10 things you need to know about being a working parent and meal planning

Slow cooker

You are a working parent, every morning you go off to work and spend the time worrying about what to make for dinner. Should you stop and get something readymade or get take out?

How late do you have to work, are there extra murals, do you have time to make a full meal?

Let me start by saying that as a working mom, without meal planning my family lived on pasta.

Sometimes the pasta had cheese on, sometimes tomato sauce, sometimes pasta sauce, add some mince, tuna or chicken and you had your meal.

Not only is this diet a little unhealthy, it is also kind of boring!

Then I started meal planning and life changed. My husband and I lost weight. The children weren’t sick as often as previously, they had more energy. The amount of food that went off in the fridge dropped dramatically and so did the food bill.

Here are 10 things you need to know to make your life easier.

Invest in a pressure cooker or hold out until the Instant Pot arrives in South Africa.

A pressure cooker or instant pot can cut hours off your cooking time. The longest it has ever taken me to make a meal in my pressure cooker is an hour and that’s only because I am cooking for 8.

Slow cooker
Start your meal before you leave for work and come home to a cooked meal

You don’t have to worry about food burning. The only warning I have is to be careful of which pressure cooker you buy. I have a Kambrook (South African, not Australian) and I hate it. The instruction manual does not match the pressure cooker and I can only do a few things in it so far.

My old-fashioned stovetop pressure cooker is the one I use more often. I am looking into getting an Instant pot when they arrive in the country, I may have to save up but it will be worth it.


Use your slow cooker, if the cable is intact it is safe to leave on while you are at work.

Slow cookers are excellent for cooking entire meals all at once. They are perfect when using tougher cuts of meat.

One of my favourite meals to cook is chicken and rice. The whole meal cooks on slow over 6-8 hours.

Just put everything in the pot, either the night before or just before you leave for the day. Turn it to low as you walk out the door, and walk back into a fully cooked meal.

Repurpose your leftovers

I don’t mean just reheating them to eat the next day, although you could do this. Repurposing is taking that food and turning it into something different.

Leftover mince can be turned into a mince pie or a cottage pie or sloppy joes, if there is enough why not freeze and use for another night.

Vegetables left over can be turned into a delicious vegetable soup, or roasted.

If you have ever watched the TV series ‘Chopped’ the contestants are often given ready-made food that they have to turn into a restaurant worthy dish.

We just need to make it edible. Go online and search for recipes, there are so many out there. Throwing away leftovers just cost you money.

Meal plan for the month, not just the week

Everybody tells me, they don’t know if they can do a whole month in advance, that I must be so amazingly organised. This is so not true.

I hate shopping. Planning for a month means I can buy all my non-perishables and freezer goods in one shopping trip and only need to rush in and out for the rest on a weekly basis.

I’ve tried weekly planning and what happened is I would get to the next week and have forgotten to draw up a plan.

By planning for the month I can plan around payday, extra murals, times when we have functions to attend or just want to go for date night.

It’s a lot easier to get into the habit of meal planning when you do a month at a time rather than a week at a time. Meal plans are not written in stone, so you can change them to accommodate in-store specials.

Shop during those extra murals

When dropping your children off at ballet class, karate, cricket, netball, soccer or rugby, you have an hour or so to kill. Using this time to get your shopping done is practical and time-saving.

With the price of petrol constantly going up, it is better to try to get as much done as you can, rather than driving up and down.

Shopping within a time limit, when you have a meal planned, can save you a lot of money, as you will have to stick to your list and not have time to buy unnecessary items.

Shopping with a time constraint without meal planning and therefore no shopping list will cost you between 2-5% more, each visit.

This is because when we have no list, we impulse buy, you are hungry, tired and in a hurry, you let your emotions shop for you and then you get home, look at what you  bought and either don’t feel like cooking it, it will take too long to cook or nothing you bought is actually suitable for a meal.

Let the children learn to cook

Letting your children help with the food prep is not only a good way to get help in the kitchen, it also tends to get them interested in new flavours.

Mine started with learning how to make scrambled eggs, my 22-year-old son makes the most incredible omelets, he is also good with steaks and roast chicken, he is learning new flavour combinations.

My 0ldest daughter will cook an entire meal really well if you force her to, it is sometimes a surprise what comes to the table on these rare occasions as she prefers to use recipes as a suggestion rather than instructions and may alter quantities and ingredient as the mood strikes.

Then comes my 16-year-old daughter can when threatened with hunger use the snackwich maker (jaffle maker) to make toasted tuna mayo or toasted cheese.

The baby is 14 now and she is our resident cupcake and muffin maker, she is also a vegetarian and lactose intolerant. She makes amazing gluten-free banana pancakes.

You have to taste!

One thing my children all have in common is that they are prepared to taste new foods before making up their minds about whether they like it or not. (My oldest daughter says ‘we are forced to taste the food. We are not allowed to turn down food unless we have at least tasted it!)

Children can begin cooking under supervision from around the age of 9, there are plenty of blogs and YouTube videos available to teach them to cook.

