Meal Planning

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I am a meal planner.  One of those tediously organised people who plan their weekly meals, make a grocery list from it and then stick to it.  Boring, I know, but it works for me.

A number of people have asked me about meal planning and how I do it.  Over time I hope that I can make meal plans available on the blog so they can just be printed out and adapted as you like (but that's a job for 2012, I think!).  So, in the meantime, here's some information to get you started.

I like meal planning for multiple reasons:-

1.  It helps keep me sane throughout the week - I don't get home from swimming classes at 5pm and then have to figure out what we're eating for dinner that night.

2.  It saves money - Really, truly.  By having a meal plan and creating a grocery list from it, you only buy what you need. 

3.  It helps tick all the right dietry boxes - When you meal plan, you make deliberate choices.  I make sure I include two fish/seafood mains each week and at least two vegetarian meals.  Meal planning means that I know I cover all the food groups and dietary requirements my family and I need. 

4.  It helps create variety in our meals - By going through different recipes each week, we always end up trying or two new meals.  Ensuring variety and encouraging my boys to try new tastes is very important to me because I think it helps add to their enthusiasm when it comes to cooking and to eating. 

Now, don't get me wrong.  I meal plan either on a Friday or a Saturday so that I can hit the markets on Sunday morning armed with my grocery list in hand.  Some days, meal planning is the last thing I feel like doing.  If you can get into the habit of it though, it's worthwhile and it doesn't take forever.

Try these steps:-

1.  Open your fridge and pantry and check out what food you have leftover from the week before that needs to be used.  Make sure you incorporate that into your meal plan, so you waste less.

2.  Make a cup of tea/coffee and arm yourself with recipes you've printed out from the internet or with a couple of recipe books.  Also have your diary with you.  Print out the Weekly Calendar attached if you like, and use it to help keep track of what you're doing and what meals you're having when.

3.  Work out what days you need easy dinners (the 5pm swimming lesson days, when you get home and just need to throw everything into the Thermie and have something delicious come out 20 minutes later).  If there's nights when you are going to be out but your children are still eating at home, plan to cook something the night before that will stretch for the following night as well.

4.  Decide how many times you want to eat red meat, chicken, fish etc. throughout the week and plan accordingly.  I generally find that I stick to easy recipes that I know will be devoured quickly on the days when we get home late and need something quick - risotto, pasta etc.  On days when we have more time in the afternoon and the boys are just outside playing, I'll tend to try new recipes or we'll have more involved dinners because we have time to sit down and properly enjoy them.

5.  Once you've allocated a dinner meal to each day, think about lunches and breakfasts.  I don't necessarily plan each day's lunch - instead I just add a couple of things to my "baking" list for each week:  bread, lunchbox treats and sandwich alternatives.

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From there, work out what groceries you need to buy.  List them down and you're off! 

I recommend keeping your meal plans and, after you've built up a few weeks worth, you can reuse them.  This way, you don't have to come up with an entirely new plan each week but can just change one or two recipes here and there.

For some extra tips, Jo Whitton at Quirky Cooking also has some information on how she menu plans.  Like anything, meal planning is a habit that becomes easier over time.  It just takes some practice and some time in putting together the repertoire of recipes.  Try it out though, it's worth it!


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