Faaizah Asmal Laher has some tips for making family meal preparation a less stressful affair when budgets and time are limited.
Being a single parent is tough! You’ve got to manage being the sole bread winner, take care of household chores, get the kids to school on time and make sure that the food you’ve served up is nutritious, delicious, edible and quick!
I spoke to a group of single parents not too long ago (both male and female), and one wish they all had was a stay at home shopper-chef just so that they could come home to a ready-cooked, healthy meal. The majority of single parents felt that time was an issue – they needed to do so many things at once that cooking (but also cooking something healthy) was just not a priority! Yet, it was still something they wanted to change, so I showed them how to cook healthy meals, without breaking into a sweat!
Time is the enemy when it comes to preparing healthy meals. A long day at the office, exhaustion from the previous night of sleepless or ill children – it is so easy to reach into the freezer for a prepackaged pizza or a takeaway meal. Sure, that’s OK every once in a while but being able to prepare quick, healthy meals is really as easy as A, B, C!
Always have a plan
Planning in advance will make sure that you are always prepared for the week ahead. Plan a menu for a week to a month in advance. Make sure each meal (breakfast, snacks, lunch and dinner) are on the menu, and each contains a protein, a vegetable, a starch – and don’t forget about fruit for snacks. Include theme nights, for example Italian, Indian, vegetarian or kids night; and don’t forget all those favourite family meals.
Once your menu is set, make a corresponding shopping list. Include items such as long-life milk, cheese (in bulk is cheaper), canned goods like fish and beans; spices, oils and condiments; and dry goods like pasta and rice.
While shopping, stick to your list and shop early in the morning or late in the evening – try to avoid peak traffic times which will just add to wasted time.
Knowing what staple foods you have in your pantry can help you plan a menu that your family will enjoy.
Trawl the internet for recipes that can be cooked in under 30 minutes. Keep a chalk board behind the kitchen door for a weekly menu, and keep a monthly menu and shopping list in your diary. Retain all the menus, shopping lists and recipes – once the wheel is going there is no need to reinvent it. Just repeat favourite dishes every once in a while.
Budget eating can be healthy too
Buying in bulk can save you money! Team up with a friend so that you can split the petrol, and share the babysitting cost for that one big shopping trip once a month. Use retailers that allow you to buy in bulk for a saving, then split the shopping with a friend.
Use methods like canning or freezing summer goods to be used in winter. Frozen vegetables are just as good (some say even better) than fresh vegetables. Stock up on frozen goods if you live far away from a grocer.
Get the kids involved in the kitchen
Among the recommendations made by the American Heart Association for overweight and obese children was the importance of involving kids in the planning, shopping, preparing and serving up of meals at home.
The kitchen can be a fascinating place for children, and it is so important to spend time with them there! It does take extra effort and patience allowing kids to help in the kitchen. Initially they might make a lot of mess and mix up the wrong ingredients, but when they are older and leave the nest, it will be worth it! Cooking with kids can help them get interested in healthy foods they might not try on their own.
Allowing kids into the kitchen not only encourages them to try healthy foods, but it also gives them a sense of encouragement at accomplishing a task that helped contribute to the functioning of their family unit. They will be more likely to sit down to a family meal if they have had a part in its preparation, and this also allows them to spend less time in front of the TV or computer, and have more quality time with the family.
Younger kids can lay the table, older kids can clear up. Young kids can get out ingredients from the pantry and older kids can help slice up veggies, or measure out liquids for a recipe
Use your freezer
Certain meals can be cooked in bulk and frozen in advance to be used on rainy days – for example, lasagna, Bolognese, pasta sauces, soups, breads, calzones, pizza bases, pancakes and cookies.
Frozen fruits can make a delicious smoothie for breakfast, frozen berries make a coolie (just like a pro!) and stale French baguette makes the best French toast!
Appliances makes work easy
Investing in a good food processor or pressure cooker will make preparing and cooking healthier food easier and faster! Do preparation for the week in advance; if you know you will use chopped up onions most days of the week, chop extra onions at the start of the week so that you don’t have to prepare that vegetable again, and it will also save on the washing up! Just 10 minutes on a Monday will give you enough preparation for the rest of the week.
A pressure cooker will allow you to cook a meal quickly while seeing to homework or chores. You will be surprised at how advanced pressure cookers have become since our mums used them. The newer versions are safer, easier and even have timers!
A slow cooker can also be a lifesaver. Throw in a seasoned chicken and vegetables, set the timer and you have a meal waiting for you when you get back home.
Organise Organise Organise!
Yes I know! Most single parents are in their own ways organised already without having me to say it again, but organising your kitchen can cut cooking time by half! Keep utensils you use often close to your stove, clear clutter off the counters so that you can just cook and not have to clear up first. Sort through your ingredients and equipment you will use. Donate or make some extra cash from all those appliances you don’t use – this will help add funds for an appliance you know will actually make your life easier.
Try using the effective suggestions above to make life easier and more fun for you and your children. Meals don’t need to be complicated and elaborate or take hours to prepare. Often the meals that are simple and quick are often the best! You can do it – and you can do it the healthy way!
Faaizah Asmal Laher is a registered dietician in Johannesburg, South Africa. Faaizah’s great passion in life is assisting others to feel and live healthier by showing them how to shop, cook and eat more healthily and to embrace the wonderful benefits of mental and physical wellbeing. Contact her for all your nutrition related queries: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her blog http://www.faaizahsnutritionlab.wordpress.com