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17 August 2016

Organising and managing your food

Serving good food from your own kitchen isn't just one thing, it's many. And it doesn't happen once, it's part of your ordinary days for most of your life. There is food budgeting and shopping, correct storage, meal planning, cooking, baking, preserving, maintenance of your stove, oven, fridge, dishwasher, crockery, cutlery, pantry and stockpile. All of us need to think about food security and some of us think about food production and go on to work in our own backyard gardens. No matter how you go about it, how much money you have for it, how much time you spend on it, food is important and it needs to be organised and managed.

Many readers tell me they're a bit haphazard with their food. They don't plan, budget or work to minimise waste. And that's fine, none of us are born with that knowledge, it's one of the many things we learn to make life easier. As we grow older, we need to make sure we learn what we need to know about food - and that's a lot more than just recipes - and to adjust and refine our food knowledge as we progress through life.

If you're not sure about how to start organising yourself, start with a list of the meals and food you already make regularly. Just making that list will probably start clarifying things for you and then you can go on to develop the skills you need. Slowly, you'll start seeing your patterns emerging and it will all start making sense. I included my list of meals in yesterday's post so if you need a little help, check that out. Don't try to do everything at once. Concentrate on one skill or idea at a time, work on that, and when you feel competent, start on the next one.

Don't think you have to do everything the way I do it, I am just one small example. If you're new to all this, remember it's something that will help you every day for as long as you're responsible for your family food. Take it slow, make sure all your systems work the way you need them to and I promise you it will make the work you do in the kitchen easier and more pleasant. 

When you produce your list, work out if you have enough main meals to serve for about a month. If you do, you'll have variety as well as nutrition. Then start building up the various categories of food you need - look for snack foods, lunches for work and school, morning or afternoon tea foods, drinks, preserves, a vegetarian selection, celebration foods or foods for any dietary requirements in your family. If you need to add to your list, do some research, test your new finds and add them to the list if they're suitable. That will take a long time, so don't rush it.

Use an over abundance of backyard fruit and vegetables, or buy seasonal food when it's cheap, to make jams, sauces, chutney or relish.
Use your freezer to store fruit and vegetables when you don't have time to process immediately. These rosellas have been in our freezer for two months. In the next couple of weeks I'll have the time to defrost them and make them into jam and cordial.

It's a good idea to use fruit and vegetables that are in season. They'll be at their best and cheaper because there'll be a lot of them available. When you grow your own, it's a simple matter of preserving or freezing excess vegetables as pickles, relish or chutney or your sweeter fruits as jam or cordial. But you can also do that when you don't grow your own. Just look around for a roadside stall or small green grocer because they may have cartons of oranges, lemons, tomatoes, peaches, or cheap pineapples, mangoes and passionfruit at the height of the season. You usually have to ask for a price on a carton because the shop won't have them on display. It's handy to have a freezer because if you have a big harvest when you don't have the time to preserve, you can freeze the fruit and use it later. That's what I've done with our elderberries, I've been freezing them as they ripen on the tree. When I have enough berries, I make either elderberry cordial or flu tonic. I also have a few plastic bottles of pure lemon juice ready to be made into cordial in summer. It takes a bit of organising, and you do need a freezer to help you store your produce but it's a simple exercise that will help you manage your food stores effectively.

Simple rissole (meatball) recipe
Meatloaf may be made using this recipe. Just form it into a loaf and bake it in the oven.

  • 250 grams pork mince
  • 250 grams beef mince
  • 3 slices stale bread
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, grated
  • 1 stick celery, finely diced
  • salt and pepper
  • ½ cup parsley, finely chopped
One hour before you want to cook, add stale bread to milk and allow it to stand for 30 minutes.

Add meat to a bowl, break up the milk-soaked bread with your hands and add it to the meat.

Add all other ingredients and mix with your clean hands. When thoroughly mixed, form into balls of the size and shape you require. If you're making rissoles, the shape is like a large ball that you squash down slightly before cooking. If you're making meatballs for pasta, they're much smaller, a little smaller than a golf ball. For meatloaf, simply form into a loaf, either in a loaf tin or baking tray.

