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Meal planning and prep for busy mothers

How to Get Out Of A Kitchen Rut and Love Feeding Your Family

Do you adore cooking and dreaming up new ideas for ways to feed your family?

Me neither.

I spend as little time in my kitchen as I can possibly get away with.

I’m amazed at mothers who food blog or are professional meal planners and seem to have the whole feeding their family thing down to a science – and love doing it.

How do they have time to do all of that cooking and take photos and write about it?

Meanwhile I’ve got my head in my hands moaning, ‘Oh why do they need to eat dinner every night?!’

I vaguely remember a time when I did enjoy cooking. I bought recipe books, clipped things out of magazines and was always trying new dishes.

Clearly it was only a phase.

Three years ago things got bad. I flew blind at the supermarket without much of a list. I never seemed to have the right ingredients to put together a meal everyone liked. I felt like a failure at feeding my family.

So I set myself a goal to get my act together in the kitchen.

I’ve come in leaps and bounds in the Planning department, I now have a system for Meal Planning that works.

Every Sunday I sit down, bite the bullet and just do it. And if I ever have a week that I don’t do it, I deeply regret it and it doesn’t happen again for a long time.

It’s great to know what I’m going to cook for dinner every evening and that I’ve bought the ingredients to make it (hurrah!), but now it’s time to tackle my next challenge.

Too often I don’t get started on the prep side of it early enough. I tear myself away from whatever I’m doing, dash into the kitchen, only to realise what I’ve planned to cook takes more time than I’d thought. I end up with cranky kids begging me for a pre-dinner snack to hold them over while I rush through it – begrudging every minute. Not a lot of love going into that food.

My avoidance of the kitchen needed to be addressed. Resenting and begrudging it doesn’t make it any easier, nor does procrastinating and leaving until the last moment.

I knew I needed to overcome this hurdle, so I scheduled in some solution time last week to hash it out on paper.

I decided to re-frame how I view feeding my family. Here’s what I came up with:

  • I value our health. I want my kids to eat well balanced meals, have strong immune systems and healthy bodies. I want this for my husband and I too – in addition to meals which aren’t fatty/high calorie.
  • I value variety. I myself like trying new foods and want my kids to continue eat a wide range of cuisines and be open to trying new things.
  • I value family mealtimes together. I like sitting down together to eat and talk.
  • I feel a sense of pride when I cook something my family enjoys, especially when I’ve put some love into it.

(As I wrote all of this I could already feel an internal shift in my attitude.)

My husband asked what I was writing and I confessed that I find the whole business of figuring out what to feed everyone every night plus the shopping and cooking a drag and was trying to work out how to make it better.

He kindly offered to cook more often. (Wow!)

Then my kids chimed in and started telling me how much they like my cooking. They appreciate that if I make something they don’t really like one day, I make one of their favourite things another day. My 12 year old offered to help me meal plan and cook. I started feeling a lot better. (Once I switched out of hard-done-by, resentful mode, I began to attract positive solutions.)

Going back to my original issue, I remembered that the meal planning part is okay now. I just need to find ways to prep it easier and faster.

So I wrote to two of my lovely online biz buddies who to both happen to live an apron and run websites to help mothers get their act together in the kitchen.

They came back with a lot of great food prep tips.

I love what Ashley Srokosz of Love What You Eat suggested:

“Cook a whole or half chicken in the crockpot: just put it on in the morning for 8-10 hours on low before you go to work or get sidetracked with errands, and you’ll come home to the best and moistest roast chicken you’ve ever had in your life. Depending on the size of your family, there should be lots of leftovers for quick lunches or some soul-satisfying chicken noodle soup, fajitas or tacos.”

Even though I was born in America, I’ve lived in Europe for so long that the whole concept of crockpot cooking has passed me by. I don’t own one or even know where I’d buy one. However, I do know that throwing a chicken into a huge pan and covering with cold water, adding peppercorns, salt and a couple of carrots, an onion cut in half and a bay leaf and letting it simmer all day means I have loads of shredded chicken I can freeze in portions and pull out on other days to make tacos, nachos, soups and sandwiches. I then fill empty glass jars with portions of the broth to freeze and use in stocks for soups, chilli, risotto, etc etc.. (I remember now how great it is when I do this – I just need to do it more regularly!)

