It can be quite a challenge to ensure healthy, fresh and tasty food for all the family members and for all meals - breakfast, lunch, teatime, dinner - and not to forget the kid’s school snack, school lunch, car or bus snack, milk time snack, entertaining friends, kid's friends and the list goes on.
You have to manage not just the cooking but also the stocking of food ingredients, keeping them fresh and the worst of all decide what to cook and serve at different times and on top of this there is leftover management. No wonder cooking feels more like a breeze than the paraphernalia that supports cooking. And on top of all this there are all the other non-food related chores that you have to do - stocking their school bags, supervising homework, buying birthday presents for their friends, paying bills, “work” work and the list is endless here as well.
Here are some tips, tricks, shortcuts and ideas to stay organized and serve healthy and yummy food to your family without driving yourself insane or your budget out-of-whack.
Lists and other handy-dandy tips
Do you keep forgetting fun items for your kids tiffin box or forget to make certain hot favourites for your family. Guests coming and you are lost about what to make? Here are some tips n tricks.
- Lists can really help you. Some examples
- Grocery shopping checklist.
- List of school snacks for your children’s tiffin box.
- List of school lunch ideas.
- List of everyday menu items (meals, breakfast, tea snack).
- List for menu items for entertaining (appetizers, drinks, main course, dessert).
- List for menu items for kiddie events (birthdays, playdates).
- Keep the lists on your computer and update from time to time. Also print and put on your fridge to remind you regularly.
- Another tip on similar lines is to manage your recipe collection efficiently. Whenever possible keep an online repository of your recipes - your email folder, bookmarks etc. You can also keep a handy box where you can chuck the hardcopy recipes, magazine clippings etc. Or digitise paper recipes by scanning or taking a digital photo of these if possible. And keep them handy so that you use them from time to time and keep whipping up fun foods for your family.
- Organize the kitchen shelves. Keep the shelves neat and bottle the provisions so that they are more accessible.
Be efficient in grocery shopping
- Make a standard grocery checklist. For example: daily/weekly perishables like bread, eggs, vegetables, fruits, cheese, juice; other items like pulses, rice, flour, spices, biscuits, sugar, salt, kids snacks and toiletries. Keep an electronic copy on your computer as well. Then you can print a copy and put on the fridge and keep one in your in your purse. Of course, the gadget-happy moms or dads could keep the list online and then keep track on your Blackberry.
- Take stock and anticipate: Before you do grocery shopping, take a quick look at what you have - the fridge and the shelves. You might want to ask your kids or spouse what they might want.
- It is best to do grocery shopping yourself from time to time. This way you can browse what is in the market and you have the family’s overall plan for the next few days if you are entertaining, will be eating out a lot on the weekends, your spouse is on a business trip etc.). A little work upfront can save you time later and reduce arranging endless trips to the grocery shop. Of course make a list out of the checklist for your spouse or domestic help between the shopping trips when you need to prioritize your time.
- Try and time grocery shopping for when you will be eating a lot at home to ensure freshness of ingredients. No point in loading the fridge when the next 2-3 days you will be eating out a lot.
- How many shopping trips to make? It really depends on your family. But typically, if you are organized you can make one big weekly shopping trip armed with your list. And then delegate other trips to accommodate other situations - perishables like bread etc., unanticipated guests coming, your kids whims and cravings etc.
- Where and how to shop? Of course the ideal is to make 2-3 stops near your house. Perhaps one for fresh vegetables and fruits, one for other non-perishables and maybe a stop for some exotic ingredients in case you are doing some fancy cooking. You might want to go alone so that you can crank out your list or make it a fun event with the kids. It really depends on you - your mood and situation.
Balanced meals and daily meal planning
- Of course, a balanced meal is packed with optimum doses of protein, calcium, vitamins, minerals, fat and fibre. The Indian thali concept works well for meal times.
- For kids though, you might need to be flexible and most pediatricians also recommend balancing meals over a day or even a week instead of the pressure of balancing each meal. For example, while packing lunch for your kids at school having many items might overwhelm them and overwhelm you as well in preparing them. If you give protein-packed rajma and rice for lunch, add some cut cucumbers and give them fruits with milk when they come home or extra vegetables with dinner. Or if it is aloo parathas with curds for lunch, then ensure protein and fibre rich foods for dinner. Also, it is important to empower young children to choose their own food to foster healthy eating habits. They might want to eat only chappatis with curds for one meal and lots of vegetables in the other meal. As long as their daily or weekly nutrition is balanced, it is okay. With time, they will learn to eat a balanced meal like you do.
- How to balance individual preferences without driving yourself crazy? One child wants sandwiches for school lunch and the other demands Smileys every day. Practice the middle way. Try and give both the kids the same food and at times also cater to their whims at times. Eating the same tiffins or dinner, will also ensure that they are giving different foods a chance and some sense of discipline and respect for others. And at times giving them different foods might make them feel more special and adds that fun element for them.
- Give healthy foods but sometimes make room for junk food. As long as their everyday food is healthy, they will have healthy tastes and food habits and some rare indulgences make food fun and if you are too strict and didactic, your kids might have strong cravings for these foods when they see other kids indulge.
Leftovers and leftover management
Of course in an ideal world there should never be leftovers and fresh food is always the best. But let us be realistic and a few shortcuts that keep you sane and are kind to your budget are surely worth it!
- Use leftovers creatively. Some ideas - You can grind last night’s daal and subji and fortify your chappati dough with it. You can make hot sandwiches using sandwich makers with the left over subjis for the kids school snack or even breakfast.
- Make sure you check leftovers every day and are careful about disposing stuff that has been in your fridge for a long time.
Take stock, anticipate and plan ahead
- Take daily or regular stock of what you have. However busy you are, take a couple of minutes everyday checking the fridge contents (the leftovers, what fruits and vegetable are there) and anticipating the events in the day (kids snacks, lunch, dinner, guests). This will help you decide what to make for each meal and have a plan for the day. And optimise on using fresh ingredients for food. It will take just a couple of minutes. Also check other non-perishable provisions like pulses, rice daal, dry snacks on a regular basis. This can also help you in stocking groceries efficiently instead of making umpteen shopping trips.
- Make some items extra (masalas, onion garlic paste) and then freeze for the rainy times when you might have sudden guests or when your kids want something different etc.
- Set aside some time to plan the week’s (or atleast the next couple of days) menu and food ideas. The best is you can do this mentally while driving or sitting in the car etc.
Be spontaneous and have fun
After you have done the planning and the preparing, make sure that you remain flexible and are spontaneous as well. Actually, being organized can also help you be spontaneous and have friends drop by spontaneously and cater to the kids food whims more effectively. Remember the plans and shortcuts are a means to an end and help you have more fun in life. Things do not always have to be perfect. Try and enjoy mundane chores like grocery shopping and meal planning for your kids and family. It has to be done and you might as well have some fun doing it!