Kitchen Conservation

Living in an RV automatically leads to kitchen conservation. When you have a limited amount of water, waste storage, and heat sources, you can’t take anything for granted. Usage and replenishment take center stage.

When I live in my regular home, I have no idea how much water I use, how many weeks of food are in the pantry, or how high my gas bill will be until I receive it. I am lucky. I have the luxury of not worrying about those things.

Now that Cooking2Thrive is on a road trip, I’m living in an RV. That’s a whole different ballgame. I know exactly how much water I use. I can easily gauge with a quick glance how many days of food I have. And I know how often I must empty my waste tanks.

I’m learning how to anticipate the lead time needed to replenish supplies without having to create new storage areas in seats and leg spaces. And I recognize how little laundry I can generate and groceries I need when I’m thoughtful.

That’s the key. When you have less space, you have to be more thoughtful about every choice.

While I’m not limited to my two-burner propane cooktop and microwave, to keep in the mindset, it’s sometimes fun to plan meals as if I am. Small amounts, fewer pots, and simple prep are principles to guide the planning.

For example, single serving microwavable brown rice makes more sense in this environment than a bag. Frozen vegetables are fine but must be used right away because I don’t have a freezer. One pot dishes containing protein, vegetables, and starch are winners every time. They allow me to conserve dishwater and can be stored in a single container.

I currently have a container of ham, potatoes, and asparagus in my refrigerator. These flavors pair well together seasoned with just salt, pepper, and garlic powder. To keep the prep simple, I buy ham that’s already diced. Potatoes can be microwaved until almost done, then easily peeled and diced. And asparagus can be steamed in a skillet or the microwave, then chopped. I combine all three in a microwave-safe storage container so I can reheat and eat for several meals. 

For even less waste, I can leave the peeling on the potatoes. Or I can make this a pantry generated meal by using canned, diced potatoes, and canned asparagus.

My RV pantry always contains salt, pepper, garlic powder, and olive oil spray; canisters of coffee and almonds mixed with raisins; coconut milk; single serving peanut butter, gluten-free instant oatmeal, microwavable brown rice, gluten-free pretzels or crackers, canned black beans, canned potatoes, and a canned green vegetable. There’s usually a sweet potato or potato in the cabinet, and some kind of fresh fruit and plain unsweetened yogurt in the refrigerator.

When there’s room, I add a jar of salsa or my favorite jam to the pantry selections. I also like having a stash of mini Kind bars handy. Single serve containers of mandarin oranges, olives, and condiments can be useful. The goal is to keep it as simple as possible while having enough to throw a tasty meal together in a pinch.

Last week, I ate brown rice and black beans plus mandarin oranges for dinner on a night my original plan was not workable. The remaining beans and rice became a side dish when groceries arrived.

Once a meal is finished, I wipe down all of the dishes so no crumbs, bits, or film remain on the surface. This means I can conserve soap and water when I wash them. When it’s just me eating two to three meals, I can wash dishes in 32 – 48 oz of water per day. I’d call that decent conservation.

I find it makes the most sense to buy salads from restaurants. All of the ingredients are there in a single container and they’re already clean. That means the only waste is the container in which they arrive (and sometimes that is reusable). Most entrée salads will last several meals when used as a side salad.

If I were preparing salad in the RV myself, I’d use triple washed spinach as the base and most likely include raisins and almonds from the pantry in the toppings. The spinach can be easily wilted to eat alone or added to an entrée if I get tired of salad.

Using portable cotton hypoallergenic washcloths creates some waste, but means less laundry and fewer wet things cluttering my space. I use these to wash dishes, prevent coffee grounds from going down the drain, and to wash my face. I’ve also used them to wipe down countertops and dust TVs.

Right now, I’m drinking coffee I rewarmed from yesterday’s batch. I’d like a little more, but I’m considering whether it’s better to conserve water and time by drinking a cup once I arrive at the office. Conservation will most likely win out. It usually does when living in 100 sq ft.

Will I carry any of my new kitchen conservation habits home?

I can’t really predict whether they’ll stick, but I’ve added a whole level of awareness that I believe will serve me well in many environments. That’s a real benefit of shaking things up. Your point-of-view changes with each increase in knowledge.

