What is meal planning?
What is meal planning you ask let alone how on earth do I actually do it? Meal planning is planning your meals, commonly dinner, for a set period of time whether it be a week, fortnight or month. It allows you to be prepared to avoid the “Whats for dinner tonight?” scenario. You know the one – you are sitting at your desk at work or perhaps with the kiddies watching Peppa Pig for the billionth time today and it has just hit 4pm. You think to yourself “Oh! I forgot to pull something out for dinner… I wonder what’s in the freezer… hmmm wonder if that chicken is too old… maybe if I put in the microwave now it will defrost in time… nah. Maybe Ill buy takeaway… mmmm pizza… ohhhh maybe I can try that new Th… nah we are meant to be saving money not spending it. OK… lets think… lets think… this isn’t rocket science (although I beg to differ some days!)… hmmmm I wonder how old that leftover spaghetti is in the fridge… yeah the kids/hubby/housemate can have that and I’ll find something else to eat for myself” and then you go on to give the kiddies/partner/housemate the leftovers and you end up eating lollies and snacking on random things all night. Or you ring the local takeway place to order dinner or you give up and join the circus. Oh. Maybe that’s just me? (when I haven’t meal planned of course!). Meal planning avoids all of that. Well…. except the Peppa Pig bit. I can’t help with that I am afraid. I’m not a clever clog.
Benefits of meal planning
By meal planning you save money. Sometimes a lot of money! It prevents you from going to the shop and just chucking everything in your trolley without any real idea about what you are cooking for the week. Oh and my biggest tip – don’t shop when hungry. When I walk into a store hungry I am sure the supermarket can see dollar signs all over me. I buy stuff I don’t even like to eat (just in case I change my mind and suddenly decide I like it during the week. It could happen… right?).
It prevents you having to stop in at the shops on the way home from work to pick up some potatoes (that you forgot about in yesterdays shopping trip and the shopping trip the day before that…) but walking out with $83.50 worth of other items you really didn’t need. Don’t worry. We have all been there. Saves on petrol too!
I talk about this further down but you can plan your meals around what special are on offer at your local supermarket. If there is a great special on capsicums you might decide to make Bacon and Capsicum Spaghetti and Pizza Wheels this week. Mince may be on special so you might add Gozleme or Quick Sticks Macaroni Beef to the meal plan. So on and so forth. Take advantage of these specials.
It also avoids us going to buy takeaway last minute because we just don’t know what to cook. Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE takeaway. I so so love it. No one dare mess with my takeaway night! But its expensive and I shouldn’t eat it as much as I previously did.
You save time on several levels. It means you go to the shop once. In and out like a boss. You own this. Look at you just going in and getting what you need and going straight home “See you later shops! I won’t be seeing you again until next week! Ha!”. You 1, Shops 0. Again, saves you petrol!
It also avoids the usual “Whats for dinner?” conversation that happens in your head… every… single…day. Really, it should take a minute or two at most to decide but it doesn’t. We hate thinking on the spot. We sometimes ponder whats for dinner more than we do about what we are going to name our first born. I am not the only one who looks in the pantry, closes it then re opens it hoping something magical has occurred and a great idea will jump out at me right? I love cooking. Heck its what I do for a living but I still struggle with ideas, I get stale and bored when thinking on the spot.
Prevent the hangries
Im not going to lie. I don’t always meal plan. I am great at being lazy and putting things off but those weeks I haven’t planned for are faaaaar from great. I get hangry. REALLY hangry. I’m far from pretty or productive when hangry. You know the Snickers® ad? “You’re not you when you’re hungry?®” with Alf Stewart? Yeah that’s me. You can call me Alf. Planning my meals helps prevent that big time.
Eliminates food wastage
As mentioned previously, you are buying what you need and you are using it up in recipes. Did you know that Australia throws away 20% of what they purchase each week? That is one out of every 5 bags of groceries. According to Foodwise, Australia throws out $8 billion worth of edible (yes edible!) food every year. Crazy!!! Not only is that is a lot of money down the drain but a lot of food wasted. There is an amazing graphic on this here.
Meal planning can mean you eat healthier. You plan nutritious and delicious meals in advance and have all the ingredients ready to cook your little heart out during the week. It eliminates the need for takeaway and also prevents you from skipping dinner or snacking on random bits and pieces all night (I’m told lollies are not a sufficient dinner. Bah humbug).
Get the family involved
This is probably one of my favourite things about meal planning. I love asking the kiddies what they would like on the weekly menu. And no, they don’t say Maccas or the like (honest!). More often than not its my popcorn chicken or drumsticks and they love my veggie packed nachos and spaghetti bolognese.
Makes dinner fun
It makes dinner fun again for everyone. You or the cook in the house are cooking things you enjoy, it’s not the same old boring dinners being repeated over and over and over (a bit like Peppa Pig) and it is fun to try new things. I love nothing more then creating a new recipe and whacking it on the trusty “family favourites list”.
How do I meal plan?
Firstly set time aside
You will need to set time aside each week to complete your meal plan. It gets quicker and quicker as weeks go by and as you find more recipes to try. Don’t be put off if your initial meal planning attempt takes a full day. Ok I’m kidding. It may take you an hour or so whilst you get the hang of it and finding recipes but you will have it down to 5-10 minutes in no time with the help of some cool planners I mention below.
Now you need some sort of planner
Now the only planners available in the whole world are mine. So save and print yours today! Ok that’s a big fat lie. But my planners are great! And FREE. Even better! Once you are a meal planning pro you can certainly upgrade to a paid app, gorgeous printed planners, magnetic planners and the like. A quick Google search will also produce heaps of fantastic printables for you as well If mine don’t thrill you.
Be sure to have a shopping list or note pad handy too so you can write your shopping list as you go. Some of my planners include a shopping list on them or you can use the specific shopping list printable I have.
Next up, find recipes and ideas
Start by going through your pantry. What is in there that you need to use up? We all have those little packets hiding away in the very back of the cupboard. Use up the tins of tuna and the tomatoes. I know you have hundreds hiding in there somewhere. Key message: use everything up (again saving you money!).
My recipe index has hundreds of ideas and I even have a meal plans section on this blog that you can browse for ideas to see how I piece mine together (you can totally cheat and just print one of my pre filled out meal plans like the one below. It can be our little secret).
The internet is full of inspiration though from recipe websites and blogs. Don’t even me started on Google images and Pinterest – sooooo many ideas there. Type in a keyword and browse until your heart is content. Thousands of ideas there for you. Why do I suggest these? Because food is visual. You need to see what appeals to you. If it doesn’t have a photo I am not interested.
And of course there is the awesome and amazing The 4 Blades Magazine that is jam packed full of recipes for your Thermomix or similar. You can subscribe (cancel anytime and keep every issue bought – oh and you can purchase back issues! T4B Mag 1, printed mags 0) or just buy an individual issue that tickles your fancy.
Don’t forget to save all these delicious recipes you find. There is nothing worse than seeing something you like then spending 5 hours trying to locate it again. Create a word document and save all your links in it. Or you can use this free printable I created as part of my 12 Days of Mix-mas series I released last year – 2014 (I really have thought of everything huh!?).
Or if you can simply print out the recipes and store them in a binder. My recipe folder printables will help!
Place it where you wont forget it
Now place your weekly meal plan somewhere you will easy see it and can keep track of what you are cooking. If you don’t end up cooking a meal simply add it to the next weeks meal plan. Easy peasy.
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