The most frequently asked question I received through my Account, Meals for Mini Mouths, is ‘Where do you find the time to make meals for your family like this?’
Providing nutritious homemade food to my family is something I’m extremely passionate about, how I make this possible each day is by Planning Mealtimes, so I know exactly what I’m making each day, this helps me to prep effectively and shop easily. Saving myself so much time each day.
Meal planning in our house is done on a 4week rota. I plan all our meals for the next 4weeks, in advance, I draw up a table and include Breakfast, Lunch and Tea over a 4week period. As ideas for mealtimes come into my head, or the husband and children give suggestions, I pencil all of the ideas onto the rota.
Just before the new Meal Plan is due, ill gradually start to plan the next 4week block in detail, using the ideas and suggestions pencilled onto the draft rota & seeing what meats/fish we have in the freezer that need using up. These meals will then be put into their ideal days to be eaten.
Planning the meals for each week is based on things like, how much time I’ll have to prep the meal on that particular day, doubling up on the cooking of ingredients one day, to use as part of a meal on another day. (i.e. if we have pasta, I’ll cook extra for lunches the next day, or if we have mash ill cook extra one day to use in fish cakes or as a pie topping for the following day or so), I also like to ensure I’m not wasting any ingredients and try to ensure everything is used up in some way each week & if not can be frozen for another time. (i.e. if I need some passata in one dish, I’ll make sure there’s another dish a few days later that will use up the rest of it).
Planning in 4 week blocks also means that generally we rarely end up eating the same meals twice in the same month. This allows for plenty of variety, keeping mealtimes interesting and stops them becoming repetitive. Which is a big bonus during those fussy phases.
I try to include plenty of meals that can be frozen, so that during the 4weeks there are days where I just need to pull the meal out of the freezer & serve with sides. Its also super handy to have these freezer meals there for emergencies, which at the moment is very handy with an unpredictable baby who may not allow me the time to put him down to prepare meals, no matter how little prep the planned meal may involve. For example, if I plan a meal which is suitable for freezing, such as lasagne, I’ll double up on the ingredients and make two at the same time, we will eat one that evening and the other I’ll pop straight into the freezer. I use Nom Nom Kids Pouches to freeze portions in and foil food containers, for things like lasagne, fish pies, cottage pies etc.
I shop for our food online on a 2 weekly basis, I try to get store cupboard ingredients and the meat/fish for the whole month all at once, then just top up every 2 weeks with Fridge/fresh produce & anything we’ve ran out of. Our fruit and Veg is delivered weekly by a local greengrocers. This keeps our food bills very low. We tend to pencil in a couple of meals out each month as well.
I purposefully leave a few odd days blank, in order to use up any items that might be left over, this is usually when the wonderful and interesting meals/items are created. Generally I just make something up with the leftovers and hope for the best.
The days following the fresh fruit and veg delivery is when I will pencil in meals that require really fresh produce, then as the week goes on ill gradually alter the meals so that by the end of the week I’m using the veg in meals, as opposed to an accompaniment to a meal where not so fresh veg is fine, i.e soups, curries, stews, pizzas, muffins, pancakes, etc. Again all things I can add to my freezer stash to keep us going on other days. Thus making it super easy to provide everyone with nutritious homemade food each mealtime.
Due to working full time, Sunday is usually the day I’ll either stick our evening meal in the slow cooker for the day or we will go out for tea, this then frees up my morning, whilst Roo naps to prep for the week ahead.
I’ll usually aim to make 3 items, taking me roughly around 1 hour to prep everything, Normally this includes 1 breakfast item to last 2 days and 2 lunch items to last 4 days. All meals are served with easy to prep fresh fruit & Veggies and healthy packaged choices, such as rice cakes, bread sticks, dried fruits, yogurts, cheese.
Whenever I do get a free 20 mins of an evening, I’ll often use the time to whip up something quick, to literally stick straight into the freezer for another day. Basically to ‘top up’ the stash. This is such a key trick, and is also a fab way to reduce food waste.
Getting the whole family involved in the meal planning, ensures that everyone will have meals on the plan that they enjoy. Meal planning over 4 weeks means that you’ve got plenty of time to think about meals for the next plan too.
Once I’ve drafted up the 4 week plan, I will write a shopping list of all the meats/fish and store cupboard ingredients I’ll need for every week. I’ll then order these in and freeze the meats/fish until I need them. The rest is ordered every two weeks and will include things like, cheese, milk, eggs, butter and anything we’ve ran out of.
On the whole we tend to stick to the meal plan, especially during the week as it’s just easier. But there are always days where the plan goes out the window, or we really don’t fancy what we’d planned to eat, so we end up making something totally different, often using the ingredients from the planned meal to save on wastage. Or I’ll have a look to see what we have frozen and ready to go.
I strongly believe that meal planning over 4 weeks, helps you to see what meals are coming up and gives you a clear picture of how to prep for those meals efficiently. It also means that you can be super organised with your food shopping, which will save you both time & money.
Following the above is really the only way I am able to provide my family healthy meals every day in such a very limited amount of time and within a small budget too.