How to Start Meal Planning

Halloumi Hash

I’m pretty sure you could build a life-sized replica of the Eiffel Tower with the amount of gone-off, half-eaten cucumbers I’ve thrown out over the years (…alright, a very soggy, structurally unstable one…).  And it’s not just cucumbers; I am one of the worst people when it comes to wasting food.  It’s not that I do it on purpose, I just forget what I’ve got in my fridge and so stuff tends to go off before I can get to it.  Most night I have to scramble to find something to cook or rush out to get something last minute, and there have been more than a few nights where I’ve just given in and ordered a takeaway.

One of my resolutions this year was to start Meal Planning in an effort to cut down on supermarket trips and food waste, as well as learning to cook some new meals and eat a little healthier along the way.  And honestly?  It’s been brilliant.  Now, I only buy food that I know I’m going to use, and I know exactly what’s for dinner every night of the week.  No more hanging on the fridge door every night wondering what to cook, no more last minute trips to the supermarket, and no more soggy cucumbers!

How to Get Started

Before you start you’re going to need a few things to help you organise your shopping and your meals for the week:

  1. A Calendar: I always like to have a month to view calendar up in the kitchen where everyone can see it to write important dates/events/reminders on.  This year – surprise, surprise – I’ve got a Golden Retriever one. 😉
  2. A Menu Board: This is where you’re going to display your weekly meals; it could be anything from a black or white board hung up in the kitchen somewhere, or even just a piece of paper tacked up on the fridge.
  3. A Recipe Journal: You’re going to need somewhere to write down any recipes that you come across so you can refer back to it when you’re planning meals for the week.
  4. Well-Stocked Cupboards.  Make sure your cupboards are full of cooking essentials like rice, herbs, spices, sauces, pasta etc…
  5. A Weekly Food Budget: What’s the most you’re willing to spend on your weekly food shop?  I had no idea myself to begin with, but now that I’ve been meal planning for a while I know roughly how much my weekly food shop should cost and so know when I’m over-spending or coming up short.
  6. Assign a day of the week and time to do your food shop: This will determine how you prepare and plan your weekly meals. I like to do my food shopping on a Monday because it’s nice and quiet and it’s right at the start of the week – duh!

So, what does it look like in practice?  Well, here’s what I do each week:

The Day Before Shopping…

As I said, I like to do my food shopping on a Monday, so on Sundays I start thinking about what kind of food I want to eat during the week ahead and if there’s anything that’s going to play a role in that decision.

  • Check your fridge and your cupboards.  Is there any food that needs to be used up this week?  Is there anything that you need to repurchase?
  • Check the calendar.  Work your meals around your schedule, for example, if you know you’re tired on Thursdays and struggle to cook then plan to eat leftovers that day, eat out, or order in.
  • If there’s more than just one person in your house, check in with them and work out if there are any days that they’re planning on working late or won’t be in to eat.
  • Check your Recipe Journal.  I save a lot of recipes I fancy trying to my Pinterest, and then copy down the ones that worked out into my journal.  I check this each week before writing my shopping list to see if there’s anything in there that will work that week.  You don’t need to write your menu out just yet or know what you want to eat each day.
  • Write your shopping list!
Pancake Party

Food Shop Day…

On Mondays I clear out my fridge to make space and then head to the supermarket armed with my list.

  • When you bring your shopping back – before putting anything away – check the use-by dates on perishables.  Meat is the big one, so take a look at each pack and write on your calendar when everything goes off or needs to be used by.  This is going to cut down big time on food waste, and will help you plan your menu for the week.
  • Don’t over-pack your fridge.  I still struggle with this one, but try and keep your fridge organised so you can clearly see what you’ve got (and find things easily!).
  • Using the use-by dates on the calendar as a guide, write out a menu for each day of the week and stick it up somewhere so everyone can see it.  If you share out cooking duties, write down who’s cooking on each day.
Potato and Cauliflower Flatbreads

During the week…

Most of the hard work is done, but during the week there are a few things I like to do to stay on top things and help make planning for the next week a little easier.

  • Prep what you can ahead of time, or make sure you keep your freezer stocked with ready chopped herbs and vegetables.  Frozen chopped onions, people.  They’re AMAZING.  Having a good stock of frozen veg, makes things so much easier when it’s time to cook!
  • Keep a list of anything run out of or need to buy for next week.
  • If a recipe goes wrong or isn’t THE ONE, then cross it out on your weekly menu and remove it from your Recipe Journal.
  • If there are any ingredients you haven’t used or that you know you’re not going to get through before the end of the week, freeze them or work them into next week’s plan.
  • Always be on the lookout for new recipes to try.  Pin them, or write them down in your Recipe Journal.
  • Sometimes I like to cook meals that I know are going to leave me plenty of leftovers.  That way, I can stock my freezer, or have a couple of days the following week that I don’t need to plan for. 🙂

And that’s it!  It takes a little time to get into the swing of things, but doing that little bit of planning each week has really helped me to cut down on my food waste, eat healthier (which I find really hard) and discover some new favourite foods! 🙂

Anyone got a favourite recipes?  I need to make my list for next week and fancy trying something new.  Hook me up, people! 😉