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In the kitchen: How to organise your dinners ahead of time

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Meal planning for the week pic

We spotted NSM Rebecca Enright on the NSM Facebook group page earlier this week and just had to get her to share her tips for getting all her dinners organised each week.

When I recently posted on the NSM Facebook page a picture of my dinners for the week (see above), chopped and ready for me to cook each evening, I did not expect the response it received. As busy mums we are always looking for new ideas to save time, provide nutritious meals for our families and, most integrally, maintain our sanity!

I had always been a meal planner in my head, but this was proving ineffective. Things pop up, you get tired, the kids’ training runs late, a little one is sick, homework tasks need extra attention. Before you know it, time has run out and the kids are yanking on your leg, ‘Mummmm! I’m hungry. When’s dinner?’ and you try to placate this with a snack…. And then you make dinner and they are not hungry. It totally negates the effort and, here we go, wasted food AGAIN!

We are on a strict budget. I am a high school teacher who works part time, three days a week, and I have had to take on cleaning on my two days off to earn extra money, hence we cannot afford wastage. I have two girls, aged 10 and two, and my partner has two children aged 11 and nine who are with us on the weekends. I am adamant my family eats nutritionally balanced meals. However, I have found that my daughter’s multiple gymnastics training sessions each week can throw a proverbial spanner in the works. This means our two-year-old eats at a normal dinner time, and we eat later with my 10-year-old. Maccas and Dominos is an undesirable option, and comes with the guilt of knowing my girls are ingesting fat, salt and sugar. Don’t get me wrong, we still eat ‘sometimes’ foods, however, it’s not a culture I wish to promote.

So, onto the main point of this story. I decided that I needed to plan meals for the week. I do my main grocery shopping on a Sunday. I write a meal plan for the week before I go, checking what’s in my fridge and cupboards and write the list from there. I am also big on checking the catalogue for specials – I love the half-price bargains and I base my meals on these and stock up. For example, pasta sauces, Asian meal kits, and taco and burrito kits. When I get home, I spend maybe 1.5 hours chopping and placing all the ingredients into containers. I choose not to cook 90 per cent of meals on a Sunday as certain meals, such as stir-fries are not as good when reheated.

The slow cooker is a wonderful invention (though I do fervently  wish I had a Thermomix!). I have all the food chopped up and place it in the slow cooker when I get up in the morning and it is ready in time for dinner when I get home. Lasagne is one meal that you can cook ahead of time and can taste better if reheated, as does spaghetti bolognese. Just make sure you use them all up on the Monday or Tuesday at the latest, after cooking on the Sunday. These two dishes also freeze well.

So what are the meals I prepare? And what can you chop up and it still be ok for consumption in three days time? Here are some of my favourites.

  • beef stroganoff
  • spaghetti bolognese
  • lasagne
  • beef or chicken stir-fry
  • sweet and sour pork
  • tacos – cook the meat on a Sunday and chop up all salad items. Have it on the Monday and it is still fresh.
  • slow-cooker beef or chicken casserole
  • rissoles and vegetables – Birds Eye frozen mashed potato is fantastic! Four minutes in the microwave and, presto!
  • burritos
  • San choy bau
  • tuna bake (made ahead)
  • vegetable pasta bake (made ahead)
  • chicken schnitzel with salad and chips – coat in buttermilk and breadcrumbs, store in the fridge and cook for dinner. Leftovers are great on a sandwich with cheese, mayo and lettuce.
  • a variety of soups (made ahead and great to freeze and take to work for lunch)
  • pizza – make the pizzas up on a Sunday then cover in plastic wrap and place in the fridge. Or you can have all the ingredients chopped and ready to go when you get home to put on the pizza the following day. If you have a roast lamb or chicken on a Sunday night, the leftovers can be used on the pizza. Think Tandoori lamb or chicken; sweet chilli chicken; Greek lamb with hummus, pine nuts and baby spinach; pesto chicken; chicken and bacon, and so on.


We’d love to hear your tips on how to cook for your family in advance. Share all in the comments section below.

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