Use a downloadable meal planning template that you can print and use each week. It will enable you to map out your menu for the week ahead. Our step-by-step guide to meal planning below means you can create a varied and interesting set of dishes for the family to enjoy. Meal planning means that you are likely to save valuable time and money. It also means that it is far less likely to be a stressful time in the evening with having to decide what to cook for dinner.
How to meal plan
1. Create variety
Write out the days of the week based on when you do your weekly / monthly food shopping. So if it’s a Thursday then it is practical to start the menu plan from that day.
Make a list of the favourite recipes in your family and then slot them into your daily menu plan for the week/ month ahead. Does it offer a good variety of meals?
You may need to tweak it to ensure that you are offering a variety of meals including some pasta, fish, stews or other meat or vegetarian-based meals.
This is a good time to go out of your comfort zone and try new recipes.
2. Look at your daily demands
There will be some days where you will have more time to spend in the kitchen than others. Other days you may have to work late or your children may have late afternoon activities.
Check your weekly calendar against your intended meal plan. Have you chosen meals that are quick and easy to prepare on those days? If so, then timetable them in accordingly. If you are going to get home late and you’ve planned a meal that requires a fair bit of preparation you may want to rethink if that is the right day to cook it.
3. Ask for input
It’s always good to involve family members in helping to plan the menu. Talk with your partner about their preferences and what days they can be involved in helping organise dinner.
If you have slightly older children, chat with them about the kinds of meals they enjoy. Ask them if they prefer pasta to rice, or meat-based over vegetarian dishes. Often their responses will surprise you.
4. Stock up on veggies and salads
During the summer months you’ll be more inclined to enjoy salads, while the winter months will see roasted vegetables become the staple side serving.
When you are doing the weekly/ monthly shopping, it is crucial to have enough vegetables stocked up. This is so that you can serve them up at dinnertime each night.
Salads and vegetables require minimal preparation at mealtimes. At most they will need peeling and chopping up. However, they provide invaluable nutritional benefits for you and your family and it is important to include them in your meal planning.
It’s worth doing a simple vegetable plan alongside your main meal plan each week. Simple things like corn on the cob one night followed by a leafy salad the next will mean that you’re offering a variety of healthy choices to your family.
5. Put it on the fridge
It may seem like a simple thing, but once you’ve done your menu plan make sure you stick it on your fridge so that it is clearly visible to you and your family. Firstly, it will act as a daily reminder if you need to pull meats out to defrost or if there is a key ingredient you need to stock up on.
It also acts as a reminder to the rest of the family about what they can expect for dinner that night. That way, no one can argue about the dinner itself and for many young children, they find a sense of security in knowing what is ahead for them each day.
6. Make a list and stick to it
Once you’ve drawn your menu plan up, carefully go through the ingredients required for it and jot them down. Check your cupboard and fridge to see if you need to buy them so you can add them to your shopping list.
Check the local catalogues to see if there are any specials that you can take advantage of. If there is something on sale it may be worth buying extra and freezing it to use at a later date.
Try to shop at a time that is best for you and the needs of your family. While it usually won’t be an entirely stress-free event, a list means you will have a clear focus and that you are less likely to forget crucial ingredients.
The list also means you are not going to buy things you don’t need and this can end up saving you considerable amounts of money in the long-term.
7. Think ahead
Some days, things simply don’t go according to plan. You may have a meal plan schedule on your fridge but for whatever reason you simply can’t cook it.
It’s always worth doubling up on your meals when you can so you can freeze the leftovers. That way, if the day gets away you can always defrost one of your emergency dinners instead.