Put the rissoles on a plate and leave in the fridge for 30 minutes. That will allow them to firm up a bit and make cooking easier.

Cook the rissoles/meat balls in a frying pan with a small amount of olive oil added, turn every five minutes and brown on all sides.  When they're brown, put the lid on, turn the heat down and let them cook for an extra five minutes.  You can use the pan juices to make gravy. Click here to go to my gravy mix post. You can pre-make your own gravy mix so you don't have to buy one with preservatives in it.

Salmon fish cakes/patties

Make these up at least an hour before you want to cook them. They will firm up in the fridge and be much easier to cook and flip over.

  • large can of red salmon
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 medium potatoes, boiled and mashed
  • 1 large egg
  • chilli, finely diced (optional)
  • coriander or parsley, finely chopped
  • salt and pepper
  • breadcrumbs for coating
Drain all the water from the can of salmon, remove the skin and place salmon in a bowl. Leave the bones in. They're soft and you can easily mash them to incorporate into the flesh. The bones contain an extra boost of calcium.

Add all the ingredients to the fish, mix well and form into patties. Coat with dry breadcrumbs, if desired. Fry in hot oil till both sides are golden brown - about 15 minutes.

Tuna loaf
This can be eaten hot or cold. It's good served warm with mashed potato, green beans and tomato and it's also good served cold with potato salad and fresh garden salad.

Drain all the water from the tuna before starting.

Prepare a loaf tin by spraying it with olive oil and place a piece of baking paper, about 6 inches wide, over the middle of the loaf tin to help remove the loaf when it's cooked. The paper should come up the sides of the tin to be used as handles.
  • Large can tuna in water
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs made from stale bread
  • 1 large onion
  • ½ capsicum, diced
  • ½ cup corn
  • 1 stick celery finely diced
  • ½ cup parsley or chives, finely chopped
  • 2 medium eggs
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 level tablespoon curry powder, chilli powder or paprika (optional)
  • salt and pepper
  • halved cherry tomatoes or tomato slices may be added to the top for decoration
Add all the ingredients to a large bowl and mix thoroughly. This is best done with clean hands. Pack the mixture into a loaf tin, firm it down and allow it to sit in the fridge for an hour to firm before baking. 

Bake in the oven at 180C for 30 minutes or until the top is golden brown.

Additional reading

After a while, cooking, food preparation and planning become second nature but we all have to start somewhere. I hope these posts will assist you either by adding to your recipe collection or by helping you manage your food and build your skills. Remember it's a long process so don't rush, and what you do doesn't have to be what everyone else does, it has to serve you and your family.


  1. WOW...can I come over for supper?? Lovely it when you share things like this!! I grew up in California, BUT my mom's dad's people came from Texas...I don't remember things being too spicy, but we had recipes no one around us seemed to know. It is always fun to learn how others in other places cook things. And now I have lived in Idaho, Washington, Hawaii and the east coast besides...learning as I have moved around...heh!!

  2. Planning meals can some what be difficult. I almost work full time a 31 hour week. I depend on my husband to do the meals. If I had to do the meals I believe I would just purchase box food and zap it in microwave.
    Hopeful soon we can figure something out.

    Coffee is on

  3. Last night we had a dish called tuna and almond savoury that my mother has been making since before I was born. That's a comfort food! And one of my kids loves it.

    Thanks for the post,


  4. And I strongly recommend that while you are learning to cook, you involve your children. Children love to press out biscuits, break eggs, help stir.... Give them the head start you might not have had and they will be better for it when they are grown.

