Hello! Today I’m posting the first in a series of three about meal planning. You can read about why I like meal planning here.
Make a cup of tea, this is a tad long!
So, what does meal planning mean anyway? It can mean different things to different people. To me, it means, in a nutshell, buying very specific things from the supermarket store to make specific meals.
Stage One of Planning: Make a Menu Planner
You can probably cook 10 really good things without even thinking about it. Maybe more. You can probably cook 10 really good things with a recipe. Definitely more. But can you remember everything that you know how to cook? Probably not. I’m constantly surprised by how much worse my memory is than I think it is. The fact is though, you don’t have to remember everything. You can record it! And once you start recording you will be astonished by how much you can cook. I find the hardest part of meal planning is deciding what to make. I want meal planning to be easy so I got rid of all the icky decision making.
I created a GIANT chart thingy in Excel that is all very neatly categorised and colour coded. It has two primary functions. 1) a place to record all the new things I learn how to make and where I found the recipes. 2) a go-to list for choosing what we’ll cook each week. My man also uses it (sorry guys, you are useless at deciding what you want for dinner!!). I say, ‘pick two things, one from that category’ and he does. Its like magic. But to be honest, I find it super helpful too. Its always easier to focus on and choose something when its in front of you, not in your head. You can totally do this by hand too, in a notebook. If you prefer that.
I have mine categorised by the ‘main’ ingredient. This is a bit inaccurate since we put very little meat in our meals, but I do think the meat that you use sets the tone for the meal. My categories are: vegetarian, chicken, beef, pork and fish. I’ve colour coded some of the squares – blue is for winter (hearty, warming soups, stews ect) and green is for summer (stuff you can only make in summer like salads, stuff with fresh tomatoes). An instant visual. Right now I totally ignore the blue squares when meal-choosing. I also have a little symbol to indicate whether a meal produces leftovers or not so I can quickly pick a meal for Sunday nights. I also have a section for fast meals (basically no cooking). I do Pilates twice a week in the evenings and on these nights I need fast dinners!
Basically, you can make this as simple or as technical as you like. You can do it by hand, or use a software program like Excel. You can get real fancy with your colour coding, or not bother. My only piece of advice is this:
If you like to cook or are learning to cook and that involves trying new recipes, have a place to record them. It helps with the learning process. It gives you something to fall back on when you run out of kitchen inspo. Its a reminder of how far you’ve come. It tells you a lot about your cooking style. You can share it with friends and family to inspire each other. And it gives you a jumping off point for a little meal planning each week. Some people find plans and routines tedious. I find them freeing. If I have a plan and I totally navigate away from it and try something else, that’s OK. Planning to cook well and try new things also makes me accountable. I know a lot of people that borrow recipes books, have a flick through and never make a thing. If you incorporate a new recipe into your plan, then its in the plan and your more likely to try it.
Here is a bit more about why I meal plan, if you want to read on. (Or scroll to the end to see my menu planner in full).
– You spend money more precisely. You don’t buy things that you think you need and don’t use. You buy all the things you need.
– You learn what meals complement each other. Not necessarily in a ‘taste’ way but by learning what meals are good for leftovers, what meals are good for guests, what meals are fast. You can plan ahead to get a balance of flavours and a variety of nutrients.
– You can take advantage of specials because you know what you use a lot of and what you use little of. This leads to having a brilliant stash of good things. Also, things like peanut butter and milo are great but expensive. I try to plan it so that we only buy these things on special.
– To be blunt, you buy less crap. When you have a plan and a list you don’t dilly dally. I rarely chuck ‘extras’ into the trolley.
– Meals flow. This week I want to make lemon and feta spaghetti. I know that one block of feta can accommodate two meals, so I’ll make something else with feta. Or buy avocados for a yum breakfast. This week I want to make curry. I know that goes two nights. I’ll make it on Sunday so that means I don’t have to cook after work on Monday. I want to cook with fresh corn and beans which are cheap and delicious at the moment so one night we’ll have tuna bake which requires a side. Last week we had BLATs – this means we have leftover bacon and buns – more BLATs this week! (A summer food only!)
– Some weeks you have to buy dreaded things like cheese or rubbish bags. Hello expensive! To counteract this I will aim to make more vegetarian, or more soup, or more simple meals that week.
– I’m going to use my mum as an example here (I love you mum!). My folks are super foodie people (no surprises there) and when I visit home I spend a good five minutes gazing longingly into their pantry. You can’t see the back of it. They cook a lot, so it makes sense to have a stocked pantry. But sometimes you get used to this stocked pantry and keep buying more stuff. The pantry items become like décor. Try to plan your meals or some of them using what you already have. This goes for your fridge and freezer too.
Phew! You made it to the end. Thanks for reading. I hope I’ve given you some food for thought. I’d love to hear how you plan your meals, if you do. Let me know!