Meal planning for dummies

Don't be left stranded for ideas in the aisles.
Don't be left stranded for ideas in the aisles. 

I have never been a meal planner. When I was a working mum, I probably planned a few days in advance, but I’ve never actually sat down with a pen and paper and written down a plan for the week ahead.

Since I’ve become a full time stay at home mother, visiting the supermarket has turned into a daily outing. The usual thing that happens is that I walk in not knowing what I’m going to make, then I walk around (a bit aimlessly to be truthful) looking for inspiration. It could come in the form of a beautifully merchandised display or a piece of meat that’s on special or just what my tastebuds most yearn for at that moment.

There are a few positives to shopping every day such as always having fresh produce daily and if you have a small pantry like I do, it means you don’t have to find somewhere to stash cans and large packets bought in bulk.

However, there are many more reasons why shopping daily is not the right way to go about it. I find that I’m always picking up little extras every time I shop such as a cup of coffee at the cafe in the shopping centre, or a packet of bacon and cheese rolls for the kids to munch on or a magazine to read with a cuppa when I get home.

I’m also guilty of buying multiples of things that I already have in my pantry because I can never remember if I already have it at home.

I find that I’m always picking up little extras every time I shop such as a cup of coffee at the cafe in the shopping centre, or a packet of bacon and cheese rolls for the kids to munch on or a magazine to read with a cuppa when I get home.

It’s also such an inefficient use of time. Each trip to the supermarket probably takes an hour at least, especially when I drag the children along with me.

I decided to bite the bullet and try meal planning the proper way for a couple of weeks and see how I go. Let me tell you, I’m convinced it works and it’s for me. If you’ve been thinking about getting into meal planning, do it today, you will not regret it. You will find that you have so much more time to get other things done and more money in your pocket to do them.

I’ve broken it down into a few simple steps.

Choose a day and stick to it. For me and my schedule, Mondays seem to work best. I have two of my kids in school and only the littlest with me so I can be most efficient. A lot of people I talk to like Fridays to set themselves up for the weekend or Sunday nights so that the work/school week ahead is ready to go.

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It doesn’t matter what day it is, but try to make it the same every week.

Clean up, declutter and take stock. Give your kitchen a good clean. Starting with a spotless kitchen before you go shopping means that when you get back, putting things away will be much easier.

Take some time to throw away fruit and vegetables past their prime, sort through mostly empty jars and packets in your fridge and pantry. Can packets be combined or decanted into smaller containers? Clean counter tops and put away any dishes in the rack.

Note down any items that need to be replenished.

Sit down and plan. All you need to do is think of seven breakfasts, seven lunches and seven dinners. Ok, that doesn’t sound very easy does it? It is, trust me. Seven breakfasts could be porridge all week, but bacon and eggs on the weekend. Seven lunches could be tuna salads, ham and cheese sandwiches or lunch orders at school. You’re just writing it down and making a plan for what you might do.

Seven dinners might include eating out at your local pizza joint one night or dinner at your mother’s place. Having a plan for what you might do just ensures that you can accurately buy what you need thereby reducing wastage.

I don’t think it’s necessary to designate a particular meal to a specific night. A bit of flexibility allows for the spontaneity that I love.

What else might you need? How many loaves of bread will you likely eat? How many litres of milk. Write it all down. It could be helpful for efficiency in future planning to set up a spreadsheet or word document so that you can simply copy your previous plans.

Write a shopping list (and don’t forget to take it with you!) I really love using my smartphone’s note function to write down everything I need that way I’m less likely to forget to bring it with me.

The big supermarkets both have great apps that allow you to compile a shopping list. The one that I sometimes use even tells me which aisle I can find all the things that I need. Even if it’s just a scribble on an old envelope, take it with you and stick to it.

Implementing the plan is easy. I like to store a lot of my meats in the freezer. I find that this gives me more flexibility and allows foods to last the whole week without the chance of spoiling. Also if something pops up and you don’t use all the meat that you planned for the week, you can always carry that meal over to next week’s plan.

What this means is just a little work the day before. When you’re putting away the dishes from tonight’s dinner, decide on which meal you’re going to make tomorrow and take out the appropriate meat from the freezer and pop into the fridge to defrost.

If this meal planning dummy can do it, so can you. There’s so much to be gained from a proper plan - time, money and stress free dinner times.

Kristy is a mother of three who loves feeding her family wholesome, nutritious and above all delicious food. She has her own food blog called The Life She Made where she posts family style recipes and talks about life as a stay at home mother.

Do you meal plan already, or is it something that you’ve been meaning to do? Do you have any additional tips for successful meal planning? Join the conversation on the Essential Kids Forums.