Meal planning can change your life – here’s how to do it
Meal planning will save you time, money, food and stress.
One of the easiest ways to reduce your food waste is to buy what you need, and eat what you buy.
But anyone who has stepped foot in a supermarket will know that is easier said than done. Supermarkets can be overwhelming with treats on offer, new products to try and so many choices – it’s no surprise that most people walk out with far more food than they need.
In order to avoid spending too much money at the supermarket and coming home with food that will only end up going to waste, you need to go to the supermarket armed with a meal plan and a shopping list.
Many people consider meal planning a chore – after all, it is hard to predict what you may feel like for dinner later in the week. But the benefits of making a plan far outweigh the 20 minutes it takes, which include:
- It removes the 5pm panic of what’s for dinner
- It will save you money because you will only be buying food you will eat
- It will save you time because you won’t have to go to the supermarket as often
- It ensures greater variety in your diet
- You will waste less food because you should be eating everything that you buy
If meal planning is new to you, follow our step-by-step guide which will help set you up for a week of easy and organised meals.
A step-by-step guide to meal planning:
Before you begin, make some lists.
1. Ingredients you already have: Go through your fridge, freezer and pantry and make a list of all of the key ingredients that you already have.
2. Meals you can make with what you already have: Using the list you have just made, write down all of the meals that you can already make with the food that you have.
3. Family favourites: Make a list of all of your family’s favourite meals – things that everyone eats and are on usual rotation in your household.
4. New recipes to try: If you want to add more recipes to your usual dinner rotation, flick through your recipe books or scour the internet for recipe ideas that can be added to your meal plan. Pay attention to how long meals take to cook as you don’t want to spend 90 minutes on a recipe if you only have 45 minutes to get dinner on the table.
Once you have your lists, keep them in a handy place so that you can easily refer to them each week when it comes time to meal plan.
To make your meal plan:
1. Look ahead to your plans for the week and note down how many nights’ worth of dinners you will need – there may be some nights when you are out for dinner, when only half the household will be home or when you think takeaways may be in order.
Tip: It’s a good idea to plan for one less dinner than you think you need – this allows you to eat up any leftovers, make a dinner from what’s in your cupboards or have a break from cooking.
2. Of the nights that you need meals for, write down if there are any special circumstances – your children may have sport until late so you need a fast dinner, you may have an extra mouth to feed or you want a meal that you can cook in the slow cooker during the day.
3. Once you have your basic outline of what you need for the week, take a look through your fridge, freezer and pantry and write down any items that need to be eaten this week.
4. Using the above items, plan some meals to use them up.
5. Then, consult your list of family favourites and new recipes to try and fill in the gaps of what you need.
Tip: There are many meals that work well over two nights – either they make enough to feed your family twice so you get a night off cooking, or you can take the leftovers from one meal and turn it into something else e.g. leftover roast chicken can become a chicken pie the following night.
6. Once you have your plan, write a shopping list of all the things you need to buy for your dinners, and any other meals you have planned. Don’t forget to add all of your other groceries to the list before you head to the supermarket.
Tip: If you are prone to forgetting to take the list to the supermarket, take a photo of it with your phone as soon as you have written it so even if you leave it at home, you still know what you need.
If this sounds a bit daunting, start small by planning only a couple of meals a week and gradually grow it from there.