The Simple Guide to Meal Planning

This is a guest post from the amazing slow cooker Queen, Jo of SimplyBeingMum. Jo and I have been blog friends from the first few posts of this blog. She is an inspiration in so many ways: self employed, meal planning and slow cooker guru, a fan of minimalism while still having a weak spot for sentimental stuff (we all have our Kryptonite – mine is kitchen gadgets and serving platters) and mother of two young children. I pleaded with her for some meal planning help and she answered. Here it is:

The Simple Guide to Meal Planning by simplybeingmum

Chunky Lentil Soup

Photo credit: WhitneyinChicago

Meal Planning can seem a daunting task, and yet by following this simple guide, I guarantee you will save time, money and effort, and ultimately reduce waste.

By Meal Planning you will:

  1. Save Time – No more wandering round the store with no direction, or wondering what to cook for dinner that night. No emergency trips to the store for ingredients you don’t have, or ad hoc dinners out due to lack of supplies.
  2. Save Money – By only buying what you plan to eat and resisting impulse purchases, you will save money. There is no doubt. You also reduce costs by not throwing away unused foodstuffs.
  3. Save Effort – Being disorganised requires more effort than being organised (in the long-run), you know what you are eating and when, you can prep in advance and it requires less decision-making on a daily basis.
  4. Reduce Waste – It is estimated that in the UK 8.3m tonnes of food each year gets thrown away by households. This equates to almost £700 a year of food waste for an average family. By reducing this waste in real terms the CO2 impact would be the equivalent of taking 1 in 4 cars the road. (* source

Six Simple Steps to Meal Planning

  1. The first step has nothing to do with food. Set aside 30 minutes with the family to establish everyone’s diary for the forthcoming week. I do this on a Thursday evening. I know who needs lunches and dinners and whether we are eating out at all.
  2. Write out a daily meal plan based on everyone’s diary, I plan Saturday-Saturday as I receive my groceries Saturday morning. Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner and Snacks are planned for. The first couple of times you do this it may be time-consuming, but as you start to replicate meals it gets easier. To reduce time and effort further you could draw up a monthly menu, and rotate 4 weeks worth of meals.
  3. Throughout the week note down anything that needs replenishing as you use it up. This will be add-on items, such as herbs, oils and household items.
  4. Only plan for 6 days worth of meals! Seriously this works. Regardless of how good a planner you are, things happen, and you may need to use food up the day before your new batch of groceries. This also gives you an opportunity to get you culinary creative thinking cap on. If you do clear all food ‘treat’ yourself to a take away or a dinner out – you deserve it!
  5. Before you do your meal plan/grocery shop for the next week (online or otherwise) empty your food/perishables cupboard and do an inventory. Get into a routine. Strip it down and clean it, look to use things up or freeze, note down what you already have and base a meal around those items if they will still be edible. As you only keep a week’s worth of food in at any one time, waste should reduce, you will need less storage and cleaning will be simpler.
  6. Never shop without a list (based on your planned meals) or when you are hungry. I do my grocery shop online, as this eradicates any impulse purchases and also means I do not have to step foot physically in a supermarket (I’d rather be doing something else). If you don’t shop online, the principle is the same, do not deviate from the list regardless of what is on offer, or what new delights they have in store. Do not go into the clothing, toy, magazine section unless you want to add approx.20% to your food bill.

Jo at simplybeingmum blogs about ‘family life simply done’ including her No Waste Tastes Great Challenge on a Friday and her Simple Meal Plan each Saturday.

Thank you, Jo! I’m inspired and this will be a good kick in the pants for my debt busting March.

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  • When we started meal planning in our home there was a huge pressure removed from daily schedules. Everything is prepared ahead of time and there is no last minute scrambling for anything. On Sunday evening we (well my hubs because he is the chef in the house) prepare everything that we may need for the week and then each night as part of our routine we prepare all the lunches for the next day.

    We save time and money!!

    • Yay! A fellow meal planner – you sound very organised! I’d add to the benefits that we also eat better – so potentially save inches around the waistline also. Jo

    • Thank you so much for inviting me to guest – looking forward to hearing how you get on with the plan. Keep it simple would be my advice- but I’m sure you have that covered! Jo

  • Hi Jo,

    So glad to get the opportunity to hear more about your simple meal planning strategies! We have an organic food box delivered once a week, and I always pay the extra $2 to customize the contents. This makes planning weekly meals really easy…I write down what we’ll be making and stick it on the fridge, and we fill in the rest at our local grocery store as we go.

