I love meal planning. I’m a hardcore, nail my colours to the wall meal planner and I always will be. I get a lot of tweets, emails and comments asking me how I make meal planning work for me and my husband. Here’s how we make it work. I must stress that this is how it works for us and there are probably as many ways to meal plan as there are families out there in need of a meal plan. Try it out, find out what works for you.
Meal Planning 101
Why do I meal plan?
- It saves me time and money. This pleases me folks.
- We will very easily break down and get a takeaway if we’re not in meal plan mode. Takeaways are stupidly expensive. That’s not to say we don’t get them but we tend to save them for evenings we have friends over (they usually pay and we provide the booze/DVDs.)
Planning the meal plan
Deciding what to eat
- Throughout the week we go through cookery books, surf the web and hunt down interesting, budget recipes. Whilst we do have staple meals, we like to shake it up a bit so we don’t get bored and find ourselves calling for a takeaway. Recipes we like the look of go into a ‘To Try’ folder, either a physical folder which we keep with our recipe books or a bookmark folder on our computer. If we use it and like it we put it into our ‘permanent collection’ regular recipe binder, if we don’t like it we throw it out and if we’re unsure it goes back in the ‘To Try’ folder with a red sticker on it. If we try something with a red sticker on it again and still aren’t sure about adding it to our ‘permanent collection’ we bin it.
- When we use something up during the week we make a note of it straightaway on our kitchen whiteboard so it can be added to the shopping list.
- A lot of our meal plan is based around our main Sunday meal. We try to buy a large joint of meat or medium sized bird and do something a bit different with it each week. We then use the leftovers to make lunches for Monday – Wednesday and evening meals for Monday and Tuesday depending on the size of the joint.
Making the shopping list & plan
- We work out which days we’re out in the evening, which days we’re having lunch with a client etc. so we know how many meals we need to make in the home.
- We map out firstly, what we’re going to eat for supper every day and put it onto our white board. We usually make enough to feed 3 people rather than 2 and divide the left over portion for lunch (with salad and fruit). Then from there we make a list of ingredients we need for the meal, checking cupboards, freezer and our inventory first to see if we have anything in our stocks.
- After we’ve added the ingredients to our shopping list we save it to both of our phones. We can add to the list as we go and both of our lists sync so we both have an updated list to add to should anything pop into our head when we’re out on the go. We find it easier to have the list on our phones and on a phsyical list because scraps of paper go missing in the bottom of my handbag or on my desk.
- Occasionally we’ll spend a Saturday cooking up stews, lasagnas and soups. We freeze them and include them on the meal plans for the days we know we’re going to be late home or really busy. Really busy for us = not wanting to do more than warm up some stew and eat it with a husk of bread.
- We have a weekly food budget we like to stick to, so we try to average out our meal price across the week taking into account any expenditure outside of the home.
Shopping for meal planning
Where to shop
- We’ve tried a few different methods and honestly none of them are totally perfect so we tend to switch about but for the moment we’re shopping online for general groceries, buying meat from the local butcher and having our fruit and vegetables delivered from a local grocer.
- Shopping online may not always be the cheapest method, however I’m a sucker for buying things I don’t need when wandering around the aisles. We’re not loyal to one shop, we hunt down discount or free delivery codes and shop at which ever shop will save us the most money.
- Shopping around shop to shop for different products works for some and not for others. We’ve tried going to one shop for one thing and to another for another product when we know it will be cheaper, however where we live large shops are fairly spread out and the cost in time or petrol would negate the savings we make at the till. If you live in an area with shops very close to each other this might make great sense but for us driving 3 miles between different large supermarkets or discount stores to save 10p makes no sense at all.
When we shop
- We finalise our meal plan and shopping list on a Wednesday and do our shop with which ever supermarket has the best discount codes. We have our supermarket delivery arrive on a Friday evening or Saturday morning. And our veg box arrives on Thursday. We do a big Aldi shop once a month stocking up on tinned foods, oil, washing powder and other cheap bulk items that we like.
- We visit the butcher on Saturday to pick out out joint of meat for Sunday and any other meat we might need for the week. We try to have a lot of meat free meals meaning we don’t spend too much at the butchers.
- We never, ever shop when we’re hungry. It’s an old, worn out tip but honestly it works.
Putting the meal plan into action
- Stick with it. You’ll soon find your evenings feel longer and less stressful.
- Mix it up. Look if it says spag bol on the meal plan and you really, really don’t want it – mix it up. Use the mince to make a chili, cottage pie or lasagna. We always keep a stock of different pasta or and beans in so the main element of a meal can be transformed. We only allow for mixing it up once a week (but rarely do it) or it just gets out of hand.
What do you need?
Put the time into work out which meals will work for your family on which days. You’ll also need to spend time putting together shopping lists etc. However you’ll soon get into the swing of it and you’ll find it takes hardly any time at all. Plus you’ll spend less time at the other end when you’re making your meals.
A white board
We employ a few around our house, one of my favourites is this one which has days of the week on it and this one which doesn’t. I’m sure it is perfectly easy to meal plan without one but I think it makes it a seamless process.