It's back to school time and that means hello organisation! It's great to be organised with meal planning and cooking so you can spend more quality time with the kids now that they're back at school.
As a busy working mum, what I find really helps is to schedule an hour a week to organise meals and a shopping list for the week ahead – I find putting in some clever preparation will save you time and money in the long run. It's a good idea to include your kids in the planning so they can develop an appreciation of food and look forward to the meals to come.
When it comes to planning, a good tip is to choose meals for the whole week that will satisfy the health needs and preferences of all the family and write a matching shopping list. If you want to be really organised, map out three weeks' worth of meal plans and shopping lists and rotate them.
Next, when planning, you want to be able to cook meals the whole family can enjoy but also ones that are easy for you to pull together. To make things easier, there's no need to prepare a completely separate meal for your kids if they can enjoy mum and dad's? Meals such as roast dinners, soups and casseroles can be enjoyed by kids and adults alike and can even be puréed in a blender for babies who are on to solids. Make them with less spice for the kids, as you can always spice it up for the adults afterwards.
Another tip is to make the most of a single ingredient. Getting to know how you can use a single food item for multiple meal ideas will save you large amounts of time and money. If you ever come across a cheap, high-quality staple ingredient that can be used in a variety of family meals, buy up and brainstorm recipe ideas for future meals and kids' lunchbox options. Things like tuna work well and you can add it to wraps and sandwiches, make a pasta from it or have it on toast.
A time-saving baking mix
Find a 'universal baking mix' and keep it on hand. A basic baking mix that takes into consideration any allergies or sensitivities will be a lifesaver for a busy parent. Keep a dry mixture in a big container, and experiment with whatever seasonal or available additions you have in the kitchen. Sneak in vegies such as roasted pumpkin with spinach and seeds for a savoury muffin option, or frozen blueberries with shredded coconut and honey for a healthy sweet fix.
This fantastic gluten-free self-raising baking mix is a great all-rounder to keep in the pantry. Combine these ingredients and store in an airtight container.
All Round Baking Mix
· 150 g (51/2 oz/11/2 cups) blanched almond meal
· 95 g (31/4 oz/3/4 cup) tapioca flour (arrowroot)
· 25 g (1 oz/ 1/4 cup) flaxseed meal
· 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
· 1 teaspoon baking powder
· 1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
*Supercharged tip: For an even simpler mix, combine 125 g (41/2 oz/3/4 cup) rice flour, 25 g (1 oz/1/4 cup) almond meal and 11/2 teaspoons gluten-free baking powder.
Batch Cooking and Leftovers
Have you ever tried make-ahead batch cooking? All you need to do is prioritise one day every couple of weeks for a batch-cooking session based around whatever seasonal produce or ingredients you have on hand.
Preparing freezable items such as soups, stews, curries, homemade pizza bases, stocks, dips, breads, muffins and slices will save huge amounts of time when preparing lunchboxes and midweek meals. Include prep for your week's meals on these days as well: chop and bag vegies, and make staples such as sauces and spice mixes that you'll need during the busy days ahead.
Supercharged tip Knock up batches of from-scratch soups, casseroles, bolognese and stews to fill your freezer with homemade midweek meals. My favourites are Shepherd's Pie with Cauliflower Mash and Supercharged Moussaka or Lasagne.
It's also a fun idea to make popsicles and mini frozen treats as a healthier alternative to ice cream. Kids absolutely love icy treats. Fill ice block (popsicle/ice lolly) or push-up moulds with blended fruit or mixtures of homemade fruit and vegetable juices for a nutrient-rich sweet treat. Freeze concoctions in smaller portions in your everyday ice-cube tray and present them to your kids as 'ice lollies'. they won't even notice the difference between your homemade goods and the chemical-laden ice blocks from the corner shop.
*Supercharged tip: Blend a banana and freeze it as a wholesome, delicious ice cream mimic! or try freezing natural yoghurt with whole berries.
If you have a busy day ahead, use last night's dinner leftovers for the next day's breakfast and lunch. It's amazing how many home-cooked dinner leftovers can be creatively added to omelettes, salads or toasted sandwiches, or made into interesting mini pizza toppings for kids' breakfast and lunch options the next day. Present last night's bolognese between slices of scrumptious sourdough or gluten-free bread, or leftover stewed fruits on top of a morning muesli.
To ensure you spend time together, combine family time with food- preparation time. Allow your kids to unleash their creative side in the kitchen while you're prepping meals. Involving children and teaching them the art of home cooking provides them with the opportunity to appreciate the meals they have at home. Give kids the option of adorning their own mini pizzas, or of adding different 'sprinkles' to their morning muesli, such as chia, flax- and hemp seeds, goji berries and other nutrient-rich toppings. You can read more in my book Supercharged Food for Kids.
Article written by Lee Holmes.