There comes a point in most people’s life when deciding what you fancy eating for dinner on the night every night starts to get annoying. I started meal planning when Matt and I first move in together five years ago when we no longer had the benefit of our wonderful mothers cooking for us both. Essentially I feel like I’ve got into a pretty good routine of meal planning and I know this is an area that many people struggle in so I thought I’d share what is done in my house.
Most evening meals are usually made up of regular dishes we all come back to time and time again with a few new recipes or takeaway/meal out thrown in. This is why it’s useful to create what I call a ‘meal bank.’ Simply put, it’s a collection of all of your favourite recipes, split into categories. I personally divide them like: ‘chicken’ ‘beef’ ‘meat-free’ etc. Or you might want to do them by time, so how long they take to cook – it’s completely up to you!
It’s also your choice where this meal bank sits. I personally find it easiest to have it in the notes app on my phone as a lot of the recipes we use are online so I can quickly just click through but you might prefer a notebook or word document. Wherever your meal bank ‘is’, this is also really helpful if you decide to swap what you’re eating one night as you can have a quick scan to find something else.
So now you have your meal bank, it’s time to plot in your meals! I plan two weeks at a time but you might want to do just one. I find this easier as I’ll usually have a good idea what I’m doing for the next two weeks. I will simply write out the days (so Monday the 7th, Tuesday the 8th etc) before checking my calendar and plotting in things that might impact dinner that evening. This could be that you’re away for whatever reason so don’t need to plan for something that night or you have guests. Then it’s simply a case of choosing recipes from your meal bank and filling in the banks of your week so you know what you’re having each day.
You then use your weekly plan to write your shopping list, working through the different meals you’ve got planned to work out what ingredients you don’t have in the house and that need to be able to cook the recipes. If you do your groceries online, you can just add the ingredients straight to your virtual basket rather than a shopping list which I definitely find much easier as finding the time to go to the shop can be a struggle, especially if you work full-time like we both do.
So you’ve got your meal plan for the week and you’ve got all the ingredients for each meal, sorted right? Well yes! But if you want to go one step further, when cooking it’s worth cooking a double or even bigger portion so you can then go on to freeze it for future meals (or even lunches). The meals I tend to freeze personally are usually things such as spaghetti bolognese, chilli, curries and pulled pork. But you can freeze so many different things (pancakes! cake!) that it’s definitely worth looking further into. If you tend to work late or don’t have much time in the evening, perhaps consider having a day of batch cooking ready for the week ahead so all you have to do is defrost a meal and heat it up in the microwave or oven. Simple!
Keep a note of these frozen meals as the next time you’re meal planning, you can then plot these in. I always find this incredibly handy for those busy days when you’re going to be short of time but still want something substantial. With meals that have been in the freezer, I’ll always get this out the night before we’re due to have them so they can defrost overnight, popping them in the fridge when I wake up in the morning.
Sticking with the freezer-love, as I like to meal plan and shop for groceries every fortnight, I will freeze a lot of meat (splitting up a big pack of chicken breasts) that we buy so it doesn’t go out of the date. It’s so easy to shove everything in the fridge only for it to quickly go off before you’ve used it which is obviously really wasteful. Popping things in the freezer will mean you have so much longer to make use of then.
Reading through all this might sound like a lot but it honestly becomes part of your routine and gets quicker each time. I’ll also do it while watching something like Schitt’s Creek on Netflix. Meal planning no doubt cuts down on food waste and effort just by being a little bit organised so it’s really worth finding a way that works for you and your family. I appreciate it may feel a bit trickier to do meal planning when you have children but it’s still possible if you put in the time.
I’d love to know how you meal plan or what you do instead – let me know in the comments!