As you know I’m pregnant with number two and this hasn’t been an easy pregnancy. I don’t have a day without significant pain and as a result I feel exhausted, grumpy, and guilty. One of the first things to slip when I’m feeling this way is good home-cooked meals. The time and energy it takes to plan, prep, and cook something frugal and healthy just seems too much. The temptation to send my husband out for take-away, order home delivery, or just eat cheese on toast has won out more than I like to admit. Then of course I feel horribly remorseful.
Something had to change so I started this very simple trick. I would visit the local markets and purchase about a kilo each of onions, carrots, and celery- the basic starter ingredients for so many soups, stews, and casseroles. Then I would come home, prepare these ingredients, and freeze in recipe sized portions. This is really time efficient (I use the food processor as it’s a large enough amount to make the washing up worthwhile) and frugal (no wasted veggies rotting in the crisper). I freeze the packs flat to take up less space and make them easy to organise in the freezer. Once frozen you can even store them upright in the freezer if that makes them easier to access for you.
On those evenings when I feel like I can’t face cooking I can pull one of these little ziplock bags out of the freezer and the tedious prep work is done for me. It’s so easy to dump the frozen diced ingredients into a saucepan with a little oil and by adding some stock you have a simple soup which can be bulked up with pasta, noodles, lentils, and whatever meat and veggies you have lying around. If I really can’t raise my expanding bottom from the lounge I can even instruct my patient husband on the dumping, sautéing etc. process knowing that half the work is already done for him. I’ve also used these starter packs in the slowcooker/crockpot- makes getting the meal started in the morning before heading off to work even easier!
It turns out I’m not the only person who has discovered the benefits of preparing and freezing the beginnings of a meal. I like my little starter packs because they are so versatile (who knows what this pregnant belly will crave from one day to the next!) but another way to go is preparing and freezing all the ingredients for a meal. This works well when you want to do all your dinner preparation on say Sunday and simply dump the lot in the slow cooker each morning (you can defrost in the fridge the night before to make it easier to remove from the ziplock bag if necessary). If you don’t mind a bit of repetition in your weekly meals you can buy ingredients in bulk and make multiples of the same meal. If you and your family tend to have curry/bolognese/daal every Tuesday night this is perfect. You can make a month of Tuesday night dinners in one afternoon. If you have close friends and family who enjoy similar food to you there’s even the possibility of exchanging meals. You could each prepare multiple lots of a meal and swap amongst yourselves so you end up with one of each- dinner for the week sorted with variety intact! Simply write the recipe name and instructions (e.g. 7 hours on low, add cream before serving etc) on the ziplock bag and you’re good to go. Would be great if you all had something like exam week coming up.
If you’re stuck for idea Pinterest is a good place to start. Try http://www.pinterest.com/faithbringsjoy/recipes-meal-planning-freezer-food-prep/ and http://www.pinterest.com/ahavey1/freezer-prep-meals/ or simply search for ‘freezer meals’ etc. I actually haven’t found many recipes online that work for me as most require processed ingredients such as sauces that we don’t use in our house (what is this obsession with adding packets of french onion soup to everything?!), but I’m slowly adapting our own well-loved recipes to make them suitable to freeze in advance and slow cook. Do you make use of your freezer to help with meal preparation? Have you ever frozen recipe ingredients in advance before putting in the slow cooker? Care to share a recipe?
Tuesday nights always seem to throw me. Especially if I’ve been lax with the meal planning. Wednesday night is bin night, it’s also the day I do my shopping at the fruit & veg market, so Tuesday often sees me staring into the fridge poking at limp and unexciting leftovers trying to create a meal that will use up insipid veggies before I’m forced to clean out the fridge the next day. It’s like my own weekly stocktake sale.
