Does the idea of making a meal plan freak you out?
Perhaps you never know what you’re going to want for dinner until it’s actually time to eat.
Maybe you don’t like to plan because you like to be spontaneous.
Often when people say they have no time to cook dinner, what they mean is ‘I don’t have the mental energy to think about what to cook every night’.
They don’t want to have to make more decisions. After all, there are many micro-decisions that have to happen to get dinner on the table yourself. Ordering takeaway only requires one decision: “What do I feel like tonight?”
What is a meal plan?
Meal planning in advance takes away the mental load of deciding what to cook each night. It involves writing out what you plan to eat for the next week (or fortnight or month, depending on how organised you are); grouping those meals to maximise ingredients and leftovers; then shopping to collect the items needed to prepare those meals.
Putting in a little bit of planning on one day means you don’t actually have to think about what you are going to cook on the other six days of the week. It also helps you think strategically about how to maximise the time you are spending in the kitchen to get the most out the minutes you are in there.
It’s not complicated
A plan doesn’t have to be complicated. Until recently, I wrote a meal plan in the reminders app on my smart phone. I’ve just start using an app called Meal Board. I can import all my ideas and recipe links into this app, which I am enjoying. Paprika is another app that I know some people enjoy using.
Others use a whiteboard, kitchen blackboard or jot down notes in their diary. It’s good to do the meal planning at the same time each week, and that time should be just before you go shopping – or place an online order.
How to make a meal plan
First look at your plans for the week. You might have late nights or commitments with other people. Then, write down a suggestion of what you are going to eat each night.
Remember my last post? It’s just dinner. This isn’t a competition and you don’t have to impress anyone. Scrambled eggs on toast with rocket on the side is actually an easy, quick dinner (that also happens to be super-cheap).
Next, you need a plan to get the ingredients you need. That might involve a trip to the grocery store or an online shop. Whichever it is for you, check what you already have in the fridge or pantry so you don’t waste time buying or ordering things you already have. Plan to use up ingredients (in leftovers meals or lunchboxes) so you don’t create food waste.
Other time-saving tips
- Make a big batch of a casserole, curry or soup once a week and freeze it. Voila! It becomes dinner one night on the following week. The only time you need is time to hit the defrost button on the microwave.
- If you know that you have more time one night, use that time to cook elements of meals that you can use when you are short on time. For instance, cook the quinoa so you can make you this salad in a flash.
- You can still be flexible within your plan. Don’t feel like chickentonight? Swap it for the Meat-free Monday option you’d planned on.
- ‘Leftovers’ is a valid dinner option – put it in the plan if you know you cook big quantities and all you’ll need is the time to get the leftovers out of the fridge. Most things that you cook will last 3-4 days if you put them in the fridge within immediately after dinner. However, rice should be reheated well if not using the next day.
- If planning for whole week freaks you out, just take it three days at a time. It will still save you time, money and mental energy.
- If you simply can’t plan your dinner until the day you need to cook it, make your decision early in the day when you aren’t tired and stressed.
- Put the items you know you’ll need for dinner in the next week right at the front of the fridge or pantry so you don’t have to pfaff around looking for ingredients.
- If you use recipes, bookmark, print, copy, snip or stick on the fridge the recipes so you have them to hand when you need to cook.
- Wash or rinse dishes as you go to prevent lots of washing up at the end of the meal.