Weekly meal planning: 14 tips to get you started plus 5 families share what they’re eating this week #giveupbinningfood
Paid collaboration with Love Food Hate Waste
As I mentioned last week, we’ve been challenged by Love Food Hate Waste to reduce food waste for Lent.
Their #giveupbinningfood campaign hopes to inspire households to change their eating, shopping and food storage habits to help cut down on the amount of food which is unnecessarily thrown away.
In the UK, £13 billion of edible food was thrown away from our homes in 2015 alone. That’s a total of 7.3 million tonnes of food (400,000 tonnes of that here in Wales), which if prevented, would have the same environmental benefit as taking one in four cars off the road. Cutting back on food waste could also save households up to £15 a week, a whopping £60 a month – or £700 a year!
The campaign started on Wednesday 1st March and runs for the 40 days of Lent until Thursday 13th April, and I’ll be posting regularly during that time.
Each week has a different theme, with this week’s focus being on meal planning.
Meal planning is one of the big factors in helping to reduce food waste. Planning what you are eating means making your day-to-day life more organised and, as you’ll only buy what you need when shopping, you’ll save money and will be less likely to find food going off in the back of the fridge.
Organising what we are going to eat each week makes a massive difference for us in reducing food waste and saving money. We’ve been doing it for years so I thought I’d share a few tips we’ve picked up along the way, and explain how it works for us.
Here are our top tips for meal planning, while below five families share their weekly meal plans
1. Sit down as a family once a week and plan what you are going to eat every day…
We spend around five minutes once a week, usually while we’re eating tea on a Sunday, planning for the week ahead. I write the days of the week on a blank piece of paper, make any notes of nights my husband’s working late, or one of us is eating out with friends or we’re eating out as a family, if the kids have any after school activities which mean I need something quick to make for tea, if they have friends over for tea etc.
We try to eat as a family as often as we can, but it’s not so easy when they have activities, so sometimes the three of them will eat together and then Cardiff Daddy and I will eat later.
My kids are pretty good with most kinds of food but there are days when they just refuse to eat what’s on their plate, saying it’s horrible and they hate it, despite the fact they’ve eaten it a thousand times. So, when we plan for the week, everyone gets to choose one meal (within reason – it has to be relatively healthy and can’t be the same as what someone else has chosen… ie, we’re not having different variations of pasta four days in a row) and if they complain too much while eating someone else’s choice, then they forgo their next choice. It works really well for us because the children know what to expect and they respond really well to being part of the decision making process.
Fridays are always a treat night in our house, with either pizza, fajitas, hot dogs, or some other ‘fun’ food on the menu.
As chief household organiser, shopper and cook, I get two choices. Generally, I choose one meal I can batch cook, so I can put the extra portions in the freezer for another date, and for the other I check the freezer for something I’ve already pre-made so I can have an easy night.
2. …but do your food research beforehand so you can guide the conversation
Before sitting down as a family, check what food you have in the fridge, freezer and cupboards so you can help to guide their suggestions, ie, saying something like “we need to have something with carrots/potatoes/spinach etc one night because it’s almost past its best. Likewise, if I know we have a busy week where we’re on the go a lot, I’ll tell everyone it has to be food that can be cooked quickly, or things that are already in the freezer.
3. Think about the weather!
If the weather is good at the weekend, are you likely to go out for the day, and therefore not want to cook the roast you have planned? Or if it’s cold and miserable, you may not want that salad after all.
4. Think about how you can utilise left over ingredients from the meals you are making to make another dish
It’s so frustrating when you have to buy more than you need because that’s the only size available in the shop. If we have broccoli with a Sunday roast, for example. One head is too big for our family, and I found it was going to waste, so I’ll buy two, use what we need for our meal, and then whizz up the rest into broccoli and Stilton soup. Same with a bag of potatoes. If we’re having bangers and mash, I’ll cook the rest of the bag at the same time to make a cheese and potato pie and put it in the freezer for another date. Think beyond ‘this week’ when meal planning.
5. Use your meal planning list to write your shopping list
Looking at the meals you have planned, work out what you already have in the house, what you need to buy now… and what you can put off buying until later in the week so that it doesn’t go off before you’re due to use it. It can be tempting to do a huge shop once a week to get everything you need, but
6. Keep your meal planning list where everyone can see it
Ours gets pinned onto the fridge, so it’s always visible, meaning I won’t forget and suddenly wonder what all those random ingredients in the fridge are for.