I now have a Thermomix, which has changed my life. It is simple to use with touchscreen technology and recipes on a chip. Just about anyone can use it to dice, mix, saute, steam and whip amongst other things. No worries about burnt food when the person cooking gets distracted as the temperature and cooking time are set.


Cook in bulk and freeze

The important thing to remember with this is that you must separate what you want to freeze before you serve supper.

If like me you have a few big eaters, leaving even a little in a pot means there will be no leftovers.

I also have grazers, which means that they will keep going back until there is nothing left.

Cook once, eat twice. This is what bulk cooking is all about, cook double today and freeze one portion for later in the month.

Remember that if you can buy it frozen in the store, you can freeze it at home. This can make food prep easier too. Just Google ‘how to blanche ……’, you can do any vegetable if you know how.

Keep a pantry stocked with staples

A few standard supplies in your pantry cupboard can translate into an emergency meal or salad. Pasta, stock powder, bottled sauce, tuna are ingredients that can be turned into a meal.

Canned vegetables also come in handy, one of our favourite salads is a can of garden peas and a can of corn kernels drained and mixed with a little mayonnaise.

Frozen vegetables are also an absolute necessity, quick cooking, they can be eaten as a side dish or hidden in a pie or even turned into soup.

Buy pre-cut vegetables

While pre-cut vegetables may not be great for your budget, they are amazing time savers when you need them. They can be roasted, boiled, steamed or mashed. The problem with these is they often don’t last very long in the fridge.

precut veg
Using pre-cut vegetables saves you time

Cook according to a theme

I have a meal plan template. Each night of the week we have a different theme. At the moment I am using Mon-Meat free/vegan; Tuesday- Vegetarian (Fish); Wednesday – Mincemeat; Thursday- Chicken or red meat and Friday- red meat or chicken.

I used to also add a country to each week. One week we would take a country and I would make food according to my template based on the cuisine of that country.

This didn’t always work out, sometimes the meals were terrible and sometimes they just took to long to cook. What I did learn from this is that my family are fairly adventurous eaters.

Meal Plan Template
A blank template that I use for ideas for themes

They enjoyed the Indian, Chinese, Mexican and South African foods the most but gamely tried the Russian disaster (we ended up eating cereal that night).

These 10 simple tips will help you less stressed about getting food on the table each night at a reasonable time.

I can’t manage without it, can you?

I don’t know how I did it? Oh, wait I didn’t! In March 2015 I started making menu and meal plans for the month and not only did my grocery bill drop but so did my weight!  In the past if I cooked, it was whatever I could stick in an oven because I was too tired, so it usually was fairly unhealthy food with all the nutrition processed out of it.

Emergency meal, fish fingers, hash browns and garlic bread
This is what happens when you don’t have a meal plan

The last 2 weeks I haven’t had a menu plan and I don’t know how I lived so many years without one. I stand in front of my cupboards each evening and stare at the stuff inside and I don’t know what to make! This is also costing money as I have had to go to the shop more often and I am impulse buying!

The first week I thought it would be easy not to have a plan as there were only 3 of us at home  How hard can it be?  I’ll tell you what it was a Disaster that  is what it was!

This past week I more or less had an idea of what I wanted to cook, so it went better  However, this week I am once again sitting down and drawing up my plan! I think I will do January at the same time and get it over with.

I know a lot of people find planning 1 week at a time enough but I have found it better for me to do the whole month.

Here’s how last week’s semi plan went.

Monday is meat free, I found a fish recipe that sounded good but needed a few changes to suit my family. I also had a box of frozen hake in the freezer and the rest of the ingredients in the cupboard so there was no need to shop.

Italian inspired fish stew
Italian inspired fish stew

Italian inspired fish stew! Stew is usually a winter dish but in my opinion fish is not as filling, or heavy, as meat and therefore makes a nice light stew that is perfect for summer. http://kasheringyourlife.co.za/index.php/recipes/italian-style-fish-stew/

Tuesday, which is mince night, we went out for supper.   My youngest has been begging for us to go to ‘Open Flame’, which is the meat restaurant where my eldest daughter works parttime. It is usually a bit over our budget but we decided, with only 3 of us, we could do it. The steaks were cooked to perfection and the ribs were outstanding but it was the desert which stood out the most  I was simple and delicious. Dairy free Vanilla ice cream served with dark chocolate spring rolls. The spring rolls were light and crispy and the chocolate filling was yum.

Wednesday night was the public holiday and I re heated porcupine meatballs that I had frozen. http://kasheringyourlife.co.za/index.php/recipes/porcupine-meatballs/

porcupine meatballs

Thursday we had fish fingers and oven chips with peas.

store bought fish fingers PnP
store bought fish fingers PnP

Friday night I made an old favourite of mine, a chicken stew in the slow cooker.

Slow cooked chicken with baby potatoes, tomato and onion
Slow cooked chicken with baby potatoes, tomato and onion

Saturday night was nachos with avocado dip

Sunday night was a pizza. http://kasheringyourlife.co.za/index.php/recipes/easy-pizza-base/

This week I have to have a meal plan!   I am in holiday mode, so if I don’t do a plan we are going to be eating really badly and my budget is going to suffer severely. All the kids will be back from summer camp soon and are sure to be starving, even though I know they get 3 full meals a day and there is a tuck shop for in between!    Can’t wait to have the family all back together again!

