35% of the average household bin ends up as food waste.
Meal planning helps reduce wasted food and also saves time, stress, and money.
Even better, it usually leads to healthier eating, better relationships and family connections when everyone is included in the process.
- DON’T START FROM SCRATCH
Meal planning doesn’t have to mean hours spent with a cookbook. Start with your go-to meals. Repeat them every week or two. Then try something new if time permits. Think of midweeks as meals that serve a purpose - they should be nutritious, balanced, and user friendly so that the whole process is doable. If your recipes are too complex, require items that are not readily available, or that spoil easily, your chances of success are limited
Punch out quick and easy repeated favourites during the week and leave the weekend for getting your “gourmet’ hat on!
We always have a batch of Jamie Oliver's Chilli Con Carne on hand either frozen or fresh for the kids to dip into - 50g of meat becomes 1.5kg of food when all the veggies and beans are incorporated. I often cook a double batch and freeze one lot for times we get caught out later than expected or have unexpected visitors.
Ask every family what their family meal is and rotate them - hey, why not get each member to be proficient at cooking their own favorite dish?!
Kids need to know how to cook, and their relationship with food starts early.
When they are included, the chance of a harmonious and happy mealtime will result.
Cooking the same recipe a few weeks in a row helps them to seek mastery over their meal, and gets you off the hook for one night of planning and cooking WINNING!!
- CHECK THE REFRIGERATOR
Next week’s meals get their start in the fridge. See what needs to be used up and then think of a meal to make with those items. Check your pantry for the rest of the ingredients and add missing pieces to the shopping list. Use up leftover veggies in frittata/quiche, or have a bubble and squeak night when there's food leftover.
KNOW YOUR STAPLES
Once you have a range of “go-to recipes” you’ll know what you need to have on hand each week to put it all together.
I know the Chili recipe so well, that I just automatically grab the ingredients we need for that each week.
If we don't feel like Chilli - I can morph the ingredients into Bolognese, or make a shepherd's pie as well without many other ingredients.
- USE PORTION PLANNERS
Portion calculators can help you feed a big group, but they can offer insight into daily cooking too. For success in weight management or weight loss, portion sizes matter. Even if you are clean eating every day - eat too much and you won't see the result you are looking for. :(
Educate your family on what a portion looks like, and use plates that are of a relative size!
If kids are handed a big white plate, they will fill it every time.
We use the entree plate from our dinner set, as I have invested in some small dessert bowls so that portion dispersion doesn't creep in as a habit
Kids need to know what they are eating, how much is needed, and what it means to their long term health if they overeat even if it's healthy food.
Our job, as we reacquaint ourselves with good food in the right serving size, is to inform our kids early, so they cement GOOD HABITS FROM THE BEGINNING
Our daily of origin’s beliefs around food are shaping us from a very early age.
“Have some more” “you’re a growing boy/girl” “help yourself” “eat everything or you can't leave the table” “you’re such a good boy/girl - here have as much cake as you want”
These phrases can be the exact input we don't need around mealtimes/treats. And echo long after the words are said - Literally - these words can shape us!
- HAVE KITCHEN ESSENTIALS HANDY
Having two or three grains, cooking fundamentals, key spices, and “hero” sauces like barbecue and peanut sauce can use up odds and ends in the fridge and bring new life to old meals.
Learn how to cook in advance and freeze
I love brown rice, but on a weeknight, I feel it takes too long to cook - so I batch cook and freeze rice, pasta, noodles to make midweek a breeze
I also buy extra milk and bread and freeze so we are not wasting time making extra trips to the shops during the week - this is where you’ll save $$$$ shop once, don't top up every other day - you’ll generally end up buying more than you intended
Stay out of the shops and you’ll also avoid “hunger buying” or impulsive decisions on a weeknight when you're in a hurry.
- USE BUILDING BLOCKS
Pick two types of protein, one or two grains, and a veggie medley to make at the beginning of
the week and then incorporate into different meals. A sauté of broccoli and peppers can be used
as a side one night, spooned onto enchiladas another night, and worked into a soup or meatloaf
later in the week. Roasted veggies are also a good thing to have on hand - AND roast potatoes are even better for your gut health if they have been cooked and cooled before eaten, so you're smashing a few goals there.
- THINK DOUBLE DUTY
Planning a Tuesday taco night? Think about other ways to use the extra tortillas. Ingredients
sometimes come in larger portions than we need. If you plan a second meal around them, it’s easier to avoid overload. We have 3 in our household, so I cook for 4 and make my son’s lunch the next day - it helps them to eat more VEGGIES - and cuts downtime and mental energy on school lunch ideas.
- SCHEDULE A LAZY NIGHT
The truth is we don’t always have the time or energy to cook every night. Plan a few lazy
nights that don’t require cooking and take the opportunity to order takeout or dine with friends.
This makes the monotony of repeated meals feel a bit easier. We often keep frozen pizza bases on hand, and have homemade pizza on a friday - still pretty healthy, but it feels a bit more relaxed and “weekend” like.
- GO FRESH FIRST
To preserve freshness and nutrition, use perishables like seafood and meat earlier in the
week and save pasta, dairy, and omelets for later in the week. Some greens like kale will stay fresh longer than others... How many times have you found a watery zucchini in the bottom drawer you wish was used a little bit sooner! :)
- LEAN ON FROZEN INGREDIENTS
Frozen foods have nearly all of the nutrients (and sometimes more) as their fresh counterparts. And they don’t go bad. So having a few bags of frozen veggies on hand, oven bake chips (check that are not oil soaked) mini quiche, samosa, frozen dumplings come in all sorts of flavours and are a good little pocket of protein and veg normally.
Make a loaf of banana or pumpkin bread and slice into portions for freezing for quick and healthy snacks for school lunches.
- COOK AND FREEZE
Soups, stews, casseroles, and lasagnas can all be made in large batches and then frozen and
defrosted when you need a quick dinner. To keep it easy, freeze the portion sizes you’ll want to defrost.
Make a few at once and you’ll have a good supply to call on.
I also rely on our local butcher’s online and delivery service. I save all our favourites, just add them to the cart, checkout and the freezer is full again in no time!