February 25, 2020

Easy Meal Planning for Busy Moms

Article fact-checked and approved by Dr. Didi Emokpare
Content provided in partnership with Radiant Health Magazine

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As a busy mom, you know how fast-paced life can be. After a hard day at work, you come home to a family that needs your undivided attention. If no help is available, you hustle to make dinner, assist the children with homework before preparing them for the next day and tucking them in for a good night’s rest.  Amongst all the duties of motherhood, making healthy kid-approved meals can be the most daunting task of the day. Fortunately, there is hope! You do not have to succumb to feeding your family unhealthy, overpriced fast food meals. By incorporating a few simple meal planning steps, you can serve your family healthy, hassle free meals that do not break the bank.

1. Begin by taking inventory

Determine what you already have in the home by taking stock of what is in your refrigerator and pantry. As you go through your kitchen, peruse food storage containers and take note of any leftover foods that are yet to be eaten. You will want to incorporate these into your meals for the week. This will not only save you money; it will also reduce the time that you spend standing in the kitchen, preparing food.

2. Plan! Plan! Plan!

Once you know what foods are already in the home, create a written plan of your weekly meals.  As you write your meal plan, jot down a list of ingredients you need to purchase.

Click to download our easy to use editable weekly menu planner

To reduce the risk of food borne illness, use leftovers first. Soups, stews and sandwiches are effective ways to utilize leftover meat and vegetables but don’t let that be your limit. Be creative and invent your signature leftover dishes.  The family (and your wallet) will love it!  To ensure that your meals are well balanced, include at least one serving from each of the following groups:

  • Protein: Sources include beans, nuts, meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy. Avoid frying and opt for cooking methods that do not add fat such as broiling, grilling, roasting, baking and boiling.
  • Starch: Includes cocoyam, yam, cassava, bread, rice and plantain. Since part of the refining process removes as a significant amount of nutrition, avoid processed foods such as white rice, white bread and fufu powder. Choose starches as close to their natural state as possible.  Brown rice, home pounded fufu and brown (whole grain) bread are excellent starches to include.
  • Vegetables  are a delicious, low calorie way of ensuring that the body gets the nutrition it needs. Keep at least 2 varieties on hand and include them in your meal plan. Shoko, okra, carrots and leafy greens are excellent choices.  Add flare to breakfast by throwing in a serving of vegetables to your eggs dishes. Yum!
  • Fruit provides nutrients that help the body digest and absorb the food you have just eaten.  Skip fatty, sugary desserts and bite into a fresh juicy fruit instead.

[Click to download our free editable weekly meal planner]

3. Go shopping

You cannot start cooking until you have all the ingredients in your home. While it may be tempting to quickly run out of the house and head out to the market, don’t go it alone. Encourage your family to be a part of the process. Dad can be the driver and help lug the groceries around while the kids load up the cart and bags with needed supplies. As you go through the stalls and aisles, teach the children how to choose the freshest, best tasting meat and produce. Make it a fun way to spend time together but stay focused. Use your grocery list to keep you on track and avoid making impulsive buys.

4. Prep! Prep! Prep!

Chop, dice and slice fruits and vegetables.  Marinate the meats. Make your soups, stews and even rice dishes ahead of time and store them in air tight containers in the refrigerator. This step will save you valuable time during the week.  In fact, if you have enough ingredients make a double batch of cooked food and freeze it for another week.

5. Get Help

Meal planning is a learned skill that certainly improves with practice. If you have a chronic disease such as obesity, high blood pressure or diabetes, or simply want to make sure your meal plan is adequate, seek the help of a trained dietician. Not only can he/she help you plan your family meals, a dietician can teach you the skills you need to manage disease as well as prevent or delay the onset of chronic health problems.

6. Be Adventurous

The fun part about meal planning is that it gives you the opportunity to be adventurous. Try a new food, make your own version of your favourite restaurant’s dish, cut down the fat, sugar or salt in your grandmother’s famous recipe. The possibilities are limitless. If you are a new cook, take a cooking class, invest in an awesome cookbook and follow some Nigerian food bloggers for ideas and recipes. The goal is to prevent boredom brought on by cooking the same foods on a weekly basis.

The beauty of meal planning is that there is no right or wrong way to do it. You have to do what works for you and stick to it. Before long, it will be a habit and your family will be enjoying delicious, homemade food. Best of all, you will have time at the end of the day to wind down and prepare for tomorrow’s challenges.

Food Safety Guidelines when there is no electricity

If you live in an area that has a high rate of electrical cut offs, consider freezing your meals so that they will remain safe during episodes of power outage. Other things you can do to keep food safe during this time include:

  1. Avoid opening the refrigerator unnecessarily. This introduces warm air from and brings the temperature down quickly.  The longer you keep your fridge closed, the longer your food will stay fresh.
  2. In an effort to keep the refrigerator compartment as cold as possible, keep ice cubes in bags in the freezer section and move them to the refrigerated compartment when the electricity cuts off. The cold temperature from the ice will delay the overall temperature in the refrigerator from rapidly increasing.
  3. If the power is off for an extended period of time, begin by eating the food in the refrigerator that is perishable. This includes any protein foods (meat, dairy, fish etc) that you may have. Be sure to warm hot dishes thoroughly.
  4. Do not use any of the frozen foods until the perishables are all consumed. Depending on the size of the food in the freezer, it can stay fresh for up to 3 days in a freezer.
  5. Consume previously frozen foods soon after they are thawed out. Keeping them too long may introduce harmful bacteria.
  6. If able, invest in a food thermometer to check the temperature of your food. Generally speaking, food that has been within the 5˚C- 60˚C range for two hours or more is considered to be in the danger zone and may be unsafe. Remember, some harmful bacteria have no smell or colour and it may be difficult to detect by plain sight.

Cordialis Msora-Kasago is a Registered Dietitian (R.D) and a pioneer in the discussion of modern day healthy lifestyles in Africa. She is the founder of The African Pot Nutrition - an organization that improves the health of African people through sustainable diet and lifestyle programs. Follow her on twitter @africadietitian.

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