Teach your children to cook

Would it be controversial of me to suggest that failing to teach your children to cook is neglecting a hugely important of parenting? That is, missing out a huge part of a range of life skills that should be imparted upon your kids.

homemade lasagne

As I lovingly prepared a homemade lasagne earlier (by which I mean threw it together to satisfy my own cravings) I caught myself yet again feeling utterly indebted to my mum and my nan (dad’s mum) for having given me both culinary skills and the encouragement to experiment, which is the root of most of my dishes.

Don’t get me wrong, my mum was no Michelin star chef. She can’t cook meat (anyone who eats beef and lamb well done might as well not bother, sorry mum), and turkey twizzlers were regularly served in our house growing up til that bastard Jamie took them away, but her spaghetti bolognese is rivalled only by my own (of course) and she makes a mean syrup sponge pud.

My nan was of the generation that hand made everything and grew a whole lot of what she cooked too. I have fond memories of my nan’s rhubarb crumble, with fresh fruit straight from the garden and proper custard made the way you’re supposed to.

While I’m not naive enough to believe everyone has the time to both grow and prepare their own food these days, I think relying on the freezer section in your local supermarket and introducing your kids to fresh stuff just once a week alongside your roast does everyone a disservice. It robs children of the opportunity to experience and help with meal prep and robs the whole family of tastes beyond miscellaneous processed yellow crap.

Cooking at home is cheaper and better for you than ready meals and takeaway, and a necessary skill as a self-sufficient adult. Teach your children to cook.

Organise Your Evenings with Meal Plans

Picture the scene: it’s 4pm, it’s been a long day of juggling work, clients, customers, kids. I’m standing in front of the cupboards while the sound of hungry children fills the air. Despite full cupboards and a full fridge, I haven’t a clue what to cook, nobody knows what they want to eat and it feels like there “nothing in”.

Sound familiar? This was my evening, every evening, for nearly 2 years after I went back to work following the birth of my daughter. By the time I’d figured out what to cook for tea, everyone was that tired they wouldn’t have any interest in the food anyway! When I got pregnant with my second, I knew something had to change. Now I work from home this forward planning is even more important because it maximises the time I can spend either working or with the kids.

Meal planning saves both time and money. It allows you to know and prepare in advance exactly what you are going to cook, and can save you money on the shopping too (no more chucking out moudly veg and half-finished cans at the end of the week). Below are my tips for making the most out of meal planning.

1. Create a master list of meals

Start off by writing/typing a list of about 40-50 meals which you know most of your family is going to eat. This might sound like a lot but when you add variations to a few basic meals you will soon have your list full, e.g. casserole – can be chicken casserole, sausage casserole, vegetarian casserole and so on. Fried mince makes up spaghetti bolognese, lasagne, or just plain ol’ mince & potatoes.

Once you’ve got your master list of meals, you can slot these into your meal timetable.

2. Plan for as far ahead as you can

I originally started meal planning weekly, but found that by the end of the week I couldn’t fit in time to do the next meal plan for the following week, so we’d have 2-3 days of non-planned days and this defeated the point altogether. I now plan a month in advance, and check the meal plan each Saturday to figure out if I need anything from the shops for the following week’s meals.

3. Plan meals that logically follow on from one another

You get more meals for your money if you plan meals that can be used as the base for the next meal – i.e. meals that follow on from one another. For example, if on Sunday you have a roast chicken, you may plan a chicken & veg soup for the Monday with leftover meat and veg making the bulk of the ingredients, and the chicken bones for stock.

This tip is especially important if you’re on a budget (who isn’t these days?)

4. Plot in simple meals for busier days

Fridays are always my most hectic day. Isabel is not at preschool, we’ve usually done “making baking” at some point and by 4pm I’m exhausted. I keep simple, kid-friendly meals for these days: beans on toast, homemade pizza from a very basic dough recipe, cheese toasties & homemade coleslaw, and so on.

If every day is a hectic day for you, it might be worth preparing some bits in advance. Chop the veg during nap time, fry the mince while the kids are having their lunch… whatever makes things work for your family.

5. Be flexible

Meal plans are probably the best thing I’ve implemented into my household routine, but there are times when sticking to it is not practical. Don’t beat yourself up if you miss a day or two.