Feeding Our Family and Monthly Meal Planning – What works for us.

Over the last few years when I have talked about monthly meal planning and shopping or the way that we eat as a (fairly) big family and on a tight budget people look at me like I’m a teensy bit crazy.

Um … they’re probably right.

But – then I get a bajillion questions and I feel like I never get to answer them completely.

So here, in one place, I’ve brought it all together.

How we plan and how we approach food and feeding at our place.

Please let me be very clear – I know this won’t work for everyone. But this is what works well for us. There are 6 of us. My husband works full time, I juggle a couple of jobs. We both volunteer with our Church and sports. We want to fit in exercise and gardening and then there is allllllll of the stuff that comes with 4  VERY active children! And on top of that – we also have food allergies and sensory issues to deal with so eating out or grabbing food on the fly doesn’t always work (or suit our budget!).

Firstly. I write a menu and do a grocery shop for a monthIt looks a bit like this (actually at the moment, it isn’t footy season so it’s missing a weekend game and 2 training sessions!!):

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Our menus change with the season and what is growing locally

You can check out this previous post about how I actually shop and budget.

You don’t feel like the thing on the menu for that night? No worries – There are 20 other meals to choose from, so switch it up!

I talk to the kids as I’m writing it and we all give ideas as a family about what we like and are enjoying at the moment – they feel included and it helps me when I’m stuck for ideas!

It makes sure that it takes into account what activities we have on each day, what our work loads look like and any major things on that month. No good planning a 3 course meal for dinner and then only having 20 minutes at home in between gymnastics and jujitsu to make it!

You’ll see that we have a deliberate plan to eat left-overs (usually Sunday night) so that we don’t have food waste.

How do we eat as a family?

  • We try to eat foods that are largely unrefined. And with a heavy emphasis on plant based foods. Fruit, veg, beans and lentils, nut and seeds, whole grains etc. Processing in and of itself isn’t a bad thing, but we try to avoid too many ultra processed foods.IMG_20191017_175142_869
  • We eat a rainbow – of natural colour! Lots of variety, fruits, veg and all manner of plants – raw, cooked, hidden and visible. Make it a challenge to eat the most colours and variety. Don’t forget that frozen veg and tinned beans etc can be a great, simple, budget friendly option to help you out here.

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    Choosing variety and colour!
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Literally turning platters into rainbows!
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So many ways to eat green!
  • When we eat meat we don’t have huge portions and we don’t make it the focus of the meal – more like a side. And we bulk up the  meal with mushrooms, beans and veg as much as possible. It is very easy to get enough protein in the western world, but as a nation we don’t do well at eating enough veg or getting enough fibre (so critical to our health and wellbeing) so this is a good way to encourage it.

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    Veggie Bolognese – mushroom and lentil style
  • As parents, we are in charge. We make the food decisions in our  house. I absolutely get that this one is controversial. And if you are going to make changes to align with this – it will take time and there will be resistance. And yes, I completely understand that this will change as the children get older (they range from almost 6 to 11.5 right now). But, I have a better idea of what their nutritional needs are. If there is food that I don’t want them to eat, I do not buy it. It’s too hard to have it in the house and then have to police it. (Same goes for me and icecream – we do not keep it in the house because it is my downfall!!!)
  • We subscribe very much to a ‘We provide, they decide’ approach to eating. You can check out more from Ellyn Satter  about the division of food responsibilities. This does mean that our children have the right to decide if they eat and how much they eat of the meals provided. BUT there are NO alternatives. The family meal is the family meal. This removes pressure and battles from meal time. There is no coercion around food or finishing everything on their plates. We model the food and eating behaviours we want them to share, and over time they learn to trust and listen to their bodies, serve themselves and and make good food choices. We do a lot of placing everything in the middle and letting them serve themselves. Below are rice paper wraps, fish wedges and salad, Mexican wraps/bowls plus nuggets and veg

 

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They learn to love their food!
  • We are aware of our kids likes/dislike and food preferences around textures (due to SPD) etc – But that does not mean that we simply stop serving the foods that one of them dislikes. We do talk to them when we’re creating our menu. Then they know that there is lots of food coming up that they do enjoy. If we are serving a meal that we know is not a favourite, we make sure that there are some things on the plate that they are comfortable with. If we are serving up a new meal (and one I suspect will not be well received!) I make sure that a small portion of it is on the plate (simply having the food near them helps with exposure and familiarity) but kept a bit separate from the other familiar food. Below is when we introduced mushroom stroganoff – all in one for the adults and separately, without pressure for the kids.

 

  • We encourage our kids to be involved with food, right from growing our veggies and helping with the gardening to helping us to prepare and serve the food.

