Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
Meal planning starter guide
Is it possible to eat well on a budget?
Add meal planning to your life, and yes. Absolutely. It’s totally possible to eat well on a budget.
Before you roll your eyes and say you don’t have time for meal planning, I’ll show you you’re wrong.
You will need to put some effort in to get started. There’s no such thing as a free lunch.
But meal planning will repay you.
Here’s how meal planning can benefit your life
Everywhere you look, there’s a news item telling you that you shouldn’t eat fast food as it isn’t good for you.
But the cost of fresh food seems high by comparison.
There’s a good reason why takeaways and ready meals satisfy the tastebuds
Food companies spend millions on researching the taste of the food they produce.
They do that to make products you will buy again and again.
The problem with some ready meals is that they rely on high salt and sugar levels to add flavour. Not to mention the other additives used to preserve the food and make it look attractive.
If you have children the findings of research carried out as recently as 2019 will cause you concern.
The biggest sinners were too much sugar in cereals and yoghurts, together with high salt levels in ready meals and processed foods and low levels of fibre in packet cereals that contributes hugely to a lousy diet.
Meal Planning Is A Great habit to develop TO REDUCE RELIANCE ON CONVENIENCE FOOD
And that’s not all!
Meal planning will save you money. One of my colleagues in this industry saved $400 in the first month of taking meal planning seriously for a family of four. That’s serious money.
Meal planning cuts down on waste which we should all be doing.
And, it saves you time as you’ll have all the ingredients you need ready to go.
Best of all, meal planning helps with your healthy eating plan; helping you maintain a healthy weight.
All this means that you should start planning your meals.
Recently I wrote about decluttering
Our brand new website dedicated to home design and planning, MellKem tackles the subject of decluttering and how it can help relieve stress.
You know meal planning will make your life easier, but you tell yourself you’re just not good at planning.
Rubbish. You haven’t tried it so how can you know? It’s time to get over yourself and make a start.
Be bold and conquer your inner lazy person!
Inevitably, you won’t bother to fight your way through stacks of cans, packets, jars and out of date food, so you can cook healthy meals using the ingredients from your store cupboard.
It’s way too easy to revert to type with a disorganised store cupboard and take the comfortable option of a frozen ready meal microwaved and thrown onto a plate.
My pantry declutter piece talked about the wasted food that is a consequence of not knowing what food you have in the house.
As a direct result of not having an organised pantry or store cupboard you waste money.
Not being organised means you make bad choices at mealtimes because you don’t have the ingredients easily to hand to rustle up a quick healthy meal.
Not to mention the number of times you go to your pantry and want to scream at the mess in there!
For all these reasons your starting point to meal planning is to have an organised store cupboard.
Once you’re organised you can take an inventory
Stop rolling your eyes! Remember. You’re going to change your ways and do this.
Now you have a pantry that’s free of the stuff that shouldn’t be in there.
Best of all, you’ve purged the out-of-date food and have only those things you can use; you’re ready to start your pantry inventory.
Grab a pad and pen, or sign up and get access to my freebies library, where you’ll find a Pantry Inventory to help get you started.
If you’re already on our email list and have the Freebies password, click here.
Start with the Fridge
The one place that stores your perishable food is the fridge so start with that.
Remember, you’re not looking for recipe ideas or to add to your shopping list just yet. You’re just listing everything in there, including expiry dates.
For sure, though, you’ll suddenly realise you have some food that needs to be used in the next few days, or it’s another thing for the wasted list.
Move on to the Pantry
Same thing here. List everything.
As you list the food in your pantry, please take the opportunity to organise it into categories so that finding ingredients is easier.
One great idea is to put breakfast cereals and the kids’ snacks together and towards the front of the pantry. You’re probably not the only person going in and out of there, so if you want it to stay tidy and organised, make it easy for other people in the house to find what they want.
Put lesser-used foodstuff further back, such as the extra packets of pasta or flour you bought that you only need to get to when the supplies stored nearer your work area have been used up.
One of the best ideas I found when I was organising my pantry, and starting my meal planning was using storage baskets.
With my pantry inventory in hand, I prepare my meal plan for the week ahead and group the ingredients I need, putting them together in one basket labelled for the meal and day I will use them.
Any ingredient I’m out of when I put them into the meal baskets goes on my shopping list.
My recipe’s perishable items will be in the freezer, ready to be taken out and defrosted, or in the fridge, or on my shopping list.
I’m betting there are pre-cooked and frozen meals in your freezer without labels.
You have to guess what’s in there and how long it’s been waiting for you to remember it.
That won’t happen again as one of your new habits is labeling food you cook and freeze or chill.
Note to self: buy labels for the freezer.
Now you can prepare your meal plan
The golden rule of meal planning on a budget is to use the ingredients you already have on your inventory before going out and buying more.
This is where you need to take a fresh look at your stored recipes to find those using food from your inventory. There are some great sites around that allow you to key in an ingredient and get a list of recipes that use it.
My recipes page is another great starting point.
When a member of the household becomes vegetarian
Meal planning comes into its own when a family member is moving from a meat-based dietary plan to a plant-based diet.
Trying to think about cooking for differing tastes and food preferences or the potentially more complicated food allergy can be stress-inducing.
Take the stress out of the situation by reading my guides to a meat-free diet. Then add in meal planning plus access to great recipes the whole family can enjoy.
You can access both the above mentioned resources through that one link.
See my Freebies page for your free meal planner
To get you started, check my Freebies page regularly and get access to the added planners in the coming weeks.
There’s a blank – no suggested recipes – version on there now to give you an idea of just how simple it is to start meal planning.
If you don’t have the password to the Freebies page here’s where you can change that.
If you’re already on our email list and have the Freebies page password, click here.
My meal planner starts on a monday
The meal planner download on the Freebies page starts on a Monday. In reality, you may want to start yours on the day that you do your grocery shopping.
For example, you may decide that you will do your grocery shopping on Thursday evening, so you have supplies for the weekend. In that case, your Wednesday menu will use only ingredients you already have in your store cupboard. Alternatively, defrost a meal you batch cooked previously for use at times like this.
Each day has a section for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
From speaking to friends, I found that many don’t really change their breakfast choices day-to-day. That was especially true for those with children or who needed to get up and out quickly in the morning.
If that’s you, feel free to leave the ‘B’ sections empty and perhaps complete them for the weekends when you have more time to treat yourself to something more imaginative than toast or cereal.
There’s no proscribed way to do this as everyone’s working week and shopping days vary. In that case, use the suggested template as a way to get you into the swing of meal planning and amend it to suit your needs.
Mostly though, make a start, and once you see how much you save in time, money and stress when you no longer race out of work and into the supermarket to grab ‘something’ for dinner, you’ll be glad you did.
If you’re into app’s to organise you try these
App’s to help with your pantry inventory are getting better all the time.
Some of the top rated app’s available currently are;
- No Waste. A free app for use on iPhone or iPad
- MealBoard for $3.99 (£3.99 in the UK) with Android and iOS versions
- CozZo with free or paid versions available in iOS for iPhone or iPad. At the time of writing an Android version is in the pipeline.