Meal planning is something I have done for as long as I can remember. Personally I find it an easy process to undertake but for some I can understand the thought of having to come up with solutions for dinner every night as well as then finding the time to cook it can be a daunting task.
Meal planning requires an investment of a little time but can ultimately help in the following ways:
- Save time – it can stop many unnecessary trips to the shops and also ends those times where you get home from work and then wonder what you will do for dinner.
- Save money – with meal planning you tend not to impulse buy or waste as much food. I am sure we have all had times where we have been to the store and purchased something only to return home and find the same item already in our pantry! You only buy what you need for the week ahead if you are following a weekly meal plan. You might also like to plan your meals around weekly supermarket specials and that too will save you dollars.
- Save ones sanity – knowing that you have already determined what you are going to cook can make it easier after a long day.
- Improve nutrition – a good meal plan can help to create a structure that encourages healthy eating. It means cooking when you have time so that even on those busy days, you have a healthy and homemade meal to serve.
8 tips to assist you to meal plan
Please don’t think this needs to be complicated, as it doesn’t! I personally use a scrap piece of paper for mine every week but there are many templates online these days or you can even use Apps to help!
- Commit a time to meal plan every week – You don’t need to set aside hours to do this. For instance I usually do mine on a Thursday evening and grab about 10-15 minutes when I can. In my house I plan the meals from Friday to Thursday as I do my grocery shopping early every Friday morning. You need to work out when it will suit you to not only plan but also when you will do your grocery shopping.Once you have an idea then you need to get into the habit of sticking to that, as it will make it easier in the long run. If you find it still a bit hard to do this yourself then get your family involved and seek their input for the food they’d like to see on the weekly menu.
- Assess what is on for the week ahead– You need a bit of a plan of attack – First consult your diary and ask yourself the following questions:
- What nights call for a quick and easy dinner?
- What nights require meals to be served at different times due to activities finishing?
- What nights is everyone home together for a meal?
- Which days can you do the kind of cooking that you’d most like to do?You need to work out what works best in line with your families schedule and then you can make a meal plan for the week ahead.
- What sort of meals?– When starting out it is a good idea not to let yourself get overwhelmed by trying to plan too many meals at once—instead start with 5 or 6 meals giving yourself one or two nights for leftovers or even takeaway. Work around everyone’s schedules and think of the type of meals that will work with the time you have available.
Sometimes it helps to make a list of the meals your family likes and which ones are for different nights i.e. our quick and easy meals for nights when we have activities are usually pasta, tacos, chilli con-carne or leftovers from the freezer. On the weekends when I have more spare time I usually cook meals that require more focus, time and energy.Every now and again when I lack inspiration I pull out the cook books and get a few different ideas for the following week just so that you don’t find all you do are the same meals week after week.Make a list of say 10 favourite meals for your family and rotate them in the first few weeks. When you’re ready, begin adding new recipes or tweak your menu to keep things fresh.
- Set nights for designated meals – Pick one night a week to have a particular meal, such as Friday night have homemade pizza (that’s what we do in our house). You could also have a night of the week that you go out or buy takeaway. Having this can simplify both your menu and grocery list.
- Meal planning/what to buy – Once you settle on the meals you want to serve for the week make a list of them. I know some families like to put this meal plan on their fridge for all the family to see. Sometimes this can help if you are running late then other family members might be able to make a start for you.
Next it is time to go shopping at home. By this I mean shop in your pantry, fridge and freezer to see what ingredients you already have on hand. Add the remaining items you need for those meals to your grocery list.
It is a good idea to keep your grocery list in an easy-to-find location – on the fridge or in your phone. This way when you run out of something during the week too you can add it to the list so that you are not trying to have to work out everything you need just before you go to the supermarket.
Some people like to have a list of all the staple items they usually buy every week and then add remaining items to that. Others like to arrange their items in sections and according to the layout of the super market to make it easier when they shop. I must admit I usually put all dairy items in one place on my list and then say toiletries in another rather than have items mixed up.
As I mentioned earlier there are many free shopping list or grocery list templates available on the internet if you need them as well as Apps such as MealBoard, Pepperplate and Plan to Eat to name a few that can assist with your meal planning. Do a quick search to see if any might help you.
- Cook in bulk and make extra meals – sometimes when you are are cooking particular meals i.e. pasta sauce it can be useful to make an extra batch that you can put in the freezer for a ready made meal on another night. Keep this in mind when you are making these types of meals that are easily freezable as it too can help you out!Some families I know find it easy to even do a bit of extra cooking on the weekend to make it easier during the week by cooking up several meals in preparation for the week ahead.
- Don’t be afraid to alter the plan– Remember it is a plan so if you have set out to have certain meals on particular nights it won’t matter if you alter them around because you already have the ingredients for the week so there is no issue. This also helps when any last minute plans that sometimes pop up.Just because you have a menu planned for the week does not mean that it is set in stone. I recommend that you are flexible enough to make changes as the week goes on.
- Keeping the momentum going– Like any changes we make we often we start off raring to go only to soon no longer continue with our efforts.
Make a commitment to meal planning now and it will be worth it!
I am always interested to hear how you go with my tips or any other suggestions you have on this topic – please get in touch – firstname.lastname@example.org