I have been meal planning for well over four years, and it has saved my family loads of time and money. I started when my youngest was in nursery and we had to watch the pennies. There are no arguments at dinner time because everyone has been consulted, and I can even plan in a ‘Fend for your self-night’ where my family (all over the age of 13) can either get something from the freezer, cook for themselves or order take away. Essentially, this is one night where I don’t have to think of cooking for them. Meal planning also works when I am not home. Everyone can see what is the meal for the evening is and can heat it up, or start the meal so I can finish it when I come home. The recipes I use are simple enough for my kids or my partner to start dinner if required. This encourages the family to cook (not that often mind you), but if I have a late night at work, they can start the pasta, rice or start to cook the burgers that I have already prepped and are ready to cook.
It can seem daunting to start meal planning. However here are a few things you can do to make starting a little bit easier.
1. Start by looking at the meals your family like to eat. Meals like pasta, curry dishes or just plain ole’ pie and mash can all be planned and in some cases prepped before hand. You can look for new recipes using the recipe books you have, websites and social media. This can inject some freshness in your weekly meals.
2. Look at your family activities throughout the week. There may be simple meals that you can plan for the days that you are working late and can either whip up in no time. These can be cooked in a crockpot earlier in the day or you can use a meal cooked and frozen on prep day then defrosted and heated up on the day in the week of your choice (more on batch cooking item 3). This will take the stress out of meal times during the busy times in the week.
3. Batch cooking is where you plan ahead and think of the meals that you can cook in bulk This like soups sauces and stews can be cooked in advance this way. You cook foods that take a little longer on one day (I usually food prep on a Sunday) so the meals can be cooled and placed in the fridge or freezer. They can be defrosted and or heated as and when you want them. As my family are Omni and I am Plant-based/vegan. I sometimes cook similar meals using the same batch cooked base i.e. a chicken curry usually has a onions, garlic and ginger base with spices and tomatoes the same as a veg curry base. So I will batch cook a curry base, and use the same sauce for a chicken curry for my family as I do as for my veg curry. Also, consider batch cooking rice and quinoa and other carbs this way. Prep things like salads, fruit and veg, so that you have onions ready, or can whip up a fruit salad or a smoothie at the drop of a hat. I always used to think my mother was crazy for cooking this way when I was younger. But let me tell you when you need to make sure there is a substantial meal on the table in the middle of the weeks and you can defrost a delicious meal that you prepared earlier. You would be soooooo grateful for your prep day.
4. Make a shopping list. This is one of the most essential components to your meal planning. Once you have identified your meals and when you want to eat your meals, list what ingredients you need to buy. You know what food you want to batch cook, look in your cupboards, fridge and freezer so you know what you have in there. Then list what you need to buy. This will avoid duplication and save you money. When you have your list, go shopping. However, make sure you eat before you go shopping. There is nothing worse than having your shopping list and not buying anything on it because you are hungry and start buying what you want to eat now. Oh yeah! take your list with you. It might be a simple thing to remember, but the frustration you will feel when you forget your list and ended up buying half of what you need will be second to none. I usually put my list on my phone in the notes section, or I use an app like Evernote where I have my fav recipes linked as well so I have it all with me in one place. And remember to place your meal plan in a prominent place so you can see what amazing meals you will be creating each day and mark the days that you need to take food out of the freezer or you’ll be defrosting them in the microwave!!!!
So are you ready to get the meal plan? If you are ready to start now, get a piece of paper, make a grid and place days in the left column and the meal times along the top. You can get ready meal plan grids free on the internet or you can make your own on your computer or with a piece of paper, pens and a ruler. It could be something that you can incorporate in your bullet journaling. Don’t forget to save your weekly plans so you can have a log of the meals the family liked and those that did not work so well, you can use them as a reference for future meal plans. But most of all have fun with it, don’t pressure yourself to get this right, it’s just one of many tools that you can help you organise your week.