What if I told you that I had a way that would help you half the time it takes you to meal plan every week? I bet that would interest even those of you who don’t do meal planning, wouldn’t it?
Well, you’re in luck because I have a new method of meal planning that took me an hour to set up before I started and it’s really working for us! I’ve been trying it out for the last month or so and it’s made it so much easier and quicker for me when I’m writing out our weekly meal plan that I thought I’d share it with you today.
Your Initial One-Off Meal Planning Session
Sit down with a notebook and pen and write down as many of your family’s favourite meals as you can think of – aim for around 25-30 if you can.
Next write down what you need to make those meals being as specific as you want to. When I started my list the first few meals that I wrote down included every single ingredient needed but then I decided to save time after that and only write down ingredients that weren’t storecupboard essentials that I always have in as I write them on my shopping list as I’m about to run out.
I’ve written a post about my store cupboard before here if you want to see the sorts of things I class as being essentials although everyone’s will be different and even mine has evolved and expanded since I wrote that post. I also have a bit of freezer store cupboard where I have a drawer with things like mixed veg, frozen chopped onions, broccoli, frozen rice (amazing, amazing idea) and homemade tomato sauce. A good store cupboard makes your meal plan so much more flexible as you can chop and change where necessary without a trip to the shop.
Once you’re finished writing your list you should have around 30 meals written down along with the main ingredients – this is the key to helping you to meal plan in half the time!
Another tip to help you write your weekly meal plan quickly is to keep your kitchen cupboard and freezer tidy and easy to see everything that’s in there. I’ve recently cleared out my food cupboard to get rid of all the food that was cluttering it up that I’d accumulated over time. I also organised my freezer so I can see everything in it easily when I pull the drawers by making sure the labels are facing upwards which I know is really geeky but it means I can see what I have in at a glance rather than having to shuffle about.
I reckon you could write your list of meals AND tidy your food cupboard and freezer in an hour so try and make some time before your next meal planning session and see the difference it makes when you follow the method below.
Your Weekly Meal Planning Session
Before I start I will say that personally, I only meal plan five of my weekly meals using this method because I don’t plan for Sunday and one other day. I don’t plan Sunday Dinner because that’s usually made up of the best value meat I can find when I’m shopping and whatever veggies are in season and on offer. I also leave one other night free for any supermarket bargains I pick up that week or to try out new recipes (to add to the initial list of meals if we like them). I also batch cook quite a bit where I can so there’s often days where I can use the meals in the freezer for a meal.
For the purposes of my menu planner, I do assign meals to specific days of the week but we’re actually pretty flexible. I can’t tell you the amount of times we’ve had to swap days about because I haven’t taken a batch cooked lasagne or cottage pie out of the freezer the night before or because we’ve got extra bodies (or less sometimes) for tea. 😉
I write my meal plan on a Sunday afternoon usually and start by spending about five minutes looking at what we have in already and writing a list of the main ingredients for a meal (ie) chicken, mince, fish, quorn along with any batch cooked meals that are in there. This step used to take me at least four times as long as I used to write down literally everything we had in other than the store cupboard ingredients and I always had to rummage through the drawers and the freezer to see everything.
Next I’ll sit down with a cuppa and my two lists – one list of meals and one list of things I have in. I start by adding any batch cooked meals to the following week’s meal plan so usually at least one day is an easy lasagne, pie or curry from the freezer. Then I look at each of the main ingredients I have in, one at a time and select a meal to cook for that.
For example, if I have chicken then I look for a meal on my meal list with chicken as the main ingredient and choose one that I fancy, preferably one where I know I have more than just the main ingredient already in so I’m adding as little as possible to the shopping list. I’ll look at the ingredients I need to make the meal and write down anything I don’t have in on my shopping list. It sounds way more complex than it is as I’m a waffler, in reality this takes about 20 seconds because I’m not having to think of meal ideas or ingredients for the meals I choose.
I’ll move on and do the same for the next main ingredient and then the next until I’ve either ran out of main ingredients or until I’ve filled all my days up. Some weeks I have more main ingredients in than others depending on what bargains I’ve picked up recently at the supermarket so if I still have days to fill after I’ve used my ingredient list then I’ll simply choose a meal from the list and write down anything I need to cook that.
It’s such a quick process that I’ve chosen my five meals, using as much food as we already have in, and written my meal planning shopping list before my cup of tea is cool enough to drink!
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