Meal planning simply means planning ahead of just the next meal. That could be the next few days’ worth of meals or the next month. For most people I recommend settling on a weekly meal plan. The concept of meal planning is ages old and has helped people manage their budget, reduce food waste and plan to eat nutritious meals that fit with their timescales for a very long time indeed.
As a family we meal plan each week. This is something that is always evolving as the needs and schedules of the whole family change but we have a sort of pattern so I thought I would share my own tips and ideas.
1. Involve the whole family
They say never to go shopping on an empty stomach but the grunts and groans I get if I ask my family what they want to eat next week if they’ve only just eaten suggests there is a happy medium to be achieved here. I need to ask the question when they’re neither full nor empty. They do get involved in the meal planning process though. Over a meal we will chat about their schedules for next week and find out if there is anything odd or unusual such as a late afterschool class or trip that I need to be aware of. Once we know schedules it is simply down to preferences. Compromises are often to be made here but inevitably there will be a few family favourites, a few child A favourites and a few child S favourites and if my husband and I are lucky enough some of our own, though we appear to be the most flexible.
2. Think of vegetables as the main component and work back from there
So much of our thinking when it comes to meals is around protein plus accompaniments. I call this the “meat and 2 veg” mentality. We no longer need to subscribe to this traditional way of thinking of standard meals. We are lucky enough to have been introduce to a plethora of meal preparation methods from countries all over the world and by simply taking a French or Italian way of making a sauce, a Middle Eastern dip, an Indian curry we start to be able to celebrate vegetables as meals in themselves with accompanying meat if we choose.
3. Write it down
Once you have decided on the weekly menu plan write down your shopping list. Even better if you can record this electronically in case you want to repeat this shop another time. Also, make a record of recipes that worked well for the family. Keeping a log or journal of meals that you ate together and enjoyed is not only therapeutic it is practical. You’ll easily be able to recall the meal and enjoy it another time.
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4. Go shopping at the most ideal time of the day and week to suit your busy life
This sounds like an obvious step but we do lead such busy lives and often shopping is deprioritised. It has got to be worked into your schedule, whether that’s an online shop or an offline shop. Try and find the time to be able to do this though because time spent doing the food shop well will make meal prep easier.
5. Explore a little
Whilst spaghetti bolognese or macaroni cheese might go down well every time it is served it might not go down well if it is served week in week out. Mix things up a little. Spend a little time looking at recipe books (I bet you have recipes in those books you’ve not even tried yet). Gather ideas together and each week try a couple of new recipes to try and expand the repertoire a little.
6. Try some themed nights
A fun way to encourage diversifying recipes is a theme night. Whether it is pancake night, enchilada night or perhaps Italian night, the introduction of a theme means family involvement and fun. The upside is that you may also discover new vegetables, flavours and textures that you may have had no reason to try or discover otherwise.
7. Love your leftovers
In fact, don’t just love your leftovers, plan for leftovers. They should be a part of the weekly menu plan too. Leftovers lunches are a joy. Food always tastes better the next day anyway. Invest in a good quality flask or however many you need for the family members taking food to work or school the following day. They will keep the food warm until it is ready to be eaten.
8. Use your freezer effectively
Not only do I recommend storing chopped ginger, chopped garlic, frozen herbs, frozen spinach and berries in the freezer, it is also a place for double batches of home-cooked meals. For those evenings when you simply won’t have time to cook but still want a home-cooked meal your frozen meals will come in rather handy.
9. Stock the larder/cupboard well
There will always be occasions where you get caught out. The kitchen cupboard or larder is the place to stock pasta, rice, pulses, quinoa, tinned tomatoes, tinned fish, coconut milk, even jelly! You are going to need these items not only in everyday meals, but they are what you’ll also rely on in an emergency so keep the cupboard well stocked.