A few months ago (it was the school holidays) I let things slip. In the relaxed and unstructured format of our holidays I broke away from my normal way of doing things. I forgot about family meal planning and just made it up as I went along. Which kind of made me feel liberated to start with but soon became a drag.
When I look back now, I can see from my bank statement that I was spending nearly double on my groceries, I was shopping several times a week for things I’d not bought in my weekly shop, and I had no idea from day to day what I was going to feed my family! Looking back, it felt like I’d fallen off the wagon. Things were out of control.
The meals I was cooking took forever as I faffed around not really sure what I was really making. If I’m really honest, those meals weren’t that great. I was making it up as I went along. It wasn’t until we got back to school and into our routines again that I was able to rationalise what had happened.
So, I thought I’d share with you what I’ve learnt from this sorry scenario. I’ve realised that in my normal way of doing things, I wasn’t doing that badly. If you’d like to know some of the routines, tips and planning I use in my rountine day to day life then read on.
Meal planning makes everything easier
Yes it’s a bit of a drag to sit down and do, but it doesn’t take long, and it doesn’t have to be done endlessly, forevermore … once you have a blueprint of meals that work, keep the meal plans from successful weeks and repeat them a month or so later. Life is so much easier when you don’t have to think too hard about what you are going to make for dinner that evening! Here’s an example one:
I plan it according the the activites in our family during the week. So for example I never plan a meal for Wednesday evening because my mum feeds my children then as she collects them from school on that day. On Thursdays I pay for school dinners because we rush around to clubs after school, so I either cook a quick and easy dish or we have a packed dinner, wraps, stuffed pitta or left overs of some sort.
I stick to a format when planning
This really helps to make the planning easy. I either plan my family meals based around the protein or the carbohydrate content of the meal. I try to use a different source of which ever one I’ve chosen as my focus each day. This ensures that we are eating a variation of nutrients and our meals do not become repetitive. The main reason I do it though is because it stops my mind going blank when I’m trying to meal plan. You could focus on protein planning one week and carohydrates the next. Of course each meal should have a combination of protein, vegetables and carbohydrates, it’s just a way of keeping things fresh, balanced and varied.
So, for example if I was focussing on protein, I might on day one have a fish pie, or oven baked fish, or a fish pasta dish, or fish fingers, or a tuna pasta bake. On the next day I might make a quorn based meal, or a lentil stew, or bean burgers as my focus accompanied by potato wedges maybe. On the Wednesday I might make a spaghetti bolognese or a chilli. Does this make sense?
Give it a go!
I write a shopping list
While I am writing my meal plan I write a shopping list. It helps to make sure I have everything I need for the meals I’ve planned. It also helps to write the list in my kitchen near to my cupboards so that I can check that I don’t buy what I don’t need! I use a notepad which has meal plan on one side and shopping list on the other. Soemtimes I set up a note on my mobile phone or tablet – this is particularly useful as it won’t get lost or left at home. Whatever suits you as the best way to work. Why not try out some different ways of writing your list until you find one that works for you.
My shopping list is organised and ordered
Whilst I’m writing the list, I organise it into the sections that my favourite supermarket has. I even put the sections in the order of the aisles in my supermarket so that when I’m shopping, I can see what I need when I need it rather than having to search through the list repetitively and risk missing things from it. It really helps! It also speeds things up in the supermarket.
I shop in a small supermarket
Yep! I shop in the smallest supermarket in my town… not an express or micro store, but a normal everday supermarket. It doesn’t sell a huge range of diverse foods, but it sells mostly what I need. It’s of a size that I know what they do and don’t sell, so if I do need something fancy, I occasionally need to make a trip to another supermarket. This really does not happen very often though. Would you believe me if I told you that I do my shopping on a friday morning between dropping my girls at school, and my pilates class which starts at 9.30? I also shop for my business and buy ingredients needed for the classes I teach. It is absolutely true! This is down to the fact that my supermakret is small and managable. I know where everything is, and I know exactly what I need. I’ve saved time, money and effort by planning using the above three tips. Yay!
What’s in the cupboards already helps to kickstart my planning
Before I start my planning I have a quick look into my fridge and cupboards to see if there is anything lingering that could be used up, or could inspire a meal for my planner. It’s worth doing. Sometimes it inspires a new meal, sometimes it saves money and waste. It’s worth a try.
The freezer is my friend
This has become true over the last year. No more does my freezer house ready meals and convenience foods which never get eaten and lie forgotten about. I have organised my freezer into sections. The sections are as follows – packed lunch bits such as frozen yogurts, bread, muffins, drinks etc. Frozen fruit and veggies – this means I can eat fruit and veg that are out of season and they don’t go off as quickly so I have a wider variety of fruit and veg in my house at all times. Convenience foods – because we all need a little stock for when things don’t go as planned or we are having a “meh” day. Pre-prepared batch cooked foods – you know – left overs, or family sized portions of soup, chilli, fish pie, shepherds pie, lasagne – a great way of saving time – cook once, eat twice! Your freezer sections might differ depending on what you use your freezer for… but that’s a whole other blog. Keep an eye out – I am planning that for later this year.
Vegetarian meals are healthy and cheap!
Why not have a vegetarian day of the week. Generally vegetarian meals are healthier (lower in fat and usually contain more vegetables), cheaper, easy to cook and someting different if your family is not accustomed to eating vegetarian cuisine.
Buying in bulk is a brilliant way of minimising spending.
I’ve started buying washing powder, cooing oil and washing up liquid in bulk. I rarely have to buy those items. I decant the washing up liquid into smaller bottles and keep the large ones tucked away out of sight. Things like meat can be portioned and frozen, flour, sugar, oats, rice, pasta and cereals can be decanted into jars and tubs and stored much more eaisly in a store cupboard. They’ll last longer in these containers too. I’d love to hear if you buy anything else in bulk. Using this tip will not only save you money in the long run, but it will save you time and effort when shopping and meal planning.
I hope these tips help. You might want to use one, or two of them, or all. Make changes slowly and satep by step at a pace to suit you. remember, no one is perfect, but we can keep trying to improve things for ourselves and our families. Let me know if there are any tips that you use that could be useful to others.
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