Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

Bet you’ve heard that said, haven’t you?  You might even have one of those ‘Don’t Sweat’ books on your self-help shelf (I think I used to).  I find we do sweat a lot of small stuff – mainly because the small stuff grows in proportion to your income and status.  For instance, taking a kid out of school for a Dr’s visit is a lot easier if you don’t have to use public transportation. What’s an inconvenience at one income level is a much bigger problem at another.

Here’s today’s small stuff.  When we get home I make a snack for the kids to have while they settle in with homework.  It’s frequently pasta – both because it’s cheap and because the kids like it.  My older daughters will often take the initiative and get a pan of water boiling on the stove while I deal with dogs that need to go out and homework instructions for the little kids.  Today my daughter announced that the stove wasn’t working.  I held out some hope that the pilot had just gone out and needed relighting but when I wasn’t able to get it going we came to the dismal realization that we were out of propane.  We are lucky that we only use propane for the stove/oven in this trailer- unlike in our last trailer the water heater is electric so we still have hot water for showers, dishes and laundry.  But I won’t be able to fill the propane tanks until I get paid next Friday (it costs around $55-$65 depending on the price of propane and the more you buy the lower the price, making it uneconomical to fill one of the two tanks).

So for the next week we will be cooking with just the microwave and toaster!  If you have great family friendly microwave recipes please send them.  We do have microwave mac n cheese (today’s snack) and a little plastic dish that we use to make omelets.  We are making it into a teachable moment and making a list of all food we can eat without cooking – sandwiches, salad, fruit, and the things we have that can be microwaved!

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26 Responses to Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

  1. Marci says:

    It’s cheaper to refill the propane tank you already have than to swap it out for a full one. Google “propane tank refill” plus your state. In my area it’s $20 to refill the tank versus $50 to swap it for a full one.

    • boxcarkids says:

      We finally filled the tanks yesterday (2 tanks) – $71 for 14.8 gallons. Gas prices have dropped but propane price doesn’t seem to have changed.

  2. Catherine N. says:

    rice cookers are great! Also think about things like lentils and dried beans. You can soak them, cook them in the crockpot or microwave, and serve with rice and tomato sauce.

    I’ve even cooked rice in one, in the past, then, when the rice is close to done, tossed in a package of frozen veg and a can of chickpeas. And voila, dinner.

  3. Sara T. says:

    My kids got a Pasta Boat from one of my friends for Christmas. They make it themselves in the microwave and make corn and other veggies as well – nice product.

  4. Lynn says:

    Breakfast around here is all microwave and toaster. Spray a cereal bowl with PAM and scramble an egg in the bowl, microwave 45 seconds. Plus toast and microwaved bacon or thin sliced ham from TJ’s, a breakfast sandwich. I almost always cook fresh vegetables in the microwave; it’s fast and they come out really well. Albertson’s has a chicken Meal Deal on Mondays that is about $6 and includes a whole rotisserie chicken or 8 pc fried chicken, a salad, potato wedges (or second salad), Hawaiian rolls and a liter of soda. Frozen lasagne comes out well from the microwave. You can do “grilled cheese sandwich” in a toaster oven . Hot dogs microwave fine. Less than ideal, but this is short term, right? Lots of no cook options like sandwiches. Fish sticks and tater tots will work in the toaster oven.

    • boxcarkids says:

      Thanks – we actually got rid of our little toaster oven once we moved here with the ‘real’ oven, so all we have is a toaster – for toast. It was our first house warming gift! We had hot dogs tonight. I found a fun omelet in a cup recipe and the kids have been enjoying having those for breakfast – it comes out like a little souffle in shape (but much denser of course).

  5. Kathleen says:

    For some reason I couldn’t comment on here yesterday, so first I want to wish you good luck in your first 30 hour week! I hope this is only the beginning of good things to come for you folks!

    As for microwave/toaster oven cooking, I have a couple ideas. Everyone has mentioned baked potatoes, those are obviously a winner. Combine them with some microwaved canned chili and you have a pretty decent meal. Another thing you should try, if you haven’t already, is bagel/English muffin pizzas. You can put all sorts of stuff on top of them, they’re fairly filling, and the kids will get a kick out of making them. Quesadillas work on the same model and again are something you can have fun making with the kids (or just have them assemble their own and pop them in the toaster for them!).