Kitchen conservation and simplicity increasingly seem intertwined and I love both.

Ten Halloween Treats for Any Child

Here are ten Halloween treats for any child. Every kid loves to get candy for Halloween. No kid NEEDS candy for Halloween. But how will kids respond if you give them a fun Halloween toy instead? Perhaps this is the year to find out.

Making this change can eliminate any mixed emotions you have about encouraging sugary snacks while also making your treats more inclusive. With candy treats, some children will have to sort out the chocolate, the dairy, the gluten, the artificial coloring, or other allergens. That can put a damper on their excitement about the holiday. Switching away from food will mean more kids can enjoy your treats!

When I was a kid, I loved wax lips and fangs even when they weren’t part of my costume. I also had fun with clicking metal frogs. My kids loved scaring me with plastic spiders and snakes. With more toy varieties available than ever, it’s easy to expand on a theme of disguises or themed toys.

Here are ten items to explore:

One. Themed Rubber Duckies. Choose monster duck shapes or ducks dressed in costumes – witches, skeletons, ghosts and more. They’re fun in the bathtub and they don’t hurt when toddlers throw them at each other after eating lots of sugar.

Two. Mustaches. My family wears these off and on all year long. We wear them to parties for no reason at all. We dress up like pirates and sing pirate songs. The kids love them – even the girls.

Specific shapes and sizes are available individually. There are also variety packs with various a va. Some come in bright colors, others are simply brown, black, and gray.

Three. Slime. Tiny cans of slime seem like the remnants of ghosts. And kids love icky feeling messy things.

Four. Capes. Children can become vampires or superheroes by donning a simple cape. Red, blue, and black capes with a Velcro closure are available for less than $1 each. They can be worn as is or decorated as a fun activity.

Five. Balls. Superballs, bouncing pumpkins, or eyeball balls are all available and fun. I still love super balls. The higher the bounce, the better.

Six. Halloween Crayons and/or Coloring Books. I realize at this point I’m mostly making a list of toys I like. I’m even a sucker for the crayons and placemats they give kids in restaurants.

Seven. Temporary Tattoos. My grandkids love temporary tattoos. Choose an assortment with bats, skeletons, jack-o-lanterns, and candy corn or opt for Paw Patrol, PJ Masks, or Frozen.

Eight. Bubbles. Every toddler I know has learned to ask to blow bubbles by saying bub or bubbles as soon as their vocabulary grows beyond four or five words. One of my grandchildren says and signs it.

There are hundreds of delivery containers for bubbles. Some have holiday themes. Others do not. Choose the size and variety that best suits your trick or treat needs from any discount, big box, grocery, or online store.

Nine. Glow Critters. If your kids love glow bracelets, they’re sure to love glow critters. Many of these are packaged with bracelets for the kids to wear for additional visibility when trick or treating.

Ten. Flashing Spike Ring. Jewelry is another option for themed giveaways. Flashing spike rings remind me of light up sensory balls. I’ve been known to stare into a few, and the kids are quickly mesmerized – as if they’re under a witch’s spell.

Even if you decide to dole out candy, putting a few toys in the mix will make your house more friendly for children with dietary restrictions. And experience tells me, children love variety. When I’ve mixed in toys on Halloween, they’ve quickly become more popular than candy.

Happy Halloween! Stay safe, everyone.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

How About a Ta-Da List?

Instead of a to-do list, how about a ta-da list? This post is for all compulsive list makers. Don’t worry, I’m one too. Many of my lists stay in my head, but once they become too numerous or too long, I put them on paper or on a screen. Doing so makes me feel organized. It can also leave me feeling discouraged when the lists get longer instead of shorter.

Obviously, discouragement won’t help me get tasks completed any faster so I’m filing away my to-do lists in favor of ta-da lists. A ta-da list can contain anything I accomplish. Sometimes that may be a task from my to-do list. Other times, it could be eating a healthy meal or treating myself kindly.

A ta-da list is a way to give myself credit for all that I do. And seeing it in black and white makes me realize I’m not a slug who never completes a to-do list. I’m a very engaged person who accomplishes an amazing amount then takes on even more.

