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Please help a hopeless case re meal planning etc (long sorry)...

(21 Posts)
badkitty Tue 27-Aug-13 09:59:38

I am in a total mess with food shopping and feeding my family! I find the whole thing incredibly stressful, I haven't a clue when it comes to meal planning and we end up spending a fortune and throwing half of it out at the end of the week. Also despite doing a big online tesco shop once a week (maybe £130) there still never seems to be anything to eat so we have to do top up shops.

I'm not a great cook and don't enjoy cooking at the best of times, but also I really don't have much time as I have 3 under 5's, my eldest DS is disabled, and my youngest is only 8 weeks. My family are an awkward bunch as well - DS1 because he has cerebral palsy can't manage some foods very well eg meat or fishfingers, he is ok with things like pasta, mince etc which doesn't need too much chewing. DS2 is a massively fussy 2 yr old(so much for baby led weaning...) who will basically only eat bread, olives, pasta with sauce, cheese and sausages (sometimes) - and fruit and sweet stuff of course. I am really worried about his diet. They end up having pasta most nights. Then there is DH who works long and v unpredictable hours - I am ready to eat about 8ish after I have got the boys to bed, he is often not home by then but I never know till he texts me that he is on the train, when he is going to get in. Also he doesn't consider something to be a meal unless it has meat in it and wouldn't have eg just a baked potato or beans on toast for dinner. So essentially there are three dinnertimes in our house. If I have cooked something for us both and saved it for DH, by the time he gets home at 11 or something he often doesn't feel like it so it gets binned (to be fair it is not v appetising having been sat in the fridge for several hours).

Sorry that was so long, but does anyone have any strategies I could try. I am just amazed at all of you who meal plan for the whole week and stick to it, I can't see how it is possible! That seems to be the number 1 tip foe keeping food shopping under control but i dont even know where to start. I know we are horrendously profligate with food so please don't flame me too much I just want to try and get it under control!

peachactiviaminge Tue 27-Aug-13 10:30:38

No-ones going to flame you for doing the best you can in a hard situation. Have you any access to a babysitter? I'm just thinking that once a month cooking might be ideal for you. You batch cook all your meals for the month and freeze so all you need to do is defrost a portion per person and reheat.

One day of hard work which will save you a lot of headaches have a look here for recipes, tips here and more useful advice here

Its very popular in America but you can find loads of good free recipes and it could really take some stress away for you knowing its done.

badkitty Tue 27-Aug-13 11:08:37

Thank you I will have a look at the links - the thought of cooking for the whole month is a bit daunting but maybe could start with just a week and work up! Freezing individual portions would work best - I would need to get lots of tupperwares or something though!

NK346f2849X127d8bca260 Tue 27-Aug-13 11:17:02

Batch cooking is the way to go, saves money and time.

I can see you have your hands full though! an easy way to go is to start making double amount when cooking something that will freeze well.

78bunion Tue 27-Aug-13 11:49:16

Perhaps it is enough just to get by at this stage. I see no reason your husband cannot cook for himself when he gets in so just forget about him.

Children eat what they are given (subject to the disability point). If there is no other food than what you serve them they have to eat it.

Things get much easier as children get older. When our three were the age of yours we both worked full time so had someone else who cooked dinner for the 3 under 5s and I certainly recommend that if you want a peaceful easier life.

Fluffycloudland77 Tue 27-Aug-13 13:32:45

Ok, first of all I think you're doing really well not to order a takeaway every night given the ages and needs of the kids plus a dh who works erratic hours.

Off the top of my head.

1) toddlers are fussy as a defence against eating poisonous foodstuffs because our bodies still think we are essentially caveman. If a child's wandering about, as a toddler can, it's a good idea not to poison oneself or the species will never get very far iyswim.

2) a slow cooker, with a recipe book or a pressure cooker might suit you for adult meals, you can prep and leave the cooking to them. You'll have a few mistakes to start off with but that's how we learn.

3) if the kids like pasta give them pasta. I buy aldi dried spaghetti, it's 19p and 100% Durum wheat. Look up portion sizes for children and weigh how much each child needs roughly.

4) do a big shop at aldi for store cupboard stuff like pasta, cereals, rices, passatas, naan breads, ready to bake rolls, olives, tinned fish, mayonnaise, tomato sauces, uht milk, rice puddings, custard etc.

5) you can freeze food in zip lock bags but freeze flat so it takes up less room. Always label.