  5. Hi, Rhonda. Such delicious looking food! I cook from scratch constantly as I believe it's the healthiest and cheapest way to eat. I was lucky that my Mum taught me to cook and, being part of a single parent household where my Mum worked, it was one of my responsibilities to cook the evening meal many times a week once I had the skills to do so. Those skills have, and continue to, serve me well. When I'm finished here this morning, I will be at my kitchen bench making little sausage rolls and little kale, feta and potato parcels. Some for dinner tonight and some to go in freezer for quick-to-cook meals when life gets a bit busy. Meg:)

  6. Hi Rhonda: thanks for the recipes. The tuna loaf and rissole recipes sound good and both have veggies in them, it's always nice to sneak in more for picky kids. Since I have a 5 yr. old that can literally drink gravy from the gravy boat I also got your gravy mix recipe. I love having more meals to add to the weekly meal plan. I think the only thing better than having the recipes would be having you here in New Jersey cooking with me.

    1. Cooking together would really be something, Trish. I hope you and your family enjoy the recipes.

  7. I have been thinking about the importance of skills lately. I've always cooked from scratch but I can't say I've had a system and I wish I would have. Life comes along and surprises you. At one point, my teenager developed type 1 diabetes and I had to learn carb servings and such. Now, I am cooking for my elderly parents (in their late 80's) who are still able to live on their own. My mother had a medical emergency which kept her from being able to do many of the things she used to, including cooking. It's been tiring and I was just thinking how I should work on having more of a plan and work on my skills. Thank you for sharing your ideas.

  8. Your meals always looks so simple, yet homely and really delicious. Just like the old days, before food manufacturers started bombarding us with advertisements for convenience style foods. I do believe that there is a resurgence towards cooking from scratch.
    After reading your post, I am craving rissoles right now!

  9. Hi Ronda...have always been a meal planner and find it helps greatly. No stress when shopping because I know exactly what I need and I know what I am going to do with left overs so there is no food wasted.....all part of the master plan......

    Anywa just thought I would let you know that the link ADDITIONAL READING is not working for me. Cheers

  10. Hi Rhonda,
    A few years ago, I sat down and worked out a six week menu plan. I laminated it and made a little flip deck of it. I worked out each week to have a mix of meat and fish and off I went. I knew exactly what I had to buy almost down to the last potato! On Saturday mornings I would get up and prepare any of the meals that could be precooked - stews, spag bol, lasagne, fish patties, etc and put it into the fridge. Generally, 2-3 hours Saturday morning and most of the week's meals were prepared and only had to be reheated. It was lovely coming home to the smell of dinner cooking. I utilise my slow cooker and automatic oven a lot.
    It saved an awful lot of time and money doing it that way. These days, there are only 3 of us (down from 7) so meals are more ad hoc. But to save time, money and effort, a meal plan is brilliant.

  11. Thank you again Rhonda the photos look so tempting and they bring back memories of the past. I cooked from scratch most of my life but now I am struggling with snack food so now I have put together a main meal list I will have to start on morning and afternoon tea. Things are always a work in progress. I am even making some of your cleaning recipes and love the laundry detergent. Just as a promo for the laundry detergent I showed a friend how to make it and when I asked how it worked for her, she was so pleased it even cleaned up her sons clothes from his work at the Tannery; smell and all was gone so she is impressed.

  12. I am proud to say my food management skills are my best simple living skills and they have developed so much more from blogs like yours Rhonda. I know if money is tight I can make a little go a long way. Menu planning not only saves a lot of money it really does make your life so much easier. For busy families it means you can delegate part of the cooking, you avoid the dilemma of making meal decisions at 6pm and you can chop and change the menu to suit the really busy days of the week. My husband is not a food planner but if I leave a note asking him to make the chickpea and pumpkin salad (and leave my recipe book open on that page) he is happy to oblige. I don't want to fall back into the trap of getting a takeaway because I'm disorganised and if we go out for a meal it is because we want to and it will be somewhere nice. Planned meals mean free lunches from leftovers and very little food waste. I get a lot of recipe ideas from blogs and I also look at mindfood and regularly. I sometimes give myself a challenge of making 1 new recipe each week or fortnight and like you Rhonda we are eating less meat and a lot more vegetarian meals. I love cooking with the food we grow. Tonight we had a Thai chicken curry and I made the curry paste with home grown chilli, spring onions and lemongrass and added home grown kafir lime leaves, pak choy and coriander. The bought ingredients would have cost less than $10 (including free range chicken thighs) and it served 3 adults with leftovers for lunch. In the freezer I nearly always have some slice or cake cut up into single serves and I just stick to buying fruit that is in season. We have our own bananas most of the year - there is a bunch that I am keeping a close eye on that should start to ripen in a week or so. Today I bought a few bananas and I was so disappointed when I tried one as it looked ripe but wasn't. Our home grown bananas are so much better. My focus now will be on growing some good citrus.

