Until recently, meal planning was one of the first tasks to get dropped if I had a busy week or couldn’t face being organised. I go through phases of having everything under control then suddenly we’re ordering takeaway or eating beans on toast. Nothing wrong with that of course, as long as there’s a good balance at other times. Everything changed when I returned to work and little one started Nursery. I chose to provide his daily meals as paying the set amount for my 10 month old, who was still downing milk, seemed a bit ridiculous. We’ve been doing it weekly so this year, I’m attempting to get even more organised and going for fortnightly!
What is Meal Planning and Why Bother?
Just so we’re on the same page, it is exactly as it sounds – deciding on your meals in advance. The frequency is up to you but weekly is more common. Probably because it ties in with the proverbial weekly shop. These are some of the benefits of answering the “what’s for dinner?” question less often:
Planning ahead is a major time saver in my books. Deciding what to eat on the spot, checking you have the right ingredients, finding the right recipe for the time and condiments you’ve got, Googling what you can substitute certain ingredients with etc. No wonder it’s easier to order in or go out. If you batch cook and/or freeze for a future meal then the benefits are even greater.
Meal planning also promotes cooking at home which is much cheaper than eating out. If on a budget, tailor your meals to what you can afford but still have variety. It’s amazing how versatile mince can be!
Only getting the ingredients you need greatly reduces the amount you throw out.
Save Head-space (Less Stress)
“What are we having for lunch/dinner?” is a question that stresses me out. More so now there is a child in the mix as his hunger waits for no man. Knowing what is on the menu immediately makes me feel in control and frees up space to worry about the other 99 million things.
Eat Healthier and Add Variety
It makes you think about what you are actually eating each week. You can quickly spot when things are a bit same-y and switch things up if necessary. If you are on a diet then planning your meals are essential and it may help you stick to the healthy route.
Main Steps to Creating a Meal Plan
Step 1: Choosing Meals
Everyone is different so there isn’t a one-plan-fits-all approach. Go with what you can stick to long-term and what currently fits with your lifestyle. The main thing is to create variety otherwise you’ll get stuck in a rot. If doing a weekly one, maybe look at your schedule so you can plan accordingly.
- Use a theme: Assign a theme to each day, and choose meals based on that theme. My favourite theme is cuisines around the world. Think Mexican, Italian, Mediterranean and so on.
- Start with your favourite meals: You may think you don’t have variety in your meals but writing a down of meals you do like can spark inspiration. You can also get ideas from your favourite restaurant meals too.
- Rules or dietary requirements: Having rules such as 1 fish meal, 1 vegetarian meal, 2 meat, 1 salad is a great approach to spicing things up. If you are following a particular diet then you can easily incorporate this into the plan.
- Seasonal meals: There are meals that we crave or are more popular depending on the season – salads in the summer, soups in the winter. It can be a great way to save on seasonal veggies too
- Cooking Time: Assign meals based on the length of time you are likely to have available on that day. If you tend to work late on Fridays then a 4-hour meal is unlikely to happen.
Step 2: Finding Recipes
So you’ve planned out your meals. That’s it right? Well, trying to find the perfect bolognese recipe just before cooking would make me frantic. Find suitable recipes beforehand. Scan the ingredients list to make sure you can get hold of everything and also check the cooking time. There are no shortages of where to look:
- Supermarkets – some publish free magazines or recipe cards
My top tip would be to get a recipe with pictures. A picture of the end result is priceless and bonus if it contains step-by-step ones too.
Of course you don’t have to stick to recipes all the time. Some great meals can be discovered by having a melange of leftovers. Fusion cuisine at it’s best.
Step 3: Creating a Shopping List
Synchronising your meal plan and shopping list is a great way to save time and money. You’re more likely to buy the ingredients you’ll need and the right amounts too so cuts down on the top up shops and wastage.
This may be obvious but it is important to schedule your shopping before the start of your meal plan otherwise you won’t have the ingredients to cook with. Ours start on Monday, the weekend before is for cooking so the shopping is done on Friday. We do online shopping so it is actually done before Friday so it arrives on time. See an example of one my shopping lists here, which is also my first weekly meal plan. I’ll be posting them every Friday under the ingeniously titled “Meal Plan Fridays”.
Let’s get some things straight. Meal planning is not
- Just for families: Single, married with no kids, family of 4,you can all make a plan. You just have to use a method that works for you.
- For home-cooked meals only: I love my curry nights (and curry lunch as I never finish the whole meal). Home-cooked meals are great but so is giving yourself a break and indulging every so often.
- Laborious: Yes, you do the work upfront but once it’s done, you’ll be running like a well-oiled machine
- Regimental: Meal plans can be as flexible as you make it. Takeaway nights, last-minute swap, skipping a week or going out for dinner
- Same meal for everyone: Cooking the same meal for everyone saves so much time though you may have to do some recipe research to accommodate dietary requirements. There’s nothing stopping everyone doing gluten-free if it’s nutritious. We did baby-led weaning so other cutting up little one’s food we all ate the same. It does means having baby-soft pasta and slightly mushier rice but it could save you from a picky eater and cooking several dishes for one meal.
- Batch cook and freeze: Double or even triple the portions so you have leftovers. Such a time saver!
- Advance prep: If you can, spend some time prepping the ingredients before you cook so you are not rushing around on the day chopping, dicing etc. If we are having a stir-fry, I plan it for the beginning of the week, prep the ingredients on Sunday so it’s just a case of throwing them in a pan on the day
- Slow cooker: We finally got one last Christmas and it’s great to add ingredients and leave it going. I was surprised to find how many recipes you can cook int it such as Fish Pie.
Still considering meal planning? Try it for a couple of weeks to see if it is for you and do let me know how you get on 🙂
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