I LOVE meal planning. I do it religiously, and if you know me in real life, you’ll know that it’s something I try to convince everyone to do for themselves because it will change your life for the better.
My approach to meal planning and cooking is what I call the Quick & Fresh approach: Simple recipes that are quick to make, use seasonal ingredients and are nourishing.
Why should you meal plan?
- It will save you money. Eating at home and shopping from a grocery list rather than throwing a bunch of things you think you might eat into your grocery cart will cut the amount you’re spending on food and probably eliminate a ton of food wastage.
- It will help you eat healthier. It’s far easier to make healthy decisions and plan nutritious meals once a week rather than at 5:30 every day when you’re starving and something hot and greasy and quick sounds like heaven.
How to Meal Plan
When I sit down on Sunday mornings to make my meal plan and shopping list I do the following 6 things:
Step 1 – Review Your Schedule
Before you plan which recipes you’ll be cooking, you need to figure out when you will cook. This will help you determine which style of recipe you will choose for your meal plan.
Take a good look at your schedule and determine not only when you’ll have the time to cook, but also when you’ll have the energy to cook. Whether you only have one day per week, or you have time every evening, you can make a meal plan that fits.
Find a few openings in your schedule, block off those times, and make an appointment with yourself to cook. Take the time to enter it into your planner or your digital calendar. If it’s scheduled, you’re more likely to get it done!
Step 2 – Choose Your Recipes
There are a billion (well, probably 2 billion) recipes on the internet to choose from, so where do you even begin?? Here are a few lifestyle factors that can help you choose which recipes to put in your meal plan:
- Time and Style: Based on your schedule, you may need a specific style of recipe. Do you need quick weeknight dinners? Perhaps a slow cooker recipe that you can have simmering away as you do housework on your day off? Maybe you’re looking for something that makes great leftovers so you can cook once and eat all week? Do you need a One-Pot Meal to keep cleanup fast and easy?
- What’s in Your Pantry: Do you have ingredients in your pantry, refrigerator, or freezer that can be used?
- Sales and Seasonality: Check the weekly sale circulars from your grocery stores to see what’s on sale or in the season to maximise your grocery budget.
Make a list of recipes that you can use in your meal plan(s) based on these factors.
Step 3 – Plug & Play
Now that you have a list of recipes that you’d like to make, plug them into your schedule in the times you’ve dedicated to cooking.
If cooking every night fits your lifestyle, creating themes for each night of the week can help make sure there is variety in your menu. Once you have your themes, just take recipes from your favourite list and plug them into the appropriate night. Here is a sample week of themes:
- Mexican Monday
- Taco Tuesday
- Take-out Fake-out
- Pasta Night
- Pizza Friday
- Around the World (global flavours)
- Slow Cooker Sunday
Step 4 – Make Your Grocery List
This is probably the step where most people say, “nuh-uh” and go back to spending £££ on taking out. But this is where the magic happens and where you’ll save the most. Here’s how it works…
- Go through each recipe in your plan and write down every ingredient and the quantity needed.
- Take that list to your kitchen and cross-check it with what’s in your pantry and fridge.
- Go through item by item and cross off everything you already have on hand. This is the most important step! Cross-checking your inventory will prevent you from making unnecessary purchases, and will make you aware of staples that need to be restocked. Because there is nothing worse than starting a recipe than realising you’re out of an ingredient.
- Everything that remains on the list after you cross-check your pantry is your final grocery list.
Step 5 – Go Shopping
Take your expertly crafted list, put on your blinders, get in, get out, and get it done! You’ll be surprised at how much faster and easier grocery shopping is when you have a concrete plan.
Step 6 – Cook, Eat, Repeat
Meal plan complete! Stick with it and each week it will get easier, you’ll plan more, and save more time and money. The little bit of time you put in on the front end will begin to pay off BIG.
Meal planning is one of those things that become second nature after a little while, and once you get in the habit of it.
Take a minute to look at your schedule and figure out when you’re going to meal plan and do your shopping. To make things less overwhelming, don’t do both on the same day. I like to schedule time on Thursdays to plan my meals and make my list and do my shopping on Fridays. Make an appointment with yourself to do both of these things and put them on your calendar every week.