 

  • We allow and encourage food exploration. Touching, poking, licking, sniffing … all fine (at our home dinner table!). Also we talk about our food in a way that removes pressure: What colour it is? Does it crunch or squish when you bite it? It is different cooked to raw? Can you write you name with it or make a face?
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Mum! Listen to this crunch!
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Wonder who is responsible for this one?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Food is not ‘good or bad’. It is not a moral choice. We do talk about what food gives us and how it makes us feel – this food will give me lots of protein and help me build up my muscles. This food will give me good energy to get through a long gymnastics session. This food has lots of fibre and it will help me to poop (a kids favourite!). If I eat too much of this food my tummy doesn’t feel good. We also talk about our favourite foods and our special memories around food – after all food is about far more than just nutrients!
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Muscles from our Hulk muffins
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Christmas Food with my extended family – my very favourite celebration!
  • We keep food really simple. We eat a lot of food that looks like this (you’ll see in our menu that we call them ‘serve yourself platters’):
  • There is no ‘snack box’ in the pantry filled with packaged and ‘easy’ snacks and the kids are not free to just help themselves whenever they want. There are defined meal and snack times. After which the kitchen is closed. This helps them to learn to listen to their bodies and actually be ready to eat properly at meal times. Kids (and adults!) don’t actually need to graze all day long. Of course there are times when then there needs to be an exception – if they ask, they know they can usually grab an apple or a carrot.
  • We cook in bulk and freeze. There are deliberate left-overs to make filling lunches and batch cooking allows the main part of the meal to be used in different ways, with very little effort on my part!
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Veggie egg cups ready for the freezer
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Bulk Mexican Chicken – this will portioned into the freezer and become wraps/bowls, enchiladas and tacos

Bulk bolognese gets turned into a 2nd meal of empanadas

  • We make school lunches the night before, for kids and adults alike. No exceptions. I cannot even fathom the stress of making 6 lunches in the morning whilst getting ready for school and work, getting washing on the line and starting dinner. Eek! Made the night before I have space to think about it, make sure is is varied and I sleep easier knowing is it one less job in the morning!
  • We snack plan/prep. As well as having a meal menu, we always have snack basics in the house ready to go.  It means that we can eat well with little fuss. Our go to snacks are lots of veggies and fruit then we add things like hummus, yoghurt, bliss balls, roasted almonds, hard boiled eggs, pikelets and popcorn.

 

 

So there is it.

We plan, we prepare, we eat simply, we eat variety that is heavily plant-based.

Importantly, our kids are involved with the food at all stages but we do not pressure them about food or force them to eat it. Parents decide what’s on offer, we give them opportunity to serve and explore, we model healthy eating behaviours but food is not a battle ground!

If you have made it to the end … well done! I know it seems confronting when you see it all  together. Can I encourage you if you are feeling overwhelmed to start simply. Pick one thing and go for it. Small changes really add up over time. Get your family involved and work on it together!

Good luck – I’m always here to answer questions!

J x

Veggie loaded sausage rolls

Sausage rolls are a massive favourite with my kids … and husband!

They are easy to make and they are perfect for hiding lots of veggies, so it is nice to know that they are a slightly healthier option for my family 🙂  I have changed and modified my mix over time and this is the mix that I have found gives the best flavour and binds the best without egg.

I use Chevup sausages in my mix. They are a skinless, gluten free, Aussie beef sausage with about half the saturated fat of normal sausages – I feel much happier about using them than the sausage mince that is commercially available. You can find more details about them here.

The sausages I use also have a lovely flavour, so if you are using regular beef mince, there is a note below the main ingredients for a couple of extra things for you to add.

Gluten, egg, dairy, nut and soy free pastry is the next issue. There are many GF pastries out there but they are often really disappointing. Obviously use the one that suits your diet and that you enjoy.

I have used this pastry from the Gluten Free Bakery:
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And it does a pretty good job. But ….

if you live in WA you really, REALLY have to check out Busy Bees Gluten Free pastry (I buy from Weigh n Pay in Woodvale)! It is amazing! It comes in a long roll and it handles just like wheat based pastry. It is soft and easy to work with and even non GF people have been happy to eat it!

  • 8 Chevup sausages
  • 250g beef mince
  • 1/2 tsp onion flakes
  • 1 large carrot
  • 1 medium zucchini
  • A dozen button mushrooms
  • Handful spinach
  • Fist sized piece pumpkin
  • 400g tin chick peas (drained)
  • 1/2-1 cup GF bread crumbs (you can blitz rolled oats or quinoa to use here instead)
  • 4 sheets of puff pastry (1 used 3 regular and 1 ‘everything free’)

If you are not using the Chevup sausages, use

  • 700g beef mince, plus
  • 1/4 tsp mild paprika
  • 1/4 tsp garlic flakes
  • 2 tbsp GF bbq sauce

Finely grate the carrot, zucchini and pumpkin. (Speed 6 for 8 seconds, scrape down and repeat). Then add in the mushrooms, spinach and chick peas and process until the mix is fine (Speed 6, 10 seconds, scrape and repeat).

