The only way we manage to eat a home cooked meal together each evening is by doing the opposite of what comes naturally to me: being organised. Spending around half an hour on a Saturday morning to meal plan ahead of the weekly food shop is the best time investment you can make, saving you time and money in the longer term, and making sure everyone’s eating well.
I’ve very much learned as I’ve gone along with this one, after realising how much I was spending and how badly we were all eating soon after I went back to work. Here are the basic principles I find work for me when meal planning:
- Have a look in your cupboards and fridge to see what you already have, particularly ingredients which are close to their use by date, and note these down
- Consider what commitments you have each day that week. This is one that I overlooked in the earlier days, then found that I’d been way over adventurous in what I could physically cook on days where we’d be home late, or had somewhere to be. Note down how long you’ll have to prepare and eat the meal and plan around this
- Consider what balance looks like to you – do you want to include fish/veggie based meal at least once a week? Do you prefer to limit refined carbs? Are you happy with a less balanced meal in the plan if you’ve eaten well the rest of the time? Looking at a week’s meals as a whole means you’re much more likely to stay within whatever your approach to balance is
- Figure out a realistic food budget. How much are you able to spend and how much do you want to prioritise eating well? I’ve had to adapt to different budgets over the years, at the moment as a family of four (2 adults, an 11 year old, and an 8 year old) spend £60-£70 per week on food, which includes 3 meals a day for all of us and includes a lot of non-essentials such as snack food, different yoghurts each and bottled water
- Write a list of meals against each day of the week keeping the above principles in mind. I rarely stick to the plan exactly but generally plan and cook 7 meals depending what we feel like eating that day and how much time we have. For breakfast, lunches and snacks I make more generic lists of foods to mix and match to give more flexibility
- If you’re making a dish which is easy to prepare in bulk, consider buying extra ingredients to cook a double portion which can be frozen for another time. Bolognese, lasagne, curry, chilli and shepherd’s pie are all great for this
- Don’t fall into the trap of cooking different meals for everyone. I have a very fussy eater and the four of us have different tastes, but once you start preparing 2 or 3 different dishes the workload and cost just gets bigger! I try to get round this by involving everyone in choosing meals and reminding my girls (when they’re sighing over stir fried noodles) that they’ve had their turn in choosing and now it’s mine!
- Make a shopping list of what you need to buy and stick to it. Supermarkets know every trick in the book to tap into our human instincts and make us buy things on impulse. If you spot a bargain, great, but do think about if it’s really a bargain or if you’re just being lured in to buying something you don’t really need
- Don’t get too militant about it. Planning is supposed to help but not take over your life! Life will happen, you’ll have days where you find you have less time, or can’t face what’s in the fridge. We all have those days where only a McD’s Drive-Thru will do 🙂
Here is what a typical meal plan looks like for us: