“How do you always know what you’re cooking for dinner?”. “How come your meals are always so varied when I seem to end up cooking the same things each week?”. “You always make meal planning and food shopping look so easy, how do you do it?”. These are all questions I’ve been asked by friends and family when discussing meal planning and prepping.
I have to admit that I’m pretty organised on the evening meal front. I know before I go shopping what meals I’m going to make, my pantry usually has the ingredients I need to hand and our diet is pretty healthy and varied. But it hasn’t always been that way.
I used to be far from organised…
As much as I pride myself in being an organised person, I will admit that I used to be a complete mess when it came to meal time preparation! There was no planning. Come 5pm I would be standing there staring into the cupboards, inspiration failing me. I’d have ideas but then not have the ingredients. I’d have good intentions but then forget to defrost the meat in time. And I’m ashamed to admit that a lot of food got wasted because I’d forgotten that it was at the back of the fridge.
After one too many last-minute orders from the local curry house I decided that things had to change. The lack of planning had to stop. As well as spending far too much money on takeaways, I’d also lost count of the number of times we’d made last-minute trips to the grocery store. I knew that if I could just get organised, not only would our waistlines benefit from the lack of chicken dhansaks, we could probably save money too – and a lot less food would get wasted in the process.
Things had to change…
So what did I do? I made five small changes. Small, simple changes that switched up our mealtimes for the better. Five changes that worked so well, I still do my meal planning that way more than three years later. Now dinners are no longer a mad rush and (mostly!) don’t require a last-minute trip to the store. Whatever we choose to make, the ingredients are usually to hand. It also doesn’t matter if our plans change at the last minute because there’s always something we can rustle up without too much time or effort invested. I’ve saved money too. So how did I turn things around? Here are the five things I did to make mealtimes easier:
1. I made a list of all our favourite go-to meals
First, I made a list of all the meals my boys liked. As long as they were quick and easy to make and didn’t have too many ingredients, they made it onto the list. Obvious choices like spaghetti bolognese, chilli con carne, fajitas, tacos, curry and pasta were added. Dishes such as risotto, tuna pasta bake, corned beef hash, vegetable tagine, steamed fish and mixed bean chilli were also added. To make things easy I separated the list into categories that included chicken, pork, beef, fish, vegetarian, rice and pasta. Whenever I needed a meal that was quick and easy, I’d just scroll down the list and choose something. I still add new meals as I think of them and it continues to come to my rescue whenever time is against us, our plans change or I’m stuck for inspiration.
2. I started to plan our meals according to what was happening that week
Rather than just winging it I began to spend a few minutes with my diary the night before each week’s grocery shop. With a quick look at what the coming week had in store followed by a check in the pantry, I’d make my meal plan for the week. For any night needing a quick dinner, I’d pick something from my list of go-to meals. I’d make sure the meal plan wasn’t set in stone though. It had to be flexible so if our plans changed, I could easily swap one day’s dinner for another.
3. I thought about how I stocked my freezer
Instead of filling it with random processed foods that took our fancy, I began to really think about how I stocked my freezer. Over time I swapped out the pizzas, turkey dinosaurs and other ready made foods for meat, fish and vegetables. I also started buying the majority of my proteins at the beginning of the month and froze them. This gave me so many more options of what I could make as all the basic ingredients were to hand. Stocking my freezer this way helped my meal planning to be flexible. Because the protein was stored safely in the freezer, it didn’t matter if I needed to swap days around. It also didn’t matter if we changed our minds about what we wanted to eat!
4. I stocked my pantry with all kinds of non-perishable staples
Like my freezer, I began to really think about how I stocked my pantry. Anything that could be used to create a wide range of meals was added. I stocked up on rice, pasta, noodles, grains, pulses and tins of tomatoes, vegetables, beans and coconut milk. I also made sure I had a plenty of sauces, stock cubes, vinegars, oils, herbs and spices. Then I ‘shopped’ from my pantry and freezer before I went shopping at the grocery store.
5. I made a note of what we ate
This proved to be an incredibly useful exercise. Not only did it help me make sure we had a varied diet, it helped me spot when things were getting samey and switch things up. It also gave me new meals for our go-to list. Whenever I cooked something new that was quick and easy, it got added it to the list. I was amazed at the difference keeping tabs on what we ate made. I simply printed a blank calendar for each month and wrote on it what we ate for dinner that night.
Make meal planning a breeze
That was it. That was all I did, nothing fancy, nothing complicated. Just a little bit of forethought, prepping and monitoring of what we ate. So simple, yet incredibly effective. Meal planning is actually quite straight forward if you give yourself time to think about it in advance. Just by looking at my diary, carefully stocking my freezer and pantry and thinking about what I could make ahead of time, I’ve saved myself from a lot of headache, stress and last minute panic. Best of all, you can do it too. If you also follow this process, you too can make prepping your evening meals a breeze!
You can do it too!
Sure, first time around it might take you a bit longer to work out what you already have in your pantry and review your diary. It’ll probably take you a couple of weekly food shops for you to switch up your pantry and freezer, but it’ll be worth it. I promise. Make this process your meal planning routine and it will become a habit before you know it. Just don’t be too rigid with your meal plan because the unexpected always happens. Think ahead, allow for flexibility and you’re good to go! Just remember to:
- Make a list of your go-to meals
- Plan your meals according to what you have going on that week
- Think about how you stock your freezer
- Stock your pantry with non-perishables
- Make a note of what you eat
That’s it for this post. I hope the changes I’ve made will help you to make your own meal planning a breeze too. If you like what you’ve read be sure to subscribe so you never miss a post! Join my tribe and kick-start creating a family life you love right now by filling in your details below. I’ll send you my FREE Meal Planner so you can kick-start making meal planning a breeze as a thank-you!
What’s your biggest takeaway from this post? I’d love to know what you do to make meal times easier – let me know in the comments below!
Until next time….
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