Shop Smart, Cook Smart, Eat Smart
I run a ‘Kitchen Detox’ programme for people whereby I give their meal times and menus a make over. I compile a folder of recipes, menu plans, shopping lists, Pantry Pals and Freezer Friends based on a seasonal menu. With a little time and effort, you can do the same thing and save time and money while eating healthy meals.
Menu Planning I recommend doing this at least every three months so you are using more seasonal produce. If you aren’t sure what fruit and vegetables are in season, visit www.bordbia.ie. Decide how many dinners a week you cook at home, I normally work off five dinners as people go out or visit family etc. Collate at least ten recipes from your existing favourites and others you may find in cookbooks, newspapers and websites. These ten recipes you can run as a two week cycle that you repeat, fifteen recipes will give you a three week cycle. I would recommend a fish dish, an egg based dinner (eg frittata), red meat recipe, chicken dinner, and a vegetarian meal (especially using beans, lentils and chickpeas). The recipes should include lots of vegetables for nutrition and easier cooking. Keep a copy of all the recipes in a folder, even if you know them off by heart. You might even get family members to share the cooking that way! If you like experimenting, try a new recipe each week that isn’t in the cycle.
Pantry Pals and Freezer Friends Take your recipe folder and make a list of all the dried ingredients including condiments and cooking oils. These are items you should have in your cupboard at all times. Keep an eye on this so that you don’t end up with three bottles of the same thing as you’re not sure what you have. I believe in stocking my freezer with useful ingredients rather than frozen meals. These can then be used to make delicious dinners. Currently in my freezer I have chorizo sausage, tiger prawns, salmon fillets, parma ham, bacon lardons, smoked salmon, part baked bread, bags of breadcrumbs, peas and raspberries. I never freeze minced beef as it should be used within 24 hours of purchase. It also freezes into a horrible grey lump. Your butcher can be very useful in vacuum packing your favourite cuts of meat in the right portions.
Shopping Go armed with a list of what you need, this is vital. Top up the storecupboard items if needed. This is the time to take advantage of special offers, but only on items you know you use such as tinned tomatoes. The same goes for meat and other foods that can be frozen. Portion out the meat before freezing if the pack is too big. This prevents wastage and also eating more than we need to as you’ve defrosted the whole pack and you need to cook it then. Only buy the exact numbers of vegetables you need. The three pack of peppers is the classic example, where you may only need two. Don’t be afraid to swop a vegetable in a recipe, but don’t buy extra. Only buy fruit that you know your family will eat. My personal favourites are mandarins, grapes and bananas, so I know if it’s a mistake if I buy loads of other fruit. I am a firm believer in buying from your local butcher, fishmonger and greengrocer.
Cooking Aim to cook the right quantity for a meal, not loads extra. I think most leftovers hang around in fridges growing things. Or else we overeat and that’s not good for our pockets or waistlines. Unless you bring a portion into work for lunch which is a great idea. I do recommend cooking your own ham for sandwiches though, much cheaper and much nicer. A steamer pot is one of the best investments you can make as you can steam all your veggies and even fish. You retain much more of the nutritional value and it is very easy and less washing up! And please clean as you go, leaving everything to pile up will take you longer in the end to clean. Or some poor family will get that nasty job!