This week I was faced with a baby cabbage and multiple carrots of varying freshness. My first thought was coleslaw but I didn’t have anything else to serve it with (we had been enduring pouring rain for days and I wasn’t going anywhere) so I had to figure out a way to bulk these ingredients up to make a meal. I turned to the pantry to see what I could rustle up there and came across half a packet of rice paper circles. My husband has been bugging me to get rid of them as our toddler loves to pull them out of the packet one by one and break them into little shards all over the kitchen floor. Most annoying. I previously used them to make cold rice paper rolls but little Willa Rose doesn’t like them so I haven’t made them for ages. It was time to use those suckers up.
I remembered seeing Sarah B of My New Roots use rice paper to make baked samosas so a quick google later and I had her recipe on the screen for guidance and away I went! Obviously I didn’t have exactly the same ingredients as her but it worked well all the same. I was lucky enough to have all the spices so the flavour was there and I just swapped out ingredients according to what I had on hand; slivered almonds and pine nuts instead of cashews, cabbage instead of green peas and spinach etc. I served them with homemade mango chutney as I still have a couple of jars on the shelf from last summer and mango season is quickly approaching again, something else I need to use up!
The actual process of making the rolls is quite nice and repetitive, good for slowing down and great for putting a restless toddler to good use (did I mention the rain and resulting cabin fever?). Willa loved dipping the rice paper in the bowl of warm water- that kid loves anything to do with water- and passing them to me when they were soft. I had already cooked and cooled the filling so the production line was very simple. I rolled the samosas into spring roll shapes as it was more straightforward and meant Willa could pick them up to eat easily. A sprinkling of sesame seeds and coconut and they were ready for the oven!
Whilst this recipe was very easy it was time consuming. I started preparing and cooking at 4pm and dinner was ready at 6pm. That time would be shorter if I didn’t have a toddler assisting me at every stage along the way, from pressing the buttons on the food processor to shred the cabbage and grate the carrot, to sprinkling sesame seeds indiscriminately over the baking tray. It means the process takes a hell of a lot longer but Willa loves it and I think it’s a great way for her to learn about food and keep her busy! Do you have a favourite meal to make with kids? Or a reliable leftover recipe? Please share below!
This would have to be the most simple recipe ever. There are only two ingredients- red cabbage and mint. Whenever red cabbage is in season I buy one and make this salad. I usually make a huge bowl which lives in the fridge and makes an appearance at every lunch and dinner that week. I don’t know what it is but this salad makes me feel alive. It pairs really well with yoghurt (another favourite ‘live’ food of mine) and is great added to wraps or as a side.
Knowing there is a bowl of something healthy ready and waiting takes the pressure off and means I can focus on preparing only one or two other components of a meal. Simple eating at its best.
Preparing the midweek meal can be a stressful affair. It needs to be nutritious, frugal, quick, and easy. Meal plans can go a long way to easing the stress of getting dinner on the table but it also helps to have a few stand-by midweek meals you can call on in times of needs. These zucchini fritters are something I turn to when my plans fall apart and I need something stat! It isn’t an exact recipe but it always seems to come together and taste delicious.
Zucchini grated (however many zucchini you can spare, I usually use two or so)
1 onion diced/grated
Self-raising flour (I never measure, I just shake in enough to coat the zucchini and make a batter)
Milk (enough to make a thick batter)
Salt & Pepper
- Grate the zucchini and dice the onion. As I’m usually making this when I’m pressed for time I simply use the grating disc on the food processor for both.
- Squeeze excess liquid out of the zucchini
- Add all ingredients to a mixing bowl and adjust amount of milk and flour until you get a nice thick batter consistency
- Heat your skillet and add suitable oil such as coconut
- Ladle spoonfuls of batter into skillet and fry until golden
Serve with homemade yoghurt and whatever else you have on hand e.g. tomato salad, bacon, ham, pickles, sliced cheese. The egg and yoghurt both have a good amount of protein to keep everyone full so adding meat isn’t really necessary. I’ve also added grated carrot or potato when I didn’t have enough zucchini, it’s a very forgiving recipe and nice to change things up every now and then.
What are your favourite stand-by meals? The ones you can make with your eyes closed while helping your toddler sing Old MacDonald?