I love food. Always have. I was born and raised in Italy where food is as important as the air you breathe, and children learn about cooking from an early age. For some it comes naturally, others struggle a bit but in the end, everybody learns how to cook. At least my generation did!
As a nutritional therapist and a mother, I talk about food with my clients all the time and I know the challenges you all face when you want to provide healthy meals for you and your family – but you don’t know how to fit this into your busy lives.
Being a mum is already a very demanding job and, yes, it’s probably the toughest job you’ll ever do. If you also have a ‘regular’ job on top of that – and by the way whatever else you do is a piece of cake compared to motherhood, right? – then you also don’t have the time, or perhaps the inclination, to be the next Nigella. I feel the same way too. I love real, delicious and healthy food, but I have to be practical because my time in the kitchen is limited.
The good news is that healthy and nutritious meals don’t have to be elaborate or time-consuming. Forget about fancy recipes, keep things simple and easy. I tend to plan our weekly meals in advance, usually over the weekend. I then stock up with everything I need so I don’t run out of ingredients mid-week. Occasionally, I also batch cook in advance and freeze what I can to save some time. Planning is definitely the key.
Here are a few meal ideas that you can prepare quickly. All recipes include a balanced mix of healthy carbohydrates, proteins and good fats to keep your energy levels stable.
Breakfast ideas for busy mums
Super quick protein-rich pancakes (makes 4 pancakes)
Make a batter with 1 small mashed banana, 1 cup of buckwheat flour, ½ cup of ground almonds, 1 egg and 1 cup of coconut or almond milk. Heat some coconut oil in a non-stick frying pan. Add spoonfuls of batter to make small pancakes about 8 -10cm wide. Cook for a couple of minutes on each side. You can serve them with some fruit or nut butter on top. Your kids will love these, I promise!
Overnight oats (serves 1)
If you love porridge but have no time to cook it in the morning, then try overnight oats. Basically, by leaving the oats to soak in liquid overnight in the fridge, you remove the need to cook them in the morning. All you need is a glass jar with a lid. Fill it with ½ cup of rolled oats, 1 cup of milk of your choice (I love coconut milk), 1 tbsp of chia seeds, 1 tbsp sunflower seeds (or any other seed you like), half a mashed banana and 1 tsp of vanilla extract. In the morning you’ll have a creamy pudding-like porridge that is ready to go. You can eat it straight from the jar or you might want to put it in a bowl and add some fresh berries or a bit of plain yoghurt. Delicious!
Lunches which are nutritious and easy to prepare
Omega 3 rich rainbow salad (serves 2)
Steam 2 salmon steaks (you can also use trout or any oily fish). Put some mixed salad leaves in a bowl. Add 2 fresh tomatoes chopped, some chopped cucumber, 2 handfuls of olives, 1 chopped red pepper, some grated carrots and any other vegetables you have in the fridge. The more vegetables you can add the more nutrients you’ll get. Dress the salad with some olive oil and lemon juice. Divide into 2 bowls and place a salmon steak on top of each.
Easy vegetable soup (serves 4)
In a big pot, sauté 1 large chopped onion, 2 stalks of diced celery, 2 sliced carrots, 2 minced garlic cloves and some dried herbs in olive oil until softened. Add 1.5 litres of vegetable stock (or water) and 1 can of chopped tomatoes. Bring to the boil and cover. Reduce the heat and let it simmer for 20 minutes. Add some spinach leaves (or kale) and 200g of fresh green beans. Let it cook for another 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with some rye bread topped with butter.
Dinner recipes for the tired mum
Healthy turkey burgers (Makes 4 burgers)
Blitz one small onion, 2 cloves of garlic, 2tsps of dried oregano, a few fresh basil leaves, 3 handfuls of baby spinach leaves and a pinch of salt and pepper in a food processor until finely chopped. Place the mixture in a bowl, add 500g turkey mince and mix with your hands. Form the mixture into 4 patties and cook them in the oven for about 20 minutes. You can also cook them in a pan with a bit of olive oil, 7 to 8 minutes per side. Serve with some steamed veggies or salad.
Quick stir-fry rice
You can use any number of ingredients to make a simple yet nutritious stir-fry rice dish which children of all ages will enjoy. Cook some basmati rice in chicken or vegetable stock. Then put a tbsp of coconut oil in a wok and add 1 chopped onion, some frozen peas, sweet corn, baby spinach, grated carrots and any other vegetables you like. Also add a good source of protein, like small pieces of chicken or pork, strips of beef or some prawns. You can add spices and a bit of soya sauce too. Combine with the rice and there you have it; a balanced and quick dinner is ready.
- An apple (or other piece of fruit) and a handful of nuts or seeds
- A small pot of plain Greek yogurt with some berries (blueberries/strawberries/ raspberries)
- 1 boiled egg and some raw veggies
- A couple of oatcakes with a teaspoon of nut butter (almond/cashew/hazelnut) on top
- A quick pick-me-up smoothie: blend half a banana, a handful of spinach, one scoop of good quality protein powder, 1 tsp of coconut oil and 1 cup of almond/coconut/soya milk
You also need to be creative; use your imagination if things don’t go to plan and you are stuck. The leftovers from the night before can become lunch to take into work. If you increase the size of your snacks, they can easily become breakfast options. Experiment and see what works best for you.
Being a healthy domestic goddess might even turn out to be easier than you imagined.
Zara Stella is a Registered Nutritional Therapist, Health Coach and Zest for Life Practitioner.