6) I do my own frozen veg. I bulk buy onions, carrots, courgettes and celery and freeze in ziplock bags. Much quicker than doing it on the night.

7) empty out be cupboards of what you have and use and what you have but don't use. It's much easier when everything's organised.

monikar Tue 27-Aug-13 15:43:13

OP, does your DH eat things like spaghetti bolognaise and curry? I am thinking that you could do a big pot of sauce and then freeze it in individual portions. You could then just defrost what you needed - you could have one perhaps with the boys some nights - if they like pasta then this could work well. Then when DH gets home if he is wanting dinner it only takes a few minutes to defrost a portion in the microwave while the pasta cooks. In this way at least you will waste less food.

Frozen veg is good as you just use what you need, there is no chopping and no waste. They are also cheaper than fresh and don't go off. Fluffy has a good idea of doing her own - I will try this, but in the meantime peas are good and very economical.

It is frustrating when you are trying to economise and then wasting food. Children are often very fussy so I would stick with what you know they will eat while you establish new routines.

Good luck.

badkitty Wed 28-Aug-13 00:31:56

Thank you for all the ideas, some really good suggestions. DH is not resistant to cooking, I didn't mean to suggest that - in fact he enjoys it and does most of the cooking at weekends and if he gets in early enough, but its not really fair for him to have been out at work till late and then have to start something from scratch. Portions of things like bol and curry could work tho. I do have a slow cooker, haven't used it for a while as think of it as being more for cold weather stuff like casseroles but will unearth it again.

Also good idea re checking portion sizes for the kids, I always end up cooking too much.

Going to do store cupboard shop, get loads of ziplock bags and chop up a pile of veg to freeze tomorrow!

ravenAK Wed 28-Aug-13 00:45:46

I also have a dh who works odd hours, isn't always hungry when he gets in or doesn't fancy leftovers etc.

I usually over-cater meals for myself & the dc, like spag bol, chilli or curries, then pot up any surplus in individual portions in old plastic takeaway tubs or IKEA boxes, complete with the rice/pasta.

If dh wants to eat when he gets in, it takes a couple of minutes for him to blast in the microwave - if not he is trained to shove it in the freezer. It then gets used by me for packed lunch or by dh if he's working from home.

You want to be quick getting rice in the fridge though if you do this, as it's notorious for food poisoning if not chilled quickly.

Although dh doesn't do the same for me - if I'm the one working late I do myself beans on toast! Cooking is not his strength...

AuntySib Wed 28-Aug-13 01:04:30

These things have worked well for us (4 adults plus one hungry teenager):
750g mince from Aldi does for spag bol one night, pasta bake or chilli con carne the next. Cook it with 2 tins of tomatoes, 2 onions, and whatever else you like in it, use half for day 1. Day 2, add another tin of tomatoes, plus kidney beans if doing chilli.
Stir fry - you can stir fry just about anything, depending on family likes and dislikes. I use stir fries if I want to to stretch out leftover meat/chicken, or use up random stuff from fridge. Most kids will eat noodles if they like pasta. Things I have included in stir fries - carrots, broccoli, cabbage, bean sprouts,spinach,mange tout, french beans, chorizo, mushrooms, peppers, spring onions,prawns, white fish,salmon.. I always add garlic,ginger,thai 7 spice, soy sauce, and sometimes bottled oriental sauces depending on whats on offer.

buildingmycorestrength Wed 28-Aug-13 07:45:34

Hello OP, sounds like a tricky bunch to feed. grin. An 8 week old and an older child with feeding problems is hard.

I'm not very good at meal planning either, and we spend lots on food, but there isn't much waste any more and I've found a sort of pattern, so maybe that is enough for now.

One of the best things I did to stop myself going mad with it was to write a list of the things people liked. It sounds easy but it was actually eye opening...and it took the emphasis away from what they don't like. Helpful psychologically! Then I tried to make sure we had the rough ingredients for three or four of those dishes in the house when I did a shop, and some other bog standard freezer or store-cupboard ingredients for the other days. We often buy the same items week after week, just mix up the flavours or veg a little.

I can't think too far ahead as it doesn't suit my style, but I do try to think about dinner before 4 pm now. That has been very hard for me. I try to think about it in the morning, check best before-dates and our plans, and make a plan then. I cook easy food, sometimes in the slow cooker.

I eat with the children (though often have chicken salad instead of chicken pasta, say). and just have a snack in the evenings as otherwise I am very hungry and grumpy whilst doing bedtime.

