I have to admit right up – I am not a meal planner. I tend to reverse meal plan – so I shop for my weekly produce at my farmers market once a week, always on the look out for something new and unusual and then I get creative. I never follow a recipe (unless recipe testing one of my own) and when it’s dinner time, other than having perhaps a piece of meat that needs to be cooked or a few vegetables in mind, my meals tend to evolve (into something delicious – hopefully) at the very last minute.
However I completely understand that for those of you less comfortable with free-style cooking, meal planning is a really essential routine to ensure your family is well fed and no food is wasted. So I’ve asked Skye from Packed to help me out with her fabulous tips to help you to meal plan efficiently.
Packed is a fabulous small business that supplies real food lunchboxes to Melbourne children in pre-school to grade 3 using many recipes from the Well Nourished Lunchbox ebook! They build relationships with local schools that do not have their own tuckshop and deliver directly to school. Packed is exactly as it sounds. Packed full of goodness, packed for you and ready to go. Click here to find out more about Packed and the areas they service or check out their amazing school lunches on Instagram or Facebook. PS – they also cater for healthy party food!!
Words by Skye Abraham from Packed
Meal Planning – a really healthy habit
Planning out meals for the week ahead of time is really helpful for reducing time in the kitchen, ensuring you have a healthy range of food on the menu, reducing trips to the shops and minimising waste. For those who are new to meal planning, or who don’t really know where to start, I’ve put together this summary guide to family menu planning.
Get everyone involved
Ask everyone in the family to choose one or two dishes for the period ahead. Depending on the number of days you cook and the number of people in your family, everyone might get two choices in a week, or you may plan over a fortnight. If you have a child who is going to pick pizza every time, perhaps ask them for a second choice and plan over two weeks so you don’t have to eat pizza every week. When kids feel like the process is fair and transparent, and they’ve had input, they’re more likely to buy in to your meal choices. If you have a family communication board, or room on the fridge to write up the week’s menu, I’ve found it helpful for meal time acceptance to have the week’s menu on view. For some reason, when it’s written on the magical board, they don’t seem to argue.
Use theme days
Meat free Monday, Taco Tuesday, Friday Fish and Sunday Roast are all popular theme days, but choose whatever works for you. We have Bolognese most Wednesdays because we don’t get home from sport until late and the kids always want to eat immediately and it’s an easy one to reheat. Slow cooks and roasts can also be good on those kinds of days.
Use your resources
If you’re a bit bored with your repertoire and looking for inspiration, challenge yourself to make one or two new dishes. Maybe you have a whole lot of recipes saved on Facebook, or you have a shelf full of cookbooks you don’t really use. Make it your mission to go through the resources you’ve already got and get creative. Change is as good as a holiday!
Order seasonal produce
If you want a bit of inspiration, maybe order a mixed organic produce box. You can often order specific items and/or a mixed seasonal box, as well as a range of organic dairy and bulk goods. I like to open my box and pretend I’ve just received a Master Chef challenge. Check out delivery options in your area (under the above menu > start here > find fresh produce).
If it’s Summer, plan BBQs and salads, if it’s Winter think about slow cooks, soups and curries. I keep a ‘note’ on my phone with a list of our favourites for each season. Read Georgia’s post about how simply eating produce that is ‘in season’ can dramatically improve your health, here.
Meal prep Sunday
Weekends can be really hectic with young children. If you have time to prep ahead for the week, a good place to start is washing salad leaves, cooking some quinoa to have in the fridge as a nutritious side dish or addition to salads for lunch. Cutting up veg for snacks and lunchboxes and baking biscuits or a cake for the week ahead are also good time savers. I like to roast extra veg if I’m doing a roast and save for salads, or make a huge soup that I can eat for lunch through the week or save in portions for future lunches. Use a label maker to label and date things in the freezer so you can keep track of what needs using.
Use what you have
Take a look in the fridge and pantry and look at what needs using. You have hamburgers frozen? Put them on the menu. You have half a jar of tandoori paste in the fridge? Put tandoori chicken on the menu. You have farro in the pantry from that 5 grain salad you made last month and bought a bunch of obscure ingredients for? – make it again!
I hope you’ve found this post useful. Thanks so much to Skye from Packed. If you’re living in Melbourne, check them out.
I’d love for you to share your own tips and stories of how planning fits into your routine. Questions of course also welcome, post yours in the comments below.