By Allie Gaunt & Jessica Benton
Have you ever lacked a little inspiration when deciding on what to make for dinner? Whether it’s a busy afternoon you didn’t quite prepare for, the unpredictability of juggling babies and young children, or you’re simply a little tired from thinking about what to put on the table each night. Trying to cater for different age groups and food preferences in amongst managing the never-ending demand of kids activities can feel quite overwhelming. Plus, don’t get us started on the seemingly endless amount of lunchboxes we need to consider each day.
Instead of aspiring to absolute parenting perfection we suggest making small, realistic changes that fit with your family’s busy schedule and take the time to look after your future self. So, when days are more challenging or life gets in the way, you can feel more prepared by utilising your well stocked freezer or having a range of fast meals that utilise pantry staples, rather than spending on expensive takeaway or top-up shops too often.
If this seems all too familiar, why not try some of these simple, achievable and maintainable solutions that can help you stay in control.
1. Create a meal plan that works for you
Try and look at your typical week as a whole and find some gaps of time to get ahead and stay there. Simply map out which days are busy, and which could offer some extra time, then work with what you’ve got. Once you have this basic plan in place, you can then fill the week with whatever you need – one day might be a slow cooker meal with a freezer dump bag prepped for another day, while another might be a fast meal, or some leftovers that you planned from the day before.
2. Fruit and veggie grab boxes
Many parents feel guilty that they haven’t offered enough fruit and veggie options throughout the day. One of the greatest simple prep ideas we have is to create a fruit and veggie grab box at the beginning of each week (and top it up as you go). The idea is that with a few minutes of prep – think washing and chopping veggie sticks and peeled and chopped fruit – you will have some incidental snacks, lunchbox filler and fresh sides to offer at dinner.
We find if it’s prepped, you are more likely to offer it and they are more likely to eat it! Better yet, once you’re in a good routine, older children can help with preparing these bright and colourful boxes for you.
3. Frozen baking boxes
The freezer should be your number one treasure trove to keep a busy family functioning. We often think about main meals, but what about the never-ending snacks and lunchboxes too? We love to create one sweet and one savoury baking box of fast-moving frozen snacks.
Think sweet – muffins, bliss balls, biscuits and savoury – sausage rolls, tartlets, and noodle muffins all flash frozen and placed together in a box in the freezer. Designed to be added to each week there will be no time for freezer burn as they’re used for fast toddler dinners, lunchboxes, and snacks on the go.
4. Slow cooker + freezer dump bags
A slow cooker and the right recipes can bring you so much joy! You can batch cook in the slow cooker allowing you portions to freeze for another night and once you are in the swing of things ‘freezer dump bags’ will become your new best friend. We’ve developed a collection of slow cooker meals that also allows you to pre-prep a dump bag of the same ingredients, to freeze for another day. So the following week when you know afternoon chaos is coming, you can defrost the bag and dump it into the slow cooker for a perfectly cooked meal by dinner time.
5. Creating meals with leftovers
Whether you’re the main cook in the house, or some member of the household shares the load, leftovers can be a game changer in reducing the amount of time you spend in the kitchen. Making one meal and using the leftovers later in the week for a different meal is a total game changer. When we use leftover meals for kids we like to create a completely different meal in either taste or texture to the one before. That means while we are using the same base component we are continuing to offer variety.
It only takes a small amount of organisation and pre-planning to considerably change the way your family eats and more importantly the way it makes you feel. All of the recipes in The Family Meal Solution can work on their own or be integrated into your meal plan piece by piece to give you a flexible and achievable approach to feeding your family each week. Plus with vegetarian suggestions, allergy and intolerance notes and suggestions on how to serve each meal to your baby and toddler we really have thought of everything. We can’t wait to see you get started!