As school has resumed and an endless term looms, I have asked our intrepid anti-diet dietitian and UNTRAPPED guide Susan Williams from Zest Nutrition to write a guest post on how to combine intuitive eating with running a family!

Image of Susan Williams from Zest Nutrition

Thank you and over to you Susan for some sage words of awesome advice:

Meal plans. Meal prepping. Bulk cooking. Like so many potentially helpful habits, diet culture has turned them into a stick to beat ourselves with. In the process of healing your relationship with food you might find that you have a desire to feel more organised with the process of regular feeding, but how can you do it without feeling trapped?

In the early days of developing intuitive eating skills, finding out what you do and don’t enjoy and achieving a morally neutral attitude towards food can be quite exciting. Once you have come to a more peaceful place you’ll understandably want to develop a less intense focus on food and eating. After all, for many of us, the goal of this intuitive eating adventure is for eating to take up less headspace, for it to settle into the background as just one of the ways that you take care of yourself.

In diet culture, meal planning is a way of controlling intake, ensuring only ‘allowed foods’ are eaten and only in the ‘prescribed amounts.’ In the anti-diet world, meal planning is all about ensuring you get to eat enough of the foods you enjoy and make you feel good, not just today but tomorrow and the day after and after and after. Anti-diet meal planning isn’t a rule or a cage, it’s more like a cocoon.

Anti-Diet Meal Planning

So I’m going to write about how I take care of my family meals to help give you more of an idea of what this might look like in real family life. For me, having a rough idea what our family will eat across the week clears a lot of clutter from my mind. If I’ve given some thought to meals and snacks, these ideas flow on to my shopping list, and so that endless question “what’s for dinner tonight” doesn’t crop up at all. Now I want to be SO clear – I don’t think my way is the right way, it’s the right way for me. There’s no right way that fits everyone, I have a friend who has a four week rotating meal menu, and another who shops daily. The important thing is that your planning, if you do it, makes you feel supported, not constrained.

I really enjoy cooking and baking, however feeding a family is a little more Groundhog Day than The Great Gatsby. The meals I cook centre around 2 adults and 3 children – 2 workers, and 3 hungry school kids. The more bang I can get for my buck the better! One of my tricks is to use the leftovers from one meal as the basis for the next. Chicken and beef casseroles, served with rice or potato for one dinner then become individual pies for future dinners (I just borrowed a friends pie maker and as soon as I can I’ll be buying my own!). Spaghetti bolognese later becomes lasagne and nachos. Asian style pork mince and vegetables becomes San Choy bow (probably not how it’s spelled) and Bibimbap (absolutely not authentic!!)

A piece of paper with handwritten list of meals and vegetables

So how do you get started with meal planning? A useful first step is to work out what your weekly routine looks like. Do you have a couple of tricky days in your week – where you always miss lunch, or end up eating it really late when you’re starving and then you’re not hungry for dinner? Or are there some nights where it seems impossible to get something ready to eat before you have to race out the door again? Or are you getting annoyed that you’re spending a lot on takeaway? Start where your annoyance is. Plan a ‘bang for your buck’ easy meal for these times – you don’t want to be doing a lot of meal prep on the nights where everything is chaos. If you haven’t got any trouble spots don’t worry – if it ain’t broken don’t fix it!

A picture of a weekly planner filled out with family activities

A next step is to make a list of all the things your family likes. Every item on our family list isn’t everyone’s absolute favourite but everything is enjoyed enough for it to make it onto the list. Then I have a think – is there anything on the list that I can make in bulk? Or that can be made into other dishes? Which meals on the list would be good for lunch the next day? One of the kids favourite dishes is Chicken Kiev, veggies and chips. It’s a delicious meal, but rubbish for leftovers, and also not quick to prepare, so this meal gets allocated to one of the days we’re home earlyish and we’re not going back out.

My family’s weekly commitments change with the sport season and school term. On the weekend, I look at the week ahead, and allocate meals from the list (some of which might already be ready to go from the freezer eg bolognese) to days of that week. I usually add a couple of baked goodies to my ‘to do’ list – biscuits, banana cake, or brownies which serve as morning teas/school recess snacks across the week. I then check the pantry, fridge and freezer to work out what ingredients we need and what we’ve got already.

As much as I love to cook from scratch, I also love to do other things with my life so I absolutely include prepared foods like dumplings, chicken Kiev, gozleme, roti, and instant noodles in my meal planning.