7. Batch cook a few times a month
I have a few recipes where I’ll quadruple up on the ingredients, for example, my sausage casserole, red lentil dhal, and all of my soup recipes. It doesn’t take that much longer to prepare four times as many ingredients so that we can have one that night and three for the freezer. It makes life so much easier!
8. Have a contingency plan
Some weeks, despite our best planning, it all goes to pot. Maybe someone is poorly, or we make spontaneous plans meaning the original choice is no longer practical. If this is the case, make sure to re-schedule any meals using fresh ingredients for as soon as you can, and freeze anything that may go off. I usually go shopping on a Monday, and although I tend to plan for the week ahead, I don’t always buy for the weekend for example, in case plans change. Batch cooking means we’ll always have something in the freezer that can be easily defrosted and cooked if it turns out I don’t have time to cook what we had planned.
9. Plan leftovers into your weekly meals
There are certain recipes I always make too much of so that it can be eaten the next day. I double up on this warming pesto butter beans for example, so I can have it for lunch on the days I work at home. I often cook extra pasta so the kids can have cold pasta bolognaise in their lunch boxes, as a change to sandwiches or wraps.
10. Work out what you can prep in advance
For example, if we’re having fajitas for tea on Monday and cheese and potato pie on Thursday, I’ll grate all of the cheese I need in one go, plus some extra for the kids’ sandwiches. However, don’t prep too much, in case plans change and food goes off, for example, pre-cut vegetables don’t last long.
11. Use your phone to set reminders
If you need to get a meal out of the freezer to defrost for a particular night, or you need to buy fresh ingredients later in the week, set your phone alarm to remind you. Likewise, if anything needs to be prepared the night before, or you have a slow cooker to set etc, put it into your phone. If you’re anything like me, you’re likely to forget so spending a minute or two after writing your meal plan to set up alarms can make sure ingredients don’t go to waste.
12. Organise your recipes
Sometimes, knowing what to cook in the first place is the biggest problem! Set up a board on Pinterest, have a file of cuttings from magazines, or write a list of favourites from your your different recipe books and stick it on the fridge. You can organise them by favourites, quick and easy, new ones to try etc. Build up a core of around 20 you like, and rotate, with perhaps five trusted recipes a week and two new ones to try.
13. Organise your fridge and freezer
I’ll be talking about this later on in our challenge, but an organised fridge and freezer can help you see food which needs to be used soon. Check what you have, and what’s close to going off, before you go shopping. Put foods with a short shelf life near the front, where you’ll see them. Put ingredients for the same recipe together. If you have loads of pre-made meals in the freezer, perhaps set up a list somewhere, so you know what you have.
14. Find a meal planning system that works for you
Maybe a meal-planning app works better for you, where you can search for inspiration, collate your favourite recipes, or input an ingredient and see what recipes it suggests. Or perhaps having themed nights suits your family, so Monday is always a pre-made batch-cooked meal already in the freezer, Tuesday is a meat-free night, Wednesday is a mid-week roast, Thursday a slow cooker meal, Friday is pasta etc. Read articles, try out different the tips, but don’t be afraid to do it your way. As long as you are eating a balanced diet, wasting less food and money, and feeling more prepared, then your way is the right way.
Five families share their weekly meal plan
Cathryn of Cardiff Mummy Says
Monday: kids – pasta bolognaise before gymnastics class (get one portion of pre-cooked bolgnaise out of the freezer) ; grown-ups: roasted butternut squash, spinach, feta and pine nut salad
Tuesday: vegetable fajitas with homemade guacamole and salsa, and soured cream; sweet potato wedges
Wednesday: kids – fish fingers, oven chips and straight after taekwondo; grown-ups – gigantes Greek-inspired beans (with an extra portion for me for lunch tomorrow)
Thursday: mid week roast. Chicken breasts for the kids and Cardiff Daddy, Portobello mushroom stuffed with sundried tomatoes, black olives and pine nuts; mini potatoes roasted in olive oil, broccoli and carrots
Friday: pizza, olives and salad
Saturday: lunch – roasted red pepper and tomato soup (make a big batch and freeze several portions); tea, black bean chilliwith rice and the rest of the salsa, soured cream.
