Do you want to take the stress out of meal times? This free printable meal planner is a great way to stay organised, save time and money and eat better all at the same time
Crikey is that the end of January in sight? Where on earth did that fly off to? Who knows! The countdown to spring is on; although with the weather today, you'd be forgiven to think we were still back in November. Its been one of those Saturdays where I've not wanted to leave the warmth and comfort of the sofa, and the thought of going out to do the food shop filled me with dread. It had to be done, the fridge was looking a bit bare, which is a good thing because it meant that I'd planned last week's meals to a 'T'. Yes, that's right... I've been using a meal planner and it's been a revelation.
Now without sounding like some advert for the latest miracle working house gadget, I just needed to tell you about how meal planning has kick-started my year, both health and money-wise. I've been through every diet going and nothing has worked quite as much as sitting down once a week and working out what is going to pass my lips the following week. And whilst I'm saving money by doing it myself, with a little help from My Fitness Pal, I'm saving money on the weekly shop as well because I know exactly what I need to buy that week and not wander aimlessly around the supermarket putting whatever I fancy in the trolley. Oh, and there's less food waste too!
Fancy giving it a go? Keep reading down for my top tips, and to give you a nudge, I've put together a free weekly meal planner to print out and fill in.
Top five tips to get you started with your meal planner
Grab a coffee and 5 minutes once a week
You can take as long or as little time to meal plan, but just a few minutes can save you time and money in the long run. The rise of the convenience shop has seen a reduction in the number of people that do one big food shop, once a week. Meal planning, in theory, should mean that you can stop all those back and forward trips to the supermarket - less wear and tear on your car, less chance of picking up something extra, less time running around, although it might mean you're not on first name terms with the person on the self-serve checkout at Tescos! Its now become my Saturday morning ritual, hugging a mug of fresh coffee and planning the week ahead. I run my week Saturday to Friday, and I plan the meals I'm most looking forward to for those days; something nice to kick off the week, and something good to end on. Fit your meal planner around when you want to shop; a quiet Monday afternoon, or a chaotic Saturday morning, take your plan with you and you'll stay on track.
Not literally, unless you have a family Google calendar; but when you're filling in your meal planner, double check when you're in or out, or other family members are as well. This will help plan meals for just the people that will be there, or not plan then at all. So again you're saving money, but also not creating masses amounts of food that might go to waste... but if that happens, bung it in the freezer and you could plan to have that another week.
That brings me nicely onto raiding the freezer. Now hands up how many of us tend to only raid the freezer and see what's lurking in there after Christmas when we're all turkey-ed out. You'd be surprised what you can find at the back of the freezer; I found a semifreddo that had been in there for 2 years once... we have 2 freezers one is a stock for excess fruit and veggies from the garden, so in my defence, it got lost. However, it goes to show that you never know what you have; so keep an eye on the freezer and what you have in there, you might have some quick meals in there for evenings when you know that you'll be rushing around. Stick it on the meal planner, and don't forget to get it out the night before or in the morning to defrost. And whilst we're on the subject of freezers...
Whip up a batch
With hectic schedules or work commitments, I tend to plan one slow cooker meal a week, which we'll eat over 2 days; but if we didn't fancy the same thing 2 days in a row, I'll portion out on the first day and put the rest in the freezer (labelled so I know what is lurking in there). For things like homemade burgers, I'll make up the whole recipe and freeze the additional ones, so they're on hand for another week. It doesn't just have to be casseroles and burgers, bolognese can be batch cooked and used for different meals - spag bol, chilli, jacket potato toppings, and you could even do individual cottage pies or lasagne that can be easily frozen.
Lose yourself in a Pinterest rabbit hole
Finally, its time to get started. If you're like me the first thing will be that your mind goes blank and all you can think about is cheese on toast, with a beans variation for the whole of the week; but fear not you'll be surprised at what recipes you know. Start off by jotting down the best-loved recipes you make regularly, and then those that are a treat but you really enjoy. Then take a look at your bookcase, you're bound to have a recipe book or 2 hiding away on there; I bet you're not looked at them for ages, so have a flick through and be inspired, add those that you like the look of to your list. Then its time to hit the internet, all the supermarkets have a recipe section and cards in store, so try those for ideas; or sign up to Pinterest and lose yourself down an endless rabbit hole of recipes for all occasions, diets and tastes. Create your own board for recipes you want to try or follow other boards and let others inspire you. I've over 600 pins on my Inspiration board, go and check it out
Don't let any of my tips put you off, they're not a checklist of things you must do, but more some handy hints for getting off to a flying start.
And don't forget that the best thing about meal planning is that it is completely and utterly free. You don't need subscriptions to phone apps, or Pinterest-inspired wall planners; you could just write it all down on the back of an envelope and stuff it in your handbag on the way out the door. Although for me, there's something about being a little more organised than that... knowing that planning meals that I really want to eat and I've fitted it into my week; I'm not coming through the door after a long day and whipping up any chicken and rice stirfry, as nice as that is, after the 3rd or 4th time in a week it becomes a little monotomous.
Pin this free meal planner for later
Want some recipes to start your meal planner off? You might like...
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The meal planner is a PDF document and can be opened with Adobe Reader which is free to use.
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