I have been thinking of doing a “How To Meal Plan” post for awhile now. I’ve been blogging for over a year so I knew I’d been doing meal plans each week for almost a year. I just checked my first Meal Plan post and it appears I’ve been meal planning for an entire year! (my first post was a few weeks after I had started so it could possibly be over a year now!!) Don’t you just love when things work out like that?
So, anyway. Meal planning. Of all the things that I’ve implemented around our house since starting this blog I really think meal planning has made the biggest difference. That’s a big call isn’t it?
It really has made the biggest difference to the general feeling of organisation in our house. In conjunction with meal planning I plan out our week on my Weekly Plan Template and plan my cleaning and blogging tasks as well. It all sort of runs on from one thing to the other.
It has made me more interested in cooking – I now enjoy looking for new and interesting recipes, I am enjoying learning new skills and knowing that I can cook a wider variety of food.
I like that I am able to ensure that we are all eating a varied and nutritious diet. I can schedule in the occasional “naughty” meal but for the most part I know that we are eating fairly healthily.
We save money doing the grocery shopping as we are only buying the food that we need instead of picking up whatever we can find and hoping to make a meal from it.
I used to find that it came time to cook dinner and I’d have no idea what to cook. We’d end up having 2 minute noodles because I didn’t know what else to do. Now, I have a wide range of recipes in my repertoire and could probably come up with something to cook if I didn’t plan a meal for some reason.
I never thought I’d be a person that enjoys meal planning but I really do.
How I Meal Plan:
♥ First, I check the freezer to see what meats or leftover meals we have in there to be used. We have a very small freezer on top of our fridge so I can’t utilize it as much as I’d like – I’d love to be able to make a lot of meals in advance and freeze them or buy meat in bulk but we simply don’t have the room! I looked at getting a chest freezer at one stage but we don’t have anywhere to put it!
♥ I check the fridge to see if there are any vegetables leftover that need to be used in the first few days of the week, or any other special ingredients to be used. Mr Monkey sometimes brings special things home from work or we may try a different vegetable.
♥ Last thing to check is the pantry – any ingredients that are close to their use by date and need to be used? I also check if there are any ingredients that we haven’t used in awhile and may have forgotten about. It’s always nice to have a bit of variety.
♥ I start the actual meal planning by adding any appointments or activities for the week in to my Weekly Plan Template. This way I can see which nights I might not need to plan a meal for, or if I need to plan an easy meal because we have a busy day. This is not so important at the moment (our activities are mostly just going to either grandparents’ houses for dinner) but as Lily gets older and we have more activities I’m sure this will become very important.
♥ I then move over any meals that we didn’t eat the week before – this happens sometimes if our plans change during the week or we get lazy and don’t feel like cooking. I rearrange the meals during the week to ensure no food is going to waste but will put meals off to the next week whenever possible.
♥ I try to plan the meals to make sure we are eating a good variety of ingredients. I do this by roughly assigning the following to each day (at least one of each):
★ One chicken meal
★ One vegetarian meal
★ One fish meal
★ One meat meal
♥ I then make sure that we are not getting stuck in a side dish rut. I find we can end up eating mashed potato with every meal one week, then pasta the next if I’m not careful. So as well as the categories above I ensure we have:
★ One rice side dish
★ One potato side dish
★ One pasta side dish
★ One alternative (quinoa or couscous etc)
I should also ensure we have one salad or even just a soup meal but am working on that.
♥ To find meals I either look at meals we’ve had before, interesting recipes I’ve come across on blogs I follow, recipes I’ve pinned on Pinterest, other random recipes that I’ve come across or in new cookbooks we may have. I find that these normally fill up most of the categories above or I may need to look for a specific recipe to match a category or an ingredient (e.g. a sausage recipe because we have a lot of sausages or a vegetarian recipe because I hadn’t come across one that week). I also sometimes plan most of my meals from one cookbook if we have a new one or a magazine like The Healthy Food Guide when it is released each month.
♥ Once I have all of my meals planned and have added in any other activities, tasks and cleaning duties for the week I print out my weekly plan and stick it on the fridge. I also type all of the recipes I need on a separate sheet and put that on the fridge as well.
♥ During the week I try to get meat etc out of the freezer in advance. At the moment (middle of winter) that normally means 2 nights before and left in the fridge. I normally find this is long enough for meat to defrost.
♥ I am also fairly flexible with the meals – if plans get changed I can move them around. I normally plan the meals according to what we have in the fridge or when we are doing grocery shopping so that’s normally the only consideration for what meal to move and when.
I tend to source my recipes from a few different places:
I have few plans to further improve my meal plan practise:
♥ Organise all recipes into a folder/ online spreadsheet. As I said I type and print recipes each week so really need to start bringing them together – this will also make it easier to find favourite recipes that we’ve cooked before.
♥ Using the above I hope to put together a list of “failsafe” meals – meals that I know we love, know how to cook and are cheap and easy.
♥ Perhaps look at allocating a type of meal per day. I haven’t done this so far because our life is not very routine at the moment. But I’ve started to see some similarities happening each week so may give it a go.
♥ Plan more vegetarian meals – mostly for financial reasons but also for health and ethical reasons.
♥ Get a fruit and vegetable box delivery each week and meal plan using that – we are actually starting this weekend! We’ve ordered a Couples Box from Andy & Ted which includes 10 selections for only $38! It comes direct from market so I’m hoping for some really great produce to use in next week’s meal plan..
So, that’s how I meal plan!