One of the keys to getting your kids to eat a wide range of healthy foods is making mealtimes relaxed, fun and anxiety-free. While we all lead busy lives, if we feel overwhelmed at mealtimes we are more likely to reach for what seems like the easiest option and feed our family ‘convenience’ foods or turn to a Hump Day takeaway.
Take the stress out of midweek dining with some advanced prep and you will not only save time and money, but your family’s diet will improve and you will find everyone’s moods will too!
Here, paediatric nutritionist, mum-of-two and Wholesome Child author, Mandy Sacher, gives us her tried-and-tested tips for midweek mealtimes minus the mayhem:
Batch cooking will save you.
Batch cooking is probably the best way to remove midweek evening stress and it will reduce your average shopping bill too. A few hours of prep on the weekend will soon result in a freezer filled with nutritious, homemade ‘convenience’ food such as spaghetti bolognaise and beef and veggie meatballs. And it can be as simple as just making a little extra each time you cook – for instance, when roasting vegetables or steaming cauliflower, save some for the next night’s dinner or for use in sweet potato pikelets or cauliflower pizza bases.
Snacks can be made in advance too.
It’s not just family dinners that can be prepared in advance to save time and reduce stress. My kids love chocolate black bean brownies and salmon and millet rissoles, so I always double the batch and freeze some for school lunches during the week. Having batches of healthy snacks on hand is also a great way to reduce the after-school nagging for sweet treats and fill the kids up until dinner.
Try iron- and protein-packed Wholesome Child banana bread, raspberry and pear muffins or chocolate almond scones.
Always keep whole grains handy.
Switching to whole grains helps stabilise blood sugar levels and can even lower cholesterol, but cooking whole grains can be time consuming – so cook them in bulk by doubling or tripling the quantity and place extras in the freezer. Reheat as needed.
Plan for success.
Getting organised and making sure you have the right ingredients, makes planning stress-free family meals a simple exercise. The secret to getting ahead is to schedule a weekly grocery shop followed by a cook-up.
For some that may be once a week for two hours on a Sunday. For others, it may have to be one evening a week once the kids are asleep. If you are just beginning on your health journey and have fussy eaters (or a fussy partner) then you may want to start off slowly, introducing one new main meal, and one new snack food each week – remember to freeze what is not eaten and offer it again the following week, even if it was not a huge success the first time around. It can take time for new dishes to become accepted as part of the family’s staple diet.
Try to cook meals the whole family can enjoy so that you’re only cooking one dish per meal. My book contains a two-week meal planner which is designed as a practical guide for busy parents. To maximise your free time and minimise cooking, choose recipes which allow you to save leftovers for a second meal.
When choosing new recipes to try, work with your family’s preferences. For example, if your child loves meat but not meat on the bone, go for Shepherd’s Pie over Lamb Cutlets. Remember to be patient with your children and give them time to get used to the new recipes.
For a delicious and healthy breakfast recipe, try Dani Venn's no bake superfood bars.
Get the kids involved.
Make a shopping list so that you have all the ingredients on hand. Make grocery shopping and cooking a fun, shared activity rather than a chore for just the adults. Kids can help make grocery lists, shop online with you, accompany you to the grocery store, unpack bags and wash veggies. This way you can get ahead while still spending quality time together.
Bonus: Your kids will be more inclined to try something new if they’ve helped to make it!
Getting the family involved, figuring out which tips and tricks suit you best and seeing the time and cost saving benefits all help to pave the way for a less stressful and more nutritious journey. Remember to celebrate the achievements along the way - however small they may be.
To learn more about Mandy Sacher please visit the Wholesome Child website. Her book “Wholesome Child: A Complete Nutrition Guide and Cookbook” is available to purchase online and through iTunes, and you can connect with Mandy on Instagram and Facebook.