If you’re a working parent, it can be a real mission to get a healthy dinner on the table in a short time. Here are eight top tips that might be of help.
1. Make a menu plan for the week ahead
Time is often wasted because, after entering the kitchen, we spend 20 minutes deciding what to cook and another 20 minutes looking for ingredients. Menu planning works out meals for the week or month ahead. It can help you save money by cutting down on impulse-purchasing and save time by knowing what you are cooking in advance, and having the ingredients at hand. Planning ahead should help you and the family eat healthy with much less stress.
2. Batch cooking of family favourite meals helps menu planning whilst juggling our busy lives
Don’t think of it as just an extra chore – it should be saving you effort, money as well as time. For example, when cooking the family’s favourite dishes, double-up on amounts and pop the extra servings in the freezer. This is how to really take advantage of special offers in the supermarket! Stocking the freezer with wholesome, homemade family dinners saves money and is a simple way to get a proper meal on the table when you don’t feel like cooking or are short of time.
3. Use leftovers
Examples: Leftover vegetables - these are great in a frittata or omelette, and also good for a meat-free day. Cook a double dose of brown rice and use for a stir-fry the next day (store overnight in fridge). Leftover rice is ideal for stir-fries as the rice has absorbed all the moisture and separates nicely; quickly stir-fry a few veggies, add in the leftover rice plus any of the following protein foods - tofu, cooked chicken or meat, prawns, fresh or smoked fish or eggs - and sprinkle with soy sauce.
4. Use your pantry
Keep a good variety of pastas, tinned or dried beans and lentils, as well as rice and other grains such as quinoa and cous cous - all have a long shelf-life and are great to have at hand when you want to pull together a delicious meal or use up leftovers – e.g. make a quick hummus from any beans and serve with cold cuts and some salad leaves.
5. Tweak staple recipes for variety
Your favourite spaghetti bolognaise sauce can be turned into lasagna or Shepard’s pie, or crepes stuffed with bolognaise sauce, or chilli con carne: add a sprinkling of chilli powder and a tin of kidney beans or tacos. Always serve with some vegetables.
6. Ask for help when shopping
Get the butcher to cut meat/chicken into the number of portions you want, then vacuum pack them. Ask your fishmonger to skin, fillet and pin-bone your fish and cut into portions.
7. Zip-lock bags are great
Ikea have a fantastic range of very reasonably priced bags, which are reusable. Prepare your vegetables and portion them up into bags. Wash your salad as well as green vegetable leaves, dry in a salad spinner then wrap in kitchen paper and store in the zip-lock bags or plastic containers. This keeps the leaves fresher for making a quick salad or tasty lunch, and you are more likely to use using them, as they are ready to go. Fruits can also be cut up and portioned into zip-lock bags for later use as such, or in smoothies or frozen.
8. Slow cookers are great
Prepare ingredients the night before; marinate meat if necessary and just place in slow cooker the next morning. Set to required cooking time and voila - a hot casserole awaits you for dinner.
Maggie Lynch is Director of Cooking Studies at the Irish Institute of Nutrition and Health www.iinh.net, Ireland’s first Nutrition College with its own cooking school - the Taste Health Kitchen. She is also founder and director of the Soul Food Company www.thesoulfoodco.ie, a boutique catering company based in South County Dublin.
New classes kick off again Saturday 26th 2015 September with Easy Meals for Busy Mums and Dads! Check out www.thesoulfoodco/classes for more information.