To me, a meal plan is key to keeping a household running, and keeping a iron grip on finances. A meal plan, whether it’s for a week, two weeks, or a month can keep food costs low and keep your family happy and healthy.
My family currently only consists of me and my (soon-to-be!) Husband. This smaller family can pose challenges when meal planning, it can result in eating the same things over and over. Since it’s well known that buying in bulk can save you money in the long run, it tends to benefit larger families (Jamerrill’s Large Family Table anyone? She’s amazing at budgeting and managing a household of 10!). With this in mind, I only buy what we need for the week (or two weeks, sometimes I batch cook), and some pantry essentials. Just in case we don’t want what’s planned in on that particular night.
Where to Start
1) Check what you already have
Before starting to plan meals for the week, it’s essential to look in your pantry, fridge and freezer to see what you already have in stock. It’d be pointless buying a couple of extra cans of tomatoes for a recipe you’ve planned in… Only to find 6 in the cupboard.
Checking stock also serves a purpose for planning meals based on what you have, and to keep track of essential items. Essential items for my family include tins of baked beans, eggs, lentils, and cans of kidney beans. This may be different for you, depending on what your family like to eat, and what you like to cook.
A meal plan based on what you already have saves money, and reduces food waste. For example, say you have some garlic, a broccoli, and some quinoa in. From these ingredients, you could make a hearty Broccoli Quinoa Casserole (this is one of my favourite versions, with the chicken changed to a meat substitute).
2) Keep a stock of essential items
Essential items can vary depending on the family. There are loads of articles and blog posts out there which list cooking essentials; such as oil, salt and pepper. However, it’s good to think about what your family eat on a weekly basis, and have a few pantry items to whip up if you don’t fancy what you have planned on the calendar. It also helps in case you have an unexpected visitor, or get late back from work one night. Our family’s pantry essentials are:
- Baked Beans
- Kidney Beans
- Lentils (dry and canned)
- Salad tomatoes
- Canned Tomatoes
Over the years we’ve been living together, we’ve built up a store of regularly used dried herbs and spices too.
From the above list, you may be able to see that we can whip up a few meals without really thinking too hard. For example, a lentil chilli, or Baked potato with beans and salad. Just quick, no-fuss meals for when you’re tired or don’t want what you’ve planned. However, it’s important to try and incorporate each of these ingredients, particularly fresh, into your meal plan to reduce the amount of food waste. In the UK, households throw away £13bn of food a year .
3) Think about what your family currently eat
If you go ahead with meal planning, think about what your family currently eat. If your family like to eat burgers on a Wednesday, keep that as burger Wednesday. If your family like having pizza takeout on Fridays, think about how you could incorporate this into your budget; you could try cooking pizzas from scratch, or keep a couple of pizzas in the freezer for lazy days.
If you want to try new recipes, you could have one day a week, or every two weeks where you try something new. If it works for you, great! if it doesn’t, then you don’t have to cook it again. Don’t try to meal plan 5 new meals in a week, take it slowly, building up a vault of recipes you know and love first.
4) Make your Meal Plan easy to see
It’s great having a meal plan, but even better if it’s somewhere everyone can see it! My friend bought me a meal planner/shopping planner list for my birthday. It’s great because it has magnets on the back, meaning it can be stuck to the fridge where everyone can see, and everyone can use.
Here’s a photo of it in pride of place:
As you can see it’s a work in progress, but it’s in a place where it’s readable, accessible and regularly viewed.
5) Remember, Meal Plans aren’t set in stone
As we all know, life happens. Sometimes you might get home late from work. Other times you end up going out for a meal. When this happens, don’t fret! Either swap the day you went off plan, for example if you had pizza on Wednesday instead of Friday. Or, think of a way you could incorporate your extra ingredients into another meal. Meal planning should be a guide to helping you plan for enjoyable, low-cost healthy meals, rather than a strict regime.
Comment below how you plan your meals, and what go-to recipes do you use week-after-week!
Have a lovely day,