It’s after school, before football practice and you’re balancing a load of laundry in one hand and checking homework with the other. When that familiar question of what’s for dinner? arises, are you more likely to reach for your cutting board, or for that pre-made supermarket pie that’s waiting in the fridge?
According to our recent survey of parents across the UK*, 69% of them believe their families could be eating better, but 66% admit they fail to follow a balanced diet because they don’t have the time or money to cook nutritious meals.
However, there are many ways to save time in the kitchen and cut the cost at the shops while still sticking to a healthy meal plan. Make the most of your budget and your free time with these efficient and nutritious solutions.
Get organised in your kitchen
For busy parents, the kitchen can be a hectic place, where, with numerous voices coursing different requests, it’s easier just to whip up something simple that we know will please the picky customers.
Unfortunately, the quickest dishes aren’t always the healthiest. With a bit of pre-planning and organisation, you can make your kitchen work for you – and produce nutritious meals as a result.
Plan ahead: Take the time to plan a weekly menu. Knowing what you’re making each day takes the stress out of last-minute meals and allows you to prepare any necessary ingredients in advance, so that when it comes to the cooking you can just get right to it. It’ll also simplify your trip to the shops, as you’ll know exactly what you need.
Use your freezer: When it comes to saving time and money, your freezer is your best friend. Use it to preserve leftovers, which can later be defrosted as a homemade ‘ready-meal’. For those forgotten foods that are close to their use-by date, your freezer can become a money-saving haven.
It’s also a great tool for planning ahead – make a big batch of something simple and freeze it for future use. George’s Peanut Butter Bites are a great example of a nutritious snack that can be frozen and pulled out as a quick, healthy solution for rumbling tummies.
Organise your fridge: Because of the short shelf life, buying fresh food can often be a hassle; it’s easy to forget about what needs to be eaten by when, and sometimes things end up in the bin.
Make a point of arranging your fridge based on the ‘use-by’ dates. This way, you can see clearly what needs to be cooked next, and you can move anything you don’t think you’ll be able to use in time to the freezer.
Get clever at the shops
While it would be lovely to step into the grocery store with a clear head and endless hours to browse the aisles, for most busy parents this isn’t the case. Often, the weekly shop is a hectic and rushed affair where we buy things we don’t need and forget the things we need the most.
Shopping right is the secret to eating right, and being clever with purchases at the grocery store can contribute to forming healthier eating habits.
Make a list: Though it sounds like an obvious solution, it turns out that only half of those surveyed actually budget for a weekly shop, and 30% of those who do plan out their spending limit admit that they often exceed it. What’s more, over a quarter admit that they buy unhealthy products when they are on offer.
Making a list and sticking to it is a simple but effective way to ensure both a healthy cupboard and a happy wallet. Include only the things you need, according to your weekly meal plan. Leyla, who blogs on This Day I Love, makes her list with her daughters and says it’s a great way to teach them about healthy choices and the shopping process.
Shop smart: When choosing items at the shops, make a point of comparing labels. Own brands are a cheaper alternative to branded items, but make sure to check the ingredients carefully, as sometimes unhealthy additives are chosen to bring down the cost.
Another great way to save money is to buy certain items in bulk, which you can store in the cupboard or freeze for the future. Before purchasing, be sure to compare to pre-packaged items, as sometimes prices can be deceiving.
Stock up: While it’s important to stick to your list, make an exception when you see a great offer on a non-perishable item you know you’ll definitely use. Stock up in advance, and it’ll pay off in the long run.
Get in touch with the roots
While it’s often much easier to purchase everything you need from the shops all in one go, making an effort to change your habits can create a big difference in your family’s diet, and is also a great way to spend quality time together.
Grow your own – We’re not suggesting you try to cultivate your entire grocery list in your backyard, but consider setting out a corner of the garden for a veggie plot, or planting a few pots in the conservatory.
While it probably won’t subsidise the monthly bill, it’s a fun and educational activity to involve the kids in – and nothing tastes better than a home-grown salad.
Go to the market – Take the opportunity to engage in a bit of tradition and visit the market on the weekend. In addition to being a fun day out for the family, you can often find healthy and fresh foods that are locally sourced. It’s also a chance to save money – don’t forget to barter!
With 96% of parents stating that they would be interested in embracing a healthier lifestyle, it’s clear that we’re willing to make the necessary changes in order to gain a grip on a more nutritional diet. From the kitchen to the shops, there are many ways to maximise your time and minimise your spend – and celebrate with balanced mealtimes as a result.
*Note: In February 2016 we surveyed 2000 parents with children aged 1-16, living across the UK.