As a mum, it can sometimes feel like you are drowning in the never ending cooking, meal prep, food shopping and generally making sure everyone has a plate of food in front of them at meal time, let alone that plate being healthy and nourishing. Then throw in a couple of fussy eaters or being in the habit of making different meals for different people, and very quickly mealtimes can add a significant amount of stress to your day that you really don’t need.
Whenever I coach people on nutrition and family planning there are a couple of things I always start with. Firstly, drop the pressure. There is no way you can prepare and cook brand new, homemade, healthy meals for every meal, every day of the week. So if that’s you, try to lower your expectations quickly. The next is, any new habits you are wanting to integrate into your life, ask yourself, “can I see myself doing this in 6 months time?” If the answer is no, don’t even start. Why? Because you will fail and then feel even worse about yourself, and as a result will only raise the expectations even more. It’s all about making the very small tweaks aka micro-habits that are realistic for you and sustainable for the long-term.
Here are some of my top food prep hacks that will last longer than a week and will ensure you and your family are eating nourishing food, and enjoying it!
1) PLAN BUT DON’T OVERPREPARE
The classic supermum might decide she is going to spend all day Sunday planning and preparing meals, getting the tupperwares out going from one cookbook to the next. But as you’ll know, meal prep is hard work, it’s exhausting. And do you really want to miss out on important family time to be slaving away in the kitchen to then feel resentful and fed up.
It’s about getting the right balance. Food planning is important for a few reasons. It will help you to get ahead so you don’t feel overwhelmed each day, not knowing what to cook, it will help you feel more confident and in charge of the kitchen and meal times. It will also save you money as you’ll buy food with more intention as opposed to picking things up you won’t use and having wastage at the end.
So I do recommend that you dedicate a small amount of time planning each week, maybe Sunday evening, or whenever works best for you so it doesn’t interfere with family time. This involves having an overview of what you’re going to make and what needs to go on your shopping list.
2) TRY ONE NEW RECIPE A WEEK
Recipes are everywhere. The problem is not finding them, it’s the overwhelm they create deciding what to cook and taking on too many. I’ve done it myself many times before. Excitedly flicking through a new cookbook and marking the 20 new recipes I’d like to try in the next 2 weeks… not going to happen!!
Something that I try and stick to, which is realistic for me, and many other mums I believe is taking 1 new recipe a week. What this means is that you don’t get stuck in the cycle of churning out the same meals each week because you/your kids are always being introduced to something new and your kids get to experience new flavours and new types of food.
Maybe it’s a family dinner, a breakfast or even a new snack. Whatever it is, have choosing your one new recipe as part of your weekly planning and try to stick to it.
3) COOK ONCE, EAT TWICE
… or even three times. Let’s take some grilled chicken for example. If you’ve got a pack of 6 chicken breasts, don’t just cook 2 breasts and leave the others for the next meal time, when you’ll have to go through the cooking process all over again. Cook them all at once and then keep what you don’t eat for another meal to use in the following days. That doesn’t mean that you need to eat the same thing, the chicken can be used in all sorts of different ways – a salad, fajitas, pasta bake… whatever it is, you’re saving yourself bags of time from not having to cook the same thing again and again. The same could be applied to so many ingredients. I love doing a big cook up of brown rice or quinoa at the start of the week and then it is great for putting together a quick lunch bowl with some fresh veggies and a homemade dressing!
4) MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE FREEZER
I had never been much of a freezer girl, until I had kids. And this ties in very nicely with the point above about cooking once, and eating many more times! When I do my new weekly recipe, in particular, I always cook at least triple the amount and freeze what we don’t eat into individual portions as they are then perfect for whipping out for lunches and dinners for the kids if you are short of time and don’t have time to cook something from scratch. For my one year old, who eats lunch on her own, it is actually very rare that I cook anything from scratch as there is always a good selection of things that I have already made and frozen. Even if it’s just some pasta and homemade veggie sauce.
5) GET YOUR KIDS INVOLVED
This can be particularly useful for fussy eaters and will depend on the age of your kids, but I find with my 5 year old at least, that getting her involved in choosing recipes, doing the shopping and helping with the cooking always helps when it comes to trying new things and being enthused at meal times. Even with something like smoothies, she’s quite happy drinking a very green smoothie packed full of veggies if she’s made it herself. Bear in mind that kids often need to be exposed to things many times before they grow to like them and their taste buds are changing constantly. So if they are turning their nose up or flinging food across the room, don’t give up, keep trying.
6) GET IN SYNC WITH YOUR SCHEDULE
This has been a big one for me and is classic for the mum who is trying to squeeze everything into her already busy enough day. When it comes to the amount of time you need to prepare meals, and planning what you’re going to eat when, really pay attention to your schedule, the days you have time and the days you don’t. There is nothing worse than making grand plans to cook a new recipe on a day that you know you usually feel rushed off your feet, are knackered when it comes to evening time, and don’t have the time you’d like to dedicate. Those are the days when you need something quick and easy, perhaps something from the freezer or something you’ve already made part of already earlier in the week.
7) HAVE A BACKUP MEAL
This links nicely to my next top tip which is always having a backup meal. You know what I mean by those days you don’t have the itm or energy to start from scratch in the kitchen and so you decide to opt for a takeaway that night, or something else ‘easy’ but won’t necessarily make you feel good. And how much time do you spend deciding what takeaway to have, looking at options and menus online, making an order, potentially getting in the car to collect something? You probably could have cooked something very simple and easy in that time. Better still, have a backup meal that you love ready and waiting for you in the freezer for those nights in need. For us it’s a spag bol 🙂
8) INVEST IN A SLOW COOKER
A pretty new thing for me, but an absolute game changer. How would it feel to have a full family meal cooked by 9am in the morning, and leftovers to freeze for another day? Well that is a reality with the slow cooker. It’s usually a case of chucking all the ingredients in (sometimes there are veggies to chop but I think you can cope with that), putting on the lid and the timer for when you want to eat and when dinner time comes, its all ready cooked and warm waiting for you in the pot. No bad ey? I recently bought this Crockpot on Amazon and could not rate it highly enough.
I am guilty of it too, but if you’re one of those ‘go with the flow’ types and think “I’ve got this, there’s no need to plan this week, I’ve got it under control.” Just remember you most likely will end up spending more money, having more wastage, feeling stressed at dinnertime, or making bad health choices which you’ll then feel guilty about. So get in control of the food choices you make, but don’t put on unrealistic pressure, and it can have a big impact on other areas of your life too.