The busy mum shares some handy ways to speed up the cooking and serving of healthy family meals.
FOR SEVEN YEARS now I’ve shared my journey online from a reluctant to a more enthusiastic home cook.
I’ve documented the early years of feeding struggles with my children, from the overwhelming weaning stage through to the fussy toddler years, sharing the recipes, tips and tricks that have worked for me along the way.
My children are now 10 and seven and although I still deal with picky eating from them both, the way in which I cook and we eat as a family has slowly changed over the past few years.
Lockdown and homeschooling aside, life can be busy and hectic and although I love pottering around the kitchen cooking, my reality is more hastily prepared meals and constant demand for snacks from the kids.
I’m a big fan of batch cooking combined with ingredient and food hacks to make feeding a family as easy as possible.
We all know that doubling up on family meals and freezing half for another day is a great way to save a bit of time. But have you ever tried Freezer Stash Bags? These bags will make you feel like a food prep master!
Simply fill a large bag with raw ingredients for a dinner and freeze. On busy days defrost and then pop into the oven or slow cooker for a simple no-hassle family meal.
Homemade Chicken Goujons and Fish Nuggets are another favourite. Ideal to make up a big batch at the weekend, freeze raw and then bake from frozen mid-week when you need to get a meal on the table fast.
Another love of mine is leftovers. Not in the traditional sense of simply reheating yesterday’s dinner again today. “Cook Once Eat Twice” recipes show you how you can turn leftovers into a brand new tasty meal the following day.
Risotto for example makes excellent Baked Arancini or leftover salmon is delicious in a Creamy Salmon Pasta. Homemade snacks are another favourite of mine. If you find yourself spending loads of money on shop-bought snacks for the kids then why not try to make some yourself at home.
Muffins, cookies, energy bites and brownies are all cheap and easy to make and perfect for freezing. You can take them out of the freezer individually and they’ll defrost in a couple of hours.
You can even pop them into lunchboxes in the morning and they’ll be defrosted in time for their snack or lunch at school. Feeding a family three meals and an unending number of snacks a day can sometimes feel overwhelming but I hope you find these tips useful.
Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 25 mins
Equipment: Large pan or shallow casserole dish
Take all the stress and hassle out of lasagne by making it all in one pot on the hob.
It’s quicker, easier and leaves you with far less washing up!
½ tbsp oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 celery sticks, finely diced
1 large carrot, finely diced
500 beef mince (or veggie equivalent)
400g tin chopped tomatoes
450 ml beef stock
150 ml red wine or more stock
2 tbsp tomato puree
1 tsp dried oregano
200g dried lasagne sheets
100g crème fraiche
25 g grated Parmesan
50g grated Cheddar Cheese
• Heat oil in a large pan or casserole dish.
• Add the onion, garlic, celery and carrots and fry for 2-3 minutes on a medium heat.
• Add the beef mince and fry for another few minutes until the mince has browned.
• Add the chopped tomatoes, beef stock, red wine (if using), tomato puree and oregano.
• Bring the mixture to the boil and then add the lasagne sheets, breaking each into 4 or 5 pieces as you add them in.
• Simmer on a low heat for about 15 minutes, stirring regularly to ensure that the lasagne sheets don’t stick together.
• Mix the crème fraiche, parmesan and cheddar together in a bowl and hen add to the top of the lasagne in 7 or 8 spoonfuls.
• Cook for another 2-3 minutes to allow the cheese mixture to heat through and then serve.
Leftovers can be cooled and kept in a sealed container in the fridge for up to two days. Heat thoroughly in the microwave or on the hob before serving. Recipe from ‘We’re Hungry!’.
These make-ahead smoothie packs are super handy to have in the freezer. All the ingredients are pre-measured and bagged up, ready to pop straight into the blender in the morning.
Prep time: 2 minutes
Cook time: 2 minutes
Equipment: Blender or smoothie maker
Gluten free, egg-free, nut-free, vegetarian.
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200g frozen berries
30g fresh baby spinach
1 banana, sliced
100g plain yoghurt
1 tbsp cocoa
1/2 tbsp chia seeds
200g frozen tropical fruit
30g cashew nuts
1 satsuma, peeled
2 bananas, sliced
50g diced cauliflower (see page 161)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1. Add the ingredients to a freezer bag, push out the air and seal shut.
2. Freeze for up to two months.
3. When ready to make, add the contents of the bag, straight from the freezer, to a blender.
4. Add 500–600ml milk of your choice (dairy or non-dairy) and blitz until smooth.
5. Serve immediately.
From ‘We’re Hungry!’.
Ciara Attwell is an author, mum of two and autism advocate. Her new book, ‘We’re Hungry!’ is published by Bonnier Books and available online from all Irish Bookshops. See My Fussy Eater on Instagram for more.