5 golden rules of family meal planning
A perfect meal plan isn't one that is just made up of your favourite foods or what you like to make or bake, rather it works in with your family and your life. It considers those nights when you just don't have time to cook, it accounts for your son's allergy and your daughter's fussy ways and it also sits comfortably within the realm of the family budget - in short a great meal plan must be customised to suit you and your family. Here are 5 top things to consider when planning meals for your brood.
1) Plan for 'no time to cook' nights
Before devising a meal plan, think about your week and what everyone has on. Are there any activities that run late and leave you little time to prepare a meal during the week? Do you have a work meeting scheduled that you know will go overtime? Do yourself a favour and plan for these nights by scheduling quickie dinners, or meals that cook themselves. For example, speedy dinners such as a bowl of pre-made soup, cold meat and salad, or a platter of sandwiches that are ready to toast are easy-peasy dinners. Likewise, a crockpot casserole that you can leave simmering all day and enjoy when you get home after soccer practice is easier than dialling for takeaway.
2) Know what your family like to eat
While it's not a good idea to always succumb to your kids fussy eating ways, taking this into consideration when you plan the weeks meals is a good idea because while they may not like all the meals that are put in front of them, you are more likely to have empty plates and full bellies if you serve up at least a few that you know a have your kids' tick of approval. Think about the family meals you know are always winners - these are the family favourite meals that not only get eaten, but are requested again and again. If the thought of making spag bol one more time makes you sigh, try spicing up the family favourite to give it a twist.
3) Consider little ones who may need to eat earlier
While the idea of shared meal around the dinner table with daddy is lovely, in reality there comes a time in every mother's life where you realise life is easier if you feed your babies and toddlers before he gets home. While they can still sit at the table with some finger food or dessert when mum and dad eat for some quality family table time, everyone will be much more relaxed if the kids aren't hungry and cranky. To this end, plan for dinners that your little ones can eat earlier and that will still be appetising by the time you get to sit down - think easy reheat meals, dinners that can be left simmering on the stove and slow cooker meals that you can leave in the pot on the 'warm' setting.
4) Think about how much time you actually have to cook
When planning meals it's a great tip to take into consideration how much time you will have to cook and tailor your menu accordingly. You may want to use the slow cooker and plan speedy meals like quick stir-fries for midweek dinners and leave roasts and long-cooking casseroles for the weekend when you have more time to spend in the kitchen. You can also bag up vegetables for soups and stir-fries on the weekend to make getting dinner on the table midweek a lot faster.
5) Plan to have a takeaway at home
Every household succumbs to takeaway once in a while - either as a special treat or a last-minute meal resort. But takeaway food is often expensive, salt- and sugar-laden and high in kilojoules and fat content. While it's ok as an occasional treat, you will save money and your family's health if you can take it off the weekly meal plan. If your kids are used to their weekly grease fix, however, why not learn how to replicate their favourite takeaway and restaurant favourites at home? Chicken nuggets, burgers, pizza and chips can all be made by you and are healthier when made in your own kitchen.
REMEMBER: To have fun!
Planning your meals doesn't have to mean the same old boring dinners week in, week out. Work something new into the plan that you haven't tried before. Bake a different cake, try making a laksa at home or recreate your favourite Chinese takeaway dish.