BRAINSTORM: Perk up Family Food

Today, my sister-in-law called me to ask me about what kinds of things I buy at Costco to help her perk up their family meals and breakfasts. Guess where I was! Yep, you guessed it. I was in Costco.  So, we talked my way through Costco just brainstorming ideas for her family, and trying to be healthy on a budget.

Maybe you will like some of these ideas right now for the holiday crunch time. These aren’t the ideas I told my sister in law. These are the ideas I had after our talk.  Welcome to another installment from the Brain of Rachel.

I have written many different lists to brainstorm things to eat. Those lists have changed over the years.  I find it fun to be given a set of criteria and try to keep to the challenge.

Remember the basics:

  • Don’t shop with the Sunday paper coupons. That’s a waste of time and encourages you to buy packaged foods. Focus on buying in bulk or sales that don’t require coupons. Costco really is cheaper and worth stocking up. Look at your long term budget, not just your short term budget.
  • Co-op if you need to.
  • Don’t waste food at home. That’s the number one killer of your food budget.
  • I shop once per week for food.  In the span of 4 weeks I try to go to Costco once—if I’m really organized with a list when I go there. One week week Trader Joe’s. Then the other two weeks I go to my co-op store which is actually much like a regular grocery store but it has the best fresh veggies and fruits and really most of the things I like to eat come from that healthy store.
RACHEL’S BLOG RECIPES. Search for “recipe” on my blog at Use the “older posts” link at the bottom to see all of them.
ON MY BLOG – HONEY BAKED LENTILS. with canned salmon.
LAZY PIE. Also, see my blog for “Easy pie” – you can do this with…
PUMPKIN PIE. Make the 13×9 pan of it with a bottom crust. Pre-bake the crust but not brown. Use blender with canned pumpkin. Pour in crust and bake again til knife inserted comes out clean. People like different consistencies. Add your creamy fat substance and you can add more eggs or less, more spice or less. Sweeten it. If you don’t sweeten it enough, serve with ice cream or sweetened coconut milk or whipped cream.
PIE FOR BREAKFAST – better than pop tarts and cereal. Fruit and/or eggs in the pie!
QUICHE – 13×9 pan, baby. pre-bake that crust again.
FROZEN PIE CRUSTS – Trader Joe’s have butter in them. Other brands from VG’s?  Order a case for a 10% discount?  Get a deep freezer from Costco?  Don’t fuss with the crust. Just get those ingredients in there and Bam it!
GREEK BEANS – make a huge pot and have leftovers. (If you are looking for this recipe, please comment below.  I will post it on demand.)
EGG NOG. You can make your own raw egg nog with just the yolks. (Use egg whites for macaroons.) You can make it thicker by following a “cooked” recipe and using the whole eggs—I don’t recommend this as much unless you can really temper those egg whites and get them cooked but not curdled. I DO NOT favor egg nog with whites. I do the raw. Nutmeg is key spice. sweeten, vanilla, salt.  Some kids may prefer with NO vanilla but YES nutmeg—experiment. Some kids may like it warmed as in “custard drink,” so you can be making a large batch, drink some warm and cool the rest for a cold treat the next day.
SMOOTHIES.  Frozen fruit is a very good value.  Costco has some organics. If you are on that strict budget, it is better to add the berries than to not.  My favorite dessert smoothie is Pineapple + Avocado + Fresh Squeezed lime + lime zest + maybe Stevia + pinch sea salt + egg yolk for nutrition.
MACAROONS. Make the raw yolk nog and then use the whites for making macaroon cookies (below).
CHOCOLATE FIX FAMILY STYLE. Stock up on cocoa powder in bulk, after you determine you like the flavor. Brownies are a great way to get chocolate fix and make it go a long way with a big family. Make brownies every Tuesday night? (whatever). Alton Brown’s Cocoa Brownies (recipe online) have a high cocoa content maybe not great for little kids but great for adults! Diff brownie recipes have diff amounts of cocoa so find the one you like. Our favorite growing up was the “Baker’s One Bowl Brownies” recipe.
INSTANT POT. It was on special $80 on Amazon at Thanksgiving 2015.  I paid $120 for mine. YOU WILL LOVE IT. You can ask me for ideas on how to use it.
POT ROAST. Master cooking times and this is the easiest way to make everyone happy. I have a basic recipe (again, ask me for the recipe and I’ll get to posting it) that you can learn and throw it together quickly. Pressure cook, it and it’s super fast and easy: done in 2 hours.  Stock up on chuck roast on sale!
