Yesterday we went to a community market in the next town, while predominantly crafts stalls, there are some food stalls and a green grocer. We’ve currently got one monthly farmers market nearby, (with others throughout the month a bit further drive from us), but from next month we’re going to have a farmers market, with two dates a month in the next town. To say we’re looking forward to it is an understatement. We love walking round, talking to the stall holders, selecting our produce and coming away fizzing with ideas on what to cook for the next week or so. I’ve decided to completely practice what I preach, so although I didn’t get up the gym this morning like I planned to, the fridge and freezers are full to bursting after spending most of the day on my feet cooking up a storm (hence me not going to the gym first thing, I’ll go after work instead).
How do you choose what to cook each day, do you just buy the same things week in, week out and rotate your favourite dishes round? I have been as guilty of that as the next person, particularly when I worked in the city and commuted in for 40 minutes in and out, missing my toddler all day long, when I got home I wanted something easy and simple to put on the table. We all know that there are days when life is crazy and you just reach for something quick, usually from the freezer. There is nothing wrong with that, at all, so do not beat yourself up about it. What you can do when you have a bit of time, (for us this usually over the weekend), is batch cook.
We have a slow-cooker (crockpot), we also have a Thermomix, several casseroles, a gas powered barbecue and a Weber – all of which are lifesavers in their own way but really come into their own for batch cooking. There have been a couple of days when the toddler has been plonked in front of a DVD, we fire up the Weber, shove a lamb joint in, when that has cooked take it out and put two chickens in; we’ve then got a stew or pasta sauce chugging away in the slow-cooker; the thermomix is churning out risottos of various flavours and other dishes; and in the oven we’ve got two casseroles cooking chilli con carne or another stew. We’ve two freezers so all this manic action over a weekend feeds the three of us for the best part of a month. The key is in the variety, clearing your diary to do it and having the produce and ingredients ready to go. We cook three separate joints (lamb or beef and two chickens) at a time so we can pull the meat off and make more dishes, this may not work for you, remember – this is your life not mine. I can help with suggestions, but at the end of the day, you do what works. If it’s not working, I can encourage, cheer you on or give you some routines for you to put into place, to make changes, but you still have to be happy to make the changes happen.
When you tootle round the supermarket, you get persuaded to buy things, but have you noticed, it’s often food that doesn’t always add up to a meal? The fruit and vegetables look great, but can quickly turn to festering messes in the pantry and what about the salad you were going to make? Before you start thinking about meal planning, look at your diary for the week ahead, is creating a beautiful meal from scratch going to work when you’ve got to take Johnny to football in the evening, then make sure his kit is washed and drying ready for the match at the weekend? No, so don’t do it. Find a good two-three hour slot when you’re at home, and shop ahead the night or day before, don’t forget you may need more portion pots too. If you need someone to come in and watch the children, combine this with a catch-up with a friend, you can take it in turns to run the gauntlet with the children, have a bit of a chat while you cook and you can share the spoils. Or you can ask the other half to take the children out for a morning, afternoon or if they’re feeling brave/awesome/virtuous *delete as applicable, the whole day!
Over a cup of tea, clear your decks, think about the order you want to do things and make sure you’ve got somewhere you can stack your hot dishes while they cool down. Make as big a batch of everything that you can, it’s easier and quicker, as the meal comes off the hob or out the oven, portion it up, write on the lid what is inside, when you made it (saves peering at a frozen brick of something and guessing what it is, unless you like surprises). Wash your pot up, and keep going until your time is up. Clean your benches down put the kettle on and congratulate yourself on a job well done. Even if you make a week at a time, the couple of hours preparing ahead is a couple of hours you don’t need to find mid-week.
If you don’t want to shop from your freezer every night, you still need to begin to plan ahead. Every family has favourite meals, so always keep about three of four sets of ingredients in the freezer and pantry, so you’re ready to go. Make a salad on Sunday night, so you’ve got a side dish for Monday and Tuesday, or for lunches. If you’ve simply run out of oomph, scrambled eggs, augmented with some ham (or not for you veggies), a bit of onion, cheese, tomato, herbs on toast is a simple, nutritious healthy meal that the children can help prepare. Grating cheese was one of the first things I was taught, as was standing on a chair and stirring all manner of dishes. You know your child better than I do, if they’re not ready for that yet, ask them to lay the table, condiments and all, or put some bread into toast.
Wherever you’re at, whatever you’re doing, you are fine. Do a little every day, it soon adds up to a lot. I promise.