How to meal plan?

To meal plan or not to meal plan – that is the question! To those unfamiliar with the concept, meal planning can be quite intimidating. What actually is meal planning and where on earth do you start?

If you break it down there are a lot of thought processes that go into meal planning, this in itself can be a bit daunting when you consider it involves selecting all the recipes you’re going to cook, the compilation of a shopping list, a trip to the supermarket (or online shop) and then a weeks’ worth of deliciousness to be made and enjoyed.

Whilst this might seem pretty complicated it really doesn’t have to be and essentially there are 3 main stages that when broken down are super simple.

  1. Choosing your recipes
  2. Shopping for ingredients
  3. Prep and cook 

Whilst this may seem pretty obvious there is a key strategy within each step that guarantees meal planning success. Being strategic (not something you’d normally associate with cooking your dinner) is what makes meal planning work. Follow our easy peasy steps and you’ll never be stressing over what to have for dinner again.

So first things first – what actually is meal planning?

So you know how most days you’ll have the age old dilemma of deciding what to have for dinner? Well meal planning is doing all of that up front for a whole week or even a month! Instead of working out what you’ll eat and shopping for ingredients every day then you could have it all solved once a week – leaving you free to enjoy cooking (and more importantly eating).

Sound wonderful? Read on and you’ll soon be a meal planning pro.

First strategy tip! Pick a planning day
Choose your planning day with care, so it works for you and your routine. Fridays can be good just ahead of the weekend so you can decide on your menu on Friday, shop on Saturday and then do any advance cooking or ingredient prep you want on Sunday. This way you’re all set for the working week ahead. But if a week day works better for you and your schedule then opt for that. Meal planning is supposed to make life easier and more organised not complicate things. 

Step 1 – choosing your recipes

The second bit of strategy comes into play here and it’s really the answer to a simple question. Why do you want to meal plan? This might seem like a daft question but actually it will help you identify what recipes to choose.

Your reason for meal planning could be as simple as not having to come up with a quick response every day when various members of your family ask you what’s for dinner or it could be any or even some of the following:

  • Do you want to eat more healthily?
  • Save money?
  • Fancy more variety in what you’re eating?
  • Stop wasting food?
  • Save time?
  • Feel like you’re in control! 

Choose just a couple of the above to focus on so you can be really specific when choosing your recipes. This is how you’ll put your reasons for embarking on meal planning into action and it’s actually the most important step of all. The key thing here is not to just choose a stack of recipes and hope for the best – remember it’s all about being strategic!  

Decide how many meals you’re going to plan for
This is key, as it might be that once a week you always have takeaway as a treat or you might have an evening when you really won’t have time to cook so a ready meal is the only option, so decide how many days you want to cook on. Most people opt for 5 or 3 to give a good balance.

What do these meals need to do? 

Once you’d decided on how many days you’re planning on cooking you need to think about how these meals should work for you. For example on some days do you need to think about having left overs for the following days lunch, or realistically will you have time to prep Lasagne when you’re having to dash off to drop your children at gymnastics or would something that can stew in the slow cooker all day and be ready when you get home be a better option? 

Finding recipes 

If you have a stack of cookery books at home (like we do) then it can be really fun to work your way through and pick out what you fancy eating. You could make this process a relaxing one with a hot drink and a choccy biscuit, but this isn’t for all of us and most people probably have a handful of cookbooks at most.

Online is a great source of new recipes and sites like our very own SoCook are bursting at the seams with delicious recipes to please all tastes. It can be hard to track down exactly what you want online as the old World Wide Web is a humungous place so sites like SoCook are great as they bring together lots of recipes in one place.

If the thought of hundreds of recipes to choose from overwhelms you then you might want to consider a meal planning app like the Virtual HomeCook which will collate recipes for you and give you suggestions without you havening to search.

Three more brilliant recipe picking tips

1.      Always include recipes you’ve cooked before or from  favourite cookbooks  so they are familiar and then add a new one into the mix. That way you add some variety without over facing yourself.

2.     Try to choose recipes that have common ingredients or ones you already have in your cupboards. This will help you save money and minimise the amount of things you need to buy.

3.      Pick meals that will deliver left overs – then you get two or even three for the price of one! 

Step 2 – shopping for ingredients

The next step is shopping - cue groaning!  Fear not this doesn’t have to be complicated or time consuming. If you adopt a two phased approach you’ll find it actually becomes really easy.

Do an inventory
This is the foundations of your shopping list and also involves taking an inventory of your cupboards. Start with your chosen recipes for the week and work out what you need to make them, then go through your cupboards, fridge and freezer and cross off everything you already have. Whatever is left is your final shopping list!

If you’ve based your recipe choices on what you already had in then you should be able to cross off a fair bit. You might want to keep some store cupboard items on the list anyway so you can stay stocked up. You never know when you might need rice again or frozen peas.

Make your shopping list
You can just take the list you’ve already compiled with you to the supermarket but another great tip is to organise and group your ingredients by departments in the supermarket in the order you’ll visit them. For example fruit and veg grouped first. That way when you hit the shop you’ll be super-efficient and not shooting backwards and forwards across the store. Also this is a really handy tip for shopping online as you can add all the ingredients by department without jumping to and from departments.

Step 3 – prep and cook

We’re now into the final furling – getting ready for the week ahead with some prepping to save you time during the week. A little bit of ingredient prep such as marinating meat or chopping veggies ready for the slow cooker or even a session of batch cooking can help you stay ahead of the game all week.

How much or as little prep you need to do will depend upon the recipes you chose but all this will help you get ahead and enjoy your dinner every night. 

Meal Planning Complete 

Broken down into 3 easy steps meal planning doesn’t have to be hard but we know that it will take a little time for it to become part of your routine. Week on week you’ll discover what does and doesn’t work for you and our one big takeaway from the whole process is to be flexible and adapt as you find your meal planning groove.

Have fun, get cooking and enjoy eating! 

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