When it comes to meal planning, there are two types of people in the world – those who swear by the process and make it part of the weekly pre-grocery shopping ritual; and those who find the process overwhelming and don’t want to touch it with a ten foot barge pole. If I am honest, I can see the merits of both positions – while planning your meals for the week does focus your grocery shopping and take the guess work out of the nightly meal prep, sometimes it can all seem too overwhelming and hard. And how the heck am I supposed to know what I am going to feel like eating on Thursday night, it’s Sunday morning!?!
Since starting the Cold Coffee Club I have had lots of mums tell me that they fit squarely in the latter category, and the main reason they cite is that they don’t know where to start! For me, meal planning has always been a fairly primitive ‘back of an envelope’ type exercise, but with two kids now in tow, as well as a food blog I try to add things to each week, I have started to put a little bit more thought into the process and have definitely reaped the benefits. The main benefits for me have been:
a) Less stress in the afternoon: I know what I am going to make before I start making it so I don’t have to think about anything else while I whip up dinner other than watching Bold and the Beautiful while I chop. Meanwhile, I still cannot believe this Eric and Quinn situation!?! But I digress.
b) Healthier eating: Putting a little more thought into my meal plans means that I can actually think about the nutritional value of the meals I am making, and also reduces the frequency of last minute take out runs.
c) Less food wastage: Meal planning, and buying only the ingredients I need to make those specific meals, means there is a lot less green sludge at the bottom of the crisper at the end of the week – which in turn means we are saving money.
So, you are (semi) convinced that meal planning is something you might want to do – but how can you possibly fit another thing on your never ending ‘to-do’ list?!? I get it. The good news is, it really does not have to be hard or overwhelming, and spending 20 minutes with a cup of coffee thinking about meals for the week ahead is going to save you lots more time (and stress) during the week – I promise!
Here are my top 6 tips to becoming a meal planning master:
- Start simple: The prospect of sitting down on a Sunday morning and coming up with seven different meals to make in the coming week is enough to put anyone off the meal planning process! I would suggest instead to start with 3 or 4 meals only which will get you more than half way through the week. If you manage to stick to your 3 or 4 meals and get to Thursday having used up all the ingredients you bought in your grocery shop – you are killing it at the meal planning gig already! But the chances are, something will come up one of the nights meaning your planned ‘warm balsamic lamb salad‘ may not come to fruition as you had intended. And a cheeky leftover night may even get you right through to the end of the working week without having to cook every night. Hooray! (see Point 4 for more on making the most of leftovers).
- Look ahead to the week before planning what you will cook: No two weeks are ever the same. Even for those mums with fairly stringent routines, there are definitely some weeks that are busier than others, and in particular, some days of the week that you look forward to the least. For me, Rob works late on a Monday night and Evelyn has afternoon kindy on a Thursday, so these are the days I want the quickest, easiest meals to make. When I go back to work next year I will be checking for late meetings, days where I will be picking up the kids from school/care – which will influence how much time I have to prepare food, and I will tailor my meal plan accordingly. Another thing to consider is the weather for the week! It sounds obvious, but if Wednesday is going to be a 42C scorcher you may want to reconsider your roast beef or spicy chicken curry!
- Put your meal plan somewhere you can see it: I can’t tell you how many times I have done my meal plan, bought the groceries I need and come Wednesday I am looking at a head of broccoli and a packet of string beans wondering what the heck I was planning to do with them!?! I now use a pretty template that I have created to keep my meal plan where I can see it. I actually have it in a frame in my kitchen and use a whiteboard marker to write what we are having and then wipe it off and start again the next week. I also made a matching grocery list template – mainly because I loved the colour!
- Cook once, eat twice – at least once a week: Let’s be honest. Who really has the time (or the inclination) to cook every single night of the week? I love cooking and I certainly don’t! It’s not so much the cooking as it is the preparation and the cleaning up that takes it out of me, and having a night when all I have to do is serve up a ready made meal is as good as having a night off. I make a double quantity of something every week with the plan to have leftovers the following night, and time it so ‘leftover night’ coincides with ‘nightmare day’ 😁 Not all foods lend themselves to delicious leftovers – but roasts, casseroles, lasagnes or bolognese often get even better the next day, so they may be ones to consider!
- Have a go-to for quick and easy recipes: Someone should really create a blog that has quick and easy recipes for busy mums on the go *ahem*. But seriously, in addition to the Cold Coffee Club, which you should have bookmarked and favourited, and live-streaming to all your devices 😄, there are lots of resources that you can find quick meals that you will enjoy. When you find something you like – SAVE IT!! There is nothing worse than remembering fondly the lemon and garlic roast chicken or the creamy bacon and mushroom pasta that the family devoured and not being able to find where you got the recipe. (Fear not, they are here and here). If you are not super savvy at favouriting or bookmarking or pinning recipes electronically – print them out and wham them in a good old fashioned display book – it is so much easier having all your winner dinners in one spot.
- Plan for the unexpected: Even the best laid meal plans can go awry. Just last week I had to rush my little one to the doctor half way through making dinner. A couple of weeks ago I locked us all out of the house just before witching hour! And then there are times when afternoon activities just take longer than expected. I always have a cheat meal in the freezer ready to go for these nights. Whether it be a frozen family quiche, or pie, frozen leftover meals or crumbed fish fillets that I can pop with some quick vegetables or chips and salad – I know I can get something on a plate for the family in less than half an hour with minimal stress when I am already a little bit flustered.
Bonus tip: Keep it simple!!! We are all so busy with all other aspects of our life that there is no point overly burdening ourselves with super gourmet meals. Especially during the week when time is so limited. Go for tried and tested, easy meals that are going to get the family fed without too much stress.
And that’s it! Over to you now! I would love to hear from you if you have any success, OR if you have other tips for stress-less meal planning!