As I have been doing this for a couple of weeks now, I thought I would do something a little different this week and talk about my meal planning top tips. I’ve been meal planning for a few months now and weathered some strange weeks where no day is normal, guests arrive out of the blue and major changes to our diet. Therefore I feel well placed to share some of these experiences.
I feel like I should say before I start this that there is no right or wrong way to meal plan. What I am going to share with you are things that I have found to be helpful for me. You might find that you have a way that suits you better. All that you need to know is that on the journey to saving money or on the road to eliminating food waste, any meal plan is better than no meal plan. Here are my meal planning top tips:
1. Complete a food inventory first
When I first started meal planning I began by writing down all the food I had in my house. Then I planned meals that used up the food that was already in my cupboards. This meant that the first couple of weeks were really cheap. As we ate through all this surplus food we were finding that our expenditure was levelling out and we weren’t hoarding food anymore. Each week I was able to order exactly what we needed which had the added benefit of less crowded cupboards.
2. List your schedule
You can’t make a useful plan if you don’t know what is happening in the week. Hence the first thing I do when I start my meal plan is to write down all the events that I know are happening that week. I write down mine and the husband’s work schedules, nursery timings, swimming lessons, toddler groups, play dates, visitors and planned trips away. That way I know exactly what I am working with and who I have to cater for.
Once a fortnight my husband goes round a friend’s house and they all have pizza, so that night I make a meal that I know that he doesn’t particularly like but that the kids and I love. That way we all get what we want. It also means that I can plan appropriate food for occasions, such as when we go to forest school I take finger foods for lunch like sausage rolls or cheese straws. It makes for an easier experience for all.
3. Plan for lazy days
Don’t over-commit yourself. If you know that you like getting a takeaway on a Friday because you can’t be bothered to cook, put something in the meal plan that you love and takes zero effort. We always try and have a “something-and-chips” night and I try and do this on a day when I know I am going to be exhausted. That way it is a case of shove it in the oven and wait. If you regularly set yourself up to have to cook fancy meals when you are feeling tired these will be the days when stray off the plan and treat yourself. And by treat yourself, I mean spend all your money and leave all that food going to waste in the fridge.
4. Be flexible
Life happens. Especially if you have a partner and kids to cater for too. Allow yourself to switch things around mid-week. Sometimes I will plan to cook a chicken and then we will have a day out and there’s no time left to cook it. Normally it is an easy fix and we just swap a couple of meals around. Having a back up plan is a good idea and will stop you feeling the need to buy extra food.
5. Plan the snacks
I’m terrible for this. Every Monday, when I am putting in my Tesco order, I go “I do not need snacks! I’m going to be good this week!” But by 3pm Tuesday I am opening the fridge at 30 seconds intervals to see if some food has magically shown up that I fancy. Therefore I urge you to plan the snacks. If you plan them you will be able to find a way to reduce the cost. For example, my kids love cheese sticks. But that is an expensive way to buy cheese. Now I just buy extra cheese and cut it into sticks. They don’t care and I save money. Woo!
6. Think about expiry dates
It took me ages to figure this out but there are some foods that will just not last a week. You need to plan this in advance and eat those foods earlier in the week. Like with our whole chicken, that will not freeze and normally has 5 days of life in it from day of purchase. I now plan to eat that in the first couple of days after it is delivered. Sure you can always swap a few meals around if you get a short date, but it is much easier to plan for this at the start.
7. Keep a record
I do all my initial meal planning using pen and paper. AND I do it all in the same notebook. This means that I can flick back through for inspiration or to prevent over use of one meal. It can also be a great way to remind yourself of any leftover food you might have to use up and stop yourself from ordering too much.
Alongside this, I store most of my recipe ideas on Pinterest. This means that I can quickly look up a recipe and all of the ingredients. Listing ingredients ensures that I order all of the items I need for a meal and don’t need to pop out midweek for extras.
8. Think about bulk buying
Don’t over do it but most foods get cheaper if you buy larger quantities of them. Therefore it may be worthwhile ordering more and having it last beyond the week. Foods that I regularly do this with include cereals, baked beans, tuna and most other cupboard food. Just make sure when you come to order the following week you remember they are there and factor this into your planning.
9. Look for inspiration
There is a world of resources, recipes, planning tools and more to help you on your meal planning journey. If you are the sort of person who loves your planning to look pretty you could get yourself a beautiful meal planning wall chart. Or perhaps you like to try new foods, well head over to Pinterest and get save some fun recipes. Meal planning should not be about limiting your options, it is about making them affordable.
So there you have it. My meal planning top tips! I hope that you find them helpful. Now here’s my usual round up of the week ahead and my food plans for the next 7 days.
A review of last week
I have been exhausted the last few days and for some reason craving the absolute worst foods. Luckily, the meal plan stopped me from straying too far into the world of eating out and takeaways (we avoided them completely actually) but there might have been the odd trip to Tesco Express for ice creams and crisps. We also had our BBQ plans changed owing to our friends being ill, plus with the weather being a bit poor we decided we couldn’t be bothered to set the BBQ up for just us so shifted some meals around.
The week ahead
I think “fairly average” is a good description of this week. The family diary is all but empty so I can just plan whatever meals I want and they will probably be OK. I love easy weeks like this because it makes meal planning so quick and we all get to eat something we like.
Following on from last week’s food binge from me, I have tried to plan ahead. There are a few extras on the list this week that are purely there because I fancied them. I got them for a good price so I am happy to include them.
This week’s meals
Yet again we will be sticking to our usuals. Shreddies and yoghurt are proving particularly popular at the moment, so I’ve made sure to stock up on those. Other than that it will be fruit and toast.
Bagels & soft cheese
Leftover pesto pasta
Ham & cheese pinwheels
Tuna pasta salad
Leftover chicken sandwiches
Jacket potato pizzas
Peanut butter wraps
Sausages & chips
Pork chops & mash
Roast chicken & new potatoes
Chilli & jacket potatoes
Hunters chicken & chips
This week’s spend
A bit higher than it has been the last couple of weeks but I think this is owing to all the snacks. Strangely, I tried to do some of my shopping at Aldi this week to see if that would bring the cost down more, but it has gone up. I’ll need to experiment with this two shop arrangement more to see if I can get a balance and bring the cost down again.
Plans for next week
Another typical week I think. It’ll be another week like this one, so we will have to see if anything crops up.
How does your meal planning change depending on what is going on? If you are just cooking for you do you go for easy meals or go gourmet?
Disclaimer: Remember the information you read here does not represent advice. Any ideas or suggestions are just that and may not work for you. Read the full disclaimer here.