    Now we need to seriously consider getting a slow cooker as well…

    Take care,

    • Hi Lisa – Organic Food Box! Sounds great. One thing I always have in the back of my mind is that I would rather shop locally and organically rather than using the big boys for the groceries. We have limited choice in my area, but definitely I will be looking into it further. In fact I have an experiment planned for my next shop.
      Slow cooker – the two loveliest words in the culinary vocabulary. Sssshhh Don’t tell anyone but I have three! I don’t consider it clutter as I use all of them. They have revolutionised my life – seriously – and I have converted friends to the beauty of doing it slowly.
      Get one!!! You won’t regret it!!! Jo

  • Thanks for this – I have been hearing more and more lately about creating a monthly rotating meal plan and I love that idea! It will be my next task. The online ordering here for us (at least where I am ) is usually more expensive, regular grocery stores don’t tend to offer it – they should though! I like the idea of only planning for 6 days, although I do currently plan for 7 days – we do use up all of our food, and have no waste – leftovers get frozen and get eaten for lunches etc, I may try that, and just see what happens, but there would be no eating out here for us, at least not currently with our budget.

    • Hi Vanessa, it’s probable that I will be instigating a rotating monthly plan based on seasons at some point. I hope to eat more ‘in season food’. Sorry to hear your online service is expensive, over here its the same price as in store, although there is a delivery charge on some days. The planning for 6 days works for me, I used to do 7 but in October started my No Waste Tastes Great where Friday is a free day. There has only been one week so far that I didn’t have something to use up. Friday is also Date Night over at Chez Wright so if the fridge is bare we get a takeaway (no sitters for a night out!) with our DVD – we know how to live :-) Good luck with it all! Jo

  • Jo is so inspirational. I subscribe to her blog, and simply by reading what’s going on with her fridge on a week-to-week basis, what goes on in our kitchen has changed dramatically for the better! She also turned me onto the idea of a weekly fridge wipe-down! Love it!

    • Hi Hun! Thank you so much for the lovely comment… Love the term ‘weekly wipe down’ will have to remember that one and credit you. Hugs from England Jo

  • I have been doing meal-planing over the past couple of years, and apart from all the above entioned benefits, I find it has one more. the kids take part in the meal planning procedure, and they know what food to expect on the table when they come home from school/playschool. (We have our ‘dinner’ at lunchtime, at aroung 3pm.) They are now looing forward to whatever is planed for dinner on the day, instead of moaning that they expected something else.

    ps Rachel and Jo, I love both of your blogs, so great that you joined up! :)

      • Hi swynedig – Fantastic point – getting the kids involved. I am a huge advocate. As a child I have many fond memories of helping Mom in the kitchen, and looking back my Mom meal planned. I can still remember that Wednesday and Friday was ‘Chips’ and something night in our house! As boring as it sounds Kids thrive on routine and consistency, and the less choice in many cases the better – as you quite rightly put it – it reduces the moaning. So lovely to know you have been checking out the blog – Thank you
        :-) Jo

  • Hi Jo,

    This is really helpful. I usually have a loosely planned weekly menu, but nothing this organized. As you know, I’m incredibly impressed that you actually clean your refrigerator every week. Let’s just say I wipe mine down…um, way less often than that!

    I do use my slow cooker at least once a week though. So, I’m doing half-way good. Right? :)

    • Loosely planned works also – very often I switch days around, as life interferes with even the best laid plans. The key is to just limit the amount you buy! I’m able to clean the fridge weekly as there is very little in it at the end of the week. Also as I aim to use everything up by forcing myself to strip it down nothing can hide…
      Haven’t forgotten about your ‘Toad in the Hole’! Have a lovely day – Jo

  • Thanks for all of your great advice. I’ve been thinking about meal planning, just because we seem to waste food, meaning that we also waste a lot of money. Your inspiration gives me a real push to sit down and start planning.
    P.S. I have two slow cookers, in different sizes, and yes, I do use them often. I did buy a great vegetarian recipe book for them, and have found quite a few meals that the whole family enjoys.
    Thanks again,

    • Cheers Greg! Planning can be a little time consuming initially, but if you rotate your menu it gets quicker and simpler the more you do the same meals. Without a doubt it saves time and money.
      Slow cooking is AMAZING! Theres just something about popping all the ingredients in and leaving it to be served up as required.
      Good luck with it all – Jo

  • I have just begun cooking dinners since I left my FT job. I found I don’t need a full 7 meals because I’ll have at least 1 night of leftovers. :-)

    • Without a doubt 6 meals is the way to go… very rarely is the cupboard, fridge and freezer completely bare… always something to rustle up and if not we get a takeaway!

  • Thanks for the great tips! I do meal plan, but I usually don’t plan specific meals for specific nights. My family isn’t too big on leftovers, so sometimes that is difficult to prepare meals that they will actually eat leftovers from or to prepare just enough. I like meals where I can makeover the leftovers into something else….like getting 2-3 meals from one whole chicken.

    • Hi Melissa, another meal planner yay! Although I base my meals around certain days there is flexibilty, things do not always go to plan! I also prepare meals with versatile ingredients that can easily be made into something else. For example I may plan a slow cooked steak and ale pie, but it can sometimes just as easily turn into a beef casserole with pastry dumpling type thingies :-)- Chicken are amazing. One chicken can make as you say easily 3 meals. A slow cooked roasted chicken, can make a great dinner with the breast meat, a nice salad the day after with the brown meat and finally a great chicken based soup with the carcass. My chicken’s definitely multi task! Jo

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