Picture the scene: it’s 4pm, it’s been a long day of juggling work, clients, customers, kids. I’m standing in front of the cupboards while the sound of hungry children fills the air. Despite full cupboards and a full fridge, I haven’t a clue what to cook, nobody knows what they want to eat and it feels like there “nothing in”.
Sound familiar? This was my evening, every evening, for nearly 2 years after I went back to work following the birth of my daughter. By the time I’d figured out what to cook for tea, everyone was that tired they wouldn’t have any interest in the food anyway! When I got pregnant with my second, I knew something had to change. Now I work from home this forward planning is even more important because it maximises the time I can spend either working or with the kids.
Meal planning saves both time and money. It allows you to know and prepare in advance exactly what you are going to cook, and can save you money on the shopping too (no more chucking out moudly veg and half-finished cans at the end of the week). Below are my tips for making the most out of meal planning.
1. Create a master list of meals
Start off by writing/typing a list of about 40-50 meals which you know most of your family is going to eat. This might sound like a lot but when you add variations to a few basic meals you will soon have your list full, e.g. casserole – can be chicken casserole, sausage casserole, vegetarian casserole and so on. Fried mince makes up spaghetti bolognese, lasagne, or just plain ol’ mince & potatoes.
Once you’ve got your master list of meals, you can slot these into your meal timetable.
2. Plan for as far ahead as you can
I originally started meal planning weekly, but found that by the end of the week I couldn’t fit in time to do the next meal plan for the following week, so we’d have 2-3 days of non-planned days and this defeated the point altogether. I now plan a month in advance, and check the meal plan each Saturday to figure out if I need anything from the shops for the following week’s meals.
3. Plan meals that logically follow on from one another
You get more meals for your money if you plan meals that can be used as the base for the next meal – i.e. meals that follow on from one another. For example, if on Sunday you have a roast chicken, you may plan a chicken & veg soup for the Monday with leftover meat and veg making the bulk of the ingredients, and the chicken bones for stock.
This tip is especially important if you’re on a budget (who isn’t these days?)
4. Plot in simple meals for busier days
Fridays are always my most hectic day. Isabel is not at preschool, we’ve usually done “making baking” at some point and by 4pm I’m exhausted. I keep simple, kid-friendly meals for these days: beans on toast, homemade pizza from a very basic dough recipe, cheese toasties & homemade coleslaw, and so on.
If every day is a hectic day for you, it might be worth preparing some bits in advance. Chop the veg during nap time, fry the mince while the kids are having their lunch… whatever makes things work for your family.
5. Be flexible
Meal plans are probably the best thing I’ve implemented into my household routine, but there are times when sticking to it is not practical. Don’t beat yourself up if you miss a day or two.