It also lets me see where my time is going without getting lost in feelings of inadequacy or frustration. That can give the perspective I need to help align my priorities and goals with my activity. Rethinking my obligations shifts from a difficult task to a rewarding experience.

And ta-das are a reason for celebration. It’s so easy to focus on what I’ve failed to do rather than celebrate what I’ve done. Having a ta-da list shows me exactly how many reasons I have for jubilation!

It’s the beginning of a new week and a great time to start. Here are today’s ta-das so far:

  • Dried towels
  • Wrote draft of a children’s book 
  • Did yoga 
  • Contributed to critique meeting
  • Tweeted @Cooking2T 
  • Downloaded and installed software
  • Sorted and threw away misc stuff from porch
  • Made a list of fuses to order 
  • Resized a mat for the RV 
  • Moved kitchen items into the RV

But it would feel much different if I were to compare that to the multiple running lists I keep in color-coded steno books: Pink=personal, White=work, Gray=house projects, Teal=landlord projects. So, I think it’s best to create the master lists that will guide the overall direction of my personal, work, house, and landlord projects and then file them away for the week.

I’ll only work with my ta-da lists until an appointed review time. It will take some experimentation to determine whether weekly or monthly review will be most effective. At review time, I’ll compare my ta-da lists to my to-do list. What I’ll be looking for is a ratio of goal accomplishment to self-celebration that feels satisfying, positive, and encouraging. 

If I find I’m celebrating so much I fail to achieve any goal, I’ll adjust. If I see that I push myself so hard I don’t enjoy anything, I’ll adjust. If I only used to-do lists as a reference, I’d be more likely to measure success or failure and move on without analysis regarding improvement. The slight change in the system makes me more likely to become more and more efficient and effective.

It must be working already. It sometimes takes a whole day to write a blog post. It’s only 12:35 pm and I am ta-done!

Keeping Track

Finding a pattern requires keeping track. Identifying foods that irritate your system may involve a lengthy investigation. A fasting diet can help, but when issues linger after the primary culprits are eliminated, things get a little more complicated. Recording the foods you ingest each day can reveal unexpected patterns that can help.

It’s easy to think that we’ll remember what we’ve eaten without recording it. If you’ve ever been on a calorie-counting diet you probably know that’s rarely true. You simply have to write it down somewhere or you’ll miss some little something along the way.

When looking for irritants, you also need to record how you feel each day. Cross-referencing the two can bring the greatest insights.

It took me awhile to figure out Cheerios caused my dermatitis herpetiformis to flare because I was intermittently consuming another problem product that used optical sorting of oats. The effect of the combination was misleading at first, but watching the pattern over time helped me figure it out.

You don’t need anything fancy to keep track. A notepad and pen with some highlighters will do the trick. It’s more important to tailor your system to your habits. What will be the most accessible, easy, and least interruptive way to accomplish the task?

If you want the ability to sort the information in a variety of ways, consider a spreadsheet program. In a pinch, you can put each day’s meals into the notes app on your phone.

Beyond that, other diet apps can do double duty, helping you to see the nutritional composition of your diet or the number of calories consumed while also helping you keep track of what you’ve eaten. It will be best to choose an app that allows you to record how you feel as well as what you’ve eaten and has a way for you to easily recall or export a history.

If you want to reduce the typing, spend a couple of weeks creating a checklist of everything you eat. Let that be your master list so that you can just checkboxes on the list for each meal. It will be helpful to alphabetize the list and leave room for the date and notes on how you feel.

You can record symptoms after each meal or just in general for the whole day. Often symptoms will be delayed and impossible to relate to a specific meal so a daily recap can be effective.

Don’t just record expected symptoms. Note if you feel lethargic, fatigued, foggy, itchy, tight in your skin, or irritable when touched. These can all be early clues that occur before more significant symptoms. If there’s a pattern, eventually you’ll be able to see how quickly they appear after ingestion of certain foods.

Reviewing monthly and looking for patterns should be sufficient. If you find none, it’s okay. But when you do, every minute of time and effort will feel worth it. Any piece of the puzzle that lessens symptoms and improves how you feel is worth keeping track.