Do you ever feel stuck in a rut of cooking and eating the same foods, week in and week out? So many mums I have spoken to all share this feeling of wanting to try to new things or introduce their families to new foods. The real constraint is not a lack of creativity or a strict food budget, it’s the TIME it takes to find new recipes and prepare them. Healthy, tasty meals do not have to be expensive but they do take more time to prepare than for example, putting frozen food in the oven for 30 minutes (we’ve all done it!).
There are some things we can do to optimise our cooking time so that we can enjoy good nutritious food everyday, not just on the days when we have a little spare time. The first and most important piece of advice is to make a meal plan for the whole week, not just a few days in advance. Try and visit the supermarket as little as possible, this will help you keep to a budget and stick to the plan. A while ago I wrote a post on how to save yourself 20% off the Grocery Bill, where I shared a few tips that have helped me curb my spending in recent years.
If you plan the whole week ahead of time, you will be able to buy most of the ingredients you need in one go, and maybe just top up with a few items of fresh food, like milk and fruit in the middle of the week.
My second piece of time-saving advice is prepare enough vegetables to last for as long as possible. The period of time different vegetables will stay fresh for will vary greatly, but there are some items, like root veg that can be prepared up to 4 days in advance.
For example, lets consider carrots. Buy 3 or 4 bags. Peel and chop a batch into sticks, to go with Sunday roast. Grate another batch to go in the Chilli con Carne on Monday night (store in fridge). Chop another batch into thin slices, put into a large freezer bag along with some sliced onion and you have the veg for Tuesday nights casserole (they can be thawed before cooking or put straight in the casserole).
If you have any carrots left after that, peel and chop them, add any other left over veg you have, boil with some chicken/vegetable stock for half an hour, then blend. There’s your soup for a few days lunches.
Thirdly, invest in a slow cooker. Or at least borrow one (I’m sure you know someone who would let you borrow for a week or two). This is picture of my one, it is a really easy to use, easy to clean model. We use it at least twice a week, sometimes more. There are so many free recipes you can find online there is no excuse not to use it. This saves time and money because you can prepare dinner very early on in the day, perhaps when the baby is napping or the children are at school. Also, I find that I can easily make a double portion of whatever curry or casserole or dish I’m making, and the extra portion could be frozen for another nights dinner, or split up to use in lunches for a few days.
The other huge benefit of slow cooking meat, is that even very tough cuts of meat (which are often cheaper) such as steak pieces or brisket, can be cooked to perfection. The low temperature and long cooking time make meat so incredibly tender – you have to taste it to believe it! Many health professionals argue that slow cooking our food helps to retain a lot more nutrients than cooking at higher temperatures. I am no expert in this area but it is certainly worth looking into if you’re interested in the health benefits as well as saving time and money.
Finally, I would advise that you freeze fruit and vegetables that are almost ‘on the turn’. I mentioned casserole veg earlier, but almost all vegetables can be peeled/chopped etc and put in the freezer. It is not unusual for our freezer to be full of little bags of chopped onions, grated carrots, grated courgettes, blanched broccoli or cauliflour. Many types of fruit can also be frozen. A top tip is to peel your very ripe bananas and wrap them individually in clingfilm before freezing, then use them in a delicious breakfast smoothie. Food waste is such a terrible thing for your budget, and a little time building up a freezer stash could save you time, effort and money in the future.
These are just a few things that have helped me to make more food in less time and so get out of the ‘food rut’. Do you have any kitchen tips that have helped speed things up for you? I would love to hear from you via comments below!