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Killing it in the Kitchen

5 eco-friendly tips to save hours of time, stress and mummy-guilt each week.

Time for me to let you in on some secrets about how I kill it in the kitchen.  In our house, meals are my responsibillity.  This is, at least in part, by my design.  If it were up to my partner, we would be eating store-bought meatloaf with a side of two-minute noodles every night.  I was raised on a lot of veggies and salads and I wanted my kids to have the same, so I took over meals.

I work 3 days a week in my job, a least another 2 days a week on my business, volunteer for canteen duty and school excursions where I can plus try and keep on top of the rest of the housework for a partner, 2 kids and up-to 4 part timers.  In other words, I’m as busy as every other mum out there.

My kids have been in childcare since they were 7 months old, when I had to go back to work full time after each of them.  My job back then demanded long hours and we were often not home until after 6pm for the dinner/bath/bed routine.  We were getting up at 5.30am to start the next day so they really needed to be in bed by 7pm.  Frozen, ready-to-eat meals were a staple.

While things have improved sightly over the years there was still a large amount of pre-preared foods involved.  I have still been wracked with mummy-guilt that I don’t give my kids enough of the right foods, that I don’t prepare their food from scratch so that I know exactly what’s in it, that I am contributing waaaaay too much packaging to landfill, etc. etc.

I made some big commitments to myself for this year that I would cook from scratch, eliminate as much pre-prepared food and packaging as possible, feed my kids more veggies and the right kinds of foods.  I have had to make some big changes to achieve those goals.  I’m pretty happy with how things have turned out so far.

1. Meal Plan

I know, I know.  Super nerdy and one of those tasks that sounds like just one more thing on the never ending to-do list.  BUT I spend less than half an hour on this once a week and it saves me at least that much time on a daily basis.  I know what we are having for dinner each night for the next 7 days.  No more getting home from work and spending ages staring into the fridge or pantry trying to figure out what I’m going to make for dinner.  The decision is already made so I can just get on with it.

I have thousands of recipes.  For someone who never really cooked much before kids, I seem to have accumulated quite the collection of cook books.  Each week I pick 3 books and I flick through and choose our week’s meals.  I generally go for some meat based meals, some with eggs, beans or lentils, one from another country (my youngest “visits” a different country in her class room each week so we talk about the food and which country it came from) and, especially in winter, a soup.  Friday night usually involves something easy and not necessarily healthy like home made pizza or sausages.

2. Shop to a list

I make my shopping list while I am doing my meal plan.  “Hello Fresh” love telling everyone how much their food packages save wasted food.  Well, so does meal planning and shopping to a list and you don’t have to pay extra for it.  I reckon I have knocked between $50 to $100 per week off the cost of our weekly shop just by meal planning and shopping to a list.

I used to go to the shop and wander the aisles while I tried to remember what we needed plus work out what we might eat for the week and what I needed for that.  I would always end up forgetting something, spending too much time in the store and getting frustrated and just grabbing whatever was easiest because I didn’t want to think anymore.

With my list, I buy only what I need to make the meals for the week.  I don’t end up grabbing stuff off the shelves “just in case”.  It saves wasted food, it saves wasted money and it saves me so much time in the store because I know what I need to get.  Having a list also stops me impulse buying a bunch of stuff that we will never use, just because I was hungry while I was in the shop.

There are a couple of exceptions worth noting here.  I will sometimes buy bulk or a whole item instead of just what I need, to save getting additional packaging.  For example, if I need 500g of pumpkin for a recipe, I will buy a whole pumpkin so I don’t have to deal with the plastic wrap and the styrofoam tray (not to mention the additional cost per kg).  I find that the produce I buy whole seems to keep much longer than any pre-prepared produce from the stores.  There are also some great reusable produce bags you can get that make your fruit and veggies last even longer in the fridge.  Then I’ll make sure next week’s recipes include those ingredients so nothing is wasted.

3. Tools

4 years ago, my uncle and auntie bought me a 5in1 multicooker.  It does slow cooking, pressure cooking, rice cooking, steaming and soup.  I don’t think I really appreciated the value of this little gem until this year.  It is bloody fantastic.

The 3 days I work, we generally have slow cooker meals.  I can’t tell you how good it is to come home after a day of work and an evening of rushing kids between dancing and karate to a cooked meal ready to be served.  The amount of stress this has taken out of my life is huge!

I have a bumper womens weekly slow cooker cook book ($20 from the book man at before school care, thanks very much) and another slow cooker 365 cook book.  Between the 2 of them, I haven’t run out of new meals to try yet.  There are so many amazing things you can do.

On my non-job days, the pressure cooker function still lets me whip up a risotto in less than half an hour including prep.  I also have a Thermomix which has been a terrific complement to my kitchen and helps me cook some amazing meals from scratch in under half and hour.

If you can’t afford to splash out on the 5in1 or a Thermomix, a plain old slow cooker is a must have.  I would also highly recommend a good food processor.  You can save a lot of time, money and waste by preparing your own veggies.  For example:

  • chopping up your own tomatoes instead of using tinned ones
  • growing your own herbs, drying them and blitzing them and keeping them in old vegemite jars for whenever you need them

Blitzing onions in the food processor has also saved me many tears and cut fingers.  If you want to get even more eco friendly, Tupperware have the Smooth Chopper, which is a people-powered food processor, no electricity required and you can work out while you’re cooking!

4. Re-purpose the left overs

I have 2 kids of my own plus between 0 and 4 part-timers.  Especially in the 4 years after my first daughter was born, my partner would turn up with up at dinnertime with any or all of them without notice.  I got really good at the fishes and loaves trick, making a meal for 4 into a meal for 8.  Perhaps as a hangover from then, I still tend to over-cater for dinner most nights.  This actually works out really well because we re-purpose our left overs.

Generally, my partner and I will take some for work at lunch for at least one day.  Where there is a lot left over (like when I make soup), I divide it up into portions in containers and freeze it.  That way, we have ready meals for days when there are no leftovers for lunch and for times we may be away for the weekend and come home to no food.  This also gives me a backup options for the nights I can’t be bothered fighting my kids to eat on the meal I have cooked.  If the freezer ever starts to get too full, I just plan a few less meals for a week and use it up.

5. Use your Dishwasher

I know I say this often but honestly, if you have a dishwasher, you’d be mad not to use it.  In our house, everything goes in the dishwasher.  If it doesn’t survive the dishwasher, it has no place in our kitchen.  The dishwasher saves time and is more environmentally friendly.  Dishwashers use less water than hand washing dishes, as long as you don’t rinse the dishes frst.  Scrape food off into the bin and load the dishes up.  Use an eco friendly powder like Tri Nature Citrus Dishwasher Powder (then you don’t need to worry about toxic residue on your plates or killing the fishies).  I also use Tri Nature Rinse Aid. I have solar power so the dishwasher goes on one the eco cycle right before I walk out the door each day.  By the time I get home, the dishes are clean and dry and ready to use again or be put away.

So there you have it!  My top 5 on how I get through the days and weeks without totally losing my mind over meals.  I would love to hear if any of this helps you or if you have any other tips you would like to share.  Please feel free to comment or get in touch and let me know!

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