Fed up with stressing over what’s for dinner? Meal planning can save time and money, cut waste and mean you all eat better too. Here’s how to go about it.
1. Take time to plan
Finding a spare five minutes may seem impossible, but set aside just half an hour of your time and you’ll reap the rewards. Grab a pen and paper, and a few books, mags or apps for inspiration, then fill in 10 or so recipes, listing ingredients as you go.
2. Work with what you’ve got
Before you start take a quick look through your fridge and build your plan around any leftover veg near its use-by date. Check your store cupboard as you go – you’ll be more creative, avoid waste and won’t double up on ingredients.
3. Use technology
Shop online and not only are you less likely to impulse buy, but in a couple of clicks you’ll find food sites bulging with ready-made meal plans, or blank templates to print and fill in yourself. Scan supermarket pages to see any upcoming special offers, and use your calendar for text or email reminders to defrost or shop for extras.
4. Work to budget
It sounds obvious, but unless money’s no object your grand plan will need to reflect your weekly spend. Eat within your means by consuming less meat, cooking from scratch and building meals around whatever’s in season.
5. Don’t forget lunch
It’s not just family meals you need to plan for. Avoid top-up shops by building in a variety of quick and easy breakfasts as well as snacks and packed lunches.
6. Stick to the list
It may sound easy, but special offers, wheedling kids and the smell from the bakery can throw the best laid plans into turmoil. Those little ‘extras’ will blow the budget and mean you end up with more than you need, so never shop when you’re hungry, and don’t take children if you can avoid it.
7. Think ahead
You’ve drawn up a mouth-watering menu, but will anyone actually be around to eat it? Factor in overtime, after-school activities or nights out, keep it simple when you need to and save the Heston specials for the weekends.
8. Cook more than you need
There’s nothing wrong with adding in a ready meal or two – if you make them yourself. Get into the habit of batch cooking and stock up the freezer, and schedule in the odd ‘leftover lunch.’
Fish on a Friday? Designated dinner days may sound like a bore, but are one way to balance your nutritional needs across the week. If you need more variety, try grouping meals into categories – ‘pasta ,’ ‘vegetarian’ or ‘meat’ etc. – or build them around different coloured fruit and veg to get a wide range of vitamins and minerals.
10. Make it a family affair
Are mealtime meltdowns getting you down? Kids are more likely to enjoy your creations if they feel they’ve had a say, so draw up a list of family favourites and ask everyone to contribute. Then pin your plan up where everyone can see it to prevent any tussles over what’s on the menu.