Last week I sat with one of my clients, a young mum with 3 small children, juggling full time work; her relationship and three busy, demanding little people and listened to her describe her busy, frantic world. The mum had come for advice on ways to feed her family better, especially since she had noticed that one of her sons had been gaining a little weight. During our time together the mum spoke of how hard she tried to get a healthy meal on the table each night; how she struggled to strike a balance between the foods her kids are happy to eat and the foods she knows are ‘better’ choices and how little time she has in general. This poor mum had come expecting to be told of even more things she needs to add to her already overwhelming schedule to create a healthier, happier family. And do you know what I said to her? I told her to take a load off, the worst thing she can do is add more into her busy life, rather let’s look at ways to make living a healthier life easier.
And in retrospect I think there are a lot of tired, busy, overwhelmed mums out there who are constantly trying to do more, be more and tick certain boxes and the truth is, you do not have to be cooking a 3 course meal every night and fermenting your own vegetables to create a healthy home. Creating a healthy, happy family has much more to do with supporting a healthy happy mum, with lots of tricks and short cuts to allow the busiest of families to strike a healthy balance between eating well most of the time; foods the family loves and a lot less guilt and ‘shoulds’.
So to help all the other busy mums out there, who already feel guilty enough, here are my top ways to focus on family food efficiency rather than perfection and get rid of a whole lot of guilt and pressure at the same time.
1. Cook just once or twice each week
This is the best news you will hear all day, you do not need to cook every night! In fact when time is precious I would argue that a much better use of your time is to cook just 1-2 meals each week and ideally meals that can be reused. This way you save time, money and stress and meal staples such as pasta bake, mincemeat and stir fries can be cooked in larger quantities and reused to make tacos, san choi bau or reheated and served with a fresh salad. Once you have established this baseline of good nutrition, you can then turn to other quick and easy child friendly yet still healthy options such as Peppercorn Lean Sausages and BBQ chicken with frozen vegetables and/or salad to get you through the pointy end of the week.
2. Shop online
Why spend an hour or two at the supermarket each week with screaming kids and aggressive drivers when you can order your staple groceries such as lean mince, sausages, kid’s snacks, bread and veges online and have them delivered or picked up within minutes each week? Not only does online shopping save much time but it also tends to facilitate menu planning, and stops the nasty impulse purchases that derail many the best of diet intentions.
3. Have set snacks
The classic family food argument for parents of primary school aged kids is over the type and number of snacks readily available in cupboards to fill school lunch boxes. Save yourself a whole lot of debate and angst by limiting supply – 1 box of packaged snacks (at most!) per child per week. Let them choose from a reasonable list (for ideas check out – http://www.susieburrell.com.au/school-snacks/) and save a whole lot of stress. We give our kid’s way too much choice and it will never be enough, they will always want what you do not have, or what the other cool kid of the moment has. It is an unwinnable battle so give in now, take back some control and get them to choose what snack they will be eating for the entire next week at school. One packaged snack per child per day – done!
4. Get everyone involved
It may be your husband picking up the BBQ chicken on a Thursday night, or your eldest kids cutting up the salad or setting the table but the more you delegate the jobs necessary to have a reasonably balanced meal on the table each night, the less stress and things you have to do on a daily basis. You will be surprised how much easier meal times become when it is not just about what you are cooking, rather the process of bringing a meal together as a family.
5. Plan and document
When kids know what they will be eating and when, much debate and complaining about meal times evaporates. So, instead of the nightly debate about what you will be having, or whether dessert will be served, map out the meals and treats for the week and document them for all the family to see. This way there are no surprises when sausages are served on Wednesdays and everyone will know not to ask for dessert unless it is Friday or the designated dessert day. It will take you 5-10 minutes each week to map out the meals but literally save you hours and hours of fights, whinging and carry on.
Snag Pasta Bake Recipe
- 375g Peppercorn Extra Lean Beef Sausages
- 3 cups cooked pasta
- ½ cup frozen peas, cooked
- ½ cup corn kernels
- 1 cup broccoli, into small florets cooked
- 500g jar tomato pasta sauce
- ½ cup grated cheese
- 1 tsp. olive oil
- Preheat oven to 180ºC.
- Cook pasta for 15-20 minutes until cooked.
- While pasta is cooking, over medium heat, cook chicken sausages with a small amount of olive oil in a fry pan for 10-12 minutes until cooked. Alternatively, cook sausages under grill.
- While sausages are cooking, steam vegetables until lightly cooked.
- Drain pasta, rinse and set aside.
- Place all vegetables, pasta sliced chicken sausages into a deep, round cake tin or baking dish and mix. Mix pasta sauce through mixture and sprinkle top with cheese.
- Bake for 15-20 minutes until heated through.