If you husband doesn't want his dinner when he comes in could you freeze it for you to have the next lunch time? Perfectly fine for him to have a bowl of cereal or cheese and crackers and fruit at 11 is a weird time to eat! I also enlisted my husband's help with the food because it is just much easier for him to get his head round it. Maybe ask yours if there is anything he can help you with? Online shopping from a list? Grabbing his own tea when he gets in late?

Your 2 y o diet sounds OK, tbh. Don't worry about that for now, you have ... (drum roll please) ..... enough on your plate! (Do you see what I did there? grin. )

BrownSauceSandwich Wed 28-Aug-13 08:32:05

OP, give yourself a break, you're managing fine in a difficult position. A fussy toddler who eats pasta and sauce is not the one I'd be losing sleep over (though I know it's easy to say when he's not mine). Will he tolerate any vegetables in the sauce? Maybe a few peas... Something inoffensive, and very little at a time.

Anyway, what I really wanted to say is about the throwing stuff away. My main advice is to recognise your limitations, and not go all idealistic when it comes to shopping. Instead of trying to plan seven revolutionary meals the first week, think back over what meals actually worked for you last week or the week before. Plan to do those again... And do the same things more than once if that helps. Once you've got a good week under your belt, having shopped and cooked according to a plan, and thrown less away, then think about making one small change. Spend some time working out one new recipe that will liven things up or make your life easier. Plan for a week with mostly old faithfuls, but change one evenings dinners. Repeat until you have an armful of workable meals, but never more than one step at a time.

badkitty Wed 28-Aug-13 11:07:21

Thank you for making me feel a bit better about it all - especially 2 yr old! You're right starting off with small steps is going to be best. DH has taken the boys on a day out today, which means I have a bit of breathing space to think about way forward and going to try and do something in slow cooker for when they get back. At the moment enjoying the lovely lovely peaceful house...

HoneyStepMummy Wed 28-Aug-13 14:56:16

I also don't really enjoy cooking. However I don't think there's any reason for midweek dinners to be anything other then quick, simple, and healthy. I think there's a few things that you are doing that could be done differently:

- Can you not eat when the kids do? Eating at 8pm is rather later.

- Why on earth does your DH throw out food he doesn't fancy?? If you have cooked fresh food, plated it, let in cool off then refrigerate it covered it's hardly been sitting out all day (and this is what restaurants do). Surely if he doesn't want what you've cooked then that meal can be your or his lunch or dinner the next day? That's really wastefull!

- If your DH doesn't want a hot meal when he gets home late could he eat a proper meal at work then have a light bite like a cheese and fruit plate, hummus and pita strips or such like?

And some things that might make your life easier! smile :

- We shop at Aldi's once or twice a month. The only other times we go to the store is to get fresh bread, milk, fruit & veg. Saves a ton of money and hassle.

-I use my slow cooker very seldom because all it's really good for is slowly cooking stews etc- my stove can do the same thing. However I use my rice cooker a few times a week.

Try doing this on a Sunday:
Cook a batch of boneless, skinless chicken breasts in a tin foil tray. Season with salt and Italian herbs and a touch of olive oil. Cool off and refrigerate covered. Fry up some mince. Grind up bag of uncooked brozen broccolli and carrots in food processor. Drain mince, sneak in veg. Refrigerate. Then you could do something like this for the week:

1) Sliced/chopped chicken over pasta. Add Aldi's Alfredo sauce and frozen peas for those family members who like it. Maybe DS2 would prefer black olives and marinara sauce. Baby carrots on the side, fruit slices for desert.

2) Mince over rice with grated (cheddar not parmesan) cheese on top. You can add a can of stewed tomatoes or a little marinara sauce to mince if you like. Kids will be getting sneaky portion of veg mixed with the mince..

3) Chicken sandwiches for kids. If you like you can blend the chicken with a little mayo, pepper, and apple. Chicken salad for husband and you. Use a bag of salad of spinach leaves (again Aldis) to make life easier.

4) Mince with marinara sauce over pasta. Add peas or black olives.

5) If the kids still want pasta place a bag of frozen ravioli in an oven dish. Add jar of marinara sauce and grated cheese on top. Bake in oven. Serve with cherry tomatoes on the side and frozen garlic bread for adults (pop in oven just before DH gets home). Other option would be to coat chicken with egg or yoghurt, roll in breadcrumb, and pop in oven or cook in little oil on stove. Serve with oven chips, rice or instant mash.

