Don't get me wrong, we're not advising a miserable existence with no eating out, no take-aways and no delicious meals; far from it. Our family are a bunch of foodies - even the two year old! We like good quality food, fine ingredients, and delicious meals. We also love to eat out and the girls are on first name terms with our Domino's delivery man, but for most meals we plan well, shop well, cook well and therefore eat well, without breaking the bank. If you want to do the same, look back over our Meal Planning Masterclass posts:
Make Your Stock List
Build a Stockpile
Plan Every Meal
Build a Stockpile
Plan Every Meal
But here's the potted version, the golden rules as it were:
- Know what's in your cupboards, and maintain your stock.
- Understand how you and your family/room mates eat.
- Become a recipe magpie, but only keep the realistic ones, there's no room for real or virtual clutter! Have a collection of recipes you love, know inside out, are fairly cheap, very nutritious, and you know everyone will eat.
- Plan every meal, but with some built in flexibility so that meal planning doesn't actually increase what you throw away. Consider writing a plan for three weeks to a month, to save time but also to give you an overview.
- Embrace assembly dinners and easy choice, giving everyone at the table more autonomy over what they eat. (See below for a few words on French-style eating.)
- Eat less meat. It used to be a 'treat', a one meal a day food, or a way to eke out a roast over the week. You really don't need meat in every meal and according to the recent WHO announcement everyone would benefit from eating less. Instead of switching to fish, embrace pulses and ancient grains.
- Buy tinned and frozen foods, or freeze your own (buying in season and when there's a glut helps with this). Experiment with different canned foods to see what works for you.
- Batch cook to gradually fill your freezer for those 'no time!!' panic moments. Start with cooking two shepherds pies or lasagne instead of one, and freeze the second; cook double the quantity of casseroles and freeze half. If you can spend a half day cooking, pencil it in once a month. Make time to bake once a month/fortnight/week to save money on over-priced (and full of weird ingredients) bought cakes and biscuits.
- Don't forego the treats. Banning eating out, take aways, coffee shop visits etc will only make you crave them more. Incorporate them into your meal plan and your budget, then stick to your guns!
And one last thought which might help with what people love to call 'picky eaters' (discerning, I prefer!), try eating French-style. Relaxed, no pressure eating. No 'just one more bite' or 'have a bit more of this, then you can have dessert', just incorporating choice and options into every meal so that everyone wins. It sounds crazy to British ears to suggest that meals should be three or four courses, but we find this works really well with young children.
For the French the main meal of the day, usually lunch, will consist of a salad or vegetable starter, followed by the main course (protein & vegetables or salad, maybe some grains or pulses, but generally light on the carbs), a cheese course, and then fruit and perhaps a dessert. The starter would usually be based around whatever is in season, asparagus maybe or a green bean salad; the cheese course might be a delicious Brie, but you could make it whatever you like; and the fruit would of course be seasonal. Sliced baguette or artisanal bread is available throughout. Because there is no pressure and the food arrives slowly and regularly throughout the relaxed meal, we find that the girls eat better than their contemporaries. They can pick at bits, go back to something, just eat bread, just eat the main course, or just the fruit. But you can guarantee that over a week their eating will even out and they will have consumed sufficient protein, carbs, fibre, vitamins and minerals etc. Maybe give it a try?
And don't forget to enter our competitions!