Written by: Cally Worden
When you’re out working hard each day, the road to a healthy diet of home-cooked food can feel like a journey too far. When you stagger through the front door it’s difficult to muster the energy for a stint in the kitchen. Yet, you know that cooking a home cooked meal makes sense, at so many levels – it’s good for you and your family, it’s often cheaper than processed junk, a takeaway, or eating out. It has the huge benefit of shaping your kids’ attitudes to food, in a way that will set them up for a healthy future lifestyle. So before you throw in the tea towel on cooking from scratch, take a look at these top tips for busy parents, helping you to create quick and real food at home.
1: Keep it Simple
There are meals that can take hours to create, others that can be whipped up in minutes. When planning your family’s evening meals for the week, aim for an achievable blend that provides 3 nights of good balanced meals that take a little more time, and 4 nights of meals that are still healthy, but more simple and quick to prepare.
The following examples are all good balanced options that can be prepped and cooked in 30-45 minutes. The aim is to get a balance of protein, fibre, veg and carbs:
- Meat or fish, potatoes and vegetables
- Spaghetti Bolognese (put veggies in your sauce)
- Stew – cook the meat in a slow cooker with the veg, serve with rice or a jacket spud and something green (peas, broccoli, beans, etc)
- Homemade quiche (use ready-roll pastry), with salad or veg and potatoes
- Butternut squash risotto with salad
The following examples are all good simple options that can be prepped and cooked in 15 minutes:
- Cheese and ham omelette with salad and crusty bread
- Pasta and pesto with chopped chicken and sweetcorn
- Cheese or sardines on toast with salad
- Herby scrambled egg and bacon served on muffins
- Egg fried rice with peas and ham
2: Help Yourself
The kitchen offers plenty of opportunities for preparing and conserving good wholesome food, ahead of when you need it. When you don’t really feel like cooking much, you can whip them out for an easy night and still feel virtuous. A little time invested on the weekend, or simply by making more than you need for a meal, can soon create a stock of quick-fix meals in your fridge and freezer. Here are some simple ideas:
- Batch cooking and freezing of one-pot meals such as chilli, spaghetti, tomato and cheese sauces, and stews
- Soups of any form can be packed with goodness, freeze well, and can defrost on the stove while you slice and butter some bread
- Deliberately cook more meat than you need, use the extra as the basis for another meal for the next day, removing that part of the cooking job
3: Embrace your Leftovers
It’s criminal how much food gets thrown away, just because it wasn’t eaten at the meal at which it was served. Take stock of what’s left on the family plates after each meal (if anything) and salvage what you can.
Excess stew sauce can be a soup for tomorrow’s lunch; leftover meat, fish or other protein can often be kept and served cold with a salad, or in a sandwich; dried out bread can be blended for breadcrumbs, or tossed with a little oil to make croutons for a soup; leftover pasta can be used to make a pasta salad. In this way, you benefit from the goodness twice over, albeit in a smaller portion. A mini-dinner at lunchtime, relieves some of the pressure for needing a fully balanced meal at dinnertime.