Meal plan notebook

Meal planning for beginners

Do you plan your meals for the week ahead? Do you write your shopping list whilst you plan your meals?

We’ve all had those days or weeks where life has been super busy and we’ve forgotten to think about what we will eat for dinner later! This more often results in a scramble after work when the kids are extra hungry, trying to find something from the fridge or freezer to put together as an acceptable meal. We are hungry and tired and can’t seem to make a decision apart from ‘lets just get a takeaway’.

Does this sound all too familiar? Do you want to learn more how to effectively meal plan, write your shopping list and ensure you are making the right food choices to ensure a healthy, balanced diet? In this blog post I will share lots of tips and tricks that will help you to achieve more organisation in your life when it comes to meal planning.

Why is meal planning a good idea?

There are numerous benefits from meal planning, they include:

  • reduce food waste
  • saves time
  • better organised
  • supports eating a healthy, balanced diet
  • saves money
  • increased food variety
Lady looking at food in cupboard

Some of these tips are ones that I’ve found work best for me and others are ones that have been passed onto me by my mum who is the queen of meal planning!

How to meal plan?

I’m going to share 5 top tips with you for effective meal planning that will save your time, energy and hopefully money whilst ensure you eat a healthy, balanced diet. These tips can work when you live alone or have children to feed.

Tip 1: Find sources of inspiration for your meals

I use a variety of sources for my meal ideas, these include websites, good old fashioned recipe books (especially those with inviting photos), cooking shows, social media and friends/family.

cook book and wooden spoons

One of my favourite is:

Tip 2: Check you diary for the week

Do you or your family members have regular activities that may impact upon the time you eat? Having your diary with you when you meal plan will ensure you account for them and plan accordingly. You may want to choose meals that can reheated if a member of the family will be eating at a separate time to everyone else.

This is where I find a slow cooker really handy. I can prepare the slow cooker meal in the morning and set it off cooking so that’s its ready for dinnertime later that day. Typically meals that I’ve cooked in the slow cooker, will reheat well.

Tip 3: Don’t forget your reason for meal planning

There may be several reasons you are meal planning including reducing food waste, to eat more healthily, to feel more organised or to reduce the number of takeaways you have. Remembering your reason for meal planning, will help you keep on track with choosing meals.

For example, if you want to reduce food waste, think about what you will do with any left over ingredients from one meal and how they could be incorporated into another meal or whether you could make a larger batch and freeze some for use at a later date.

Tip 4: Check your cupboards, freezer and fridge before you decide on recipes

Do you have food lurking in your cupboards that you just not got around to using? A quick mine sweep of your existing supplies can help with deciding on how these could be incorporated into a meal. Identifying any further ingredients you might need will help to build your shopping list whilst also reducing food waste.

food in freezer

Tip 5: Write your shopping list as you plan your meals

Doing this will save you time as it will help to identify whether you already have the food in (see tip 4) or whether you need to add it to your shopping list.

Depending on how you do you food shopping and what day of the week you do the food shopping, will determine what meals you have on which days.

Once you have planned your weekly meals, you might want to consider using a weekly planner template to write all your meals down. This will give you a great visual overview of the meals for the week ahead. Placing it someone where other members of the household can see it will also be useful so they can refer to it and hopefully assist with the preparation or cooking of the chosen meals. If you have food that is frozen that needs to be defrosted before using, the template is useful for reminding you to do this.

I’ve created a FREE meal planning template, which you can access once you sign up for my newsletter here

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Caroline Hill is a specialist menopause dietitian supporting women making dietary change. Caroline uses her extensive knowledge, skills and expertise of food and nutrition to help women manage their symptoms and weight during menopause. Caroline believes in providing sustainable, individualised, evidence-based advice to women making dietary change.

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