How did you do?

I plan for the whole month
I plan for the whole month

As I said last week, for the month of November I will be reviewing my menu plan and seeing how it was followed. Each week I will look from Thursday to Wednesday. Recipes for the different dishes can be found on the blog and a weekly and monthly menu planner can also be found there. http://kasheringyourlife.co.za/index.php/printables/monthly-menu-planner-and-shopping-list/ and

Remember, a menu plan is not set in stone and if you need to make an adjustment, that’s fine.

Last Thursday my husband and I went out for our annual date night (we don’t get to do date night often, but this is one I won’t miss), I was sick as a dog, but it is an annual appreciation dinner for a community group that I have been part of for the last 10 years.

Family sized pizza for supper
Family sized pizza for supper

The kids had a treat also; they got a large family pizza to share and watched a movie.

Friday night supper is always important and I make more than usual. My starter was a cold avocado soup. For the main course I served a garden salad and cooked a rolled bolo roast in the slow cooker. No recipe here, you brown your meat and put it in the pot with a packet of your favourite packet soup and 1 ½ cups of water. Turn it to auto and leave for 8 hours. Delicious, soft and beautifully flavoured. I served this with rice, gem squash and mint green peas. For desert we had canned peach slices and dairy free custard, which I didn’t make myself. I bought Alpro soya custard. http://kasheringyourlife.co.za/index.php/recipes/cold-avocado-soup/

Clockwise from the bottom. Avo soup, slow cooked beef, white rice, gem squash, tinned peaches and Alpro custard
Clockwise from the bottom. Avo soup, slow cooked beef, white rice, gem squash, tinned peaches and Alpro custard

Saturday lunch we were now 3/6 with stomach pains and diarrhoea, so lunch was cold meat sandwiches for those who could eat.

Sunday lunch we usually go to my mom but with half of us under the weather, we stayed home. I made potato salad and we had short ribs and chicken sausages with strawberries to finish. We now have had a change of patient. I am better but my youngest has started with pains. So still 3/6 not well. Supper was scrambled eggs and toast for those that could eat.

Short ribs and chicken sausages, potato salad, green salad
Short ribs and chicken sausages, potato salad, green salad

Monday night is as always meat free, so we were supposed to have lasagne bows according to my menu plan. I obviously didn’t read the recipe properly because it asks for fresh lasagne, which is not on my ‘to do’ list anytime soon. So I adapted the recipe to a ricotta and salmon lasagne. Not a drop left and I forgot to take a before photo, so my picture is of an empty lasagne dish! http://kasheringyourlife.co.za/index.php/recipes/ricotta-and-canned-salmon-lasagna/

Too late for the photo! This was ricotta and salmon lasagna.
Too late for the photo! This was ricotta and salmon lasagna.

Tuesday night is mince night (ground beef for my American readers). I took the mince out of the freezer in the morning and then looked at the meal plan; it says ‘beef ragout’.  Well, now that was a problem! Beef ragout is a fancy name for a stew. So there I am at 5:30am paging through my books looking for the recipe that obviously caught my eye.  All to no avail! Time for an experiment and supper was invented. A mince ragout! I made it with onion, garlic, mushrooms, green pepper, baby marrow (zucchini), Rosa tomatoes, korma spice, tomato sauce, water and stock powder. I served it with baby pasta shells and garlic rolls. http://kasheringyourlife.co.za/index.php/recipes/mince-meat-ragout/

Mince Meat Ragout, I am definitely not a food photographer!
Mince Meat Ragout, I am definitely not a food photographer!

Wednesday was actually a night where what was on my menu is actually what I served. It was, as always, something quick and simple as I usually teach a beading class. The menu called for vegetarian schnitzels with mash. We had coleslaw, vegetarian schnitzels with garlic mash potato, and baby peas. http://kasheringyourlife.co.za/index.php/recipes/creamy-mash-potato/

Creamy garlic and onion mash with garden peas and vegetarian schnitzel
Creamy garlic and onion mash with garden peas and vegetarian schnitzel

I would love to hear what you are serving. For those who menu plan, I have a weekly planner and a monthly one that you can print. How well do you stick to your meal plans?http://kasheringyourlife.co.za/index.php/printables/638-2/

Try something new this month. Introduce a new flavour to an old recipe and let us know how it went.

Have a gastronomically delightful week.

Menu Planning Workshop

On the evening of the 2 November 2105

I am hosting a 2 hour workshop, to help you learn to plan your weekly and monthly menus.
Includes tips on planning for diets, fussy eaters and medical conditions such as diabetes.
Seating is limited, and booking is essential.
Cost is R 350.00 per person
Tea will be served
To book: email: admin@kasheringyourlife.co.za

Venue: Elphin Lodge clubhouse, 222 Modderfontein Road, Modderfontein.

Looking forward to sharing my experiences with everyone.