Ever since having children I’ve really learnt the benefits to dedicating some time each week to planning healthy family meals for the week ahead.  

Have you ever found yourself feeling so stressed each afternoon, thinking ‘what are we having for dinner?’.

I sure have, and found myself reaching for quick and easy options, including lots of packaged and pre-prepared foods. This was not only expensive, but full of additives that I didn’t feel comfortable my kids having so often.

If you are all too familiar with this stress, I hope that my meal planning tips and tricks not only save you money at the checkout, but inspire you to think about how you can make healthier choices for your family (without forfeiting the flavour!). Here are my top tips to planning healthy, fresh meals for your family on a savvy mum’s budget.

Carve out the time

The first and most important step is to work out when the best time to do this is. For me, I do it on Mondays at lunchtime whilst my boys are having their quiet time, so I can meal plan in peace!

Inventory check

Do an inventory check of your pantry, fridge, and freezer. Look at what you can put together for a dish.

For example if you have a tin of kidney beans in the pantry, mince in the freezer, avocado in the fridge, you may just need some sour cream and onion and you are on your way to a nice Mexican dinner!

Bake instead of buy

Think about what you can bake instead of buying. Packaged snacks are generally full of sugar and preservatives, and really make the grocery bill add up. The added benefit of this is getting the kids involved in the baking process, which all kids seem to love, and encouraging them to eat their freshly made goodies!

Get to know your food labels

Try to avoid buying packaged pre-prepared meals. As with the packaged snacks, they are expensive and full of preservatives.  

There are a few exceptions to the rule, so check the ingredient list (and not just the claims on the front of the packet) for products that contain no artificial colours, flavours, or preservatives. A good reason to get to know your food labels.

Meat free meals

Have at least one meatless night. Meat is generally expensive so by not including it on your meal plan a night or two a week you can save yourself some money. A fun meat free idea your kids will just love helping you make is homemade pizzas (obviously omit the meat!)

Check your diary

Look at your week ahead and plan meals accordingly. You might need to plan a quick and easy meal for evenings that you have sports with the kids, or you may like to put more time into meals on a Sunday when there isn’t the rush.  

Double up

Think about doubling certain ingredients so you can make double batches and freeze half. My favourite recipe for this is our Quinoa Con Carne, as once you have your base you can make it into so many things. Think nachos, tacos, tortillas, puff pastry, jacket potatoes.!  

Slow cookers are your friend

Save money by cooking dishes that work well with cheaper cuts of meat. Chuck steak works perfectly in slow cooked dishes.  

Check for specials

Jump online (or your catalogues) and check the specials. If meatballs are on the meal plan you may choose to do chicken rather than beef meatballs if you see a good special on chicken mince.  

Note down any specials for pantry staples you may wish to stock up on. Dishwasher tablets tend to be expensive so last time they were half price I bought five packets and saved $50.

How to avoid impulse purchases

My most important tip – never, I repeat never, shop on an empty stomach! It can lead to not so healthy impulse purchases.

Give yourself a break

Cut yourself some slack. On Friday evenings after hubby and I have both rushed home from work, the last thing we felt like doing was spending much time in the kitchen. One of the best decisions we made was to make
Friday night ‘toastie’ night.

The boys get veges given to them as part of their lunch at daycare/school so I have no guilt about not including them at dinner on Friday nights.

They just love toasties so it’s another win/win for us, as they get to eat something they love and we get more time to hang out with them and relax.

For more meal planning tips and inspiration, come and join our Meal Planning Essential Guide – it’s jam-packed with information from experts, and will seriously save your sanity at mealtimes!

Head to our website www.littlepeepseats.com for details and kid approved recipes, or follow us on Facebook and Instagram. 

Little Peeps Eats is run by two Melbourne mums, Rach and Kara (who is also MamaMag’s Northside editor), who are both passionate about making mealtimes that little bit easier for families.