Meal Plan Hell
Meal Plans, a god send for some and yet for others can send them running for the hills.
The fear of meal plans stem from several reasons such as, the time it will take to complete, confusion over complicated cook books, bombarded by health advice, people who think they are incapable of planning their meals tomorrow-never mind a full week in advance, the worriers who believe they will run out of food before the end of the week and the thrifty souls who are guilt ridden they will end up throwing away out of date fresh food they never got around to using!
However the below checklist will help you deal with some of these fears and more as I give you an overview of my weekly meal plan.
I love making meal plans! They tap into my over organised, thrifty efficient side that loves budgeting as much as it loves making a new delicious family meal from scratch. However over the years I have learnt some tricks that I would like to share with you now:-
1.Meal Plans need only take as long as you want them to. The quickest I have made a meal plan is in half an hour while half watching an old Big Band. However I do love to spend time making meal plans over a period of days. This is easy to do with Asda online shopping account. Here you can add items as you go and they are constantly saved. This means I often find myself food shopping while eating lunch or traveling to work.
I usually starts on a Monday when the vast majority of our fresh food has gone and I know the rest of the working week will be frozen meals and a nice take out on Friday night. I therefore write my plan at the beginning of the week and then I start my online shopping. Over the course of the week I add and remove items so as to make meals cheaper or more fun.
2.Use your loaf. If your one of these people who orders a full week of shopping on a Monday, only to be left cupboard bare by Wednesday then take in a few extra, multi use options. Bread, cheese, milk, egg and flour are a great place to start and can be used for all sorts of meals and snack. Top up on the favorites that quickly disappear, such as crisps and other convenience food. Make sure that cupboards and freezers are well stocked! These foods will keep for a lot longer and you can often find great 2 for 1 offers in the supermarkets.
3.Do a quick check. For those health conscience cookers who love to buy in fresh but perishable items check the use by date online before you buy. Then plan to cook all your fresh food before you even think of touching your frozen/cupboard food. To do this I usually pick up my food on a Friday afternoon. That way I have some time and energy at the weekend to cook it and either eat it then or freeze it for later in the week. I also check in my fridge and cupboards to see if any weekly essentials need topping up-like sugar or spices or if I have some never ending products I could use in some dishes, like white wine vinegar or olives.
4.Keeping it healthy is ABC. To help keep my meal plan healthy I follow a few simple rules.
A. I plan three meals from scratch and three frozen meals that can be prepared by my cooking challenged partner (he still calls it cooking though as he actually has to touch the oven) . That leaves one meal left for eating out, take outs or left overs.
B. To help make my meal plan healthy and varied I have two fish meals, two vegetarian, one white meat and one dark meat. One of these meals must also be a curry-for health as well as yummy value.
C. I have found that carbs are difficult for me to shift, so I make sure all our evening meals have low to no carb options for myself but that my partner or daughter are not missing out. So if I’m making pizza, chips and salad, I just don’t have the chips.
5.You don’t have to make a separate meal plan for everyone in the house. As much as possible I try and give JKD the same for dinner as me and W. We do this for budget reasons but also because as we want her to try different flavors, we don’t believe in “child food” and I don’t want her to get into the habit of thinking I will make a separate meal for her. However as many parents know what our ideals are can often be hard to stick to especially when your all shattered after a long day and all you want is just for them to eat something healthy before bedtime. So I do have a few quick and easy backups. At the moment JKD is loving small platters of mixed veg, dip, cheese and cold meat which is easy to put together and requires very little extra shopping.
6.It’s easy to decide what to cook. Gone are days of only knowing how to make 5 standard meals and repeating these few on a never ending cycle (Sheppard Pie Monday, chicken, beans and chips Tuesday etc. etc.). Now we are awash with quick, easy and cheap recipes which can be easily searched for online, I especially like BBCGoodFood.com. They have a never ending list of great dishes which can be easily searched for, filtered and saved. I also have a few cook books on the go, my favorite at the moment is “the one Pond meal” recipe book by blogger and cook Miguel Barclays. However inspiration can also still be found in magazines, cooking shows and seasonal food.
7.It’s fun or all the family. At the weekend I love making smoothies with JKD and we both enjoy doing some baking together. She loves “helping” me and getting messy in the kitchen as well as washing up after. And if we make a high in carbs treat such as cake or muffins this gets taken to nursery or child minders the following Monday-the way to a nannies heart is through her stomach! In the future my plan is to include JKD much more in the weekly meal plan and have one or two meals every week which she has asked for and that I can also teach her how to make. By the time she is 12 I would like her to be able to make at least one dinner from scratch a week. But for now I just include meals I know she and my partner have eaten and liked before as well as some new foods.
8.Don’t over complicate it. Don’t feel that you have to plan every bite your family will take or that every meal must be outstanding and different. Weekly favorites are loved for a reason. For instance My partner W shares our online shopping account and sorts himself out, however he watches all the food and health shows with me and we talk about importance of food and a healthy diet a lot so he is quite aware of what is good and bad for him and has cut out some bad habits over the years including daily drinking vast amounts of sugary drinks and microwave burgers and instead has replaced them with bottles of water and enjoys making the weekly salad.
9.It really can help keep you healthy. Doing my weekly plan and shopping online has allowed me to remove temptation from my life. I am no longer a victim of the chocolate aisle-as I no longer use it. This makes things so much easier to follow a low carb, high in fruit and veg daily diet. However I have a sweet tooth which although I am trying to control and limit I do still struggle with-especially in the evening. For this I order in a bar of dark chocolate, which helps me controls my cravings.
10. It makes life a lot easier! All our food shopping is done on Asda online website. We have tried other supermarkets and other shopping methods but we have found this works for us, as its prices are constantly low and we can collect at times that are convenient for us. The website itself is also great as it allows you to filter food by price and has a list of the nutritional value of items to ensure you can keep you food healthy. I personally love the running total at the side which allows me to see where I have overspent and keep within my budget. All in all our weekly online food shop comes to around £60 a week. However once the household extra such as toothpaste and cleaning products have been added on, along with a few personal products such as tights for me and vests for JKD this can come to £70. Although in the past we have found we could save a few pounds by shopping around and getting our meat from Aldi and house products from Poundland the effort this requires (especially with a toddler who hates her buggy and only wants to walk) can be exceptionally difficult and so we have chosen convenience over price (for now)