The topic of meal planning has come up again and again lately, in my chats with colleagues at work, with my friends, and with blog readers. So I thought I would do a quick post on how I meal plan, and what it looks like for us right now.
This is especially relevant at the start of a new year when lots of us want to save time and money, eat healthier and just be a little more organised. I’m a big fan of meal planning and lunch prep – I listed both of them in my 6 things I do every week to save time and money – and I credit them with making my return to work much easier than it would otherwise have been.
It took me a long time to work out a way to do this in a way that works for me, and for it to actually stick. I think I had tried meal planning on and off for three years before I managed to get it to work for me, but it is one of the things that has made the biggest difference to how organised things are at home.
This is how I meal plan and meal prep at the moment, and it’s just the way that works best for me but there are lots of different ways to go about it so if this way doesn’t suit you, experiment until you find the way that works for you.
I usually spend a little bit of time on Thursday night looking at cookbooks I have or recipes I’ve saved to get inspiration and write up a meal plan (for lunches and dinners) and a shopping list for the next fortnight. It sounds time consuming but the longer you do it for, the quicker it gets. For example now I can pull together a list for meals and shopping in about 10-20 mins. I do fortnightly plans because I hate thinking about what to cook for dinner at night, so this way I only need to think about it once a fortnight (rather than every night!).
If I plan to make larger portions for dinners so we have leftovers, I factor that into my plan so I’m not cooking way too much and that way all the food gets eaten. We usually have at least one ‘leftovers’ night a week, and once a week we have homemade pizza night which cuts down on the amount of cooking I have to do.
I do my grocery shopping online to be delivered on a Sunday morning, which includes all my groceries for the fortnight other than meat and fresh produce. I buy my meat at our local butcher and fruit and veggies at our local shops on Saturday mornings each week so that I have everything in the house ready to go on Sunday around lunchtime when I cook. I put all my meat (except what I’m cooking with on Sunday) straight into the freezer to keep it fresh.
On Sundays I cook one big meal that makes about 6 portions which does me and my husband for 3 days worth of lunches, and we have leftovers from dinner the other 2 days. I also usually cook a big meal that will be dinner for Monday night because I don’t usually feel like cooking on Mondays. For dinner on Sunday night I try to do a quick and lazy dinner (or something in the slow cooker) because by Sunday night I don’t feel like spending much more time in the kitchen.
It takes a while to figure out good meals that will last the week for lunches, but I’ve got a rotation of 4 or 5 meals that work well. The types of meals I’ve made for lunches include a frittata (with bacon, pumpkin, zucchini and feta), chicken teriyaki with rice and spinach, pesto chicken with green beans and tomatoes, beef stroganoff, and chicken cous cous with cajun spices.
I have a good stock of containers (I love the Fortrolig ones from IKEA) to make sure I have enough containers for all the food for the week. These ones are great because they can go in the oven, freezer, microwave and dishwasher which makes them perfect for all kinds of meals. The small ones are good portion sizes for lunches too.
It does take a bit of getting used to but just try thinking of one recipe you would like to try to start with and just make that one Sunday and portion it up into containers ready for the week. It’s honestly made my life so much easier spending that time in the kitchen on a Sunday!!
I used to do make double portions of everything when I cooked dinner so we had leftovers for lunch the next, but I do find the way I’m doing it now a lot easier and less hassle. Plus it means that even if I can’t be bothered cooking one night we still have lunch the next day!
I do tend to assign dinner for each day in my meal plan, as it takes the decision making process out of it for me and I easily know what is for dinner each night. I just take the meat for the next day out of the freezer at night to make sure it’s defrosted in time. If it’s something that needs to marinate or needs a sauce, I make up the marinade or sauce the night before as well (usually while I’m making dinner for the night). I try and do as much as I can the on the weekend or the night before for prepping so that dinner is easy to throw together once I get home from work.
It’s taken a while to get my organisation with meal planning to this point and I’m really happy with the system I have and how it’s working for us. It’s definitely taken the stress out of both food shopping and cooking, and it’s such a relief to know that dinner is pretty much already sorted every night!
Do you meal plan? What kind of system do you use?
Linking up with Kylie Purtell for #IBOT (I blog on Tuesdays)