Add the additional flavourings, if using and process again (Speed 5, 8 seconds)

Add the sausages and mince, to the processor and process until it is quite smooth (Speed 6, 15 seconds at a time, scrape down in between).

Add the breadcrumbs. Start with 1/4 a cup and gradually add more if the mix is too wet. (Speed 6 for 10 seconds at a time) I used about 2/3 cup last time. The mixture should stick together quite well.

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Cut the pastry sheets in half and divide the mixture up between the sheets.

I find it is best to place it in a thin line down the middle of the pasty.

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Roll the pastry over the top of the mix to form long cylinders.

Lay on a greased baking tray with the join side facing down (helps the join to hold together as it puffs).

Cook in a preheated 210C oven until meat is cooked and pastry is puffed and golden brown. (use a short burst under the grill to get them extra golden and flaky). Takes about 35-40 mins in my oven.

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Makes quite a lot of sausages rolls (about 45 party sized ones) … so I did have to convince my kids that they couldn’t just keep eating them because they were there.

They freeze well – just reheat in an oven, not a microwave otherwise you get soggy pastry.

Enjoy 🙂

P.S. If you wish you could enjoy sausage rolls but are after a vegan version – have a go of my Roasted Pumpkin Pastry rolls

An Itchin’ Budget?

Living in this day and age is expensive.

Living in an allergy home is even more costly – regular trips to (very expensive) allergists, dermatologists and doctors, regular updates of asthma medication, epi-pens and bottles of antihistamines for every place they go. Creams, creams and more creams. Gosh it adds up quickly.

Then there’s the groceries ….. no options for $1 bags of pasta or flour. Allergy friendly options are often 8-10 times the price. And then there is the choice about buy foods that are locally or ethically produced.

Don’t get me wrong – I am so very grateful  that my husband has a job (and after 10 years with one income, so now do I!), we actually have many allergy friendly options in shops and that we are able to access the specialists we need to care well for our children. We are FAR better off than many.

I remember a couple of years ago, following a friend do a challenge that was ‘Feed your family for $150 a week’ and it just made me giggle. Yep, no way is that ever going to happen in this house. There are 6 of us and a dozen foods that we need to avoid or substitute.

And then I started to realise that, even though I wrote a menu for a fortnight and was a pretty good budgeter, I had fallen into into the trap of ‘just popping in’ to the supermarket to pick up some extra things for baking, or things we’d run out of …. and I had suddenly spent another $50 … how does that happen?!?! Eek!

I grew up watching my Mum take out the entire grocery budget in cash once a fortnight and when it ran out, that was it, we had to wait. And my Dad had literally sat me down with a pen and paper and taught me how to budget. What had happened to those lessons I’d learned?

So with 1 income (for the past 10 years!), 4 kids who are expensive to feed, ever increasing costs, a husband who requests meat for lunch and dinner 6 days a week and a desire to eat well with minimally processed foods, I set myself a challenge:

Menu plan for a month, write my grocery list for a month, 1 big, careful shop and then that’s it – no going back.

Scary Stuff! But It’s been a couple of years now …. and I love it! I couldn’t actually imagine doing it any other way.

I’m not trying to convince all of you to shop for a month at a time – in fact, I know that some of you won’t have the space …. I am incredibly fortunate that my Nanna gave us her old freezer, which makes this process possible for us. But the general ideas I think can work for everyone – so, after being asked a squillion times for my tips, here is what works in our home:

  • Check what is in my pantry and freezer – write a list out – don’t be vague about it!
  • Write a menu (whether that be for a week, month or more), and use up what you already have for those meal plans. Plan to use similar ingredients for multiple meals. Take into account what else you have on in the evenings …. it’s no good planning to cook a 3 course meal if you’re only home for 20 minutes in between activities!
  • Shops in different places for different things (obviously this will be different depending on where you live).
  • Meat, milk, honey, eggs, cheese and all fresh fruit and veg come from the farmers markets. Local, cheaper and often much better quality20200125_144417
    • I buy all of my flours, nuts and seeds, salts, oil, vinegar, coconut aminos and yeast etc in bulk (my favourite  online places are 2 Brothers Foods and Weigh N Pay)
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      Don’t worry – these are all especially designed compostable bags from 2Brothers!