ADD PASTA. Add macaroni to chili and call it goulash. Figure out if the family likes green pepper in it or not.
TUMERIC for a winter immune booster. Add some tumeric to various things where it hides well like chili. It’s good in leftover turkey soup cooked with various veggies such as summer or winter squashes, canned tomatoes, any kind of rice or barley,  potatoes, green beans, garbanzos or other beans. Clean out your cupboards!  Start your soup by browning onions/shallots/leeks in butter.
GO INDIAN. Learn how to make dal with lentils. Lentils are the most nutritious of all the “beans.” Try a recipe for “butter chicken,” side of “dal” and rice. For lamb or beef, seek out a “sagwaala” recipe that is heavy on the spinach. Use curry spice blends from Penzey’s to take the guesswork out. Always add extra tumeric, possibly extra garlic, maybe extra ginger, and very likely extra cumin!
LET THEM COOK. Teach kids to make quesadillas or grilled cheese sandwiches. Canned tomato soup?  I have an electric griddle that is non stick but “healthy” coating. It’s good for pancakes too. Get them a pancake mix and tell them you want them to make Saturday morning breakfast.
SEASON VEGGIES WITH FAT.  Bake bacon in the oven in a roasting pan. Remove the bacon strips, toss in brussels sprouts (halve them first). Toss in lots of chopped garlic too. Roast that till browned and crispy.  Or do broccoli.
BACON. You can reduce the consumption of bacon by not using it as a side dish to morning scrambled eggs. Instead, use bacon as a seasoning. Bacon bits, anyone? Bacon wrapped dates go a little further than plain bacon and are a special treat. You can wrap the dates in bacon early in the day then when you’re tired in the evening, pop them in to roast and have a winter treat.
POPCORN.  Possible toppings:  parmesan cheese. Simply Organic All Purpose Seasoning. Brewer’s Yeast. Toasted Sesame Oil.
EDAMAME. Boil it as directed. Serve for dipping with Soy Sauce. Can put toasted sesame oil in a layer on top of the soy sauce. Can put Sriacha sauce for spice with just soy sauce.  I don’t do well with popcorn and edamame in the same night. Too much gut trouble.  I don’t serve soy like this very often—I recommend once a week or less.
POTATOES. Boil a pot full of them. Cool them down on the counter then refrigerate. Chop them for your morning hashbrowns. My son loves these with malt vinegar on them.
BAKED POTATOES. Run that oven once with a big batch. Eat fresh baked potatoes with butter and sour cream on Night #1. Night #2 scoop the insides out and save. Use the skins for Potato Skins and fill with anything you can imagine: Taco stuff. Scrambled eggs taco style. BBQ meats or Sloppy Joe’s filling. Chili with cheese and sour cream. Scrambled eggs quiche style with ham/bacon.  Broccoli and cheese.
With the cooked potato centers scooped out of the skins, mash them into potato pancakes (add egg, flour, onion, cheese, etc). Fry those up in butter til brown!  Serve with chunky, cold apple sauce. Or, use the potato centers in…
CREAM OF BROCCOLI SOUP. Add cheddar cheese of course.
TORTILLA CHIPS. Compare costs of the packaged grain snacks you purchase. Look at price per pound to compare your costs. One of the best deals is organic corn chips! (Popcorn is far cheaper than chips, though!)  Look for “lime” in the ingredients and for sure Non-GMO or Certified Organic. Now, you may realize that there are a bunch of snacks that are way overpriced due to packaging.  Costco big bag of organic corn chips can give you many nacho nights.
TASTY BITE brand Madras Lentils is a packaged food that I keep on hand for my daughter.  It is our go-to food for her as a snack or protein dish when I am too busy to cook. You can make this go southwest or Indian style if you want to add extra spices (try more cumin). Dip in some corn chips.
AMY’S BLACK REFRIED BEANS in a can.  My favorite flavor of black beans. I buy a case to get 10% off or better yet hit a sale and buy 12 cans.
SODA STREAM. I do not have a Soda Stream. But, this is something to look into!  I have idea on how to flavor the sparkling water. I think that giving people unique foods at home helps to quell boredom.  I personally get gratification through variety.
BEVERAGES. For myself, I consume fewer calories for weight control and meet my water needs through drinking a variety of flavored beverages throughout the week. Teas, Dandy Blend, decaf coffee, Poland Springs Black Cherry Sparkling Water, plain sparking water flavored with Sweet Leaf flavored stevia drops, Peanut Butter Cup Drink, hot cider, the list goes on. Find your favorites and serve one per night as an evening treat.

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