What I've found is that I spend a lot less time shopping and cooking, I cook real meals more regularly, I actually eat more vegetables, and my family enjoys the food more than ever.
I make real dinners almost every night. Sure, there is the occasional mac'n'cheese with hot dogs or fish sticks and frozen peas (and we enjoy those things!) but most nights I cook a meat and a fresh vegetable or salad - no more and no less.
I rarely use recipes. I don't often make casseroles or anything that requires more than a few ingredients or has to go in the oven for a long time. I make those things on occasion to keep it interesting, but the planning and shopping and preparing of those kinds of meals takes too much time, and we don't enjoy them any more than our meat and veggies.
Lunch is usually leftovers, but Sammy and I also eat a lot of fast food lunches because it's fun to go out and we can't afford real restaurants very often. I feel just fine about it because I know we're eating well at home, and really, I think fast food is unfairly vilified.
Because I'm cooking differently, I've gradually had to revise my kitchen staples - the ingredients that I keep on-hand at all times. Now, I can make any meat or vegetable delicious with these items:
- Canned Parmesan cheese
- Sliced cheddar (for burgers)
- Heavy cream (I now buy it by the quart)
- Whole milk
- Bottled lemon juice (for emergencies since my lemons seem to go bad so quickly)
- Minced garlic in a jar (love garlic, hate chopping)
- Various mustards
- Ketchup (used rarely, but important to have)
- Rice vinegar
- Balsamic vinegar
- Olive oil
- Red wine
- Soy sauce
- Worcestershire sauce
- Sesame oil
- Tony Chachere's Original Creole Seasoning (a must for steaks)
- Canned tomatoes (although I rarely use them)
- Coconut milk (again, used rarely, but I like to have it in case I want to make a curry sauce)
- Currants (for salad)
- Sliced almonds (for salad)
- A few salad dressings, always including ranch, which is like magic sauce for kids (if we ate salad more often, I'd make my own dressing but we only go through a few bottles a year so it's not worth it)
- All the common dried herbs and seasonings
This is usually how I shop and cook: At the grocery store, I pick out a few meats that are on sale and whatever vegetables tickle my fancy. (I always buy the bagged lettuce and spinach because there is no way I'm washing that stuff if I don't have to.) At this point, I have no idea what I'll do with any of it. The other day I bought a cabbage for the first time in years, and had no problem finding a great way to cook it with the things I keep on-hand. When you allow yourself to use fat in cooking, you don't need so many ingredients because fat tastes good!
At home, I make a plan for the next few dinners, which is usually based on the expiration dates of the meats or the perishability of the vegetables. But the plan is something in my head along the lines of, "Steaks, pork, chicken then burgers; asparagus, spinach, salad, then broccoli." A half hour before I want to serve dinner, I go in the kitchen and think about how I'll prepare everything. I rarely take more than 45 minutes to make dinner, but 30 minutes is the norm. Here is something I made for just Sammy and myself last week when Adam was on a business trip. Because I made potatoes, this took a bit more than 30 minutes:
- Lamb chops with rosemary and thyme, pan-fried in butter, and with a red-wine and cream sauce
- Baby Yukon Gold potatoes, sliced and fried in butter with garlic powder, onion powder, and lots of salt and pepper (I don't make potatoes often, but I love these with lamb)
- Boiled cauliflower, smashed up (but not mashed), with butter, cream, Parmesan cheese, garlic powder, and lots of salt and pepper
And here is where I really have to brag. My daughter eats just about everything I make. She eats every kind of meat I've ever made (although not every preparation of it). She actually likes spinach! She even gobbled up that cabbage I mentioned. The reason is probably that all of it is cooked with generous amounts of fat, in one form or another. It's just so much easier to cook and enjoy food when you realize that fat is not the enemy. And Sammy loves fat, as I've mentioned before.
The bottom line is that carby foods are not the only convenience foods. It's faster and easier to grill up a steak than it is to boil spaghetti and put canned sauce on it! It's just a matter of habit and mindset.