I’m fortunate enough to work part time and a bit from home – I recognise this privilege makes my approach to meal planning easier than someone who works full time or if you have a lot of travel for work. These tips are not the be all and end all: take any bits that you think might work and ditch the ideas that don’t.

So that’s not an exhaustive expose into my kitchen life as far as dinners and bulk cooking go but hopefully it is helpful.

Anti-Diet School Lunch Planning

Another big job that looms large in my culinary life is school lunches. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t already feeling irritable by day 2 of this term! Now Fiona Willer and Meg McClintock are my gurus here. They have pre-prepared sandwiches frozen in the dozens! I do not. And actually I don’t have freezer space for it or I probably would!

School lunches are something that I factor into my weekly shopping list. My 3 kids tend to get sick of things if they appear for too many days in a row, and they don’t all like the same things. Two like yoghurt, one likes custard, two like popcorn, one doesn’t, two like mayonnaise and one doesn’t! Two like 2 minute noodles, one doesn’t. And it’s not the same two or one each time! They all like focaccia, but one doesn’t like it more than three days in a row. Sigh. You get the picture. They aren’t really that fussy actually, they just know what they like.

So I’ve developed a revolving repertoire that gets me through the term. My main goal for school lunches is that they’re filling, not fiddly and not messy should an accident occur. Some variety in tastes, textures, and colours is up there too.

My bulk cook go-tos are focaccia, I make a lamination tray sized focaccia and cut it into 9 pieces – 3 kids, 3 days, and hey presto, we have reached the limit of their excitement. I also make pastry/ pizza scrolls – a bit of puff pastry, tomato sauce (I blend a tin of tomato, olive oil, garlic, basil and salt) grated cheese and shredded spinach. Quiches are another option for the pie maker (did I mention I borrowed a pie maker?) – a circle of short crust pastry, sprinkle of cheese and ham, topped with whisked egg and cream, 10 minutes in the oven, voila. Mini pizzas are similar to the focaccia but I only tend to make 6 at a time, the dough recipe I have makes 12 small pizzas so I do half one week, chill the other half and do the remaining 6 the next week.

Sandwiches – when they are on – are either poached or bbq chicken shredded and mixed with mayonnaise, the mayo sticks the filling to the bread better. My older two kids are starting to ask for salad, and blow me away if this isn’t the easiest option ever. Chuck it all in a box. Cannot wait till number three decides she likes it too!

A dinner that my girls love which translates well into a lunch is san choy bow (still sure that’s not spelled right) – it’s delicious served cold and if I’m making enough for lunch left overs I will include noodles or rice and fresh chopped corn off the cob. The tasty combination of savoury meat, colourful vegetables and a starchy staple makes a very satisfying cold lunch.

Kitchen bench with raw ingredients. There is a red chopping board with three pieces of steak in the foreground. In the background is a bag of carrots, some celery, onions, garlic, bay leaves, herbs, salt, pepper and olive oil

Our lunchboxes always include a cake/muffin/slice/biscuit item. Usually I’ve made something, and if not, I’ll put a couple of chocolate chip biscuits in. There’s always one or two fruit options – either an apple or banana and strawberries or grapes. I also add a ziplock bag of crackers, or a bag of popcorn depending on the child!

Last but not least I’ll include a milky type option, either custard, yoghurt or milk popper. Lunchboxes in Australia in summer are hard. Foods like meat, egg, fish, and dairy are filling and satisfying, and it’s so important to keep them cold. I’ll often tell my kids that they should eat certain foods at recess rather than lunch because I want them eaten before they get warm. Even a chiller bag and ice brick doesn’t stand up to 46 degree heat!

So for me, school lunches are not exactly precision planning, but it is predictable enough to keep me feeling that there’s not too much clutter in my head. And it’s planned enough that one of the kids can pack all the lunch boxes in the morning as I finish the last of my cup of tea. And that’s good enough for me!

I hope this helps,

Susan Williams, Accredited Practising Dietitian

Zest Nutrition Consulting

P.S. If you’re struggling with your relationship with food, your body, or exercise, why not join our wonderful UNTRAPPED Masterclass! And now is the time to do it – for our Newsletter readers, the UNTRAPPED Masterclass is now just AU$400, which is a huge bargain. To make sure you get the special price, enter the code 2020SALE at the checkout. You can purchase UNTRAPPED here.