Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Top tips for meal planning

As you will know from my Meal Planning Monday posts, I am a big advocate of meal planning. There are many reasons to meal plan but some of the best reasons are as follows;

Do you ever spend time wandering out the supermarket aimlessly, wondering what to cook? Opening the fridge and wondering what wonder you can concoct out of the ingredients languishing in there? This is where meal planning can save you valuable time - with a meal plan, you'll know what you're going to cook, when you're going to cook it and can rest in the knowledge that you'll have all the ingredients are to hand. Meal planning helps save you to money - it reduces trips out to the supermarket as well as helping to ensure you buy just what you need - you make a list and you stick to it. In the same way, it helps cut waste as you have a plan and won't just be buying willy-nilly, random items on a whim that then get thrown out a week later. You can also build meals that use the leftovers in your plan - for instance, if you have a roast chicken dinner one day, why not make a chicken salad the next or a curry or casserole using left over veggies. The best thing about meal planning? You can successfully avoid the "what are we having for dinner tonight" conversation that must happen every night in houses up and down the country.

Meal planning is a simple concept and I'm sure nobody really needs it spelling out to them but I thought I'd just share some of my top ten tips for creating a meal plan.

1.  Set aside a regular time to do your meal planning. I like to do it Sunday afternoon/evenings, settling myself down with a notebook, my laptop and a couple of cookbooks for inspiration.

2.  Write your shopping list as you go. Whether you've found a recipe you'd like to try or it's a staple that you cook once a week, keep your shopping list next to you and write what you need to buy. Make a note to check in your cupboards to make sure you've not run out of any store-cupboard ingredients that you might need. (I always seem to run out of soy sauce and ground cumin).

3.  Decide what kind of meals you want to make. Meal planning helps to shake things up for us and I can see at a glance if I've planned too many pasta meals or too many things requiring chicken (which is normally the case). I quite often set myself the goal of finding one meal that uses pasta, another that is a salad, one with rice and one with mince etc.

4.  If you online shop, take a look at what is on offer and make the most of it. If there's an offer on fresh mince (quite often 2 for £5) plan to make a big batch of something like bolognese and freeze some portions for another week. If there's a special deal on fish or steak, you could take advantage of these and plan your meals around these offers.

5.  Check if you've got anything languishing in your fridge that needs using up and if so, try and incorporate that into your plan. Rifle through your cupboards and see if there are any cook-in sauces or marinades collecting dust that could be put to good use.

6.  Make sure you take into account busy schedules. For example, I wanted to make a casserole yesterday but school runs and after-school activities meant I just couldn't fit it in. Plan to do meals like this at the weekend or on days when you've got more time. You'll be doomed to fail if you don't put in some quick and easy meals for those busy days.

7.  If you want to get more adventurous, why not try and incorporate one new recipe into your meal plan each week. I'm always marking recipes in cookbooks and bookmarking things I see on blogs and I've found some great meal planning staples by making sure I cook at least one new dish a week.

8.  If it helps, why not make a list of about 20 family favourite meal ideas so if you reach a meal planning block you can refer back to this list to give you inspiration. You could ask your family members what their favourite meals are or what they'd like you to cook.

9.  Don't forget to check your meal plan throughout the week. You may need to take things out of the freezer to defrost (this always catches me out) or change the plan a little if something comes up in your schedule.

10. Remain flexible. Plans change and some days you may just not fancy what you've planned. If you can, save it until another day. I try not to plan for the entire week as I know there will be at least one night that I'm going to want to have a takeaway or a cheese toastie for dinner!

If you've not given meal planning a try before now, then why not give it a go. You might be surprised how much easier it makes your life.  Don't forget, if you do meal plan - you can link up with #mealplanningmonday each week here on my blog.


  1. I do one new dish a week too (as part of my day zero project). My OH hates it, because he prefers boring everyday stuff, but I like to find new things, especially with a toddler I want to get liking lots of different foods.

  2. Great tips...I have only started meal planning this year...Before I just used to cook whatever I decided on the morning...Now I can actually say we're saving money as food isn't going to waste as I'm only buying what we need for the week... :)

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