Meal planning is the real trick to having a stress-free week

Now that the pace of life is picking up again, with kids’ outdoor sports returning, Eimear Hutchinson shares her tips for being organised — especially when it comes to dinner
Meal planning is the real trick to having a stress-free week

Eimear shares some tips that will help take the hassle out of trying to juggle dinners mid-week and a return to chlidren's activities. Picture: Stock

IT feels like in the blink of eye we went from willing the days to pass by at the start of the year and now we are right back to hectic schedules — and I just think it’s the most fantastic thing.

I help out with camogie and coach athletics in our village and, honestly, to see the energy and excitement from children, coaches and parents alike, it would do you good.

My girls are busy too, back to their various activities, and for the first time in so long I feel like I need to get back to being really organised.

I spent the first week when everything started back again totally flustered, trying to remember all the different times for pick-ups and drop-offs and then trying to get dinner and homework slotted in around it all — it was a bit manic. 

I am back on track though this week so here are a few tips that might help you take the hassle out of trying to juggle dinners with everything else you have going on.

PLAN YOUR MEALS

Meal planning for me is the real trick to a stress-free week, and it is a really beneficial thing to do if you are busy between work, life and children. There is nothing worse than looking at the clock and seeing it is 5pm already and you have run out of something intrinsic to the dish you had planned, or you simply don’t know what you are going to cook (we’ve all been there, right... I’m not the only one?!).

Every Saturday morning, my husband and I sit down and do a run through of what we have in the cupboards and plan out what we need for the week. It is not complicated; it doesn’t take long but it saves so much time throughout the week because there is rarely a day when I need to go to the shop midweek.

We don’t plan each dinner down to a tee because I am too much of a loose cannon for that level of organisation, but we generally organise the meals around what meat or fish we will have. 

Then, as the week goes on, I switch it up between pasta, rice, noodles or potatoes so if we have chicken with pasta one night I try to do something different with, say for example, beef with noodles or fish with potatoes.

MAKE A LIST

I have a chalkboard painted up on the wall in the kitchen so if I run out of random things like olive oil or herbs, things you only buy once in a while, I write them on the board so I know what I need for Saturday morning.

When it comes to vegetables and fruit, we are pretty good at this stage at gauging what we need and eat during the week, so we usually have enough and let little go to waste. I think that is probably the other huge benefit of even any basic form of meal planning, you tend to cut down on wasting food. If someone could kindly tell my children that the crusts on bread weren’t so offensive, then we would have even less food waste in the week! Although you can often blitz them into crumbs and use them as the topping on a pasta bake.

On days the girls are involved in activities that mean we are not back home until after 5pm, I often use my slow cooker. It is one of those gadgets I don’t think I could live without anymore. It is so handy being able to throw all your dinner into one pot in the morning before the chaos of afternoon pick-ups and activities begin. If you don’t have a slow cooker, fresh fish is another really handy dinner to do in a hurry, if you pan fry a piece of fish in butter and lemon it only takes a few minutes and its such a quick and healthy meal.

Another handy hack in order to get the dinner on the table as fast as possible is to use frozen vegetables, it saves you the time of chopping and peeling fresh veg. Frozen veg is nutritionally just as good as fresh veg so it is a great short-cut.

I also love jars of garlic and tubes of ginger that are already chopped and diced. And if you are really out of time, just serve the dinner with raw veg, like cucumber, carrots and sugar snaps — great for a bit of extra noise around the table.

Obviously, batch cooking is a hugely helpful thing to do too. We don’t have a large freezer so I tend to do it based on what we have for Sunday dinner rather than doubling up on one meal in the week.

If we have roast beef or roast chicken on a Sunday, we cook enough so that there is cooked meat to reuse during the week.

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