Meal planning is underestimated in the weekly battle to save time. It is often overlooked as a complex task that takes too long or requires too much effort. That can be true, if you make more of it than you really need to. Expert planners will often suggest not only planning and buying the produce for your meals, but also part prepping or cooking ahead of time. This can be useful, but that is when it starts to really take some time and effort. Here’s something we can both agree on…it doesn’t have to be that way…
Now, this is important… meal planning does not have to take you three hours, be super complex and involve all family members contributing their ideal eats for the week. It can of course, but it doesn’t have to. And that’s the important thing. There is no set way to do it; it’s about what’s comfortable for you and your family. Today, I’m sharing what works for our little family and our regular dinner guests (because I just love to cook!)
The process I use is simple, practical and versatile, so you can add to it or take away from it as you please. BUT, it’s okay having an idea of what you’d like to do and change any process to what works for you! That’s the point!
The only thing I must insist on though is writing it down! This is key to the success of any planning, because you’re not keeping all those ideas floating around in your brain. They’re no help there! Writing down your plans ensures that you:
- Reduce stress – because you’re removing things from your brain instead of adding more to it
- Create a simple to follow plan – especially if you’re sharing cooking or prep responsibilities
- Understand that this is not set in stone – flexibility is a good thing!
- Create a shopping list which saves you time and money when you hit the store (or the online cart!)
How to do it?
To get you started, I’m giving you access to one of the printables I sell in my Etsy Shop – for free…
Step by Step
- Start by printing off your planner, fill in the date and grab the family for a quick chat. You might also want to grab a spare piece of paper or any apps you use to store your shopping lists.
- Ask your family if there’s any special requests this week. If Jim wants hot dogs one day then what’s to stop you squeezing that in? Less drama…
- Check your calendar or diary to see if there are any days that are extra busy, that clash with meal times or where you have extra guests. Make a little note of those somewhere so you can plan around them.
- Check the cupboards, fridge and freezer! One of the worst things you can do is buy things that you already have in stock, or to buy additional groceries when you have sufficient food in the house to make a decent meal. Simply doing this will save you large amounts of time shopping when you don’t need to, save you much more money than you think and will prevent you having to find somewhere to store and organise all of your excess food!
- Brainstorm ideas for meals based on what you already have in and what you think you’d like that week. For example, we have instant rice, a ready made curry sauce and onions in the house. I add fresh chicken to the shopping list and voila, chicken curry and one meal down; six to go!
- There are lots of tools out there like Supercook or Recipesuggester that will help you to find awesome recipes from the food already in your pantry, fridge and freezer.
- At this point, and once you’ve exhausted all of your options from the cupboards (or simply don’t want to eat anything else from a packet!), sift through some of your favourite recipe books or Pins for ideas.
- Write down your meal choices, and the shopping list that comes from it.
Some tips you might want to consider:
- Include a night off for yourself. Whether that’s a simple microwave meal, someone else taking the reigns or grabbing take out.
- Include a mixture of foods, especially different coloured foods. It sounds odd, but there’s evidence to suggest that a variety of colours in your diet is good for you!
- Try splitting the planner into three for breakfast, lunch and dinner – plan to whatever extent you feel comfortable. Just make sure not to miss the other meals off your shopping list if you don’t plan them specifically!
- Try using the planner to note the recipe page number or details so you can find it easily.
- List the ingredients that you plan to use on your planner. I find this stops family members eating the ham that was meant for the carbonara, etc….
- Consider using a slow cooker or crockpot to take some of the strain out of prepping from scratch. Slow cookers are a lot more versatile that people give them credit for. They do not always need liquid! This is one of my favourite recipes that actually feeds our family of three for two days – evening meal and lunch the next day!
So, what will you be trying first on your meal planning adventure? And, more importantly, what will replace the eternal cry of “what’s for dinner?” Let me know in the comments!