Did you know that food waste is up by 50 per cent since 2005? Amongst the strategies we can all use to reduce food waste, the quickest and simplest one to implement immediately is meal planning. Often people resist planning their family’s meals because they think it will take too much effort or they don’t want to be “locked in” to a set plan. In this post I will show you how all the benefits gained from meal planning outweigh the initial effort. I will also outline different methods of meal planning so you can find one that works for you. As with all household planning, I truly believe things fail to work for people because they see one method and try to implement that as others have done. The trick is always to fine tune a hybrid method as needed to suit your own family and your own temperament.
What are the benefits of meal planning?
- As said, there is less food waste – by planning meals you purchase only food that is needed for those recipes. You don’t grab a handful of ingredients in the hopes they come together, leaving unselected items wilting in the fridge by Sunday.
- Reduce stress – Most families can recognise the pain of the “witching hour” when the household starts to get a little ragged around the edges. This is usually made worse by adding in the daily question “what am I making for dinner?”. By having this planned in advance you already know the answer to that question, have the ingredients on hand and can relax knowing it is under control. Even if it simply says “pancakes” at least you know you have everything on hand.
- Reduce food expenses – by virtue of less waste you save money up front, you also reduce the need for takeout and packaged foods that often get grabbed when under time pressure.
- Save time – with an organised meal plan you reduce trips to the grocery store and also save that time spent figuring out day by day what to serve.
- Reduce Petrol expenses – less trips to the grocery store = less petrol used = quite significant savings these days.
- Potentially healthier eating habits – for some the increase in home cooked meals will lead to general increase in health and possible weight loss as you control what goes into your food, also as you see your meals mapped out you will notice if your planning is beef heavy or loads of pasta dishes and can change if you like
What type of meal planning method will work best for you
So, hopefully the benefits listed have sold you on the idea of meal planning if you are not already doing this in your home. The next step is figuring out the best meal planning method for your family. As I said, one reason people avoid meal planning is they like spontaneity – this was my husband’s biggest issue years ago. The trick with meal planning is to understand there is no one right way to do this. It is just about having the same aim in mind (organised meals), but finding your own path to reach that goal.
- Create a set routine for days of the week – many people love the structure of theme nights. Some of you may have grown up with Sunday roast dinners and some may now even join in with Meatless Mondays that are popular. An example of this is: Monday is meatless, Tuesday is a freezer meal/leftovers, Wednesday is slow cooker / crockpot, Thursday is pasta night, Friday is seafood, Saturday is eat out or get takeaway, Sunday is BBQ or Roast dinner and so on. The options are endless and can be as specific as you like or as general. I know many families that have a pizza night every week.
- Involve the whole family in the planning and/or cooking depending on ages and stages – you can assign certain days of the week to each person to select the dish they like and if age appropriate they can cook it as well. The main cook then picks up the slack for any remaining days not filled by leftovers and takeout.
- Create a weekly plan based on special offers in the store catalogues / circulars. If you see salmon is on special, this is the week you make your favourite dish and save the prawn dish for a week when the price is right.
- Create a month’s plan based on what is in season and then rotate that for 3 months. With this method you only have to plan four times each year.
- For greater flexibility – select 7 meals for the week, but do not assign the days to them. This allows for those people that like to see what they are “in the mood for.” Just decide in advance to allow for defrosting any ingredients or getting into the slow cooker or oven in time.
- For limited time in the kitchen you can do once a month cooking and create your plan for the month, organise everything for one big weekend of cooking and stock that freezer.
Practical steps to effective meal planning
- Pick a regular day / time to meal plan each week (or month) – build this in to your weekly routine.
- Check your fridge and pantry and note anything that needs to be used up – this is a good time to piggy back two tasks and use these 5 minutes to clean out anything inedible (it happens to us all).
- Assemble your tools of the trade – your calendar, store catalogues (if using), preferred planner (computer, printed sheet, notebook), your recipes.
- Check your calendar(s) first and note on your meal planner anything that will affect your plan – a night out, your partner working late, kids activity schedule,etc. Take these into consideration as you select recipes so that you are not scheduling a slow cooker meal on a day you have an early meeting or an elaborate dish after a long day. Strategic planning now can go a long way to full implementation of your plan – be realistic about what you can do each day.
- Select your recipes to be used.
- Make your shopping list for ingredients you need – always shop your fridge, freezer and pantry first. Make note of what you need to restock (ie if you will be taking the last 2 chicken breasts for this week’s meals, add it to your shopping list now) and what items are needed for these recipes.
- Make a note on your planner of any prep work that is needed like defrosting meat or getting the food in the slow cooker by noon.
- If you want, gather the actual recipes in one place to have at the ready.
- Display your plan – a printable you fill in, a whiteboard in your kitchen, a laminated sheet that you make notes on, and a computer printout are all possibilities.
- Relax knowing this task is now off your shoulders, out of your head and contained on a meal planner.
Remember this is supposed to save you time and stress. Do not get bogged down in it- just try out different methods to find what works for you. It will evolve. I have done weekly planning before and switched to monthly about 6 months ago. For me a stumbling block was getting out the recipes and sitting down each week as Saturday always seemed to come around so fast. Now I sit and plan the whole month and gather all my recipes in a folder. If life changes as we go through the month I just shuffle the recipes around in a few minutes, but the thinking and deciding stage is all done.
Next up in this series will be:
3 posts on recipe binders / organisation
finishing with a review of a menu planning service + a giveaway of a membership to that site!
So I want to know – do you meal plan? What works for you? Share any tips you have. If you don’t meal plan I would love to hear how meals work in your place – what are your tips for winging it, but without stress?
Find your simple,