Taking the pain out of meal planning

We all know meal planning makes sense if you’re on a budget. In the first flush of blogging (and for some time after actually) I found it really easy to do this and it became a normal part of my week. However, it seems I’m not alone in letting this slide. I’ve noticed several other bloggers commenting that they need to get back into it again. Why does it get so difficult? Is it because it is hard to stick to a plan or because it is hard to find the time and inspiration in the first place? The latter seems more likely to me. Just to re-cap, meal planning is great because:

  • You only buy what you actually need (thus cutting back on those little extras that add up) so it is cheaper
  • You don’t end up doing extra trips to the shops to pick something up for dinner (thus spending more than if you had done a bit of planning)
  • You tend to use up things that need to be used up (thus not having to throw things away because they’ve gone off )
  • You don’t have to spend all evening saying ‘What are we going to eat?’ (thus not driving yourself/each other crazy)

Everyone needs to find their own approach for this. Notes From The Frugal Trenches has often mentioned that she likes to do a meal plan that is flexible enough that she can pick what to have out of a potential selection each day. I’ve been spending a bit of time thinking about my own meal planning needs. What I’ve realised is that, for us, it only makes sense to have a meal plan for Monday to Friday as the weekends are a bit more variable; we might have people over, we might be eating at a friends house or we might go out to eat. I also used to have time to have a big cooking session each weekend where I could freeze lots of meals to be used over the next couple of weeks. I don’t really have the time now and if I do get the time I’d rather cook something new that isn’t necessarily freezer-friendly. My biggest ‘want’ has been to find a way to take the pain out of meal planning and this is what I’ve come up with:

  • Writing 4 plans: Yup, I’ve written 4 weeks worth of meal plans. It took me about an hour of faffing about but it was worth it. The four meal plans now reside in my filofax, each with their own shopping list and I can chop and change between them. If I fancy something different then I can write a different one but, on the weeks I can’t be bothered, the thinking has already been done.
  • Basic shopping list: I’ve also written a basic shopping list for all of the things we buy every week or every other week (like milk, cereal, fruit, bread etc). That way I can check off what I need to get when I’m doing the weekly shop.
  • Freezer food: Each week I’m going to do one bit of batch cooking in the evening (so two portions can go in the freezer) and then we can have one evening ‘off’ each week too as we can have a home-made ready meal. Nice. 

I’m still using my storecupboard list and a few other ideas (see the ‘Shoestring Food’ page for more details) but this really is making life a lot easier already!

Categories: Frugal food | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “Taking the pain out of meal planning

  1. Must do this. Have done in the past with success, not sure why I go off track.

    Your final bullet about driving each other crazy asking ‘what are we going to eat?’ made me smile – a nightly occurence Chez Whoops -a-daisy. There is also the risk here that if I suggest the winning meal I will also have to cook! So a potentially loaded conversation!

  2. You’re so right about inexplicably going off track, it’s just impossible to maintain.

    As we speak, my cupboards are bare and we’re waiting for Mr Tescos to deliver so hopefully that’ll give us some impetus to meal plan again.


  3. I think meal planning is a great idea on a couple of levels. Firstly, you always have the ingredients that you need for the meal, and secondly it really decreases food wastage.

  4. I need to learn how to plan a menu based on the grocery ads that come in the mail. I just don’t know how to do it and not sure if the price advertised is the best price. Hence, my grocery bill has been incredibly high because what usually happens is we run to the stores several times a week and of course, buy things that we didn’t intend to buy. So frustrating!

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