (my kids prefer fat free, I like using two percent in cooking).

Bottom line: This change adds about $10 to my weekly grocery bill, which is significant. I try to balance it out by seeking out coupons for other foods I buy. I also try much harder to eliminate wasted milk. A half-finished glass of milk is covered and stored in the fridge for later!

Everyone has their own priorities, concerns, values, opinions, budget, and needs–so you may do things differently. That’s okay. We’re all doing what works for us right now.  But I’d love to hear from you: Have YOU made any changes to what you buy, how you cook, or how you feed your family?

Disclosure: I’m happy to be working with Applegate this year as a member of their advisory board, because it’s a brand I buy and respect. I am compensated for my time. All opinions expressed are my own.

{ 22 comments }

Homemade Grape Fruit Leather

November 12, 2014

Fruit Roll-Ups are a regular fixture on the kid circuit, showing up at soccer games, parties, and even school snack time. But most of them have multiple added sweeteners, oil, synthetic dyes, and juice concentrate instead of actual fruit. So I make my own in the oven as an occasional treat. I’ve tried all kinds of fruit, […]

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In Defense Of Ranch Dressing

November 6, 2014

There’s a bottle of ranch dressing in my refrigerator. It’s not homemade. Its not organic. It has preservatives and added sweetener and artificial flavor. But because of this dressing, my ten year old eats baby carrots and bell peppers in his lunchbox and digs into green salads several nights a week. I have mixed feelings about […]

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5 Foods I Don’t Buy Anymore

November 2, 2014

Since starting this blog five years ago, I make a lot more food from scratch. Perhaps it’s because my kids are older and less demanding and no longer require me to be within two feet of them at all times. Perhaps it’s because I started paying much closer attention to ingredient lists. Or because my […]

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5 Easy Ways To Cut Sugar From Your Child’s Diet

October 27, 2014

Most kids (including mine) love sugar. But most of them get way too much. Added sugar, the kind put in by manufacturers, comes from the usual suspects like soda, candy, and desserts. But plenty of staples in children’s diets provide added sugar too–even seemingly healthy stuff like yogurt and whole grain cereal. Problem is, with so many foods and drinks […]

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8 Healthy Treats for Classroom Halloween Parties

October 24, 2014

I’m a purist when it comes to trick-or-treating: I pass out chocolate and let my kids have free reign over their stashes (read: “How I Handle Halloween Candy Craziness“). But I think it makes sense to dial it back for classroom Halloween parties. Most kids already haul in loads of sugar from trick or treating. At my children’s […]

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12 Ways To Get Healthy Food Into Your Child’s School

October 21, 2014

You’re already doing a lot to make healthy eating happen at home. But you might feel helpless when it comes to your kids’ school. Children spend 35-plus-hours at school every week, eating up to two meals (and maybe even a snack) there. That makes it a natural setting for learning about and experiencing food. Good food. The kind […]

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How I Handle Halloween Candy Craziness

October 15, 2014

My name is Sally. I’m a dietitian. And I hand out candy to trick-or-treaters. In the past, I’ve doled out bags of pretzels, small tubs of Play-Doh, and sheets of stickers too (and see nothing wrong with going that route). But mostly, we hand out candy. Usually chocolate. If you’re a regular on this blog, you know I […]

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Frustrated With Your Toddler? Read This!

October 8, 2014

In June, I posted a giveaway for the new book Tools for the Toddler Years, co-authored by parenting educator Yvonne Gustafson (aka Dr. Y). I asked you to leave a comment about the biggest parenting challenge you were having with your toddler. Dr. Y read all of your comments and asked if she could reach out with some words of reassurance […]

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