How many times have you heard "what's for dinner"? either from your nagging kids or your inner voice reminding you that you have to sort dinner out! If I told you that there was a way to make that stupid question go away would you believe me? Well actually there is and it's called meal planning. I initially started meal planning when the kids were little, Pete and I both working full time. It made such a huge difference to our week and to this day, even though the kids have grown and flown, we still meal plan. Meal planning is really simple, easy, it saves heaps of time and your week feels a lot less crazy. And as a bonus it will actually save you money. It's a great way to manage the food budget.
So how do you meal plan?
It's simple, just plan in advance what meals you are going to cook each night over a week, fortnight or month. Easy eh!!!! For me I follow these simple steps;
- Decide the planning cycle
- Check my planner for upcoming activities & events
- Choose my meals to cook
The first step you want to do, is to work out how often you want to meal plan, I call this the planning cycle.
WOrk out your Planning Cycle
From my experience the best way to work this out is to line it up with your shopping routine. I plan our meals from Monday to Sunday as we shop on Sundays. When we shopped fortnightly, I planned fortnightly.
Just a quick tip, I find weekly planning a lot easier, as you normally know what you will be doing during that week and able to plan the meals around that. However another week out there are likely to be things that come up that you have not planned for. So you do need to have flexibility in planning the longer your cycle is.
Check your upcoming events and activities
The first thing I do is to check my planner, checking for what's on that week, evening activities and so on. I note which nights we can cook and which nights we will be really busy. Therefore planning out the best options for dinner to fit around our activities.
Let's take this weeks meal planning. This week we have extra visitors at the end of the week and I am travelling in the early part of the week. So for us this week, I know that for Friday night we will have more people to cook for and Saturday night we are hosting our party, so we need a quick gab dinner. Sunday will be late so we will have to do something quick and easy.
So this week we need a variety of quick and easy meals and some pre made meals, like slow cooker meals.
Now that you have sorted what the week looks like and which nights you need to plan the meals for then, it's just a matter of choosing the meals.
Choosing the meals to cook
For me the meals need to be quick, easy, healthy and budget friendly. I also have to balance our different food tastes. Pete likes meaty, spicy and really hot food, more spicy hot Asian style, where as I like less spice and chillies and more vegetarian. The biggest challenge for meal planning is finding inspiration for meal ideas.
So how do I find meal ideas?
- My home recipe folder
- My current favourite cookbook, Nadia Lim's Fresh Start Cookbook
- My Pinterest recipe board
- My Pinterest meal planning for two board
- My weekly newsletter for Simply Fresh (where we shop)
There are great online food bloggers and pretty much any food genre you want. I would suggest using Pinterest for this, just set up your own recipe board, search for meal ideas and pin the recipes to your board. As you can see I have done that on my Pinterest page. Also check out some of your favourite chiefs and they are likely to have a website, sign up for their weekly newsletter and you can get meal inspiration to your inbox every week.
Also local supermarkets have great websites with food and meal inspiration and your can have the added bonus of shopping online. Countdown is a good example and there is a great app that you can use as well. I also have one favourite cookbook on the go which I will refer to as well. Tip, just as an idea you could have a monthly cookbook theme.
My favourite cookbook when the kids where at home and we were pressed for time was Jamie Olivers 15 min meals. I would go through his book every week and pick out yummy meals.
It does make it easier and quicker if you have a good stock of recipes or meal ideas that you can refer to when planning them out. A good tip is to make up your own home recipe folder.
Another tip, try and have meals that use seasonal ingredients as they are cheaper and fresher, like a cabbage and carrots in winter for slaw versus a lettuce variety salad. Also try to share ingredients across meals - mince 1kg - split in half over two meals. Veges, like spinach, half bag for one meal, half for another. This really helps to reduce your food waste and is a cheaper way to shop.
Prepare your shopping list
Once I have decided which meals to cook for the week , I then work out which ingredients we will need to buy. On my meal planning page I note beside the meal what I need to buy then just transfer that onto my catch all shopping list. The other thing that is really handy is that I note the reference, i.e where the recipe is from. E.g if it's from the cookbook I would just have the page number as the reference. As I have variety of sources of meal ideas this referencing is really helpful.
To make this easier for you I have a created a free weekly meal planning download for you to use. I have set it up as a editable PDF which means that you can type in the free space so you don't need to print it out. It's really handy to have on your mobile device so you can just refer to it when you need to. To receive this FREE meal planner download (editable) just sign up below;
Display your Meal Menu
This may seem a bit strange to display your meals for the week, but trust me it's worth it!. Firstly everyone can see the meals, so no need to ask what's for tea...."it's on the board" secondly if someone else has to cook they know which meal to make. And lastly it makes you accountable to actually cook the meals! Once you have written them down and got them up for all to see if does commit you to making them. As in the end meal planning will not really be of any use if you just end up not cooking and getting takeaways instead!! (tempting as that may be sometimes)
My menu display board is just a photo frame with a piece of card stock behind and I use a whiteboard maker. I just wipe it down each week and write up the new menu....easy as that.
Hints and Tips to help with meal planning
Try and maintain a pantry with the staple items, so all you need to do is to buy the meat and vegetables.
Collect recipes from magazines, cooking shows, subscribe to food blogs.
Use your family's favourites meals , these were our high rotate recipes when the kids were younger;
- Shepherds Pie
- Sausage Casserole
- Home made hamburgers
Lastly before I go, do check out my facebook page, 7nightsaweek , it's dedicated to my weekly meal planning and so each week I share my meal plans, provide links to recipes and share any meal ideas and tips that I have come across.
I hope this post has given you some useful information to help you get started with meal planning. Meal planning is such a simple and easy thing to do and does make such a difference to your life.
Don't forget to leave your comments about the post, the good , the bad and the ugly. Also sing out of you have any questions about meal planning. You can contact me through any of my links below.
Happy meal planning