Most of us on many occasions find creating healthy meals for the family such a chore. I know there’s times that I’ve been busy and running around after school with the boys that I can’t even think about what I’ll cook for dinner…Sound familiar ???
Many working parents find a quick solution to meals, but usually choose an unhealthy or expensive option. Meal times don’t have to be this way and I’ve put together some ideas that I hope will inspire you to try a few quick and easy methods to create delicious, healthy meals.
To save time and money I regularly use a meal planner. I plan the meals around what’s available from the garden and then I’ll shop each week for the extra ingredients I need. Many items I’ll buy in bulk to save more money and time and where possible make most foods from scratch. This saves loads of money as I only buy what I need from the planner. It’s also good to use up things left in the freezer or cupboard by planning these items into meals.
Here’s a copy of the meal planner that I use, it’s just a basic table but easy to read when stuck to the fridge door.
WEEKLY MEAL PLANNER
I’m happy for you to copy this and give it a try !!
When following this to plan meals I always know during the day if I need to soak legumes, take meat or chicken from the freezer or to harvest fresh ingredients during the day. This saves so much time and stops that last minute rush to decide what to cook.
Follow a plan like this one and I’m sure you’ll find that you will save money and time and also find that busy time of the afternoon a little less crazy!!
Another way to create healthy meals is to grow the foods that you eat the most. We love having plenty of greens with every meal so I always plant a selection of lettuce, asian greens and other veggies in season like kale, broccoli and silverbeet with loads of parsley and coriander. I can then get a little creative with meals that are always so delicious.
Here’s a list of the foods that I’m regularly harvesting and a few ideas on how to use them.
(image courtesy of Green Harvest)
As mentioned, I always have plenty of lettuce growing. I’ll use them fresh from the garden and also throw them into many dishes at the last minute to lightly wilt and soften. This is handy if you don’t have other greens to use in curries, soups, stir fry or stews. I find Cos lettuce works well like this. At the moment we have a lovely large leafed lettuce called Iceberg ‘Great Lakes” (seeds available from www.greenharvest.com.au) I’m not a fan of iceberg lettuce, but find this one deliciously crunchy. Here’s one of my families favourite ways to use this lettuce.
Garden Fresh Tacos
(feeds 4 people)
8 or more large fresh lettuce leaves – try Great Lakes or Cos
750g beef or lamb mince
1 tbspn oil
1 clove garlic
6 fresh tomatoes or 1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 tbspn tomato paste
half red capsicum chopped
fresh basil or parsley chopped
sweet chilli or taco sauce
sliced fresh veggies – mushrooms, cucumber, beans, carrots or try roast pumpkin or sweet potato.
any other toppings you like (jalapenos are great too!!)
Wash lettuce leaves and place aside to dry.
Place oil in heavy based frying pan and heat. Add peeled and chopped onion and garlic and stir while cooking.
Add mince and cook until browned and then add fresh chopped tomatoes or tin tomato, capsicum, tomato paste and fresh herbs. Stir while cooking.
Add about ½ to 1 cup water during cooking time.
When mince is cooked through and vegetables are softened remove from heat and place into a heatproof bowl.
Have the rest of the ingredients ready to serve.
Using lettuce leaf as the shell, place a tablespoon of mince into the lettuce leaf, top with cheese, other veggies and sauce.
And of course enjoy !!!
The table all set and ready for eating !!
One thing I love about this dish is that most of the ingredients come from the garden and I don’t need to buy taco shells or other wraps which saves us money and wasted packaging.
This is one vegetable that’s easy to grow (I usually forget about it !) and provides us with loads of a delicious food to eat. Sweet potato grows all year round in my climate and for me is more convenient to grow than regular potato. I use it for mash (especially the purple one with white flesh) roasted, on the bbq or in soups. It’s a great veg to have an hand to feed hungry kids !!
This one dish is so quick and easy to make and is a great accompaniment to many dishes.
Sweet Potato Fritter
Approx 600 – 800g sweet potato, peeled and grated
1 egg lightly beaten
¼ cup plain flour – I use gluten free products so try rice flour, buckwheat flour or gluten free flour
1 tablespoon water (may need slightly more)
oil for cooking
**If you like a slight curry flavour add 1 teaspoon of curry powder with other ingredients.
Mix together sweet potato, egg, flour and water and also season with salt and pepper.
Heat oil on medium heat in a frying pan and add tablespoon scoops of mixture to pan. Cook on both sides until brown and crisp. Continue cooking all mixture.
