Ever since having children I’ve really learnt the benefits to dedicating some time each week to planning healthy family meals for the week ahead.
Have you ever found yourself feeling so stressed each afternoon, thinking ‘what are we having for dinner?’.
I sure have, and found myself reaching for quick and easy options, including lots of packaged and pre-prepared foods. This was not only expensive, but full of additives that I didn’t feel comfortable my kids having so often.
If you are all too familiar with this stress, I hope that my meal planning tips and tricks not only save you money at the checkout, but inspire you to think about how you can make healthier choices for your family (without forfeiting the flavour!).
Carve out the time
The first and most important step is to work out when the best time to do this is. For me, I do it on Mondays at lunchtime whilst my boys are having their nap, so I can meal plan in peace!
Do an inventory check of your pantry, fridge and freezer. Look at what you can put together for a dish.
For example if you have a tin of kidney beans in the pantry, mince in the freezer, avocado in the fridge, you may just need some sour cream and onion and you are on your way to a nice Mexican dinner!
Bake instead of buy
Think about what you can bake instead of buying. Packaged snacks are generally full of sugar and preservatives, and really make the grocery bill add up.
My boys just love these Choc Apricot Bites. The added benefit of this is getting the kids involved in the baking process which all kids seem to love encourages them to eat their freshly made goodies!
There are some fabulous healthy make-at-home mixes available now too. I was lucky enough to be sent these to try and they are delicious! My kids loved making them as well as eating them too. My boys absolutely love them, they are a healthy, tasty and filling snack. Win/win!
Get to know your food labels
Try to avoid buying packaged pre-prepared meals. As with the packaged snacks, they are expensive and full of preservatives.
There are a few exceptions to the rule, for example we just love the Birds Eye Whiting crumbed fillets, they contain no artificial colours, flavours or preservatives. They are very tasty and I tend to grab a couple of boxes when on special. A good reason to get to know your food labels.
Meat free meals
Have at least one meatless night. Meat is generally expensive so by not including it on your meal plan a night or two a week you can save yourself some money.
A fun meat free idea your kids will just love helping you make is home made pizzas. (obviously omit the meat!)
Check your diary
Look at your week ahead and plan meals accordingly. You might need to plan a quick and easy meal for evenings that you have sports with the kids, or you may like to put more time into meals on a Sunday when there isn’t the rush.
Think about doubling certain ingredients so you can make double batch and freeze half.
My favourite recipe to do this for is Quinoa Con Carne as once you have your base you can make it into so many things. Think nachos, tacos, tortillas, puff pastry, jacket potatoes, it’s even great on toast!
Slow cookers are your friend
Save money by cooking dishes that work well with cheaper cuts of meat, chuck steak works perfectly in slow cooked dishes.
This Indian Beef Curry has long been a family favourite.
Check for specials
Jump online (or your catalogues) and check the specials. If meatballs are on the meal plan you may choose to do chicken rather than beef meatballs if you see a good special on chicken mince.
Note down any specials for pantry staples you may wish to stock up on. Dishwasher tablets tend to be expensive so last time they were half price I bought five packets and saved $50.
How to avoid impulse purchases
My most important tip – never, I repeat never shop on an empty stomach! It can lead to not so healthy impulse purchases.
Give yourself a break
Cut yourself some slack. On Friday evenings after hubby and I have both rushed home from work, the last thing we felt like doing is spending much time in the kitchen. One of the best decisions we made was to make Friday night ‘toastie’ night.
The boys get veges given to them as part of their lunch at daycare so I have no guilt about not including them in dinner on Friday nights.
They just love toasties so it’s another win/win for us, as they get to eat something they love and we get more time to hang out with them and relax.
You can always jazz up an ordinary dinner by serving it up to your kids on some fun dinnerware.
Rachel Cassidy is the author of this article and the founder of Little Peeps Eats. She is a passionate food blogger and brand ambassador, but her most important job is being a mum! Little Peeps Eats helps families take the stress out of mealtimes by providing healthy, kid approved recipes, as well as fussy eating tips and tricks. Their website hosts a directory of nutritionists, resources and mealtime products to ensure that you have everything you need at your fingertips when it comes to feeding your family.