Meal planning in lockdown
When BoJo announced schools would be closing, like many other parents across the land, I started feeling quite odd. My breath got shallower, the walls got closer, my phone pinged so much it became a 24hour techno track. And, let’s be honest folks, I bawled my eyes out. After a large glass of organic red and a few deep breaths, I turned that bawling into scrawling and made a plan.
My catering mission was thus: Nutrition, ease, enjoyment, satisfaction. Minimise tantrums (mine included), avoid juvenile scurvy.
We are 42, 40, 5 and 2; a bit vegan, a bit gluten-free. It’s fair to say we eat a lot of plants; 35 meals a week (including kids’ snacks), 112 portions. We usually outsource 60 of these. Here’s what I’ve learnt from the first four weeks of lockdown. Here’s what I’ve learnt so far:
1. Make planning a pleasure
Take an hour on the evening of your food delivery to plan meals for the week. It takes the thinking and therefore much of the stress out of cooking.
2. Make a big list
Tape a big list inside a cupboard of meals and snacks you all know and love. It’s a shortcut that does the thinking for you when it comes to meal planning or mealtime.
3. Involve small people
Kids love autonomy and responsibility, even little ones, and they’re more likely to eat the food you serve if they’re involved. It’s fun to unpack the veg box, look for recipes and help write the plan. They can lay the table, clear away dirty plates, etc. Even my two-year-old helps make sandwiches, pizza, pesto, etc.
4. Batch up your life
Always think ‘can I make more now and freeze it?’ Make double or just little bit extra so there’s enough at least for the kids’ tea one night. Then just soak some couscous, boil some pasta or rice, or pop some bread in the toaster.
5. A little pot helps
Save small jars and little yogurt pots for kids’ portions (Hello Brown Cow) - they help when freezer space is tight. No freezer? Remember that stored right, food lasts in the fridge for 3-4 days.
6. Give yourself a break
Homemade oatcakes/lasagna/curry is fine outside of lockdown, but ready meals and beans on toast will do. And let’s be honest, the kids love that way more than kale and lentil stew I’ve spent the last hour making. Little buggers.
Remember to take deep, calming breaths. I do it every time I boil the kettle.
We get a Large Fruit & Veg Box and a Cook’s Ingredients Box, plus things on regular order like noodles, tinned pulses, rice, gnocchi, chicken bones for broth, coconut milk, cherry tomato passata, yogurt, eggs, etc.
A week of meals
This is what we ate last week, nearly every meal had an element that was made in advance.
• Pasta with cheeky macaroni cheese sauce + salad
• Rice and Bolognese + roast carrots
• Pitta breads + falafel + salad + roast carrots + kidney bean houmous
• Chicken stock ramen with broccoli + sweetcorn
• Gnocchi and homemade kale pesto
• Rice and peas + spicy stir fry veg
• Pasta and homemade tomato-veg sauce
• Left-over-mash fishcakes with veg
• Random roast veg + spicy roast chickpeas with rice
• Homemade chips with fried eggs + steamed veg
• Carrots with peanut butter + raisins
• Celery sticks with nut butter or cheese
• Sliced apple + cheese ‘sandwiches’
• Oatcakes with cheese
• Homemade almond cookies
• Doves digestive biscuits
• Fruit from the fruit bowl
Food activities with the kids
• Almond cookies on Tuesday
• Smoothie ice lollies on Thursday
• Pizzas on Friday
• I often give the kids a plate of cubed fruit and some skewers and let them play and eat fruit, hopefully without losing an eye. Thin slices of apple and cheese lets them make little cheese + apple stack ‘sandwiches’ which they think is super cute.
• Save bits of card and other food packaging for them to draw on and play with. This helps my kids stay out of trouble whilst I boil the kettle!
On the weekend I make pesto or tomato pasta sauce (see the ‘go to’ section) or a big Bolognese (which is very veg heavy – approx. 50% minced mushrooms and carrots), plus one other thing like dal, curry or stew. I often make mash on Saturday afternoon to go with a stew of some kind. Then the next day I make fishcakes (see below) for the freezer.
For an easy veg box life, learn these flexi-rules
• No onions? Try celery, fennel, leeks.
• No asparagus? Use green beans or broccoli stalks.
• No spinach? Use kale, cavolo nero, cabbage – for fussy kids, chop it really finely and cook till it’s very soft. I find putting bit of butter usually helps the medicine go down.
• No apple/pear/plums? Use pears/apples/any stone or soft fruit.
• No carrots? Use parsnips, celeriac, swede, Jerusalem artichokes, sweet potato.
May your days be calm and your meals be homemade… but only as much as you can handle. Good luck. You can do it.