Money saving

Meal planning 101

This week I’ve had a lot of conversations about meal planning.  I’d love to say it’s off the back of last week’s post about food prep but I think it’s just coincidence.  Although, one of my Instagram posts prompted a request for a meal plan from a family member so who knows?

As with the food prep idea, once I got talking to people about meal planning I realised that not everyone was doing it and the main reasons seem to be either confusion, intimidation or they thought it would take too much work.

Well, worry no more friends.  I am here to show you that just like food prep, meal planning is quick, easy and will make your life infinitely better.  By the time I’ve returned home from a full-on day of work in London unless my meals are planned I don’t have the energy to think about eating something vaguely healthy.  Without a meal plan I would end up eating terribly and spending far too much money.  Or I’d be in the supermarket every night and quite frankly, I have better things to do with my time.  Like Netflix. And wine.

Ok, let’s get down to the practicalities.

How do you meal plan?

There are a couple of ways you can do this.  1: look at what you have in the cupboard already and try to plan your meals around this, or 2: get out your cookbooks/ go online for recipe inspiration and then buy the ingredients accordingly.

As I’m pretty good on using up all the food for the week I’m usually in the latter camp, which helps to stop me getting bored or demotivated as I can try out fresh recipes each week, or plan in old favourites for when I am tired and don’t want to complicate things.

If you’re feeling uninspired about what to eat you could try Rani’s excellent quick and easy dinners, or the I Quit Sugar team have plenty of recipes to keep you inspired.  I’ve recently eaten more of Madeleine Shaw‘s food but you also can’t beat a classic Nigella or Jamie recipe.  I always say that Nigella was the one who taught me to cook because it was her books (Nigella Express and Nigella Christmas) that I learn from whilst at university, and go back to time and time again.

IMG_0054.JPG

For my meal planner I work on a template schedule of three meals a day plus snacks.  Generally I’m not a big snacker but I like to have something to hand so that I don’t make a beeline for the nearest corner shop when a chocolate craving strikes.  Growing up, my Dad was always telling us the ‘five P’s’ principle when we had school work or an exam looming (prior planning prevents poor performance) and at the time my sister and I laughed at him (‘Dad, you’re such a duffer’) but now, I get it.  Thanks, Dad.  I should have listened.

Here is the basic template I work to:

Day/ Meal

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

Breakfast

Lunch

Dinner

Snack(s)

Nothing fancy, agreed?  Well, the magic comes when you start to populate it.  I have a ‘formula’ I stick to which means I always have breakfast ingredients to hand, lunches are cooked the night before and dinner is never the same two nights on the trot.  The way it works is, you prepare:

  • Two breakfasts for the week (eat on alternative days) – these are mostly made at work but I do like a pot of overnight oats and freezing individual portions of smoothies as they require zero effort in the morning.  Literally pick up and go.
  • Lunches are leftovers from the night before (except for Monday which is usually something grabbed from the freezer)
  • Dinner makes enough for that night plus the next day’s lunch
  • Stick to two snacks for the week and as with the breakfasts alternate them in the week

Here’s an example of how you would populate the grid:

Day/ Meal

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

Breakfast

Porridge

Scrambled Eggs

Porridge

Scrambled Eggs

Porridge

Lunch

Soup

Stew

Pasta and Salad

Curry

Fish and vegetables

Dinner

Stew

Pasta and Salad

Curry

Fish and vegetables

Cauliflower Pizza *

Snack(s)

Apple and nut butter

Hummus and carrots

Apple and nut butter

Hummus and carrots

Apple and nut butter

*either make one portion or freeze the remainder if you aren’t going to use it up at the weekend.

This works on the idea that you have to get comfortable eating main meals in smaller portions the next day, instead of a sandwich or something similar.   If this isn’t possible for you because your workplace/ college/ schedule doesn’t have the facilities to enable you to assemble (and reheat) the leftovers, then you’d probably need to work out a separate lunch schedule, like this:

Day/ Meal

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

Breakfast

Porridge

Scrambled Eggs

Porridge

Scrambled Eggs

Porridge

Lunch

Soup (in a flask)

Salad (in a box/ jar to go)

Sandwich, fruit, yoghurt, nuts

Soup (in a flask)

Salad (in a box/ jar to go)

Dinner

Stew

Pasta and Salad

Curry

Fish and vegetables

Cauliflower Pizza

Snack(s)

Apple and nut butter

Hummus and carrots

Apple and nut butter

Hummus and carrots

Apple and nut butter

In this situation you could either chose to eat the second portion of your mail meal in the week (avoiding the need to cook five different meals) e.g. Stew, Pasta, Stew, Curry, Pasta, freezing the second portion of curry on Thursday night; Or you could cook five different meals and freeze the leftovers to eat at a later time (which would give you five meals for future use.  Winner.)

One thing to be mindful of, if you are planning on eating out that week make sure you blank out those days and fit the meal planning around them so you don’t buy and cook too much food which then won’t be eaten.  When I first started meal planning I learnt this the hard way and ended up having to give away so much food because I wasn’t around to cook/ eat it. If it’s an impromptu meal out and you hadn’t planned for it, simply rearrange your schedule to ensure you’re cooking up what needs to be eaten first and roll over anything else to the weekend.

And whilst I’m talking about the weekend, I haven’t included it in these grids as I work to the assumption that at most weekends we usually have more time and therefore meals won’t require as much planning.  If you work on the weekends or would prefer to schedule those days too thats not a problem, you can use the same formula and just add in a Saturday and Sunday column.  It will all work the same.  I did this when I worked a second job in retail at the weekend (in addition to my full time weekday job) and it helped me not to waste money or time (because those of you who have worked in retail will know that 30 minutes is never enough time to get out of the shop, navigate a busy high street, buy lunch and then eat it).

IMG_3976.JPG

Next steps

Once you’ve planned everything out you simply have to shop for it.  To make life even easier I get my vegetables and meat delivered (as I can choose exactly what I need without the distractions of being in store) but if online shopping isn’t available to you then make a list (crucial for avoiding supermarket distractions and temptations) and off you go.  On the occasions I shop in store I divide my list in to sections like: ‘Fresh’, ‘Bakery’, ‘Tins’ ‘Dried foods’ etc. so you know exactly what you need from each section and are less likely to miss anything – there’s nothing worse than coming home to find you’ve forgotten a key ingredient.

And that’s it.  Meal planning done. I hope this shows you how easy it can be and that you’ll give it a try.  If it reassures you, I’m not perfect and most weeks never hit 100% of what I have planned to eat but the great thing is that the above plans are adaptable and will help to give your week some structure. 

I’m planning on writing a future post detailing what an actual week in food looks like for me, from the initial meal planning, food prep, shopping list and cost so you can see what I eat in a week and how easy it can be to eat well on a budget.

Advertisements

5 thoughts on “Meal planning 101”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s