Sunday: lunch –bangers and mash with red onion gravy, cooked by Cardiff Daddy; red pepper and tomato soup with sandwiches for tea
Kerry of All About A Mini Norris
Mum of two Kerry has recently started meal planning and says, “It makes our food shop so much easier and I am able to be organised and prepared on a daily basis.” Although they eat as a family when they can, it’s not always easy as her husband works an hour’s drive away, so gets back a lot later than when her daughters need to eat. Kerry is on a healthy eating mission, so a number of her meals are inspired by Joe Wicks and Kayla Itsines, and she’s experimenting with lots of new dishes. She says, “I’m doing a lot of batch cooking some slow cooker meals so that if ever the kids don’t like something new I’ve made them (which happens a lot) then I’ve always got some things for back up.”
Here’s one of her recent weekly meal plans
The grown ups
Monday: Homemade healthy pizza adapted from a Kayla Itsines recipe
Tuesday: A surprise (hubby is cooking dinner)
Wednesday: Cheesy Chorizo, chicken and spinach (Joe Wicks recipe)
Thursday: Joe’s Chicken Pie (Joe Wicks recipe)
Friday: Halloumi burgers
Sunday: Roast dinner
Tuesday: Fish Pie
Wednesday: Pasta Bake
Thursday: Joe’s Chicken Pie
Friday: Beef Burgers
Sunday: Roast dinner
Jo of Ojo’s World
Jo has just joined Slimming World and in her first week lost 5lb. A lot of her recipes are from Slimming World magazines and the website. She’s found being organised has helped her plan her week, and
Here’s what she’s eating:
Monday: spaghetti bolognaise (using the mince she bought last week for lasagne but which she didn’t end up making last week)
Tuesday: pizza – possibly with a cauliflower/mash/chicken fillet base
Wednesday: mid-week roast
Thursday: chicken curry
Friday: burgers and fries – Slimming World fries for Jo)
Saturday: Kebabs – from the Slimming World magazine as they were a huge success last week
Sunday: Sunday roast with homemade vegetable gravy, which Jo says is “absolutely stunning and so simple”.
She says, “It’s simply vegetables of your choice, I use cauliflower and broccoli, with a single potato dropped in. Boil to soft, then drain, saving the cooking water. Blend until smooth, add the water back in until it’s a gravy consistency. Add stock cubes/pots to flavour.”
Alina of We Made This Life
Alina is a typical mum of three in that she spends a lot of time ferrying her children to activities and play dates, and having her children’s friends round for tea. She needs to be organised with food, plus she says it also saves money and reduces food waste. Alina and her children are vegetarian, but her husband isn’t.
She’s sharing two of her weekly food plans.
Monday: vegetable curry
Tuesday: vegetable stir fry
Wednesday: Quorn chilli
Thursday: homemade pizza
Saturday: Alina’s birthday meal out!
Sunday: Sunday roast
Monday: Sausage and bean casserole
Wednesday: falafels and hummus wrap
Thursday: spaghetti bolognaise
Friday: Quorn burgers and chips
Sunday: Quorn chilli con carne
Alana of Baby Holiday
Alana is currently sharing parental leave with her husband Stew, meaning that as she’s now working full-time, meal planning is down to him. Here’s his menu and shopping list for this week.
Monday: chicken and new potato hash
(Need to buy: spring onions, mange tout, spinach, chicken breasts, small potatoes)
Tuesday: curry and rice
(Need to buy: naan bread, chicken pieces, curry sauce jar, microwave pilau rice pack)
Wednesday: Pesto penne
(Need to buy: pesto)
Thursday: Quorn fajitas with peppers and carrots
(Need to buy: wraps, peppers)
Friday: Cheese and potato pie
(Need to buy: shortcrust pastry, cheese)
Do you meal plan? Has it helped you save money, food waste and be more organised? Do you have any tips to share with other families? Do let me know in the comments below, on the Cardiff Mummy Says Facebook page or by tweeting me on @cardiffmummy
I already meal plan but this has still given me some fab ideas!
Since I started meal planning I have found we have saved money and saved on the food we throw away at the end of the week….
It really makes a huge difference to waste, planning meals. It also reduces my weekly shopping bill x