Ashley also said to double my recipes. Never cook for just my family of four when I can cook for eight and freeze the leftovers. I do this already with Bolognese sauce, chilli and soups, but I want to think about this every time I cook and when I can be doing it more often.

Nicholette von Reiche, Health and Energy Coach for Busy Moms had some more great tips:

“Always be batching! I prep on Sundays, but I only cook 3-4 nights a week. Whenever I cook, I make sure that we can eat from that same meal at least two more times. I don’t mean you make a big stew and eat it over the next three days, I mean you freeze it and repurpose the meal. (She gave me this great free printable for keeping track of what’s in my freezer.)

If you’re strapped for time in the week use your weekends to prep your basics. You’ll be amazed at what you can prep in an hour while listening to music, an audio book or watching a TV show. Look at the meals you have planned for the week. What can you pre-prep in advance on a weekend to save time in the week. e.g grains, roasting veggies, making a batch of home made granola or muffins or even boiling some eggs and making a home made salad dressing. Batch these tasks like this: let your veggies roast, while the rice cooks and you prep the granola.”

Well, it’s never occurred to me to make my own granola, but I love the idea of making salad dressing and boiling some eggs so I can just grab from the fridge and peel – and I’m feeling inspired to make some banana bread and also some humus and tuna dip… (I can feel myself getting into the spirit of things now…)

I also love Nicholette’s idea of meal planning with a glass of wine… Maybe I can view it as Me-Time??  I’m also going to play music as I cook to shift my attitude and make it more fun.

Exploring my negativity in the kitchen has helped me see that I actually do value my role in this family as the one who meal plans, shops and cooks. It’s a damn important job! As with anything in life, we create our own reality and if we’re not approaching the jobs we have to do with positivity, we’re not doing ourselves any favours, right?

In comments below, please share how you feel about feeding your family. If you’ve lost your kitchen mojo (or never had it in the first place!), can you create some strategies to get yourself out of a rut? Do you need to schedule in some solution time and hatch a plan? If you’ve got any tips to share, we’d love to hear them. 

Want some fresh inspiration for what to make?

www.foodgawker.com will have you drooling. 

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photo credit: mlpeixoto via photopin cc

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  1. […] also How To Get Out Of A Kitchen Rut and LOVE Feeding Your Family. (yes, […]

  2. Suzie Douglas on October 20, 2014 at 3:17 PM

    Ah Kelly. This is one of the hardest areas of being a Mum for me. I just am not a big foodie, and I do literally get to each mealtime with my kids thinking ‘Seriously? You have to eat again.. already?!’ Not the best attitude! Actually, your 21 meals list has already helped me in this area. I also now have a lovely chalkboard inside one of my kitchen cupboards, where I list my plans for each day of the week. It changes around, as my weeks never seem to go precisely to plan, but as least I have ‘control centre’ and this helps me to get on top of what’s coming up before the kids are clamouring for a snack. I have recently decided to cut right back on meat, which is making things a little more complicated, but also in some ways more interesting. I can’t rely on the same old things I always used to do – feeling my way a little in this, so any tips from veggie/vegan Mums gratefully received. I think a recipe swapping session with other Mums would be really helpful. I often call my sister and ask ‘what are you cooking tonight?’ for inspiration! x

    • Kelly Pietrangeli on October 20, 2014 at 7:43 PM

      I’m happy my 21 Meal Ideas printable is helping Suzie and I love how proactive you’re getting with your lists and plans and ‘control centre’!

      Good luck with your meat free planning. I hope someone reading this can offer some links / tips.

      I’d love to do a recipe swap w/ other mums too. Sharing your top 5 no-brainer, everybody loves recipes.