    I poked around the internet a bit–no kids, so I undoubtedly have more time for this than you do!–and found a few things that sound interesting. I can’t vouch for them but they might be worth a try.

    Meatloaf Cupcakes
    A standard meatloaf recipe can be adapted to cook in a toaster oven by dividing it into small portions and using it to fill the wells of an oil-sprayed cupcake pan. They bake for approximately 30 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Mashed potatoes make a fun “frosting” for the individual servings of meatloaf after you’ve removed them from the cupcake pan. If there is no access to a stove top, instant potatoes are a good substitute for the real thing. Served with a green salad, this makes a hearty meal of traditional comfort food without breaking the calorie bank — cupcake-sized meatloaves offer immediate portion control.
    Read more: Toaster Oven Meal Ideas |

    Toaster Oven Tortilla Bake Recipe (I don’t know how big your toaster is but I thought I’d pass it along if only for inspiration)

    My apologies for the length of this response, but I just thought of another thing. I know my mother buys those rotisserie chickens at the grocery store pretty much all the time. She loves to cook, but they’re way cheaper than what she’d pay to make it herself and because there are only two of them eating, she gets a three or more meals out of it. You could have it one night, with say instant mashed potatoes and some sort of microwaved veggie, and then make toasted sandwiches with the leftovers the next night.

  6. debbieo says:

    I cooked chicken and noodles in a rice cooker once on a mission trip. I was the cook and there was no kitchen. I had a griddle, a rice cooker and a crock pot I think. I used a tote for a cooler (didnt work that good), any way I used home canned chicken to make the chicken and noodles. I am going to look up that book that Celeste mentioned that Roger Ebert wrote about using the rice cooker for other things.

  7. Jeannette says:

    I lived for a year without a stove, I too was a single parent and was renting a 1 bedroom small cottage, I actually was so naive I believed the landlord when he said he did not have to provide a stove, gosh how smarter I am, any whooo, I got very good at cooking many parts of any meal in my electric skillet, my crock pot and my micro wave. You will get through this, gosh you went how long without work so propane should be easy peasy, the other thing I thought of is do you have a fire pit, during the Hurricane last week, we had no power for a week, I did many of my meals on the firepit. You would be surprised what cooks great in foil packets.

    • boxcarkids says:

      No fire pit or grill and I dug through storage without finding the crock pot (I think we sold it – every so often I pull something out and list it on craigslist – this week it was our printer).

    • BB from Dot says:

      To Jeannette, laws vary from state to state and sometimes town to town. Where I lived in upstate NY landlords had to provide refrigerators but not stoves and here in Boston landlords have to provide stoves but not refrigerators. Go figure.

  8. king says:

    Here is a complete meal with rice cooker: When the rice is almost ready, stir ground beef or chicken with peas , covered it until the rice is ready. Serve with soy sauce. (optional)

    • boxcarkids says:

      Thanks all! You’ve given me so many great ideas that I feel entirely able to live without propane for the next week which means I won’t dip into the childcare fund and am very close ($55 to go) to being able to register the kids and go to work 30 hours next week! Then in 2 weeks I’ll be eligible for health benefits!

  9. RosaMN says:

    Sweet potatos bake well in the microwave, too, and of course any frozen veggies. And anything you bring just to a boil – pudding, a squash or tomato based sauce to go over rice, stuff like that.

  10. Celeste says:

    Roger Ebert wrote a cookbook on how to use a rice cooker as a cooking vessel for lots of dishes.

    The single burner mentioned above is also called a hot plate; it would let you boil water in a pot while you use the electric skillet for browning/frying of other things. Pancakes and grilled cheese sandwiches are naturals in the electric skillet since these usually have a nonstick finish.

    I like the idea of investing in the electric skillet and/or hot plate so you have the option to control how long your propane lasts. If you can find one at a yard sale, those George Foreman grills are kind of handy, too. You can make some pretty good quesadillas or panini sandwiches in them.

