We’re pretty serious about meal planning in our family. We have some extreme diet restrictions that make it necessary. My stepson’s ketogenic diet for epilepsy limits him to 20g of carbs per day, so he can’t eat rice, pasta, bread, potatoes or.. really anything you might whip up for a quick and easy meal. He’s limited to meat and certain low carb vegetables. His brother on the other hand prefers not to eat meat. He’s not vegetarian as such (at least not yet) but he feels squeamish in the presence of anything recognisably ‘meaty’. My husband’s bowel surgery means he can’t eat beans, chickpeas, lentils, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower or onion. My daughter and I can eat anything, but she IS six, so ‘anything’ is more a theory than reality. Bottom line is we need to be prepared with the right food in the house, 3 meals a day plus snacks, 7 days a week. You can’t do that without a solid plan; in our case, a multi-coloured, triple-tiered plan that covers every meal and takes over an hour to prepare every week.
Not everyone has such complex food requirements, but that’s no reason not to embrace meal planning. Admittedly it takes a little spontaneity out of dinnertime, but it also takes away a lot of the stress and rushing around. Here are just a few of the brilliant outcomes from our experience:
- We buy less food
- We waste less food
- We save money
- We eat better quality food
- We avoid ‘no food in the house’ crises
- We eat less (no!) junky take-away
- We shop less frequently
- We know exactly what to shop for
If you do only one thing to simplify your life, make it this one. If you have a busy life, work and family to juggle or just need to make sure you eat well, meal planning may be your saviour. There are so many benefits to meal planning if a slower, simpler life is your goal.
My top tips for beginner meal planners:
- Leave one or two meals blank in your plan. It depends on your lifestyle, but for most people, things come up, you decide to eat out, there are leftovers, or for some reason you just don’t end up cooking.
- Plan for leftovers. Make a little bit extra and freeze portions for lunches, emergencies and surprise visitors.
- Stretch your main ingredients across several meals – particularly meat if you’re that way inclined. For example I like to make a bolognese sauce, use it again on baked potatoes and save a bit to pep up fried rice later in the week. Or we roast a chicken then make stock and use it for soup.
- Give it time. Meal planning can start out feeling tedious and time consuming, but you’ll get into the swing of things. No matter how long it takes, the time and energy you’ll save by meal planning will absolutely pay off.
Your One Small Change This Week
If it’s not already part of your routine, try meal planning for one week. You can make it as simple or as complicated as you like. I’d suggest starting with just dinners, but if you’re inspired, by all means plan 3 meals a day and see how it goes. As a minimum simply write down 5 or 6 dinners that you plan to make this week and stick it on the fridge. I buy these cute little meal planner notepads from Kikki K. I have an obsession with stationery so that just makes it fun for me. But really, you just need a scrap of paper. Even a post-it note will do if you’re just planning dinners.
If you’re already a meal planner from way back, take a look at the way you already plan meals and see if you can introduce some super time saving changes to reduce food waste, make extra meals for leftovers or slot in a big Sunday cook-up of meals to freeze for busy day emergencies.