Recently, I’ve seen lots of posts over on Facebook or Twitter asking people to share how they meal plan. Very often, these requests are met with suggestions for meals, but not really an explanation of how to do it.
I’ve properly meal-planned since Tim and I got married, and it has definitely saved us time, money, energy and stopped us wasting food. Like everyone, we have the occasional end of a bag of salad that goes slimy, or the end of bread which goes stale, but we very rarely throw food away. We set a budget for groceries, and stick to it. When I was on maternity leave with Ben, this was £50 a week, but at the moment it’s a bit more. This does include household items though, so £15 of this could easily be on laundry liquid, cleaning products and toiletries.
We’ve experimented recently with having a veg box from Riverford. The vegetables themselves are fantastic quality and variety, but we often didn’t eat all the vegetables in the week so we’re currently ordering on an ad-hoc basis and supplementing this with supermarket vegetables – and the odd courgette from the garden.
One of us does go to the supermarket every week, or we get an online shop delivered. I love online shopping because you can see what’s on offer, then do your meal plans, and make sure you have got all your ingredients. I also get bulky items delivered in an online shop – toilet rolls, stuff for the freezer, bottles etc. We might then supplement this with smaller supermarket shops in the following weeks, or food from local shops or markets.
We also make good use of our freezer. Meat and fish that we won’t use straightaway in our meal plan goes in the freezer. I actually often buy these frozen as they are better value, particularly chicken breasts and salmon. I also have batch-cooked things in there: roasted tomato sauce at the moment, but also stewed fruit (when people give you some from their garden), portions of bolognese sauce or stew, and whole meals like fish pie. We incorporate these into our meal plans too. I freeze some leftover ingredients – I currently have a tub of double cream in there that we didn’t use before we went on holiday. I also have things like chips, peas and vanilla ice cream, which are always useful.
Finally, I have a “store cupboard master list.” I put this together after realising there are some ingredients that are actually worth having in at all times: soy sauce, fish sauce, capers and anchovies are good examples of this. I made this list after too many incidents of not being able to make what I wanted to because I thought I had the ingredients in and then found I didn’t.
So, that’s a start, but how do we actually meal plan? Here’s my break-down.
1. Look at what you have in. What needs using up? Find some ideas for these ingredients and write them down. They should come early in your meal-planning week.
2. Ask your family. I sometimes forget to do this, but I know Tim will often request a Thai meal of some kind. Ben will always want pasta. Note these ideas down, but don’t assign them to a day yet.
3. Look at your schedule. Are there some days when you need something really fast? Or when using the slow cooker would work well? In term-time, we need lots of fast, easy-prep meals, but will happily spend a bit longer at the weekend. You could start assigning meals to days here.
4. Check out supermarket offers if you’re doing an online shop. Most supermarkets do a 3 for £10 deal on meat and fish which works well.
5. Consider doing a roast dinner or batch-cooking at the weekend. Decide what you will have and if it will create left-overs.
6. Decide which meal you will assign to each night. Generally, we try to have fish once or twice a week and a vegetarian meal at least once. If we have a roast dinner one night, we might have 2 meals based around the leftovers and then that only leaves 1 more meal to plan for. Write this down. I actually have slot in my diary especially for this.
6. Allow yourself some easy nights if you’re busy. Fish cakes and salad, pasta, pizza, and frittata are my quick and easy wins.
7. Make sure you’ve got a good balance of meals: some traditional, some spicy, some a bit fancy… I always think about the sides that I might serve: are we having all potatoes? Or all rice? Is it a bit “meat and two veg?” Are you trying new recipes occasionally?
8. Try to apply the same principles to lunch. I admit, I find this hard as there isn’t a microwave at work, so I can’t heat up leftovers. So sandwiches tend to be my fall back option, but this gets so boring!
I meal-plan weekly, as I would find it to constricting to plan for a whole month, but I know some people do plan for a month at a time. Occasionally, we’ll have a no-shop week, where we’ll use up bits and pieces. If, in the holidays, I clean out our cupboards and find we have a few things to use up, I’ll be a bit creative and try to challenge myself.
Meal planning definitely saves me time, money and stress.