I’m heading off to buy groceries today – I may make a leisurely visit to the supermarket, fruit & veg shop, and butcher depending on how busy they all look, or I might just stick to the supermarket and race in and out if I have kids with me. Either way, I like to start each week with a clear idea of what meals I’m preparing, and what might be going into school lunchboxes, available for snacks at home, and so on. For a family of 5, I can’t just ‘meal prep’ those cute containers on a Sunday afternoon for myself – I need to think about specific food intolerances, taste preferences, and nourishing growing children (and filling up insatiable teenagers!). If I have all the ingredients at home and a set plan for meals, there’s less stress on me (or whoever is cooking!), less wastage, and I can set a budget. I typically only plan a week ahead, but this method can suit fortnightly and longer meal plans too. Make yourself a cuppa, and allow yourself 20-30 minutes to sit down and plan ahead.
* Find a weekly/fortnightly/monthly meal planner template online that suits your needs, and print a few copies. I tend to pick a pre-made one up in the dollar store or supermarket when I see them. Grab your shopping list pad too!
* We have a set rotation of favourites in our household so those go on the meal planner first: homemade pizzas on Saturday nights, and Wednesday nights are either homemade burger/wrap/tacos (something that can be prepared quick and easy, and adapted for various taste preferences) due to kids sports and music commitments.
* My two teenagers each have to cook one night a week, so I discuss their ideas with them. My vegetarian teen is keen to expand their repertoire in preparation for moving out of home, so has been making risotto, frittata, legume and pasta dishes. I also encourage dishes that will have lots of leftovers, and freeze these for later.
* Now I have 3 more meals to plan. Two are usually a family favourite that we’ve enjoyed in the past, and I try to cook one new dish every week. I’ll grab out my recipe folders, cookbooks, or the supermarket catalogues for inspiration.
* Have I got a really long day coming up? I’ll probably plan a slowcooker meal for that day, or bake ahead and just reheat. Is my Sunday afternoon looking quiet? I’ll choose something like a homemade pie, roast or casserole which I can start at lunchtime and watch during the afternoon.
* I try to include different protein sources across the week, and different cuisines. I’m trying to get more healthy, oily fish into my kids using a variety of recipes – it’s not easy! We don’t typically eat lamb, but I’ve got a new Greek cookbook so I’d like to attempt the lamb souvlaki – but I’ll wait until I see lamb on special.
* Once you’ve decided on your meals, slot them onto your meal planner. Add in extra meals if needed – lunches, breakfasts, baking. We don’t do dessert in our house – it’s fruit and/or yoghurt if they’re still hungry after dinner, or a hot chocolate ;-)
* Now go through your planner, and check what staple you have in your pantry and fridge. Populate your shopping list with necessary items – don’t forget to check if you’re low on staples such as herbs & spices, olive oil, flours and other condiments.
* I’ll buy seasonal vegetables and make my choice when buying rather than plan them ahead. I know which recipes are based on year-round or frozen/canned vegetables (such as baby spinach, carrots, frozen peas, potatoes), and favour those, but if I see some gorgeous looking fresh beetroots or eggplant, I might buy those and adapt my meal plan to accommodate them.
* If you’re trying a new recipe, take some notes so you’ll know what needs tweaking next time! I like to use sticky notes and stick them straight into the recipe book or recipe folder.
* Enjoy a week of meals, then start all over next week!
Meal planning takes some of the stress out of cooking throughout the week. If you’ve got some more innovative meal-planning ideas, I’d love to hear about them!
Drop me a comment below ;-)