Meal Planning Masterclass: Create Your Master Recipe List

Week three of our Meal Planning Masterclass is all about having a repertoire of delicious, nutritious, healthy meals up your sleeve.  The perfect things for when there's nothing in, for when guests unexpectedly drop round, for when plans change, and for when everyone just needs good food fast.  Pulling together a list of ideas means that you don't have to fly by the seat of your pants when things do go wrong, your list is there ready and waiting, along with everything you need to make it.  As well as raiding your cookery book collection, think about those meals that work for everyone all the time - the staples of your kitchen, and start becoming a Recipe Magpie too.  The aim of this week is to finish with a list of easy, no fuss meals in your Meal Planning Notebook, recipes and ideas you can turn to again and again.  Here goes...

Life doesn't always go according to plan, and that brilliant meal plan can go as badly wrong as everything else.  You forget to thaw something, or to buy the vital ingredient; people turn up; plans change; you run out of time, whatever it is it happens to all of us, and these pitfalls can send your meal planning haywire and quite frankly make it seem like a total waste of time!  This is the main reason we only plan five of the lunches and dinners for any given week, and then turn to the Master Recipe List for the rest.

To save running to the nearest take-away joint, have this back-up plan of quick, easy meals ready and waiting.  This list can also form the basis of your weekly meal plan if needs be - you know on those no inspiration, can't be bothered weeks!  This is real life after all.  And do you know what, most of these can form the basis of your weekly meal plan week in, week out.  You don't need elaborate fancy recipes or grand meals, just everyday feasts, normal easy, quick meals made and served with love.  Start your recipe list and make life easier every day.

Crowd Pleasers

We find assembly dinners work well with children (and adults!), as everyone gets what they want.  Things like:
  • vegetable & halloumi kebabs
  • jacket potatoes
  • make your own pizzas
  • hot dogs or burgers
  • sandwiches (vary the breads, such as sourdough, rye, wraps, pumpernickel, pitta, flatbread, rolls etc)
  • tacos or fajitas
  • pasta/cous cous/rice salad
For puddings, things like fruit kebabs, banana splits, knickerbocker glorys, variations on Eton Mess etc.

We usually include one of these options on the weekly plan as it has the flexibility to accommodate more people if necessary, and the assembly line idea works if people get home at different times, have lots on etc.  You could also think along the lines of meze-style platters, little bits of this and that that everyone can dig into.  It's easy enough to keep the components and ingredients for this in your fridge and store cupboard.

Kitchen Staples

You know the tastes of those you cook for best, of course, but clear winners in our house include pasta, pizza and TexMex, all easy enough to keep the ingredients in for.  We always have pasta in the cupboard, along with tinned tomatoes, herbs, and onions, so a super quick pasta sauce takes only minutes to whip up - faster than phoning a take-away!  And yes, frozen pizza is OK - occasionally.

Whatever your family's favourites, they should be top of your recipe list, not to include every week necessarily, but regularly, and always there for back-up.

Recipe Magpie

Become a recipe magpie, picking up new ideas here, there and everywhere.  We love the free seasonal recipe magazines in Waitrose, but lots of supermarkets offer free magazines and recipe cards.  You could also ask family and friends for ideas, tell them you're stuck in a rut and looking to share recipes, they'll probably feel the same.  Be open to new ideas from TV programmes, newspapers, magazines, and take some time to experiment and play around yourself.  You could come up with something amazing!  (Might I also humbly direct you to our own recipe collection.)

Fast Food

To make sure you stick to your meal plan, plan Monday to Thursday meals to be as easy and fast as possible.  Who wants to tackle a complicated recipe when they've spent the day running errands, dealing with small people, or working?  Quick and easy is the way forward, meals you can cook from scratch that are perfect for a quick-fix supper - and mostly ideal for store cupboard cooking too:

1. Boil Some Pasta

Dried pasta in the cupboard and you are less than half an hour away from a delicious, nutritious meal.  Whether it's spaghetti tossed in butter and sprinkled with Parmesan; a quick tomato or creamy cheese sauce rustled up on the hob; a vegetable sauce you bottled a few weeks ago; or even a super-fast meat sauce conjured up in a hurry, you'll be good to go in no time.  Just add some salad or steamed veggies and you have a great meal.

2. Veggies!

I remember seeing a friend setting up her slow cooker years ago.  At breakfast time she was softening onions and browning meat before adding everything else and setting the timer for the day.  I was fascinated, and slightly appalled - frying onions at breakfast time?! - but suddenly realised that, being vegetarian, almost no meal requires such preparation and cooking time.  So if you are time poor, go veggie!  I'd say at least 80% of vegetarian and vegan meals take less than half an hour to prep and cook.

3. Stir fries, rice, eggs and beans

There's a reason these things are staples for many people around the world.  Quick, easy, cheap.  Base at least one meal a week around them and you're laughing!  We love easy one pot meals like this veggie chilli, our take on a tagine with chick peas, or try a risotto or pilaff.  If all else fails, a simple dish of rice and beans has been a nutritious meal throughout history.  Nowadays, add some veggies, salsa, herbs, chilli and a squeeze of lime and you have a great meal.

4. Embrace salad & sandwiches!

For some reason, we Brits are still very suspicious of salad and sandwiches being 'meals', they're a snack or a light lunch at best, but a whole meal?  Time for a re-think, maybe.  Big carbs-based salads are the way forward.  Whether potato, cous cous, pasta or pulses-based, add in whatever you have for a delicious, nutrient-packed meal.  Just add meat, cheese, veggies, beans and you're good to go.

The same for sandwiches, make 'em big, make 'em elaborate - after all, it works for Subway!  Choose great breads, interesting and delicious fillings, and no-one can complain.  Here are some of our favourite sandwiches, or try this ciabatta creation, just adapt to whatever you have available.  Add some salad, maybe some chips or potato wedges, plus a glass of something cold, and these are proper meals in themselves.  Who could complain?  (I think fajitas, quesadillas and tacos come into this category really, don't they?)

There's Nothing In!

So, things to make when there's nothing in.  You're tired, fed up, the fridge is empty, and the take-away menus or the fast food joints suddenly look all too tempting.  Well, with our guide to your stock list next week, that won't ever be a problem again.  Your cupboards and fridge will always be the go-to place ready to fix various meals in a hurry.  See you next week!