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      Taking my containers to bulk buy at Weigh n Pay
    • Buy all packaged goods from one place (and use the rewards system to your advantage!). I currently shop mostly at Coles. For us this includes things like tinned beans and legumes, coffee, plain cereals, frozen berries, Nuttelex, UHT milks (Oat, almond, and soy), pasta, rice, rice crackers, dried beans, dried fruit, specialist cheese vegemite and all toiletries (this includes sanitary items, everything for washing, cleaning and use in the kitchen).
    • Toilet Paper is delivered by Who Give a Crap (good for your bum, the environment AND your budget!!)

Admittedly, when I get all of it home – it takes a significant amount of time to put it away. BUT then it is done for the month!!!

A note about Meat: In the past few years, my husband has realised that you can actually have delicious, filling meals without meat. So we have significantly decreased the amount we eat. When we do eat meat, it is not the main focus of the meal. Instead we bulk out everything with veg, lentils and mushrooms as much as we can. It is easy to get enough protein … but as a nation we’re not as good at eating enough veggies and getting enough fibre for our gut and healthy functioning …. so this really helps – both our guts and our budget – and it means we don’t need a huge amount of freezer space to store it all!

The things that people have told me that they ‘pop’ to the shops for are bread, milk, yoghurt and snacks for the kids.

  • Well – our dairy milk gets stuck in the freezer for the week. I get the new one out at night when required and it defrosts overnight in the kitchen sink. The UHT milk we buy (dairy and soy) is used to make our yoghurt as required.
  • And bread, we don’t eat much of it, but I try to bake it as we require. If you’re not into baking it…. just buy what you need and freeze it.
  • Making your own snacks is SO SO much cheaper than buying them in store. Less processed, fewer artificial colours and preservatives, less sugar and more nutrients too! Let the kids choose what kind of muffins, slices, biscuits and muesli bars they want to make with you! Freeze them ready to drop into their lunchboxes (and yours!) each day.

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    Bake fest to fill up the freezer and pantry with snacks

Fruit  and veg are the only exception to my no returning to the shops rule.

  • I buy in bulk, blanch and freeze some things when they are on special (think green beans and cauliflower etc)
  • some things, like green peas, I just buy frozen to start with.
  • I deliberately overbuy bananas and avocados to freeze ready for baking and smoothies.
  • I try to buy the veggies I need for my meals that week so we don’t waste. I work at being creative with what we have and don’t return to market for more until we have really used all we have.
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Waiting until it is ALL used up!!

Consider this fair warning …. If you shop like this, people tend to stare …. and they don’t even try to hide it. I’ve had all sorts of jokes and comments about the coming apocalypse and having a dozen children etc etc. Mostly I just smile – sometimes I tell people that it’s for a family of 6 and we only shop once a month … then they just look even more shocked!!

So where do we put it all? It goes in the fridge, freezer, pantry and …. the (now jokingly called) ‘Apocalypse shelf’ in one of our cupboards. The store of toiletries (think tissues, detergent, tooth paste) all goes in the laundry cupboards. By the end of the month, they are all pretty empty and it makes it easy to start again 🙂

If any of you are still reading, well done, and yes, I realise, as my husband lovingly tells me, I am an organisational freak! I also love numbers so I broke down our expenditure and this is what I have discovered:

It costs us, on average, about $8 per day, per person to live. This works out to about $335 a week for 6 people. Not very close the to the $150 a week challenge (I guess $225 for 6 people?). This cost is all of our food (every meal and snack), all of our toiletries and consumables etc etc.

My 2 other tips for making your budget stretch when it’s tight are:

  • Cook in bulk and deliberately freeze meals
  • grow as much as you can yourself (even if it just some fresh herbs in pots!), and
  • to arrange swaps with like-minded friends. We have swapped propagated plants and excess veg, or homemade flavoured salts and oils for honey, eggs, lemons, chillies, garlic etc – awesome for encouraging others and building community too!
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Part of the Itchin’ Kitchen garden in suburban Perth – who needs grass?!

So – that’s how we do it in our family – I’d love to hear if you have any other tips for making your budget work!

Welcome to the kitchen

Hello!

Welcome to the Itchin’ Kitchen where I cater for 4 young kids with a range of more than 10 food allergies and sensitivities! But it’s not just itching we try to avoid – it’s also anaphylaxis, hives, welts, failure to thrive due to a limited diet, vitamin and mineral deficiencies.

You can find out more about me by clicking on the ‘Our Story’ tab above.

I hope that this blog can be a help those who feel like they don’t have much to work with if their kids have multiple food allergies and give them hope in the kitchen. I aim to make allergy friendly food nutritious, delicious and fun and share it with you.

I also hope to share my favourite recipes that anyone can enjoy, especially kids. I plan to label the recipes well so that you can easily find a range of recipes to suit your family and friends.

Make sure you follow along (by subscribing to the RSS feed or by clicking on ‘Follow’ to get email updates) and let others know about us as we share our experiences here in the Itchin’ Kitchen. I’d love to hear your comments as we go.

Jess