Reducing your family's need for fast food

The following post was written by public health consultant and mother of three, Rebecca Zosel. Having worked in health promotion for more than 20 years, she is passionate about the health and welfare of the community. Her article provides advice for those hoping to reduce their fast food intake. 

Australians like to dine out, and many of us eat fast food. I have three children and we occasionally eat fast food – usually once or twice a month when my husband and I are particularly tired or at the end of a busy week. We don’t find it to be a healthy, affordable or even convenient food option, however, so we make an effort to limit the amount we consume. Most of the time we cook our meals at home and eat together as a family. For me, the key to eating well is being organised. Here are some tips on how to reduce the need for fast food, based on what we do in our household.

Write a weekly meal plan

Allocate time to plan your meals for the week ahead, and consider:

  • A variety of meals and ingredients (think: a rainbow of food)
  • A few tried-and-tested favourites alongside some new recipes
  • Quick and easy options to fit with your weekly schedule, e.g. Tuesday’s meal is always something my son can eat while travelling to rock climbing club (e.g. falafels in wraps)
  • A homemade fast food option (much healthier and cheaper than meals purchased at stores), such as homemade fish and chips or pizza

Do a regular grocery shop

Go grocery shopping regularly, and remember to:

  • Write a shopping list and try to stick to it
  • Buy enough food to get you through the week
  • Keep your pantry well-stocked
  • Keep a supply of non-perishable items that are versatile and can be used to make a number of dishes (e.g. tinned tomatoes, pasta, chickpeas)

Cook smarter, not harder

Consider ways to make your life easier and reduce the cooking workload, such as:

  • Cook meals in bulk and freeze portions, so you can enjoy some nights off cooking. Dahl and bolognaise sauce freeze well
  • Prepare large dishes and eat them over two days (e.g. cannelloni, eggplant parmigiana)
  • Re-use leftovers, e.g. leftover tacos can be made into bolognaise sauce, pasta into pasta bake, salmon into fish patties, and roast meat into sandwich filling. Use up leftover vegetables at the end of the week by making a pasta sauce

Get ready early

  • Do meal preparation early in the day
  • Pre-cook a meal so you only have to heat it up at dinnertime
  • Make school lunches the night before if the mornings are busy

Involve your children

  • Get your children to choose a dinner to include in your weekly meal planner. They are more likely to eat it if they put it on the menu
  • Take your children grocery shopping. Encourage them to be involved in decisions and to try new foods. Set rules to reduce pester power
  • Involve your children in meal preparation and cooking. My 5 and 7-year old regularly cook meals for the family, with some adult help. The result? Works of art!

Liliana, aged 5, and the family dinner she prepared, also known as ‘the ocean’

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