This post couldn’t have come at a better time for me, as I’m trying to turn over a new leaf and start cooking healthier meals for my family, while being as efficient as possible!
Alex from Feed the Brood shares her ten secrets to making your kitchen a happy place. There are some absolute gems here which I promise will make life easier…
As a parent or carer of little people, your day can often be won or lost on the successes you have in the kitchen.
Young children ideally need feeding every 2.5 hrs in order to keep their moods buoyant and the modern parent’s to-do list can be so hectic that food provision becomes all about survival. Fight or flight is the quickest way to get the stress hormone, cortisol, coursing through your veins, you get snappy and impatient and before you know it, you’re having a bad day!
So, how can we implement a few strategies to get ahead of the stress?
♥ Online Shopping
All my household shopping, ordered from the comfort of my sofa delivered straight into my kitchen? Yes please! I know some people are keen to walk around the shops and hunt for a bargain, but with three young kids, that’s not a preferable option unless I want cupboards filled with Haribo and my life savings spent on Lego magazines. To make the online shopping work best for us, we have a repeat delivery on a Sunday evening. It’s kind of a drag having to put the shopping away on a Sunday night, but it does offer some closure to the weekend and boosts us cockily into a Monday morning knowing that we have food and drink sorted for the next five days. If you find that you’re spending a fortune on incidental stop offs at the supermarket or expensive corner shop, this is definitely the strategy for you!
♥ Batch Cooking
You may think that you don’t have the time or the energy to batch cook, but I only ever ‘Batch cook’ by doubling up the meal I’m cooking anyway. I call these Big Effort Meals and they are always meals that take a bit of time to make and are easy to make a double batch of. This usually suits wet foods like a stew or a curry, but it can in fact, work well with things like meatballs, meatloaf, homemade nuggets or fish fingers. Coming up are a couple of ways I use to make batch cooking easier than it sounds.
♥ Use frozen onions!
It’s not the cheapest or the most eco-friendly way to eat an onion or a garlic, but I’ve decided that it’s a necessity for our family right now. Using frozen veg makes a serious impact on the way I can easily feed my family decent home cooking, so I think it’s worth it. I can start off a double batch of curry in a matter of seconds by using frozen onions, frozen garlic and frozen ginger. That’s probably about half an hour of prep if I’m making enough for 10 portions! Many of the shops do a wide variety of frozen veg, so have a look to see of there’s something that would make your life easier.
♥ Let the oven do the work
Many dishes are traditionally cooked on the hob. Constant stirring is not exactly ideal when you’re trying to breast feed a baby, help a toddler potty train or helping the kids with their homework before they head out to football practice. Yes, I do love the slow cooker, but my short cutter tendencies have led me to believe that the beloved traybake isn’t the only meal that can be cooked in the oven from scratch. I’ve started testing foods that are traditionally cooked on the hob and sticking them in the oven. Imagine doing curries, meatballs and pasta dishes in the oven with no stirring?! And so long as you get the moisture levels right, the food is edible, and in fact, just as delicious. Yesterday I made a double batch of curry, put away three loads of laundry and supervised homework all at the same time! I hate it when people call me Superwoman, but I did feel pretty gnarly…
♥ Make a plan
I know it’s so uncool, but spending a few minutes thinking about the week ahead and which meals you can manage to cook on which afternoons can seriously reduce stress levels. If your work schedule has a big impact on your meals on the weeknights, you can also plan in cooking double batches at the weekend or make the big effort meals after the children are down ready to eat on your return the following day – it’s much easier than it sounds with all my suggested shortcuts – cooking and Netflix are compatible with my methods! I also think that having the plan displayed somewhere in the kitchen can help make it easier to implement, especially if you share the cooking with your partner.
♥ Build a list of your family favourites
Meal planning off the top of your head can feel like pulling teeth sometimes. I know my mind goes completely blank and I start to come out in a cold sweat. I have a notebook that I keep a running list of all our favourite meals and I always add new meals I’d like to try again. I can keep referring back to the list and it completely breaks the planner’s block!
♥ Be smarter about using the freezer
The freezer is a marvellous invention, but I meet so many people who describe their freezer as a graveyard of unlabelled single portions. Freezing leftovers is a great idea, but you will probably admit that that meal doesn’t have an intended consumption date, it’s merely being put on ice because it’s unwanted right now. Listen up, the freezer has far more potential to enhance your life than that! When I double up a family meal (see the ‘Batch Cooking’ section above), the second portion gets labelled and frozen with a very specific consumption day the following week. And my meal plan the next week will always include that meal along with the accompanying carbs and vegetables to turn it into a proper family meal.
♥ Set an alarm to defrost
I understand if you’re nervous about defrosting meals safely for the family. The absolute safest way to defrost a meal is in a tray in the bottom of the fridge over 24 hours. So, set an alarm on your phone to remind you to take dinner out of the freezer 24hrs ahead. All you have to do when you walk through the door is reheat it all the way through and add the accompaniments. So long as it’s reached 75 degrees (i.e. bubbly) it’s safe to eat. So it’s super easy, nutritious and delicious!
♥ Try something new once a week
Tea Time Groundhog Day is what exasperates so many busy parents – repeating the same old meals over and over – especially if you have a fussy eater to keep fed! Try adding something new just once a week and by the end of the year, you’ve injected 50 new meals into the mix!
♥ Why not try The MasterPlan?
I’ve put all of these tips into practise in my recipe eBook called The MasterPlan. It’s a recipe book with a clever twist – it’s in the format of an 8-week meal plan and it includes links to add a recipe or an entire week of shopping straight into your online shopping basket! It’s usually £19.99, but My Tunbridge Wells readers can get The MasterPlan for £15.99 with THIS LINK.
Alex will be at this weekend’s Tunbridge Wells Food and Drink Festival on Saturday (21st September) doing pesto making at the Alive with Flavour tent from 1-3pm. See her doing a demo on the live stage at 3pm where she’ll be doing a prize draw for a free copy of the eBook!
This is a collaborative post with Feed The Brood.