I started a hashtag #mealplanningissexy because Meal Planning may well be the sexiest thing you do this year!
I know you probably think I’m off my rocker, but I’m here to make a stand against the stodgy and staid reputation meal planning has in our culture. I meal plan and I’m proud to shout all about it from the rooftops because it means I’m more chilled, I’m spending better quality time with my dudes, I’m able to keep the house looking (slightly more) respectable and I’m saving loads of money every week by doing it. That’s super sexy, right?
If this sounds like something you need in your life, read on, as I’m going to share my Meal Planning 101 with you…
Getting the online shop sorted is the number one reason why I’m still standing up now. Back when I had three kids under four, it kept me sane and now I’m so grateful that I can use it to free up my time for growing my business and enjoying quality time with the kids. It can feel like a steep learning curve at the beginning, so here are the things I’ve learned over the past ten years of using online shopping.
- Get a monthly delivery pass so that you can save on the delivery charges
- Find out if your preferred provider will do a regular slot each week. I use ‘Ocado Reserved’ and get a delivery at the same time every Sunday night ready for the week ahead. We often add an ad hoc one in the week too. This is a deadline that forces me to sort out the weekly meal plan. Without the deadline, I know I’d just put it off and end up making lots of random trips to the supermarket or local garage. One drawback is that the basket is filled automatically by an algorithm (because you need £40 in your basket to checkout) and may well include a bunch of things you don’t want, but there is an ‘Empty Basket’ button you can press to get over this hurdle.
- Take a little time to set up shopping lists within your account – EVERY WEEK (e.g. milk, eggs, formula, bread etc) and SOMETIMES (e.g. nappies, cat food, washing powder etc). This will save you so much time when you’re doing the online shop. It may take a few weeks to tweak the lists, but after a while, you’ll be so grateful for it as a time saver.
- Use all the vouchers you get emailed, they’ll save you a bundle of money.
- If you’re most interested in saving money, you can use My Supermarket instead – it’s an online shop that will order from the cheapest shop that week.
Days of the Week
Figure out which day of the week works best for receiving a delivery and work backwards from there. I like a Sunday night because the food will last Monday to Friday and we can order another delivery for weekend food dependant on what we’ve got planned. My husband works from home a lot and is generally a modern family man, so he gets involved with the order and putting the delivery away on a Sunday night – that way he can organise the fridge the way he wants it and knows what food we have in. If you would prefer to do it all yourself, you may find a quiet moment in the week that suits you far better.
Build a list of your favourite meals
It can be a pig of a job trying to come up with meals. I have a lovely notebook that had messages in from my first baby shower. I have put the redundant pages to good use by keeping lists of meals we love. There are so many there now and it keeps growing over time. If you’re really short of ideas, look on BBC Good Food online. There are squillions (not an exaggeration) of recipes on there.
If I’m planning on the hoof, I’ll list categories: chicken, pork, fish, veggie, lamb. Then try to come up with ideas for each one. e.g. chicken curry, sausage traybake, prawn linguine, chickpea fajitas, slow cooked lamb tagine. Add an appropriate set of veg to accompany and maybe even a few treat fruits like mango after curry or melon for hot weather etc.
Consider your schedule
My husband and I share an online calendar that we access through the normal calendar app on a smart phone. You need a joint email address to start this up and then you have to make it visible on both phones. That way, we know each other’s work commitments and can see what things are in the schedule for the kids. I usually do all of the cooking because he’s the breadwinner with full-time work commitments, but it really helps to know what he’s up to when I’m planning our meals. If the kids are doing Dance Club one evening, I won’t have time for an elaborate meal, so I either need to plan in a rapid meal, or defrost a meal from the freezer the night before. Likewise, if we have no clubs after school, I can use that time to make a meal that’s easy to batch and bank a meal into the freezer for next week. If I know my husband is home and I’m not, I can ask him to bung something in the oven so that it’s ready for our return.
I know that batching may seem complicated, but I utilise the shelves of the oven in order to make light work of cooking in volume. I turn most things into a traybake e.g. chicken curry or use the slow cooker to cook double e.g. lamb tagine or use my biggest pan on the hob to make something like a bolognese ragu or lentil dahl. It’s easy to buy and cook double every time you make something freezable. Then save a family sized portion in the freezer so that you save yourself the effort of cooking one or two nights next week. Make sure you label and date your frozen meal, obvs.
Add your frozen meals to the plan
It’s all very well adding sumtious home-cooked meals to the freezer for another day, but they’ll help you none if you don’t actually plan to use them. They are your secret weapon. If you bank two meals in the freezer per week, that’s two weeknights you don’t have to cook at all next week! So when you sit down to plan, look at your schedule and consider the time you have to cook, always add your freezer meals from last week into the plan. Then either write a reminder in the plan or set a digital reminder in your phone to defrost the meal. Ideally 24hrs on a plate in the bottom of your fridge is the safest way to defrost and when you reheat, just make sure everything is bubbling hot.
In all this explanation, I’ve been taking it for granted that you are eating one family meal together. And the truth is, you may not fancy eating with your children because fussy eating is making it an ordeal. But the reality is that eating one meal together is the very best weapon you can use to battle fussy eating, so here are a few tips that may help you make it work:
- Plan in some safe elements for your fussy eater – meal planning is your best way to get a head start on this – you could even involve your fussy eater if they’re old enough.
- Serve everything up on the table in serving bowls for everyone to help themselves to.
- Keep sauces separate and invite your fussy eater to use them as a dipping sauce.
- Make allowances for the fussy eater by keeping elements separate so that they can pick and choose e.g. pasta separate from the sauce, noodles separate from the stir fry veg, chicken separate from the curry sauce.
- Keep all foods on the menu despite previous rejections.
- Don’t offer rescue meals in the face of rejections.
- Repeatedly say “You don’t have to eat anything you don’t want to”.
And finally.. Display your meal plan
Once you have executed the meal plan and got your shopping ordered, put the menu up for all to see. Just try not to be smug about it. No-one likes a show off….