10 tips to make meal planning easier
One of the easiest ways to reduce your food waste is to buy what you need, and eat what you buy.
But anyone who has stepped foot in a supermarket will know that is easier said than done. Supermarkets can be overwhelming with treats on offer, new products to try and so many choices – it’s no surprise that most people walk out with far more food than they need.
In order to avoid spending too much money at the supermarket and coming home with food that will only end up going to waste, you need to go to the supermarket armed with a meal plan and a shopping list.
Many people consider meal planning a chore – after all, it is hard to predict what you may feel like for dinner later in the week. But the benefits of saving time, money, food and stress far outweigh the time it takes to make a plan.
Whether you’re a meal planning pro or are just starting out, these tips will help make the process easier:
Cook once, eat twice
Plan foods that you can use in multiple meals across the week so that you are reducing the amount of time you need to spend in the kitchen. A big batch of mince can be used for spaghetti one night and eaten in burritos the next night.
Have a theme night
If you are struggling with recipe ideas each week, try setting up a weekly theme night. It might be meat-free Mondays, tacos on Tuesdays or fish on Fridays. This will put some structure into your weekly meals and make it easier to plan those meals.
Consult the kids
It’s nice to let the other members of the household have some say every now and then on what’s for dinner, so make sure to consult them when you’re planning. If they are old enough, you can always get them to help cook the meal that they have chosen.
If you are making something that can easily be doubled (e.g. roasting two chickens instead of just one) do so. Freeze the second batch so that you can have an easy meal to call upon when you need it. When making something like a lasagne, it doesn’t take much extra effort to make two.
Write reminders on your meal plan for things you need to remember to do in advance – such as take meat out of the freezer in the morning. Set alerts on your phone if you need to. This will help ensure that your meal planning runs smoothly.
Have a Plan B
Always have a back-up in the freezer. It may be frozen fish and chips or a bag or two of dumplings. Having a quick and easy meal on hand means that even if your plans change and you don’t have time to whip up what was on the plan for that night, you can still feed your family without a trip to the supermarket.
Don’t forget about leftovers
Hopefully, you should have a night set aside to eat up leftovers and any other foods that are close to expiring. Instead of thinking of this as a boring meal, make it fun. Pull out all of your leftovers and any other bits and pieces, place them in the middle of the table and let everyone help themselves to what they want. Or make leftover night pizza night and let everyone make their own pizzas.
While fresh cobs of sweetcorn may be a regular family favourite in summer, you will be struggling to find it on the supermarket shelves in May. Making the effort to cook with seasonal ingredients will help keep the cost down and ensure you’re eating fresh produce. It can be helpful to draw up four seasonal lists of family favourites.
Gradually add new recipes
Trying new recipes is a great way to ensure variety in what you’re eating and extend your cooking repertoire. But following a new recipe means that it takes more time and concentration to get the meal on the table. Try to add only one or two new recipes a week (or none at all). If something is easy to make and your family like it, add it to your usual rotation of recipes.
Be flexible and freeze
Life doesn’t always go to plan and sometimes, despite our best intentions, we don’t make the meals we were planning to. If you can eat the food on another night, great. If not, most foods can be successfully frozen. When freezing vegetables, it is best to blanch them before you pop them in the freezer so they retain their texture.