Sunday, 3 May 2015

Meal Planning Like a Pro

Location: Oxford, Oxford, UK


Before I had kids, when I was a suit wearing nine to sixer, I used to stock the fridge full of anything and everything I could possibly fancy that week. Lots of ready meals (hello Tesco Finest) and quick cook dinners like steak; things I could throw together in under half an hour while my stomach hungrily grumbled away. Mealtimes weren't all that healthy and were rarely seated at a proper dining table. Get changed, throw something tasty together, feet up on sofa - that was my ideal evening.

I never planned my meals out and ended up throwing loads of food away, especially meat and veg. The snacks and chocolate, however, well they always managed to get eaten… Funny that.

These days though, with an exercise mad husband and two growing boys to feed, on one income and a tight budget, I have to be a lot more economical and organised.

Every week now I sit down with a cuppa, armed with a notepad and pen, my online grocery basket and some source of inspiration. I mark out breakfast, lunch and dinner for Monday to Sunday, then gradually fill in the blanks with meals I want to cook that week. Once I’ve added in a few meals I’m particularly keen on, I see if there are any other dishes I can make with leftovers, or use the same ingredients for, to limit how much I need to order.

The BBC Good Food website has a fantastic selection of inspiring recipes, and Jamie Oliver’s “Save with Jamie” gives a great choice of ‘mothership’ dishes (usually big joints of meat or fish), from which leftovers can be turned into all sorts of interesting new things.

There are definitely still weeks where I leave it to the very last minute, then hop online in a blind panic the night before my delivery is due, throwing all my old ‘favourites’ back in the basket; you know, those ‘go to’ meals. In our house this entails some form of large roast, jacket potatoes, steak, sausages, chicken breasts for some form of curry, another large joint of meat for spreading across two nights, plus some sort of fish dish. With little time to think about which veg I actually need for each dinner (let alone lunch), I always end up missing things then having to do multiple mini shops during the week. These are also the weeks I end up ordering things I don’t need, intending to use them up, then ultimately throwing them away. 

So while the pennies are being saved and evening meals are so much less stressful, without any last minute panicking about what to cook, I think I’ll keep up the menu planning.

In fact, I’ve got a couple of hours to spare now while the kids are in bed. My hot chocolate awaits, with a couple of new cookery books and the latest series of Game of Thrones at the ready. Sounds like the perfect opportunity to fill up that empty shopping basket!

Published in the March/April edition of Vale Life Magazine

You can find a really good meal planner template over on A Crafty Chai

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