  13. I don't write down menus, per se, but on Saturday mornings, I browse my freezer and select two meats for the week. From these two selections, I can usually come up with four to six meals. For example, hamburger might be sandwiches one night and tacos the next with any leftover being used as the base for a gravy to go over toast. The rest of our food for the week is usually vegetarian (meatless), like breakfast for supper or salads with cottage cheese. I tried writing menus, but found I ended the week with a LOT of food uneaten! Ha! So, I guess I wasn't either cooking appropriate amounts or we weren't eating a lot... This works for me, anyhow. As for how much I spend at the grocery, we average about $25 a week or less, except for animals foods. I can everything I can find or raise. This month we have been watching "wild" apple trees to collect the apples for cider, sauce, butter, and such... Wildcrafting is such a good way to add to our food!

  14. Oh my gosh, your meals look SO good! I'm struggling to find my "cooking groove" again. Before I had my baby, I made a lot of fancy recipes and really enjoyed that my daughter is 18 months old, I'm finding that I want to serve her good, simple, home-cooked food, and my previous fancy recipes are just too expensive and complicated. So I'm finding your meals really inspiring!

  15. I came across this helpful posting on the Craftsy Blog - A visual guide to fruit deserts - a great resource & reminded me of some easy puddings

  16. Oh that second dish looks devine! The one with carrots, onion, meat and dumplings? Would love that recipe if you wouldn't mind sharing sometime Rhonda.

    1. It's lamb stew. Just search for beef stew in crockpot and substitute the beef for lamb.

  17. This is a wonderful post. I agree that meal planning is really important bit of you never done it before take it slowly and build up. I have a seasonal menu which I base on the contents of a veg bag I have delivered from a local farm co-op. I shop every week for fresh groceries and have most that will keep delivered in a big order every few months. My children love fish cakes I too make them with a can of salmon and mash potato but I add dill, capers and sometimes a chopped up boiled egg into theirs. I also cook them in the oven rather than frying them.

  18. Fish cakes, what a great simple meal. Not one I grew up with so not one I think to make, you know how you miss the obvious things when you get in a groove? Cheap, can be made with basic pantry stock and a good summer dish with salad now the days are growing warmer and longer. Ill let you know how they go! ;)


  19. Thank you Rhonda. It has inspired me to put a meal plan together which I've been meaning to do for ages as well as get our grocery budget under control. I seem to have lost my mojo with it and I know it's important especially for someone like me who isn't a natural in kitchen or great at cooking. Your timing is perfect. Time to reorganise my time in the kitchen and our grocery spending, thanks as always.

  20. Thank you so much for the very clear way you have put this together for me. I am off to study this post for meal plans and and get things organised. Again, thank you for this wonderful post.

  21. Dear Rhonda, Well I'm doing it! I have been reading your woderful blog for years now, have bought both of your books and used some tips and recipes. I just never have yet caught up to the present. Well, I am finally in the same year. I was just up to January 22 where you extended a thank you to everyone who follows and comments, I wanted to start raising my hand and say me, me, I'm here, just quiet! Thank you for all of it, the writing, the food, the books and intrinsic affection you show us. Dale, Vermont USA

    1. Thank you Dale. Thanks for reading the lines and between them. xx

  22. What do you consider a 'large' can of salmon or tuna?

    1. Salmon - 415 grams, tuna - 425 grams.


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