Serve with roasts, chicken or curry dishes. Also great to serve for lunch with a green fresh salad.
One of the most common vegetables grown in our backyards and usually just self seeded from the compost……I know most of mine are!!
This incredibly versatile veg is loved by so many people around the world. I think it’s one of the first veggies my boys ate as babies as it’s so soft and sweet. I still use it regularly and my boys always enjoy it. Most people roast pumpkin and I do this as well and also make delicious pumpkin soup, scones, cake, bread, curry, salads…and on and on. I feel like Bubba from Forest Gump. (you know the shrimp guy ??)
Here’s one of our favourite pumpkin soups and I find it so easy and quick to make.
I’m not great as measuring quantities, just a guestimate, so you may have to change this a little to suit your taste…
Thai Pumpkin Soup
Use a half a large pumpkin, chopped into 2cm cubes. If you prefer to remove the skin, do this before chopping
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
1 tblspn curry paste – either Korma or a red curry works well
Approx 1 to 2 litres water
About 200g coconut cream – try organic as there’s no additives
Your choice of fresh greens – bok choy or other Asian greens, cabbage, broccoli, beans, silverbeet, brazilian spinach, rocket or other leafy greens
Fresh coriander and lemon or lime for garnish
Add 2 tspn oil to a good size, heavy saucepan and heat. Add onion and curry paste and stir until strong smells are released (about 2 mins) and onion is soft.
Add chopped pumpkin and enough water to cover all pumpkin pieces. The more water you add the thinner the soup will be. I like a thick soup so I’ll only just cover the pumpkin with water. You can add veggie stock for a richer flavour.
Cover the saucepan and bring to a low boil. Cook until pumpkin flesh is soft.
Using an electric mixer like Bamix or other hand blender, puree the soup until smooth. If you don’t have a hand mixer then try using a blender or food processor.
Place the soup back on the heat and add the coconut milk and any fresh greens. Stir gently to heat through and serve warm into large bowls. Top with fresh coriander and a small squeeze of lime or lemon juice.
I’ve recently purchased a Thermomix (just love it) and now I’m making this soup all in one machine. It chops, cooks and purees all for me. It even stirs the mix while cooking, so I can now set the timer and walk away!! If you’d like more info on this amazing machine visit - http://www.thermomix.com.au/. I’ll be using this to cook up a storm at the “Grub’s Up” Workshops.
With our fruit trees laden with juicy lemons, limes, tangelos and mandarins I’m being very creative when using these fruits. One thing I am making regularly is lemonade, limeade and mandarinade. Yes, these are a few variations on fresh lemonade. I’ve also pureed the fruits, skin and all, and placed in freezer to use in summer for delicious cool drinks.
Here’s a quick and easy citrus drink…
2 large or 4 small lemons, limes or mandarins or mix all together. If not home grown rinse fruit before use.
1 tray ice cubes
1 litre water – plain, mineral or soda water
Place fruit (skin on and quartered) and sugar into blender or food processor
Puree until all fruit is like pulp then pour the pulp through a strainer to get the juice.
Add the fruit juice to ice and water and blend all together.
Serve in a tall glass garnished with fresh mint.
This mix can also be frozen to make ice blocks for the kids.
Growing herbs around the garden has so many benefits. When in flower they attract bees and good bugs to the garden, they can be used regularly in cooking and raw dishes, most are perennial which means they grow continuously and are ready whenever you need them.
I plant perennial herbs throughout the garden for this reason and also use many of them just dotted throughout all the gardens to add colour.
One thing that I regularly use fresh herbs for is a healthy green smoothy. This recipe was given to me by a client and she enjoys it every day. She makes sure the fresh herbs are always growing so they can be picked daily. It’s a good idea to plant loads of herbs or veggies if you are using them regularly.
2 kale leaves – or try small comfrey or silverbeet leaves
2 cups chopped parsley
10 common mint leaves
5 peppermint leaves (or less depending on your taste)
1 tblspn desiccated coconut
2 stevia leaves (herb used to sweeten) or tspn honey
either 1 chopped orange or 1 cup papaya/paw paw
2 frozen bananas
about 1 cup water
Blend all ingredients until smooth and enjoy each morning.
I hope this has given you a few ways to use your produce and also some ideas to create healthy and easy meals.
If you would like more recipe ideas or have something to share please send me an email or message through Facebook or Twitter.
© cath manuel 2012