Ferrying the children to after-school activities, keeping up with busy social schedules and a hectic workload – modern lives have a tendency to be extremely busy. And for many families, sitting down together and enjoying a home-cooked meal is often a rarity.
As a mum of three, I know how hard it can be to juggle work life with keeping a happy family, but rushing around, ‘making do’ and grabbing food on the go can all lead to unhealthy eating habits such as snacking, skipping meals, eating fast food and fussy eating.
Often, when we do manage to grab a moment of downtime at the dinner table, many of us rely on a collection of around six or seven fail-safe meals that we cook on rotation. Not only does this reduce the risk of food being left uneaten, but it also takes away the stress of having to think up something new.
Parents are always telling me that a lack of inspiration is the reason they cook the same meals time and time again, but this could mean that your children are missing out on a whole range of nutrients – let alone an abundance of exciting new tastes and flavours.
It doesn’t have to be expensive or time-consuming and you don’t have to be a Michelin-star chef to make a success of dinner time.
Here are some of my 7 top tips to help busy mums and dads put the ‘mmm’ into family mealtimes.
Annabel Karmel’s 7 tips to put the ‘mmm’ into family mealtime
When you have some time (perhaps over the weekend), plan a menu for the week ahead, thinking about what you can prepare in advance. And get the kids involved too – if they feel as though they have been a part of the planning and cooking, there’s more chance they will clear their plates at dinner time.
2. Savvy shopping
Make a shopping list for the week and stick to it when you’re at the supermarket. This makes it much easier to stick to a budget, and also helps to cut down on waste. Enjoying healthier meals together needn’t cost a lot of money either. Buy fruit and veg that are in season and also opt for frozen fruit and veg – it’s just as good for you. Dried and canned pulses and beans are also great as they are full of nutrients and inexpensive.
3. Batch cooking
It’s a great idea to make more than you need for one mealtime, and freeze the extra portions for an extra busy day in the week. Make sure the dishes are thoroughly covered and label them with their contents and the date the meals were made. Cooked food can be kept in the freezer for up to three months, but it’s important to freeze the prepared meals as soon as they are cool, and always re-heat until piping hot. Never re-freeze meals that have already been frozen, and never re-heat more than once.
4. Table time
Sticking to regular meal schedule can be tricky, but try to organise at least three or four regular mealtimes during the week where everyone in the family sits down together. With my children, I found that if they knew when dinnertime was coming, they would be less likely to hunt around for snacks.
5. Food social
Family mealtimes offer the perfect opportunity to develop your child’s social skills. Interacting and conversing about the events of the day will build their listening and conversational skills and give you time to re-connect as a family. From a very early age, children also need a routine. By setting an example of eating a wholesome, home-cooked meal as a family early on, your children will come to understand and appreciate the importance of eating healthily.
6. Exploring flavours
As well as much-loved family classics, lots of my recipes have been inspired by flavours from around the world, from delicious curry to tasty noodles. You’ll be surprised by the flavours your child enjoys and how quick these dishes are to make. Noodles always went down a treat with my children when they were young, especially when I supplied them with child-friendly chopsticks. It’s important that children have fun with food.
7. Find recipes that are quick and easy
Like my Tasty Chicken & Pasta Salad (below).
- 150g fusili pasta
- 3 heaped tbs basil, chopped
- 100g cherry tomatoes, quartered
- 50g sweetcorn
- 125g cooked chicken breast, diced
- 1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
- 3tbsp olive oil
- 1tsp caster sugar
- ½ tsp Dijon mustard
- 1tsp soya sauce
- Cook the pasta in boiling salted water according to the packet instructions. Drain and refresh in cold water.
- Measure all of the dressing ingredients into a mixing bowl. Whisk together and season. Mix the pasta and remaining ingredients, season with salt and pepper and toss together.
Recipe reprinted with permission from Annabel Karmel’s Quick and Easy Toddler Recipes
Image credit: wavebreakmediamicro/123RF Stock Photo