Meal planning is massively popular, and it is easy to see why. When the benefits include potentially saving money, losing weight, having more energy and a multitude of other positive factors, it can certainly make sense to spend a few minutes on planning and budgeting to reap the rewards throughout the week.
Naturally, even the best-laid plans can go awry, as the old saying goes, and there are a few contingencies to keep in mind along with the plan you’ve got down on paper. The following tips are there for those that have considered meal planning but never really managed to get around to it, and those that may have done it before but never really benefited from the results. When done right, the benefits are clear to see, so let’s get to it!
1. Make a Hobby Out of Recipe Research
Not all meal planning needs to benefit from extensive home cooking, but the benefits that we have already outlined can benefit from you taking the time to start from scratch – especially when it comes to saving money. No matter where you’re reading this from, the chances are that you’re already familiar with plenty of different recipe sites in your area, and there’s little to stop you looking further beyond at new ideas. If you’re following a particular diet or lifestyle service, they will often have plenty of recipes on their websites and apps that were created with your personal goals in mind.
2. Plan for Everyone, Not Just Yourself
You don’t want one of the major outcomes of your meal plans to a be a family that is grumpy or, worse still, hangry, so you need to have a good idea of the tastes of everyone involved. The chances are that meal plans will not be the first time you’ve cooked for the family, so you’ll have an idea of what they do and do not like. However, when you’re in planning mode, it doesn’t hurt to ask if there’s anything they fancy that they might not have had in a while or might have had a craving for recently. Indeed, it can even be useful if you’re short on ideas.
3. Use a Calendar
A planner or calendar fulfils numerous roles in successful meal planning. Their inclusion is obvious, and you could conceivably use the calendar on your phone if a paper-based solution isn’t available. With that said, this is one of those rare occasions where we actually prefer the paper option. That way, you can leave it out on display, so everyone knows what to expect and when – and maybe pick up a takeaway on the way home from work if they’re less than impressed with their options!
4. Update Your Plans with the Seasons
If you’re a keen cook, you’ll know all about the benefits of seasonal produce. Items that fall into this category are often fresher, cheaper and tastier, all of which can underpin the major benefits of meal planning in the first place. Seasonal foods often suit the time of year in terms of taste and temperature too, so unless you’re determined to be unusual, it is often simply easier to go with the fresh stuff as much as possible.
5. Always Keep a Few Long-Term Favourites in the Cupboard
When the planning works, it feels fantastic. However, real-life happens alongside those plans too, and even the most organised individuals can find themselves going off schedule. There will be occasions where you simply don’t have the time to do as you planned, have guests over or anything else that can throw a spanner in the works. Meals out of packets and cans might not be the most glamorous, but they can save you going hungry or splurging on a takeaway in a pinch.
6. Do the Same in the Freezer
Frozen foods are just as handy as their dry, cupboard-based counterparts and a fair bit of our own meal plans make use of products from the freezer. One great tip that we’ve picked up along the way is not to buy anything specifically for the freezer unless it is part of the plans – there is no need for any ‘just in case’ frozen food as you can soon fill the freezer with items you do not end up using. As long as it is appropriate for freezing, anything you don’t get to use with the use-by date fast approaching can add to your current stocks and come out when you need it.
7. Make Larger Batches of Meals that Keep Well
Some meals that are popular among meal planners, such as soup and pasta, can be eaten cold a day or two following the main event or reheated according to taste. With foods like this, they can make great snacks or filler items on days you haven’t planned, so keep some containers to hand and make more than you need to fill hungry bellies with minimal effort.
8. Keep Your Schedule in Mind when Making the Plan
This one seems obvious but is often overlooked. The chances are that you don’t have the same amount of time to cook on a weekday as you do for the Sunday roast, and some days will see you being more strapped for time than others as your schedule dictates. Quick recipes and even ready meals if your family is on board can be worth keeping in the plan, and you can always switch days around if you find yourself with more or less time than planned.
9. Keep an Eye on What Goes Down Well
You don’t want the same meal plan every week and variety usually goes down well. If you follow the above tip about seasonal produce, it becomes all but essential to mix things up too. However, there will be some recipes that you love to cook and others that rapidly establish themselves as family favourites. In these cases, it is great to strike while the iron is hot, and you can confidently put them on the schedule week after week.
10. Stay Flexible
We have touched on remaining flexible throughout these tips, but it is important enough to warrant rounding off this feature. A meal plan is a personal thing between you and your family, and it can be as stringent or loose as you prefer. We fully believe in the tips featured throughout, but there are no hard and fast rules to get it right, so remain flexible and adjust your approach as you go.