Cost-saving Strategies for Meal Planning and Preparation

Neumann, Corby-Sue.Headshot

Written by: Lianne Castelino

Published: Jul 26, 2022

It is a case of real-life reflecting art.

“Sometimes when you’re a working chef, your kids are eating two-minute noodles. That’s the reality,” says the Director of Culinary at HelloFresh Canada, the world’s leading meal kit company.

As a single mother of two teenagers, Corby-Sue Neumann understands the keys to efficient meal-planning in both her busy professional and personal life.

“I’ll be completely honest, we do use a meal kit,” Neumann told Lianne Castelino during an interview for Where Parents Talk. “That represents anywhere between three to four meals a week.”

Click for video transcription

Welcome to where parents talk. My name is Lianne Castelino. Our guest today is the director of culinary at HelloFresh Canada. HelloFresh is the world’s leading meal kit company. It operates in more than 15 countries around the world. Chef Corby, Sue Neumann is also a mother of two. And she joins us today from Richmond Hill, Ontario. Hello, and welcome. Thanks for being here.

Lianne it is so good to see you again.

Same here. I want to dig right in Corby Sue, because spending and in particular food spending these days in in North America, frankly, has deeply impacted wallets its impacted choices at the grocery store. Tell us what are you seeing from your end as somebody who works in the food solutions industry.

So the demand for what we provide our service, I think people have really, over the last couple of years realize that a meal kit like HelloFresh is really doing all the hard work for you. It’s the preparation. Before that it’s the planning, it’s making sure you get what you need. And making sure that you don’t overspend. You know, Lian. Often we talk about, oh, what are we spending weekly, that number is going up. And on average, Canadians are spending anywhere from 200 to $250 a week on groceries, I don’t know about you. But even with my meal kit, sometimes if there’s a special occasion, it can even be a wee bit more. So I think that number might be on the conservative side, as inflation goes up. Here’s the thing, inflation is going up. But we still need to eat. So people are looking for practical, affordable solutions that are convenient. And I think the word convenient is something that we still very much need. I don’t know about you also in this in this virtual world, certainly we have started to return to work. Not full time, a lot of it’s still remote. And I feel like we’re eating more than ever before.

It’s very true. Absolutely. So let’s unpack that a little bit more clearly. So you’re talking about how to keep things affordable for families with children, for families with growing children? What tips and strategies can you share to keep that food spending manageable?

Absolutely. So I’ve got a couple of thoughts on it. Obviously, I’m really lucky, I’ve been in the commercial food space for 20 plus years. And the meal kit industry really appealed to me because I recognized Wow, it’s actually doing what I you know, as a working parent, also struggled with Believe it or not, it’s like the joke, the shoemakers, children have no shoes. Sometimes when you’re working chef, your kids are eating two minute noodles. I mean, that’s the reality. So it goes back to the planning. So actually blocking time in your calendar weekly, because let’s be honest, eating happens daily. And it doesn’t just happen out of nowhere. And to leave it to you know that 430 decision, don’t do that. So actually put some time in your calendar to either do it yourself, get together with your family, whatever your family looks like, and talk about what do we want to eat today or this week, write that list. So if you’re not going to use a meal kit, make sure that when you go into the grocery store, you’ve got that list. And one of the things I’ve said to my children, having run previously my own small food businesses, and even today, I said bye as if it was your business. So spend that money is if it’s your business, because once you have spent it, it ain’t coming back. And if you’re not going to eat it, you’ve lost it. And that’s something else that’s really distressing, the numbers as to what Canadians are throwing out on a weekly, yearly basis. So the other tip that I share with my kids is the three use rule. So if we’re shopping and by the way, take your kids shopping with you when they’re little, or if you’re choosing recipes online, get them to be with you engage them, show them that eating and cooking are not, you know, set mutually exclusive, they often complement each other, and, you know, really instill in them it’s a life skill. But that three use rule is if we’re shopping, and you know, grocery stores are very clever. This is on sale by three for one. And I look at it and I stand there I think okay, I’ll buy it, but do I have three ways that I would use it? So just off the top of my head, yogurt, there might be a sale on yogurt and I’ll be like, okay, but I know that my kids only eat it. You know once or twice a week for breakfast. Well hello but I use it oh, I’m going to make to contend or ticker. Oh, I can use it in a marinade. Oh, I’ve got some bananas, I’m going to do some baking. So now I’ve hit three uses. So now I feel confident I’m going to use that product by its use by date. And I’ll buy it. So those are my two really big tips. Treat your money for food as if it was a business. And three uses for each ingredient you buy.

