Every couple of weeks I plan my meals for the next two weeks. , It is a flexible plan of ideas rather than a solid plan, as life changes. This not only saves me worrying about what we can have for dinner, but it helps me save money, use up what I have in already, makes my meals healthier, and saves time. I then make a list of anything I may need or run out of, which saves on impulse buying in the shops. These are some of the questions I ask myself when meal planning.
- What is in my cupboards, fridge, freezer and garden, and what meals can I make with what I have got so that I can spend as little money as possible? (In these times of rising prices I don’t want to run down my whole stock of meat etc, and so I sometimes buy some bargains I find whilst shopping).
- When times are hard I ask myself if there is a way to supplement my ingredients by visiting the community pantry, (or food bank if you are eligible), looking on Olio etc, and see what I can add from there?
- Look at the diary. How many meals will I need? Maybe I have been invited out or am having family around. Is there football practice or other nights when I will need a quick meal? I am always too tired to cook when babysitting my grand son and so that day we have some thing I just have to warm up, chop and stir fry, or something that I can leave in the slow cooker.
- What is the weather going to be like? Will we want a BBQ or to cook outside? Will I want something hearty and warming, or will I have my woodburning stove on and want something to cook or warm up on there?
- Nutrition. How can I balance our diet and make sure there are enough vitamins, protein, carbohydrate minerals and fat to ensure that we stay healthy? Do I have enough vegetables and protein sources?
- Which meatless meals can I make to cut down on cost? Meat is often the most expensive ingredients. The vegetarian meal could be pizza, an omelette, cheese, onion and potato pie, or a veggie curry or chilli.
- Am I putting enough variation into the meals? Are people going to get bored or am I using different flavours, texture, colour and presentation? (You can still use similar ingredients and left overs but serve them in another way eg a big pan of bolognaise can be served with spaghetti, fill pasties, make a lasagne, make potato nachos, or even have on toast for lunch. It is the same meal but served differently).
- What can I use to bulk out the meals and stretch them to make leftovers that can be used for a lunch? This might be veg, oats, lentils or bread crumbs added to mince in dishes like chilli or bolognaise. It also might be serving bread with a salad, Yorkshire pudding with a main meal, or turning something into a pie.
- Will my family like these meals? It is a good idea to put some family favourite meals on your plan, or even sit down with the family to discuss the meal plan.
- Is my meal plan flexible? Things happen. People might not fancy what you have planned, you might be late home, you might have to use up more left overs than expected. I write 14 meals but don’t have a plan written in stone, or put which meal we are having on which day. I usually decide the night before when getting something out of the freezer. My plan always has things in that can be made quickly. Eg yesterday I had some pulled chicken out of the freezer to use with pasta. We didn’t feel like it and so had chicken, salad and sweet chilli wraps as we wanted some thing quick. I don’t buy many convenience foods, but I try to get chicken strips now and again or fish fingers as they are great to cook quickly from frozen. If I have something like raw mince out of the freezer which we no longer need or want, which might be yellow sticker and so needs to be used that day, I will make quick burgers or meatballs and cook them in the air fryer, and then freeze them for another quick meal another time.
- What is in season? Which will be the cheapest ingredients to buy? The seasonal foods are the best for our immune systems at that time of year, as well.
- What is on offer in the leaflets at supermarkets? What are their loss leaders that they do not make a profit on?
- What can I add through foraging? We forage fruit for pies, compote, or to cook with meat or stir fry, wild garlic for pesto, or garlic bread, fruit and elderflowers for cordial, etc.
- How can I incorporate these meals into activities? ( summer holidays are coming and if you have kids or grand children this may be relevant. Eg. Pizza making with the kids, baking, making bread or chicken nuggets etc.)
- What can I bake using the ingredients that I have so that we have desserts, quick lunches or to use later? eg. I batch cook Yorkshire puddings or pie tops to freeze and use in meals later. I also make tray bakes and cut them up and freeze them in portions to take out of the freezer the night before.
Making sure that you have staple ingredients in your cupboards, some veg in your garden or on window sills (or frozen or fresh vegetables in the fridge or freezer), and that you have pulses, and some meat and eggs and cheese (if you eat them), will make your meal planning easier. I keep an inventory of my cupboards and freezer so that I know exactly what I have and when I need to replenish. It takes 30 minutes of your time to make a meal plan, but it will transform your meals and your purse. You will no longer be eating the same meals each week, or wandering around the supermarket wondering what you should buy that week.