Meal planning. It can be seen as a time consuming thing to do each week, but actually can save time/money and stress overall. The key is to find a way to meal plan that suits you and your family.
Here are my top 10 ways that you could choose to meal plan.
Of course, you could do a mixture of a few of them, stick to one, or find a new way I haven’t even though of (and if you do, please let me know in the comments below as I’d love to hear about it!), whatever works best for you is the way to go.
#1 Use up what you have, a week at a time
We all have things in our pantry/cupboards and freezers – they never seem to get properly empty.
While this is a great way to ensure that there is something to eat at all times, and gives us a place to put things that we bought in bulk when on sale, sometimes this food can be wasted because it’s never really planned into our meals to use up.
One way of meal planning that works brilliantly for this, and to ensure that you use up food before it’s past its expiry date, is to create your plans around what you currently have in these areas of your kitchen.
Have a designated freezer day, cupboard day etc… or work out meals that you can specifically write into each day for the next week so that you get through your stock.
Using up what you have stockpiled will save you loads of money, and also save lots of waste (how many times have you looked at items to find they are out of date….)
#2 Using up leftovers as the week progresses
This is a great way to meal plan, as you can plan a set of meals around one key ingredient or the leftovers from a larger meal.
For example – based on a roast chicken dinner on a Sunday, you could plan to have chicken soup, chicken sandwiches, chicken salad etc… over the week – and the following week base it on whatever the roast is that Sunday. You could buy a slightly larger joint of meat but it would work out more cost effective as it feed s the family for a number of meals.
Think about larger meals that you could prepare a little more for and then use the rest for meals later in the week and you may just find that meal planning not only saves wasting so much food, but you also save some pennies too.
#3 A day for each carb / protein etc…
I like to vary meals as much as possible to get as many different foods into the week as possible, and therefore having a much more varied diet as a result, and so having a day for each carbohydrate or protein works really well for this.
i.e. Monday would be a rice based meal, Tuesday potatoes, Wednesday pasta, Thursday bread, Friday carb free, Saturday cous cous….
or what about using proteins as the base – so maybe Monday meat, Tuesday fish, Wednesday eggs, Thursday beans, Friday poultry etc…
This is a great way of ensuring you don’t get stuck eating the same things day in day out out of habit, and if you have children it can introduce new flavours often so they don’t become fussy eaters.
#4 Weekly based on kids school meals
At the moment my daughter is in primary school and is fortunate enough to be having free school dinners as part of the government scheme.
As such we have been given a printout of what the meal plan for the school is – and it is a fortnights plan that simply goes back to week 1 after week 2 has completed.
As such we know exactly what she will be eating from week to week – and I can ensure that we don’t double up on foods for the evening meal as well.
Knowing what your children (or you) are eating for your lunch away from the home is vital to maintaining a varied diet, and it also enables you to have more snack/quick foods on days when you know that the school dinner has been a roast, for example, and you have very little time to prep a full meal that night.
TIP – if you are giving your children packed lunches then you could use leftovers from the night before, and also ensure a varied diet – the fact is that meal planning gives you more control over your diet and helps you vary it as much as you can.
#5 Weekly based on schedules and time available
Time that you have available for cooking/prep and shopping for your meals can play a big part in what you decide to have each night, along with who will be eating together, and when.
Knowing the schedule for everyone is critical for good meal planning, as it helps you to create a plan that will actually work – and hopefully therefore make it last.
You may decide that cooking a stew one night would be best, as you have some time in the morning to prepare it and it can cook slowly throughout the day – and its an evening where everyone needs to eat at a different time, so it can be on the stove ready for each person when they need it. That specific day would not be good to choose a meal that everyone needed to be eating at the same time and that needed a lot of evening prep such as a risotto….
#6 Based on whats on sale in the shops
Of course, another way to meal plan is based on what’s on sale in the shops when you go – which can save you money if you can think on your feet a little, but I wouldn’t favour this as you can easily buy too much or not buy the right things to make enough meals for the week.
One way this would work well is if your meal plan wanted some sort of meat for a roast, and you left yourself free to choose something on offer when you got to the shops, as this is still structured enough – it’s just about making it work for you.
#7 4 week rotating plan
I like to use a 4 week rotating plan rather than think about meals each and every week – for a few reasons:-
- You can fit in a lot of variety over 4 weeks so everyones favourites will appear at some point
- You can shop less often
- You could have a 4 week plan for summer/winter etc… so you actually only use each plan a few times in each year
- You have less planning time as you don’t have to think about things until the end of each month
However, this would only work if all your schedules are pretty set in stone, and things won’t change too much week on week. You have to do what works for your specific situation.
#8 Adding pot luck and peoples choice!
Some people say that meal planning takes away the fun of meals – as there’s no spontaneity involved.
This doesn’t have to be the case!
If you add in some evenings as POT LUCK, or give each person in the house a meal that they can choose, everyone will feel that there is the variety that they crave, but you can still plan around it.
POT LUCK works really well as you can simply use up what you have, have a takeout night, or go out for a meal – whatever takes your fancy!
#9 Adding new recipes
Again with making sure you have variety in your meal plans, you could add in maybe once a month a new meal from a recipe book that you want to try.
All too often we read these lovely recipes, have good intentions to make that meal one day, and then real life sets in and you open a can of beans……
If you plan to try a new recipe and put it in your meal plan on a day you know you will have the time available to cook it (new meals tend to take longer as you learn them), then you will feel like you are getting some new meals – and you never know – they may end up as favourites that turn up again and again over time!
#10 Just dinners, or all meals
One of the main things to think about when you meal plan is what meals you are actually going to plan!
I would suggest starting with your evening meal only, and then adding in the other meals if you like how it’s working. Again, do what works for you, and have some fun!
I found that when I started to plan breakfasts as well, they became more interesting, and the favourite cereal wasn’t always reached for. We started to have smoothies on busy mornings, fruit and yoghurt, and even pancakes at the weekend! because they were planned in, we just did it – and that can be the real benefit of meal planning – it can add variety rather than take it away….
Above all, make meal planning as easy on yourself as you can – pick what works for you and run with it!
It needn’t be hard, or time consuming – and once you have a few weeks worth of plans you can start to rotate them to save time planning every week from scratch (in fact, you could create a section in your Home File or recipe book to keep it all safe).