Those are excellent strategies. And they really speak to the idea of having a plan before you enter that grocery store. And really putting thought into that. You’ve got two kids yourself. As you mentioned Corby Sue, I’m interested, what does cost effective meal planning include in your own home? Yeah.

So I’ll be completely honest, we do us a meal kit. So that represents anywhere between three to four meals a week. But let’s break it down. I’ve got a 19 year old son who’s just finished his education, he works full time, he works remotely. So you know, three to four meals a week that’s covered. But now I’ve got to think about breakfast, lunch, and a couple of other dinners. So I do actually budget for takeout food. And again, we did a survey recently and see that Canadians on average are spending anywhere between 20 and $100 on takeout food each week. I mean, you do the math that starts to add up. So take out food is a once a week treat. I’m not gonna lie, I’m human, like everyone else, I need a break from the pans. So that’s what we do. But we don’t go beyond that. And so it’s really about when I’m doing that shopping, and then even just from a time management perspective, the meals that we are cooking, I make sure that they are convertible, I’d like to call them convertible recipes. I don’t think that this is ground breaking news for anyone but leftovers are their savior for us. Because I’ve got, you know, two kids with healthy appetites, I make sure that dinner can convert into lunch. And I make sure that that you know from a food safety perspective is all good. I’m not cooking chicken hoping it lasts five days. I’m cooking it hoping it lasts two days. So convertible recipes cook a little bit more. Here’s the other thing Lianne seasonality. If I shop, what’s in season, I’m going to get it at a better price, I can probably buy a bit more. And so I also have shown my kids how to think about food in different ways. So when asparagus are in peak season, I’m like we’re buying more. It’s really inexpensive now. And we’re pickling some so we’ve got some in the fridge, we’ve got some in the cold store. We cut some up there already in freezer bags. For what I want to do a quick stir fry. It’s just honestly thinking like my grandmother used to think that’s what we need today.

Now more than ever, definitely. Now for kids who are going to be going away to school college university excetera. That temptation, as you mentioned, to order out to eat processed foods is is pretty high it’s ever present. What advice could you provide to them and certainly to parents of these young adults and teens about how to simplify meal preparation while they’re on their own?

Yeah, it’s a great question, Leah. I really, I really encourage parents to recognize food as a language. So if your child is fortunate enough to have grown up in a home where meals weren’t always delivered to the front door, they actually were cooked. You know, I hope you have a little bit of time getting them involved. But if you haven’t, listen, treat it as if you are cramming for an LSAT. Like you need to figure out how to teach your children really basic skills. How do you boil some pasta? How do you make a great bowl some bowls are still all the rage. And that’s really simple. You know, it’s some simple greens. Maybe it’s tinned tuna, tinned corn, maybe all they have to do is cut up a cucumber. Is it you know, burritos? burritos are really inexpensive. You know, gram meats still are pretty inexpensive. They’re foolproof in the sense that you can overcook them. But I would actually invest a little bit of time with my kids. And that’s what I look. I have been doing that as a working chef and cooking instructor. But I have friends who are going through this very challenge right now. And I actually think today This generation of kids, gosh, I think they’re so much smarter is that the right word? They’re just really aware of what’s happening in the world. You know, they’re looking at tick tock, they’re seeing this food trend, that food trend. So I don’t think you’re, you know, they don’t have any knowledge, but sit them down and say, okay, so what is it you like, and let’s figure out how you can do it. And here’s what a shopping list looks like. And, you know, again, I said it before meal kits for and we actually see meal kits for HelloFresh. For college kids, you know, we see parents actually do that when kids first move at home, there’s something really empowering about preparing your own meal away from home for the first time. So set your kids up for success. And here’s another thing only in flavor, flavor flavor. In North America, in particular, here in Canada, we have complex taste buds. So send your kids off to college with all the information they need to be safe, but send them off with some spice blends some salt and pepper. I know it sounds really simple, but you know, they literally could turn a packet of noodles into something fabulous, if they had some spice blends, and, you know, tell them, Okay, baby spinach, frozen peas, these are your best friends. So I said, I could talk forever about that. And I’m sorry, if I sort of belabor it, but I really feel that for parents invest the time. And you know, again, a meal kit service is like a great teacher, because that’s really what it is. It’s not just a box of groceries, it’s your own personal cooking instructor with the groceries. So that’s what I would suggest.