  11. Maryl says:

    An electric skillet is also a thought. Check out resale stores. That could really save you on the propane expense in the long run.
    If the microwave and crockpot are the only two options, stop at the library and get cookbooks geared for those two. Or, of course, the internet. The cookbooks would be more fun for the kids to look through because you can get enough for everybody to have one.

  12. amy says:

    You can also nuke eggs. After breaking them into a shallow bowl first. Turns out pretty well I think.

  13. docdave says:

    I’ve had the propane run out more than once; it made me a believer in the electric covered frying pan, which works for boiling water, baking (yes!) and saute’ing, which makes even the kind of frozen vegetables I can afford taste a little bit better. Bet you can find one on freecycle. Crockpots are handy but recipes seem fall into one of two categories: mush all cooked together, and better-tasting stuff which requires separate prep and sometimes even cooking of some ingredients…eats time and space, plus juice if you have that electric skillet. Oatmeal is great from a crock-pot, but it bakes to the inside like epoxy. Rinse immediately, or bring a cold-chisel.

    I figured out something about that not-so-bottomless propane tank: it made me very conscious of how much energy I used usefully, and how much I wasted. A little like the coin-fed gas meters one used to find in cheap English lodgings. One cooked , or heated, up to the limits of one’s brass in pocket. Or, maybe, tried to save a few btus – worth for a rainy day.

    Other non-stove-dependent stuff: cereal, with milk or water (I love milk, it doesn’t love me–and Grape-nuts are just as obdurate when moistened by one as by the other); ramen (the noodle for those who have had to go nuclear) with cheese, tomato sauce, in ANY kind of soup; peanut butter, the gift of the gods and GW Carver; sun-brewed tea.

    • boxcarkids says:

      I have experienced those English lodgings first hand – I spent 5 months in a flat in England while doing my dissertation research. I wish our propane tank had a meter but the only way you know you are out is when things stop working. In our old trailer I had a feel for how long the tanks would last but this will be the first time to refill them in the new place. Now I can pencil a warning on my calendar!

  14. bogart says:

    Hmmm. The baked potatoes Theresa mentions are a microwave favorite of mine. Not a complete meal (well, …) but frozen veggies (mixed carrots/peas/green beans/corn or any of solo or broccoli or cauliflower or chopped spinach) dropped straight (from the freezer) into a pyrex bowl and then “nuked” until warm plus salt and/or pepper and/or some oil or butter is a standard side for us. Sprinkle some grated cheese over the veggies and you’ve got some protein in the meal.

    Baked beans also “nuke” well.

    I cook couscous in boiling water but it “perks” pretty quickly; I’d guess it could be done in a microwave (I do my slow-cook rolled oatmeal there and it turns out great). Mix that with the veggies and you’ve (again) got a meal involving protein and fiber. We also consider both cold sandwiches and cold fruit + chunks of cheese to be a meal. Some grocery stores around us sell cooked hard-boiled eggs, which are overpriced compared to DIY but still relatively cheap and can be eaten straight up or deviled or made into an egg salad.

    A favorite microwave snack around our household is popcorn. I don’t know if you’ve got one near you, but in my area a box of 3 full-sized packs costs $1 at Dollar General.

  15. maureen says:

    One of my favorite microwave recipes involves cutting up an apple, sprinkling it with brown sugar, and nuking it until warm and soft. It tastes just like apple pie filling. Yum.

  16. Theresa says:

    not really a recipie, but baked potatoes come out pretty good in the microwave!

    We were in a similar predicament just recently. In our case, the oven was broken, and we didn’t have the extra money to fix it. We were cooking in a small electric roaster oven.

    I wonder if it would help if you could buy a single electric burner at walmart or similar. They’re about $10, and you could at least cook in a pan.

  17. Sara A. says:

    You can boil water in the microwave and then put the pasta in the hot water to let it soak (like ramen does). Depending on how much pasta you want you might need to refresh the hot water.

    Have you thought of getting a crockpot? It does not use much energy and you can start the meal when you go to work and it will be ready when you get home with the kids. You can cook stews and soups and casseroles and beans for tacos or burritos. Also, it does not heat up a small area the way a stove will. If you cannot afford one (they are very reasonable… like $20-30), then I bet you know someone who would be happy to loan one.

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