    • Nicholette von Reiche on October 21, 2014 at 6:37 PM

      Suzie,

      I love your ideas, especially the chalkboard one. But, I love chalkboard ANYTHING 😉 I am thinking of painting the island of our kitchen a chalkboard paint to write some fun family meal plan nots there.

      Mom cooks.
      X sets table.
      Y clears table.
      Dad Cleans dishes.

      Love the recipe swapping idea too. This one seems to be a great meat free favorite for my Moms, even the guys don’t realize it’s Meat-Free.
      http://nicholette.biz/pea-and-butternut-curry

      • Kelly Pietrangeli on October 24, 2014 at 10:19 PM

        That meat free curry sounds delish Nicholette!! Thanks for including the link. x

  3. Stacey on October 20, 2014 at 5:14 PM

    I love all of this! As a Mom to 7, food is a constant concern and sometimes a struggle. I didn’t know how to cook pancakes when we got married all those years ago, so I have come leaps and bounds. Planning is key! I have a menu planned out for one or two weeks and I do a lot of meal prep ahead of time because my evenings are spent running kids around. Nicholette and Ashley are spot on! I even prep breakfast foods ahead and freeze them for early mornings. My crockpot is my best friends! Ha!

    Over the last year, I have made some drastic changes to our diet to improve our health. It is a lot of work, but the moments when it is worth it is when my children comment on how much better they feel. Like this morning when I said they could have cold cereal and my daughter said, “I just don’t feel good when I eat it, I think I’ll have waffles.” I’m like, ok, maybe all this is worth something!

    Great, great article!!

    • Kelly Pietrangeli on October 20, 2014 at 7:41 PM

      Stacey, as a mom of SEVEN I just worship the ground you walk on. I’m NOT WORTHY!
      I don’t even offer my TWO kids a hot cooked breakfast. Waffles?! You’re kids are super lucky 🙂
      It’s great that your family are seeing the connection between what they eat and how they feel. Fantastic!

    • Nicholette von Reiche on October 21, 2014 at 6:41 PM

      Oh Wow Stacey, Seven – that’s amazing. It seems we can all learn a thing or 10 from you. So inspiring! The healthy habits you are implementing will last your kiddos a lifetime.

  4. Maxine on October 20, 2014 at 5:57 PM

    Kelly,

    Many thanks for this article – I’ve often felt like I’m the worst mum in the world as my interest in food is zero! Having said that my kids do tend to be generous with their praise for whatever I conjure up in the kitchen.

    I’ll definitely be taking a look at Dinner Made Simple – thanks for the link.

    • Kelly Pietrangeli on October 20, 2014 at 7:39 PM

      You’re welcome Maxine! I know, there’s not a lot comradery amongst mums who aren’t interested in cooking. (Just look at Pinterest!)

      Do check out the Dinner Made Simple link. I just finished making the Day 1 dish from the Classic Menu ‘ chili con carne – and my family gave it a 5/5 and I give it top marks for being super quick & easy 🙂

  5. Mariah Dolan on October 20, 2014 at 7:35 PM

    I absolutely despise meal planning and cooking—glad I’m not the only one!

    So Kelly, since you introduced me to the ziplist app, I’ve been slowly adding recipes to it. Soon I’ll have all of my most used recipes at my fingertips. The cool thing is, ziplist adds all of your recipe ingredients to a shopping list! Plus it adds what I’m making to my online calendar, so I know what I’ve planned for each night. I used to sit down every Sunday with a thousand recipe books around me—picking what we were going to eat for dinner each week.

    Unfortunately, I still have to COOK the meal, but the meal planning and organization is more than half the battle for me. Thanks for introducing me to the app 🙂

  6. Marcia at Organising Queen on October 20, 2014 at 10:16 PM

    I must say, I focus on the end goal too (I love eating 🙂 and I’m passionate about my kids eating healthy food) so I really don’t mind and actually enjoy cooking, but only if it’s all done in 30 mins. I have no patience for meals that take sweet forever to put together.

    • Kelly Pietrangeli on October 20, 2014 at 10:35 PM

      I’m happy to hear from someone who enjoys cooking Marcia! Hurrah! Focusing on the end goal is great. I love eating too!!!