You know, it’s there’s so many important points in what you just said. And one of the things I take away is the idea of starting from a place of strength, because I think a lot of people get overwhelmed, let’s say they don’t enjoy cooking, they don’t know anything about it, they don’t like being in the kitchen, etc, etc. And then they’ll go and try to tackle the most complex recipe just to kind of jumpstart their interest in it, and then get really overwhelmed. And then, you know, be even further away from from making their own meal. So So let me ask you, for those individuals who may never have considered a meal kit delivery service, why would it be a viable option for them?

First of all, you’re going to cut down on food waste, significantly. But really, so that’s that’s a great thing. I think the other, obviously, it’s a huge selling point is the convenience. And as I said at the top, we’re doing all the hard work for you. So we have been your personal chef, your auntie, your mum, your granny, your uncle, whoever. And we have already thought about, hey, what’s to eat this week. So we’ve done the planning, we’ve done the prep, we’re sending you ingredients, just what you need, we then have actually vetted the recipe and the cooking of that recipe with our professionals, and our professionals, our chefs, product designers, and we vet them not once like upwards of five times to make sure that the language we’re using the order in which we’re doing it is absolutely easy to execute at home or in a small dorm kitchen, or condo. So that’s why I think, you know, and also from a budget perspective, so you know what you’re spending each week. I think that’s really important as well. So we’re teaching our kids and I’m calling them kids, you know, much to their chagrin, but we’re teaching our teens, life skills, it’s about budgeting, it’s about time management. It’s about owning what goes into your body. It’s about sustainability, cutting down food waste, you know, in a time where there’s abundance for so many of us, you know, they’re huge parts of the world where there isn’t abundance. So I think there’s also believe it or not, I do think that there’s a social responsibility. You’re teaching your child that food, good food is absolutely right. But you have a responsibility to treat it with respect. So I really think that’s what a meal kit will bring. If you are time strapped or skill poor. Perhaps wrong choice of words thinks I’m going to skill poor, but if it’s not in your wheelhouse, like don’t beat yourself up. You know, that’s why services like this exists. So that’s why I think meal kits are really an excellent way to start.

Now, everything just seems to be easier in the summer in general. And I’m wondering does that also include teaching a child a teen a youth, young adults and cooking basics and and if so Corby Sue, how
can a parent go about that?

Absolutely. I mean, now is the time to be out there. So whether you’re living in an apartment, when my kids were really little, it was just the three of us. And we lived in an apartment, and I was able to grow strawberries on our balcony, you know, the typical fresh herbs. And I recognize it sounds a bit cliche. And people might say, all I, I don’t have a green thumb, but honestly, just, all you need to do is just water them. So what that allowed me to do was engage my children in edible food, so that they understood that food didn’t just arrive somewhere or, in fact, most people don’t think about the journey from where it’s grown to where it arrives, they had a connection to food. And so what that did was instill some respect for it. So that we don’t waste it because like, Oh, I gotta go every day. And I’ve got to water it. And I got to make sure that you know, I’ve removed the bugs. So even something as small as a little herb garden, or strawberries or tomatoes, I would absolutely encourage doing that wherever you are. And then when it comes to the actual preparation, I think any age, you don’t need to be using a big chef’s knife by any stretch, you can use craft scissors, at any age, your hands are the best instrument, and also taste. So I would encourage parents to say, you know, come help me pick the parsley. Here, use these scissors to cut the bell pepper. You know, believe it or not, craft scissors are great for cutting a lot of things. Just get your kids a bit engaged. Even if it’s just setting the table, write a ceremony around, we’re going to eat now. So just involve your kids in any way. There’s so much available online. There’s so much available generationally, you know, maybe you’ve got a mum, a granny, who makes the best dumplings will somehow get your kids involved. Because food is a language that is continuing to be passed down. But because we have families where we all work, that life skill in that language is not as readily available by your immediate family, if that makes sense. So I just would encourage there’s lots of resources to to get that and bring that in to your own home environment.