For a healthy desert dip bananas in melted chocolate. Freeze until solid. Yum. Freeze leftover ripe bananas and strawberries. When solid peel and blend with splash of OJ in blender. Makes a lovely sorbet.

Good luck, hopefully things will get a little easier!

SoWorriedPleaseHelp Wed 28-Aug-13 18:01:37

How do I freeze carrots and onions? Is there a specific way to do it?

buildingmycorestrength Wed 28-Aug-13 18:27:52

I remembered to do a food shop online today! Hurrah for me! I even looked at the calendar first and realised we are away overnight this weekend, so didn't buy too much. I also planned the next two evening meals to use up some stuff in the freezer.

This is such a major step forward for me.

Hope all okay with you, OP. I relate so much to the multiple preferences thing...I have so many different preferences in this house that it took me ages to come up with a way of cooking that wouldn't just go uneaten. sad The key was separating the ingredients for the toddlers and combining for the salmon, rice and peas separated for the kids, and mixed with soy sauce and whatever for the grown ups.

badkitty Wed 28-Aug-13 19:18:31

I did ok today - cooked a big batch of bolognese ( with pork mince ) and chilli which I will freeze in different sized portions. Thought i would start with something i know how to cook as i get very intimidated by recipes! I need to add to my repetoire of things i can cook out of my head. Both boys wolfed the Bol for dinner so that was good!

How long will cooked food stay ok for in the fridge? Didnt know restaurants heated up plated food from the fridge! But I would have thought that chicken/ mince wouldn't be good by the third or fourth day? Does it need to be in airtight containers or just covered in foil or cling film?

I don't eat with the boys (other than picking on leftovers) as I don't want to eat that early, also I would have to snatch mouthfuls whilst helping Ds1, holding the baby, preventing meltdown from DS2 etc so it wouldn't be very enjoyable! Also I don't really want pasta with sauce EVERY night...

buildingmycorestrength Wed 28-Aug-13 19:40:19

Well done! And you betcha they ate it, you made a family favourite that they are familiar with. What else do they like?

Yep, you need to cover leftovers in the fridge or put it in a container. I don't usually keep it over three days. But I will have it for lunch myself or hubbie will take it to work.

HoneyStepMummy Wed 28-Aug-13 19:45:41

Hello again Badkitty! Looks like you are off to a great start. I forgot how it is trying to eat with a small baby and two other kids so you are right, eating with them doesn't work too well.

If ground meat and chicken have been handled and cooked the right way then they should stay good for up to 5 days but absolutely no longer than that. You also could cook it all on Sunday but freeze the cooked meat/chicken that you plan on using later in the week. By handling correctly I mean the uncooked meats should go straight into the fridge when you get back from the store. Straight from fridge to oven or pan, and as soon as they've cooled off they need to go into the fridge. I prefer to store in an airtight plastic tub, or I break it up into dinner size portions and put into Ziplock bags and squeeze the air out.

What I actually meant was that restaurants pre cook food and then heat it up as needed. Maybe DH would prefer something like a pre cooked curry/chilli heated up but served with garlic bread, freshly made rice or some salad? I also think you might find it easier if you meal plans for the kids but are more relaxed for the grownup meals. Some things that we like to throw together are individually frozen fish fillets (from yup you guessed it Aldis) quickly grilled on the pan with fresh spinach and baby tomatoes, pork cutlets grilled on the pan, or italian sausage grilled with peppers and onions.

I do juicing (I'm the only one who drinks it) and buy fresh veggies for that, but otherwise I only buy bags of washed spinach and salad, baby tomatoes and baby carrots fresh. Everything else I buy frozen or canned. Much easier and much cheaper.

spiderbabymum Fri 06-Sep-13 22:22:17

Bad kitty

You are soooooooo busy . Please DO not put yourself under more pressure by feeling bad

MEal planning is Very time consuming

MY STRATEGY for you to try

Kind of depends on having a kindle

Get this

Inside is a meal plan for EIGHT weeks

WITH weekly shopping lists

I originally thought it might be too much coking for you as you are sooooooobusy BUT if your hubby insists on meat , and you do need to maximise your vitiamin s see what you think .

It costs three quid to download

It's has helped me sooooo much

I have recently gone back to work .

I do all my shopping online

It also has the advantage that its DESIGNED for a family the weekly shopping list includes ALL you will need ...except for the odd breakfast cereal .its varied , and I'm never bored

Good luck

spiderbabymum Fri 06-Sep-13 22:22:38

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