  7. Ellie on October 21, 2014 at 2:44 AM

    I too already use your 21 meals list. It grew a bit, though, and a lovely boy, who is on the spectrum and who was visiting, saw my list and got quite upset that it’s headed 21 meals, but actually has 27 meals. I tend to cook meals in a particular order – I roast chicken the first night, and after dinner I simmer the carcass for stock. The next night, I use the stock to make risotto or rice of some kind, and I stir the chicken and roast veges leftovers with salad leaves and parmesan through the rice. The next night we have the leftover rice as Arancini (fried rice balls stuffed with something nice) and salad. Leftover Arancini go in the lunch boxes the next day. Our nanny, who comes two or three afternoons a week, can’t really cook so she just does stir-fry beef strips with green vegetables, or bean nachos. My favourite quick meal is fried or baked cubes of potato with a can of rinsed lima beans, shredded cabbage or kale stirred in until it’s wilted and then a good handful of grated cheese or parmesan. The kids LOVE it, it’s reasonably health with a good combination of vegetables and protein and carbs and fibre, and doesn’t create too many dishes.

    • Kelly Pietrangeli on October 21, 2014 at 9:43 AM

      Super inspiring comment Ellie! Your way of planning weekly meals so you can use ingredients the following days is brilliant. I may start over with a new 21 Meal Ideas sheet and see if I can make mine flow better….

      And I LOVE Arancini but have never tried making it! Please post your recipe!

      Thanks so much for this fantastic comment – so much food for thought. (pun intended) 🙂

      • Ellie on October 24, 2014 at 12:28 PM

        Thanks!
        I mix parmesan and egg into my leftover rice, roll a lump into a ball in my hands, stick my thumb in to create an indent, and shove my filling in. It could be a lump of cream cheese or some chopped up mushrooms in a tiny bit of cream sauce, a lump of mozzarella, or a few whisps of chicken if there’s anything left over. Then I close the hole over, roll the ball in flour, then whisked egg, then breadcrumbs, then fry it in about 5cms of oil. You have to make sure the oil is hot enough – a cube of bread will turn golden in 10 seconds.

        • Kelly Pietrangeli on October 24, 2014 at 10:21 PM

          Ellie I was SO hoping you’d see this and write down your recipe for Aranchini!! I am so excited to try making these 🙂 THANK YOU!

    • Erika on November 5, 2014 at 5:35 PM

      Took advantage of doctor waiting roomtime to finally tackle this! Made the list on my phone so its handy. Thank you for the loving approach and ideas to re-frame it from a chore to a pleasure.

  8. Pam on October 21, 2014 at 2:56 PM

    Kelly,

    Great tips in here! I don’t own a crock pot, either, but I may look into getting one…I also like your idea of putting on some music and thinking of the cooking as “me” time. Music always makes me feel better 🙂

    • Kelly Pietrangeli on October 21, 2014 at 6:06 PM

      A glass of vino and some good beats seems like just what we need to get our kitchen groove on, huh Pam? 🙂

  9. Paola on October 21, 2014 at 5:13 PM

    Thank you Kelly,
    your article has inspired me. Although I love cooking, I find it quite challenging nowadays with a child and a 10 week old baby!
    I love the idea of planning the meals thinking about healthy food, variety and exploration!
    I will definitely approach cooking with more positivity after reading this post!

    • Kelly Pietrangeli on October 21, 2014 at 6:08 PM

      More positivity in the kitchen – and in all of life! Thanks for you lovely comment Paola! xx

  10. Kristy on October 21, 2014 at 8:33 PM

    A great article Kelly.

    As a busy mum, meal planning is essential for me. I’ve now started a ritual where I sit down every Sunday morning and plan all of our meals. And I actually really enjoy it. It certainly takes the panic out of each mealtime during the week.

    Can I also add that Nicholette is amazing, as is her Eating 4 Energy Course? Having almost completed the course, I can honestly say it’s fantastic. I’ve learnt and applied so much and I know my family and I are benefitting.

