Meal prep: How to meal plan for the week – and tips to get you started
For many of us, our efforts when it comes to trying to eat healthily is often hampered by a lack of time – or simply not having what we need at hand when hunger strikes.
Enter a little bit of clever meal planning – a trick that has turned out to be a total time- and a lifesaver for myself and my own family.
And not only that, but meal planning also ensures that we eat far healthier, throw out much less food waste and actually never suffer from that familiar "what the heck are we going to eat" panic – meaning; it's a total win-win all around.
Curious about how to get started? Here are five smart ways to get you food planning in no time:
1. Keep well-stocked presses
To me, one of the least fun and most time-consuming parts of cooking is doing the grocery shopping. However, if you try to keep your presses stocked with all the basics at all times, you will save yourself a lot of time when you do hit the shops.
What are basics, you might wonder? Well, to me, they are food items that can be stored for some time, that you will use in a lot of different dishes and that will save you from any we-have-nothing-to eat crises episodes. For instance, in my pantry, I always make sure I have tinned tomatoes (perfect as a base for so many pasta sauces, soups, stews, etc.), lentils and pulses (dry, canned), grains (quinoa, rice, amaranth), different types of pasta, as well as dried herbs and spices.
2. Love your leftovers
If there are days when you don't all eat dinner together (kids eat in creche, partner is working late etc.) you are probably likely to have leftovers with any standard recipe.
What I have learned, though, is this: It’s much more efficient (time and money-wise) to cook a bigger meal. So, learn to love leftovers, and plan on eating any leftover dinner portions for lunch the next day. Or, if your meal is freezer-friendly (stews, soups, casseroles, etc), you can save it for lunch later in the week or even next week.
3. Get your prep out of the way
The fact that you know what all your meals are going to be for the week might be my favourite thing about meal planning, and really takes the stress out of things in our household. I usually get our fruit and vegetables at our local farmer's market on a Sunday, and then do the supermarket run for everything else we need the same day, just so that when Monday rolls around, we are all set.
On Sunday afternoons, I then sneak an hour, and get a lot of preparation out of the way, to really help save time on meal prep during the week. This usually involves chopping veggies, pre-cooking grains and even making up "smoothie packs" for the freezer, ready to be taken out in the mornings and just tossed into the blender.
4. Overlap ingredients
This one has been such a revelation to me, and for someone who hates the thought of throwing out food, such a genius way of doing things. Here's the deal:
If you plan on making Italian food one night (pasta, pizza whatever), and then fancy some spicy that curry the next night, chances are you are going to end up having to shop for very different ingredients for the two. Instead, try and stick to foods for the week where you know you are going to get to use many of the same ingredients, therefore ending up with less waste.
It doesn't mean eating the same thing every night; it just means that stuff you bought for the pasta puttanesca on Monday can also be used for the baked vegetables (with olives and capers) the next night too.
Or you know, if you are making Greek salad one night, you can make burgers (either veggie ones or regular meat ones) topped with feta, red onion, and olives later in the week – to make sure you get to finish off the bits you bought.
5. Be more creative
This was another reason I decided to start meal-planning: I felt like we were literally eating the same 6-7 dishes on rotation, week in and week out. This despite the fact that I am a massive cookbook lover and will read cookbooks like other people read fiction.
The thing is, though, that during a busy week, when I would race aimlessly around the aisles of my local Supervalu or Tesco, trying to figure out what the hell we would eat for dinner, I eventually just gave up, and opted for the same at-least-I-know-I-can-cook-them things as I always did.
Planning all our main meals in advance lets me be more creative in that when I hit the market or shop, I know what I have to buy and what I will be making, and am now loving making up weekly boards and lists for dinner ideas on Pinterest.
Overall, I know we are eating far more varied, healthier and are stressing much less over what we are going to eat every day – so meal planning, you got me.