Organising and managing your food

17 August 2016
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.