    • Kelly Pietrangeli on October 21, 2014 at 10:01 PM

      Yay! Another Sunday meal planner! I can’t say I enjoy it, but I feel so GREAT when I’ve done it and I feel great all over again each day when I know what I’m cooking and have the ingredients to make it. It saves so much headspace during the week when I don’t have to be thinking ‘what’s for dinner tonight??”

      Really happy to see your personal recommendation for the Eating 4 Energy course Kristy! Fantastic!! 🙂

    • Nicholette von Reiche on October 23, 2014 at 4:38 PM

      Kristy – I want to be you when I grow up.

      You are so inspiring lady, thank you for the shout out for Eating 4 Energy. Makes my heart so happy to see that you are loving it.

      Hubby and I have this new ritual where we try and do meal planning together while we do Saturday Morning Pancakes. We try to make it fun. It also helps us feel on top of our food spending.

      • Kelly Pietrangeli on October 24, 2014 at 12:12 PM

        I love how you and your hubby meal plan TOGETHER Nicholette. And the pancakes sound yummy too 🙂

  11. Elaine Halligan on October 23, 2014 at 11:05 AM

    Hi Kelly

    Fabulous post and yes even with teenagers until recently I still battled to plan and prepare meals as I failed to make it a priority. How amazing is that as I love food and cooking and eating but often neglected to plan.In terms of Stephen Covey and the 7 habits of highly effective people food planning and preparation is important and sometimes urgent if blood sugars are low.

    I confess I now use HELLP FRESH to help me along as they provide the most incredible box of fresh food and cookery cards which you prepare from scratch and I have to say my teenager is positively excited on coming home and opening the box and now prepares a meal once or twice a week! This is a win win situation as he is learning how to cook and feed himself and we are eating the most delicious nutritious meals and food wastage is kept to a minimum.

    Have already planned the evening meal tonight – beef and asparagus stir fry!

    • Kelly Pietrangeli on October 24, 2014 at 12:16 PM

      Love hearing about your success in the meal planning / cooking department Elaine and your enthusiasm is infectious!

      I looked up HELLP FRESH but didn’t find anything, but have just found HELLO FRESH (assuming it was a typo) and see that it looks like a fab resource for UK mums!

      http://www.hellofresh.co.uk/

      Thanks so much for sharing. (and your beef and asparagus stir fry sounds delicious!)

  12. Denise Dare on October 23, 2014 at 10:35 PM

    Such important stuff!

    Thank you for sharing these resources, Kelly.

    We can all use a lil’ inspiration + fresh ideas.

    Creating rituals + organizing for more ease around feeding our families is something I share in my upcoming ebook…How I Organize My Life + Biz.

    Love learning with you…thank you, friend!

    xo,

    D

    • Kelly Pietrangeli on October 24, 2014 at 12:17 PM

      You’re welcome Denise – and I’m excited about your upcoming ebook! Be sure to give me the heads up when it’s out. xx

  13. Helen Butler on November 2, 2014 at 6:08 AM

    For me food is always like Groundhog Day Kelly! “What, we need to eat again? Really? Didn’t we only do that a few hours ago?!”.

    Interestingly I did my first (undergraduate) degree as a Home Economics teacher! I loved sewing at the time but cooking? No way!

    Thankfully I grew up in a very traditional family so when it came time for me to leave home at the ripe old age of 17 I could cook all sorts of meals.

    I don’t meal plan at all now and work much more intuitively (what is it I really feel like eating?) but I have a wide array of recipes up my sleeve – and ingredients in the fridge, pantry and freezer – that I can whip up a meal in about 30 minutes. Much longer than that and I’ve had enough!

    • Kelly Pietrangeli on November 3, 2014 at 9:06 AM

      Helen I can’t even sew a button on! I flunked out of Home Economics when I tried to sew a simple draw string A-line skirt and make a complete mess out of it!

      I love how you eat intuitively based on what you feel like eating. That’s how I’d ideally love to do it too! 🙂

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