Food, glourious food, it is life’s great pleasure! We love celebrating special moments with food and share meals with our loved once. That has not changed for decades.
When I think of my grandma, I clearly remember her spending most of her time between the allotment and the kitchen. The kitchen really was the heart of the home. She had an amazing ability to trasfer her love and passion into fantastic, home made food! Now, while we still enjoy great quality food, our lives are a very diffrent. Faster paste and longer working hours prevent over 30% of British population from cooking , according to a recent study. Instead many reply on pre-prepared foods, ready meals, processed foods or take aways. Limited time can be a challange, however everyday cooking does not have to be complicated or overly time consuming! The simplest of dishes can be super delicious and can certainly be very nutricious.
Instead of using limited time as excuse not to cook, make the most of it by starting with meal planning!
Why is meal planning worth doing?
I always considered myself an organized individual and in the past I never planned my meals. I was rather optimistic (and naive! ) in thinking that I can just work things out when I’m in the shop and grab what I fancy eating there and then. The reality was that I was often over buying and then getting frustrated when food was getting wasted. Other times I was getting unnecessarily stress finding out I’m missing vital produce for tonight’s dinner and having to make emergency shop. What seemed an “in control” process at that point was really leading to confusion and frustration. With the growth of my family over the years I noticed too much waste then I would like to see and too much stress with meal preparation then I would like to accept. It had to change! The old fashion paper list become my new best friend and I don’t look back ever since! Now, I plan each week’s menu and honestly, I can not believe I have not done that earlier!
Although you might see meal planning as time consuming exercise at first, in fact you save your time in a long run! There is no lingering at the fridge, trying to work out what to cook or last minute panic shopping at the corner shop. Is it surely less tempting to call that Pizzeria when you have things worked out.
There is many more benefits, and here are some of my top 4.
1. It’s much easier to get the right balance
Planning ahead provides the perfect opportunity to include variety of produce making sure you have all food groups covered for your optimal health. You will be able to get better nutritional control making sure you don’t over do a singular ingredient. Pasta and rice dishes were certainly my go to “safe” meals that I have overdone in the past. Once on paper, clarity and control will be restored!
2. It prevents food being wasted
Food waste is a huge problem not only for your wallet but also for the environment. Planning your meals and buying what you need will reduce the amount of fresh produce that gets wasted. When you wonder down the aisles of a supermarket without a plan, you are very likely to pick many random things making your job harder later in the kitchen. Too many fresh produce and they will get wasted, too little produce will mean another wasted hour in the supermarket later in the week
3. It removed the stress of decision making
Life is already stressful enough. Preparing (and eating!) food should be your comfort, your bliss, time to nourish your body and enjoy each other’s company. While we all have days when we are full of ideas, on others you look at the fridge uninspired. Having a food map removes that unnecessary stress of trying to work things out in a rush and allows you to focus on putting some love into the meal you are making.
4.It gives the opportunity to involve all members of the family
Planning can be part of bonding family routine. I encourage my kinds to participate in creating a menu for the week ahead as it makes them feel included in this important part our life, creates great opportunity to talk about importance of good food choices and encourages to eat healthier. Having children choose they favourites also is also a great opportunity to involve them in cooking.
My tips for creating a realistic meal plan
- The aim of creating a meal plan is to make your life easier so just have that in mind and keep things simple!
- Everyone has some favourite dishes they like to get back to time and time again so include those on your list
- Feel inspired by the latest Masterchef episode? New recipes can be time consuming so account for extra time. Plan it for the weekend or on the day you have nothing else lined up for the afternoon
- Not adventurous cook? Write down all the meals you are familiar with and enjoy eating. Rotate them perhaps adding some new vegetables, swapping grains, adding alternative spices from time to time to give you maximum variety. Remember that any home made meal, even the most simple ones will be more nutritious and better for you then processed ready meal
- Noticed you have pasta, rice dish or chicken planned 3 times a week? While still on paper, you have an opportunity to work out alternative dish to keep your diet more balanced. That’s one of the great benefits of having a list!
- Busy week ahead? Cook double the amount on one day and you can relax the next! Deliberately creating leftovers is a smart way of stretching your time.
- Freezer is your friend. Frozen foods are not at all less nutritious and most produce can been cook straight from frozen
- Stay flexible! I make a list of 5-7 dishes I would like my family to eat but I give myself a freedom to decide during the week which dish will be eaten on which day
- Try to include one or two meals a week that can be made from frozen, tinned, dry ingredients or those with a long shelve life. This will allow you some room for unexpected situations (such us last minute invite for dinner with friends) without the risk of food waste
Creating a shopping list
It seems just so much easier to create a shopping list once you know what dishes you will be eating. Some of the products needed might be already on your kitchen shelve so before you make a list just have a quick look at what’s already there. I admit, I do like to have some spare food at home so pasta, rice, dry pulses, flour or any other long life food staples are always purchased in bigger quantities. Bigger packets are usually better value, you save on time and help the environment with less packaging! Those are also produce that can be purchased in NO WASTE stores, if you have one available near you.
Next to each dish, add list of ingredients needed and a rough amount required next to the fresh produce. This will give you an idea of how much you will need for the recipe and potentially plan to use leftover product in another recipe. Once the main meals are covered, add your snacks and beverages.
Top Tip: Did you just finish bottle of ketchup or a soya sauce? Have the list ongoing and add any item that has just finished as you go along. Trying to remind what needed replenishing 3 days ago sometimes is harder then it seems ! Be more efficient and instead of relying on your memory, just jot it down!
Remember, simplicity is the soul of efficiency! Every change will take some time to get used to so give yourself some time and credit . What I suggest here works for me however, those are just hopefully, useful guidelines. Make this process your own!