“Feeding a family well is achievable but takes a little planning. As parents, we need to be conscious consumers making considered choices that support our children’s well-being but also fit into our busy lives. For me, making a weekly meal plan, eating seasonally, ‘cooking once but eating twice’ and eating more flexibly can really help when returning to the back-to-school routine. I love putting a modern take on some classic dishes, including wholegrain, dairy and fruit and vegetables in each meal is non-negotiable, and I love to mix it up a little each week”.
Eat with the seasons.
Not only will your fruit and vegetables taste better and be cheaper, but they are also more nutrient dense. The supermarkets usually have special, super-saver deals on seasonal fruit each week, so keep an eye out for these.
Meal Planning & Batch Cooking.
As a mom of 3 little ones, I need to be prepared. For us to have enough food to get through the week and have variety and interest in our meals, I need to sit down and plan what meals we will have. This process can be done quickly but is very valuable as it allows us to eat better while easing the mental load and the financial burden. I always like to do a little stock take of what I have in the pantry or the freezer first, and this means I can use up what I have before I buy more or include it in the plan. With a bit of planning, it means I waste less money buying ingredients I may already have, I save time and money on fuel and at the end of the week, it means nothing is forgotten about or left behind, and there is a significant reduction in the amount of food waste. Some of my favourite recipes to include in my meal planning and weekend preparation include hummus, pesto, creamy vegetable soup, a batch of roast Mediterranean vegetables, brown bread and some smoothie bags in the freezer.
When trying to feed our families well, we must make conscious and considered choices. Choose the food that is the best quality you can get on your budget, and choose the foods you love too. Eating well on a budget is tricky, but we can create culinary magic with a few key quality ingredients.
Embrace a Flexitarian Way of Eating.
Stretch your food and enjoy more fruit, vegetables, dairy, and whole-grain carbohydrates. Why not give Meatless Mondays or Flexitarian Fridays a go to start?. Enjoy meals without meat by using more dairy, more lean plant-based proteins. Begin to include some “meat extenders” in your weekly meals. Some of the ones I love are tinned fish, nut butters, beans, nuts, mushrooms and lentils. I will always make a shepherd’s pie on 50% of Irish beef mince and the other 50% with lentils. I also love adding a tin of mixed beans to my slow cooker chilli nachos.
Utilise the freezer, rely on a stash of frozen fruit and vegetables from the freezer. Frozen berries are brilliant for the winter season to get lots of valuable variety, colour and nutrients. They are ideal for making smoothies, chia jam for a topping on porridge or quick crumble bars for lunch boxes. Frozen vegetables like peas and broccoli are perfect for pasta dishes and family favourites like fish pies.
Include lots of whole foods and reduce the amount of ultra-processed and processed foods weekly. Bulk out meals with grains and beans. Grains like quinoa, bulgar wheat, cous cous are great, along with beans like butter beans and chickpeas.
Cook One, Eat Twice. Batch Cook and get Creative with leftovers.
Put modern twists on some classic dishes, to a Mac and Cheese, add a little chorizo and cheddar breadcrumb. Add a tin of drained butterbeans to a creamy chicken pesto pasta dish.
Another essential top tip for eating well on a budget as a family is to avoid getting stuck in a rut. Don’t just buy the same fruit and veg each week. Mix it up, slight variations to your family favourites are so important to prevent food jagging for children. This is where children tend to eat the same foods each day but then get bored and fatigued with it, and food jag or begin to refuse this food and remove it from their repertoire. Simple examples are things like swapping strawberry yoghurt last week for blueberry yoghurt next week. Changing from white cheddar to red cheddar and switching the flavour of the rice cakes or crackers each week. This is also really important in helping families to “eat the rainbow”.
Add protein to each meal to keep us fuller for longer. Dairy, wholegrain and fresh fruit and vegetables are great ways of doing this. Add a herby whipped ricotta dip with freshly chopped vegetables as a starter or after-school snack. Try a creamy sumac or tahini dressing over a salad for lunch.
Sign up for supermarket apps and get notifications of upcoming super-saver deals and special offers before hitting the supermarket. This way, you can plan your meals based on seasonality, what you have in the pantry and the specific special offers depending on where you shop. Be sure to use any coupons or discount codes too. Another great tip is to subscribe to a local community allotment group that creates seasonal and local boxes of fruit and vegetables at a very reasonable price.
Grow herbs at home. Herbs and spices are one of the most effective and cost-effective ways of feeding your family for less this year. Forget spending €2 per herb plant per week. Grow them in a little window box and use these herbs to add great flavour to your dishes.
Invest in a few basic but quality kitchen tools. Items like an excellent sturdy chopping board, a peeling knife and a chopping knife, a peeler, a wooden spoon and two good saucepans will make cooking much easier. When cooking becomes efficient and effective at home, we tend to reach for less convenient and ultra-processed foods.
My two great techniques for getting our more fussy eaters to eat well and enjoy sharing your family meals. Try family-style dining; this is where you keep each of the meal’s components in separate serving dishes and then bring all of these to the table. Allow each person to dip in, see themselves, try a little of everything, and then come back for more of what they love. This allows children to feel safe while allowing them to explore new foods in a safe space. The other great top tip is to introduce new foods gradually. Allow our little ones to first look, touch, and feel the new foods. Get them to help with their preparation, and then, over time, suggest the child take a little bite, a nibble, or a taste and gradually go from there. Don’t try to force or put too much pressure on them.