The ultimate goals of meal planning are to eat better and save money. You probably won't be achieving those without some kind of plan or structure to your week's eating, but you still want to eat the foods you enjoy, to only plan for the meals you need to, and to enjoy your meals with friends and family.
We all enjoy different foods as well as different styles of diet, different eating habits, and different lifestyles, so there is never going to be a one size fits all approach to meal planning.
First of all, look at where you are now. You could keep a record of your family's eating habits over the next two or three weeks to see what patterns arise. Is there a night everyone is too tired to cook? Is there a day everyone eats at different times? Do you always have pasta on a Tuesday? Just how much time do you have available to cook on each day? What do you throw away, and why?
Jot down which days after school clubs, or late lectures, or meetings are on; which days you are out for lunch; which days you do the grocery shopping. All of these will determine how and what you cook.
As well as these patterns, some good and not so good habits may present themselves.
- Does anyone in your home want or needs to lose weight?
- Do you need to cut out wheat or gluten?
- Do you want to better nourish your body?
- Do you want to improve your children's eating habits?
- Do you need to stop eating so much processed food?
- Do you need to make sure you eat your 5-a-day (or more)?
- Do you want to save money by cutting out takeaways and expensive ready meals?
Whatever your goal for meal planning, write it down. What prevents you from meeting your food goals at the moment? Is it over-buying, lack of planning, a crazily busy schedule, or something else?
From your answers and conclusions, decide what you would like your average meal to be like. What are your priorities?
The second task is to determine who likes what. What do you all actually like to eat? In your meal record, tick the food that everyone enjoys, and ask them! Does everyone love chilli so much they want it every week, or could it be a once a month meal? Do you want pizza or pasta or curry or [insert here] every week? What are people's favourite meals? You could even do what we do and ask each child to choose one meal each week - at least they should be guaranteed to eat that one!
As you accumulate all this information, you can start planning. Grab a new notebook and head up some pages:
1. Weekly Meal Planner
On this first page draw out a week of meals with approximate times, and who will be eating if it varies. Begin to sketch in what meals you need to plan each week: how many breakfasts, lunches, dinners. You could also include a space for snacks, bakes and puddings.
2. Favourite Meals
Start a master meal list with everyone's favourites, and those you know will always go down well.
Next week we'll look at your master meal list, inventory, and stock list.
How does your family eat? What are your food goals?
And don't forget to enter our competitions!