One of the resources that comes to mind for myself knowing people who call themselves well, I don’t cook, I’m not a chef, but they do barbecue. So if your child is of a certain age, is that an option?

Corby Sue, absolutely. And again, you know, like you just said, what’s appropriate. So gosh, it’s funny you say that because I actually did teach both of my teens how to turn on a barbecue. quite young. I won’t say the age. But that was you know, so they knew how to turn it on. And then now my daughter is brilliant at grilling the meat and the vegetables. My son is really good at cleaning the barbecue. But as far as getting your kids involved, there’s so many amazing meals that you could do on a barbecue. You know anything from your classic steak to pizzas to grow fruits. I mean, i i We could literally do a whole segment on grow fruits. So there’s lots of ways. Yeah, I think Barbecuing is a great way to start that cooking experience. And you know, it’s generally I recognize it’s open fire but there are grills and again, you just teaching respect for your surroundings. So I would say to parents, don’t be scared in encouraging your kids to learn how to handle a barbecue. First up on the menu are grilled barbecue spice ribs who doesn’t love ribs on a barbecue. We’ve also got locally sourced asparagus. Really simple to do looks extra special with potatoes. Yum. Now another fan favorite pizza who doesn’t love pizza? Why shouldn’t we barbecue it? This is absolutely customizable. This is a grilled sausage flatbread with a really simple side salad. Everyone loves this. Why not have pizza outside? Now, summer is for salads. This is absolutely genius. Grilled Chicken basil pesto with nectarine stone fruits are brilliant on salads, sweet savory,

So many wonderful tips and strategies. Corby Sue Neumann director of culinary at Hello Fresh Canada thank you so much for your time and your insight today

pleasure Happy cooking

Neumann, a native of Australia, has been working as a chef and in the food solutions industry for more than 20 years. She takes heart in knowing that the meal kits she relies on to nourish her own family feature healthy, locally-sourced ingredients, an inviting variety of flavours, and are sustainable — with little to no waste.

Her own recipe for success includes planning, creativity and flexibility.

Infographic.The Feed 105.9 The Region “I’ve got two kids with healthy appetites,” Neumann continues from her home in Richmond Hill, Ontario. “I make sure that dinner can convert into lunch. And I make sure that that from a food safety perspective that it is all good. I’m not cooking chicken hoping it lasts five days. I’m cooking it hoping it lasts two days,” she says.

Neumann develops and tests recipes for HelloFresh Canada and Chef’s Plate.

Skyrocketing inflation, the rising cost of living, steady increases in food prices and other pocketbook pressures has many making hard choices at the grocery store and in their kitchen. “On average, Canadians are spending anywhere from $200 to $250 dollars a week on groceries,” says referencing statistics gleaned from a survey conducted by HelloFresh Canada.

“I think people have really, over the last couple of years, realize that a meal kit like HelloFresh is really doing all the hard work for you. It’s the preparation. Before that — it’s the planning, it’s making sure you get what you need. Inflation is going up. But we still need to eat. So people are looking for practical, affordable solutions that are convenient. And I think the word convenient is something that we still very much need,” she says.

On the topic of how parents can empower themselves and ultimately their kids in the kitchen to plan, prepare and execute basic meals — especially those who are living away from home — Neumann offers this tried and tested tip: “I really encourage parents to recognize food as a language,” she says. “So if your child is fortunate enough to have grown up in a home where meals weren’t always delivered to the front door, they actually were cooked, I hope you have a little bit of time getting them involved. But if you haven’t, treat it as if you are cramming for an LSAT. Like you need to figure out how to teach your children really basic skills.”

During her interview with Where Parents Talk, which also aired on The Feed with Ann Rohmer on 105.9 The Region, Corby-Sue Neumann discusses:

  • Cost-saving tips at the grocery store
  • Helping kids to learn how to cook
  • Preparing teens, youth and young adults to cook for themselves away from home
  • Smart food shopping strategies
  • Introducing kids to cooking on the BBQ safely
  • Recipe ideas

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