Mastering meal planning

I pride myself on being organised. I love planning and preparing things ahead of time. I get a buzz from being ahead of the curve. There’s no greater joy in life than having documents, neatly filed and ready-to-go at a moment’s notice.

I’d call myself Mr. Organised if it wasn’t so egotistical.

Now imagine the sham of a life I’d be living if I didn’t come well-equipped with a solid meal plan, each and every week. There are untold benefits to planning your meals, and many wrong ways to go about it. I’d hate to blow my own trumpet, but I think I’ve mastered meal planning

Master making more

The first step towards becoming a meal plan master is simple: make more meals. By this, I mean that, in your first week of meal planning, plan for seven fresh meals; one for every day. The difference you should make here is, however, crucial. Don’t just cook enough for one; batch cook. If your recipe is enough for one, triple the ingredients and prepare enough for three portions. Eat one that night throw the rest in a couple Chinese takeaway tubs (we all have at least a couple lying about), and shove them in the freezer. Follow this formula for a week and you’ll have made 21 meals, or 14 extra portions, with minimal effort.

The reason that batch cooking is so effective is because it significantly reduces the amount of time you’re spending in the kitchen. If your favourite food takes 60 minutes to prepare and cook, for instance, then spend an extra 10 minutes tripling the ingredients to save 50 minutes at a later date. That’s nearly an extra hour added to your personal time, which is invaluable at the end of a busy day.

A chicken dish, created as part of my weekly meal planning.
A tasty chicken, cauliflower and other veg concoction, courtesy of a Joe Wicks ebook that I downloaded, completely for free, from my library services.

Cook once a week, every week

Step 2 is slightly ambitious but stick with me: you need to do all of your cooking in one go.

I know; crazy, right? I don’t always succeed with this one, since plans can change so frequently, but doing a week’s worth of cooking all on the same day takes batching to a whole other level. Not only can you cook multiple dishes in the same oven (saving you cash in gas or electricity), you’ll be reducing the amount of time spent in the kitchen after work to insignificant numbers. The only food you’ll need to prepare each night is a few accompanying side dishes, like pasta, rice or a jacket potato.

If all you need to do to get a nutritious meal that’s rich in flavour, every night after work is to boil rice for 10 minutes, you’ll be far less likely to resort to the likes of Uber Eats or ready meals. As a result, you’ll be eating consistently healthier before you know it (and saving even more money in takeaway bills).

A vegetarian sausage caserole, made as part of my weekly meal planning.
An incredible sausage caserole, also courtesy of Joe Wicks.

Master the Big Shop

To master this step, we first need to assess the difference between ‘going out to the shops’ and going for a ‘Big Shop’.

Going out to the shops implies that your basket will only be filled with the essentials, such as a loaf of bread, a bunch of bananas or a fresh supply of toilet roll.

Going for a Big Shop (capitals very much intended) means clearing a supermarket of all its shelves, lining your cupboards and fitting out your fridge with every piece of fruit in sight. But because Big Shops take time, they need to be done right. I spent 2 hours doing a Big Shop last weekend but, because I planned out exactly what I’d be eating and when, I knew what to buy, dramatically cut the risk of buying what wasn’t on my list, and saved both money and time, which would otherwise be spent running up and down every aisle.

Because I planned effectively, I won’t need to pop to the convenience store in the middle of the week to top up my cupboards, saving me yet more time after work, where I can head straight home, instead of to the shops.

In an ideal world, I’d also be having my food delivered, since I’d rather not spend any time inside a supermarket, let alone 2 hours a week. But the UK is currently in lockdown, so I’ve decided to leave delivery slots for the elderly and vulnerable.

Master the meal plan grid

Finally, you should create a space to store every one of your meal plans. This will let you assess that you’re eating well, not repeating meals too often, and have a good sense of what will be on your plate in the evening.

All of my meals are planned in my Bullet Journal, which I’ve included below. It’s a simple set-up that’s worked well for the past five months, and it should do wonders for your meal plans too.

A meal plan grid in a Bullet Journal on the Hardly Hamilton blog.
Each month is split into four weeks, the days of the week are the left, and breakfast, lunch and dinner line the top of each grid. Simple.

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