OK, so we all know that writing a meal plan saves you time and money every single week.
But even knowing this, there are lots of people who don’t plan their meals because it takes too much time and they can’t be bothered – I know this because I used to feel like this and still do every now and again if I’m honest.
Just the thought of checking our freezer, fridge and cupboards to see what we have in already and then sitting down to think of 7 meals that the family will enjoy that fits with what I have in often makes me put off writing our meal plan until about 15 minutes before we leave to go do our food shop. 😉
But a while ago I shared a post on The Diary of a Frugal Family about how I’d revolutionised my meal planning system (revolutionised may be too strong a word here but hey ho) and managed to cut down on the time I needed to spend planning before I went shopping.
I set myself up a little recipe bank, a very basic one but a recipe bank nevertheless and today I thought I’d share it with you as it’s made meal planning so much easier and quicker for me.
First you need a one-off recipe bank set up session
Sit down with a notebook and pen and write down as many of your family’s favourite meals as you can think of – aim for at least 25 if you can so that you have lots of variety in your meal plans each week. My lot would eat macaroni cheese 7 days a week if I let them but aside from the obvious reasons why I don’t let that happen, they’d also get pretty bored of it in a hurry so I try to mix it in with a lot of other meals
Next you need to write down what you need to make those meals being as specific or as vague as you want to be – as you can see from my recipe bank planning below, I changed how specific I was from the first few recipes to the last ones. I started off by including every ingredient that I needed for each planned meal but then I realised I could save myself some time by only including ingredients that aren’t store cupboard essentials because I know that I nearly always have them in the house anyway.
I definitely think it’s a good idea to have a bit of a store cupboard – I’ve written about mine here if you want to see the sorts of things I have in mine. Your essentials would be different to mine though I would imagine and it will change over time – right now one of my essentials is a chilli and lime seasoning that adds an extra depth to some of the meals I cook and I’ll add it to my shopping list again when I get low on it. I also have a kind of freezer store cupboard as I have two drawers in my freezers filled with things like frozen mixed veg, frozen chopped onions, broccoli, frozen rice (amazing, amazing idea) and homemade tomato sauce.
Having a good storecupboard makes building your recipe bank really easy but it also gives you the ability to change meals at the last minute or bulk them out if you have more to feed without needing a (sometimes costly) trip to the shops.
Anyway, back to the recipe bank, once you’ve written your list of meals you should have around 30 meals written down along with the main ingredients – this is the key to helping you to meal plan in half the time!
Your weekly meal planning session
As a rule I only meal plan five of my weekly meals using this method – I don’t plan for Sunday because that’s usually made up of the best value meat I can find when I’m shopping and whatever veggies are in season and on offer and I leave one other night free for any supermarket bargains I pick up that week.
I love trying new recipes too and the time I save on planning most of our meals using my recipe bank is usually eaten up with searching for a new meal to try out and adapting it for my fussy family. If we do like a meal then it’s added to the recipe bank for future so whereas I started with 27 meals (I think) we now have quite a few more.
I also batch cook quite a bit where I can so there’s often days where I can use the meals in the freezer for a meal – I haven’t had much time for this lately though so I’m planning a session very soon to top up on my homemade ‘ready meals’.
For the purposes of my menu planner, I do assign meals to specific days of the week but we’re pretty flexible and I don’t think we’ve had a week this year where we’ve eaten all of our meals according to the days they were originally assigned to. This is because we might change our minds or have some extra guests for dinner but more often than not it’s because I haven’t taken a batch cooked lasagne or cottage pie out of the freezer the night before!
I write my meal plan on a Sunday usually and always start by spending a few minutes looking at what we have in already and writing a list of the main components of a meal (ie) chicken, mince, fish, quorn along with any batch cooked meals that we have in the freezer.
Next I’ll sit down with my recipe bank notebook and the list of food that I have in and I write down the days of the week.
I start by adding any batch cooked meals to the following week’s meal plan so usually at least one day is an easy lasagne, pie or curry from the freezer. Then I look at each of the main ingredients I have in, one at a time and select a meal to cook for that.
For example, if I have mince own as a main ingredient then I look for something on my list with mince as the main ingredient and choose one, preferably one where I know I have more than just the main ingredient already in so I’m adding as little as possible to the shopping list. I’ll look at the ingredients I need to make the meal and write down anything I don’t have in on my shopping list. It sounds way more complex than it is as I’m a waffler, in reality this takes about 20 seconds because I’m not having to think of meal ideas or ingredients for the meals I choose.
I’ll move on and do the same for the next main ingredient and then the next until I’ve either ran out of main ingredients or until I’ve filled all my days up. Some weeks I have more main ingredients in than others depending on what bargains I’ve picked up recently at the supermarket so if I still have days to fill after I’ve used my ingredient list then I’ll simply choose a meal from the list and write down anything I need to cook that.
My recipe bank means that I can plan our meals in super fast time so I have plenty of time left over to spend on Pinterest looking for something new to cook for our one adventurous meal a week. If we enjoy the new meal enough then it gets added to the recipe bank for future although I think less than half get added to be honest.
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