Planning our evening meals is one of the most important ways I have been able to both get our food budget under control and organise our evenings so that (most days) I don’t turn around at 5pm and realise I haven’t got anything out of the freezer, so it’s beans on toast or omelette for tea. In fact, the burden of having to decide what we are eating is surprisingly heavy given that it is a burden which is self-imposed. Whilst we have an understanding that this task falls to me (where many, many others fall to my husband), I am never given any grief if I drop the ball and we need to dash out for fish ‘n’ chips at the last-minute. And yet, I still find myself worrying unless I get myself organised and plan out our meals.
So far, my method has been fairly rudimentary: I make a list of meals that I want us to have or that we already have in the freezer, write a shopping list to make sure I have everything I need to make these meals and then I pin the list to the fridge and cross meals off as I make them. The upside of this system is that it is simple, quick and best of all, flexible: by not assigning meals to certain days, the plan does not get confusing should an unexpected evening occur. The downside is that I sometimes do not plan the expiry dates of the fresh ingredients very well so that meals. Or worse, if I do an online order of groceries, I don’t know the expiry dates of the food so I can lumbered with needing to fit too many dinners into too few days.
So I really want to improve on my system to make sure we reduce wasted fresh produce and make sure the meal planning process itself is not too time-consuming; I find that the initial list making can take a while and this can cause a lapse in the planning. Those few days with no meals and no new groceries are very stressful. There is only so much pesto pasta one can eat!
Simple Mom uses Google Calendar to record all her meals. She plans a fortnight of meals at a time then repeats the meals so she automatically gets 4 weeks of planning done in one go. I like this idea but I am not sure how our grocery shopping can work with this – I will probably need to plan in extra shopping trips for fresh produce for the second fortnight.
To complicate matters, my daughter is not yet eating with us since she needs to have her tea earlier at around 5pm (we tend to eat between 6 and 7.30 depending on how things are going with her). So her meals also need to be planned. I find the easiest thing is to cook for her in large batches and freeze the extra since the frozen cubes can be defrosted very quickly without having to remember to get them out of the freezer in advance (although that is the preferred option!). At the moment, I tend to just make sure I make extra of what we are having so she can have it the next day. This works fine until we have something that is not suitable for her. So I want to slot in a regular weekly cooking session for her food so that I know I have plenty of food for her without having to fall back on the expensive pouches she loves.
How do you plan your meals? What tools do you use? How do you avoid waste?