My Top 5 Reasons for Meal Planning + helpful ways to stretch a meal further
I realised that even though I do a meal plan on BE&S every week and have written about my reasons why for other people, until now, have never written about it here. Now don’t glaze over just yet or say “yes I know it’s a good idea but… I can’t be bothered, rather stick pins in my eyes or don’t have the time“, well you can, of course, and I probably would have once too, but today I want to share with you my Top 5 reasons for meal planning and it’s not just about feeling organised although that could be reason 6 if you like.
But wait, there’s more… I’ve got some ideas for stretching out meals into more than just one night and how meal planning can help with that too!
Here’s my take on the benefits of meal planning with most importantly always having an answer to the question “What’s for dinner tonight?” (which is reason # 7!).
1. Saves Time & Reduces Stress
Do you often think that planning a week of meals is time consuming so put it off? Spending 15 – 20 minutes once a week will actually save you far more time in the long run, truly. (Once you have a bank of meal plans you can recycle them so you don’t even need to spend the time making a plan if you don’t want to).
By having a meal plan no longer will you stare into the fridge hoping for some magical dinner to appear from the kitchen fairies (although wouldn’t that be nice) and it also stops the need run to the shops for last minute ingredients too. By planning your meals in advance you can make a shopping list and only get the things that you need that week. This makes your time at the shops (or online) much more efficient, you aren’t wandering aimlessly around the aisles hoping that dinner will pop into your trolley, there is also less chance that you will reach out for those impulse buys as well (hello corn chips, my current weakness). With meal planning it means that usually you only have to do a big shop once a week if you are lucky (except for perishables like fish).
Meal planning also cuts down on time for the cooking process. If you need to defrost something you know to take it out in the morning so that it’s ready for that night. If you know that you are busy before dinner time you can make part or all of the meal in advance so that all you have to do it cook it or heat it up when you get home. This time of year is great for using a slow cooker that you can put on in the morning and dinner is ready for when you get home.
2. Saves Money
If you have planned your meals you can see across the week where you can use the same ingredients (like porridge for breakfast & Oaty Chia Biscuits for a snack) and where you can make extra to have leftovers made into another meal.
Here are some meals that I stretch out from 1 to 2 to 3 (sometimes 4)!
A favourite is pulled pork tacos with coleslaw on Sunday nights. I get an extra large piece of pork for the purpose of having leftovers. I then do a pulled pork shepherds pie the next night for a quick & easy Monday night dinner. If you don’t want pork 2 nights in a row it can be frozen and used at a later date but my point is for the extra $1 the bigger piece of pork cost me I got a whole other meal out of it. The leftovers could also be used for lunches the next day as a pulled pork wrap in the lunch box would go down a treat!
Lamb can be expensive but again, you can make it stretch. These slow cooked Tuscan Lamb Shanks are delicious and leftovers can be made into Tuscan Lamb Soup, bone broth & pitta pockets, you could do the same with a roast.
I often make patties for the girls lunches seeing that they are still on their anti sandwich campaign (which is really tedious!), rather than especially buy ingredients for them I use left overs from dinner. Roast chicken left overs go into Chicken, Carrot & Sweet Potato Patties (I also make bone broth/stock from the roast too) and,
Planning your meals in advance also saves you money through enabling you to buy in bulk especially for things like pasta, tinned tomatoes, grains etc. You can also take advantage of the often cheaper produce that is in season or on special and plan future meals around it. I’ve put together a little chart for you on what’s in season in Australia in July so you can factor that into your planning too (because I know you are going to do it now aren’t you)?
Because you know what you are having for dinner each night you will be less tempted to use the convenient but more expensive “take away” fall back. Also, if you are only buying what you need for the meals that you have planned then you won’t end up buying things that you are not sure how you are going to use so you will reduce food wastage therefore reducing wasting money too!
3. Helps You Make Healthier Choices
Elite athletes plan their meals meticulously so why not you too? Ok, so maybe you are not a Stephanie Rice or Sally Pearson but busy, active, growing families can also benefit from healthy meal choices. Mapping out your meals over the course of a week can help you make sure you are getting variety and nutritionally balanced meals. Work out how many times a week you want fish, chicken, red meat, grains etc and making sure you are getting lots of fruit and vegetables so you know you are “eating your greens”. Factoring that into your meal planning means that you can easily see what your intake is and make any adjustments that may be necessary. For example if you are having toast for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch and then pasta for dinner you may want to switch out one or two of those meals for something with more protein and vegetables instead.
3. Can Involve the Whole Family
If you have a plan and a shopping list then the actual shopping is not dependant on one person so the load can be shared (if practical & possible of course, unfortunately it’s not in our house as GT only ever comes back with corned beef and tinned beetroot, nothing else, ever, so he is currently banned). It also means that for those asking “what’s for dinner tonight”? you can point them to the plan and say there you go.
Getting the family involved in meal planning means that they can choose meals that they like and may (no promises here) even be more likely to try new things if they have been part of the planning or preparation of it. We made gozleme at home the other night, the girls always turned their noses up at it when we got it at the growers markets but because they helped make it they LOVED eating it, gozleme for the win!
My little shopper & her friend ( a couple of years ago)
5. Bulk Buying & Batch Cooking
When you are doing your shopping list you can buy in bulk and then make large batches of meals that can be frozen. Bolognaise sauce, stews, curries, meatballs etc are great for this or muffins & cakes – make two and freeze one. This way you always have something that you can pull out of the freezer for those busy days and if things are a bit tough in the budget some weeks to have something that has already been prepared can help you out there too.
There are many apps that can help you meal plan or some gorgeous stationary out there. I like this post listing out a lot of apps that you can link recipes to shopping lists, how good it that?
Also a lot of websites including BE&S offer meal plan suggestions and, shameless self-promotion here, I co-host “Your Weekly Feed” which is a meal link up starting Sunday nights where I get a lot of my dinner inspiration from too.
I’ve been meal planning for a few years now, since having kids and it really has made my life, in the kitchen anyway, much simpler, less stressful and I spend less at the supermarket too.
So while meal planning may seem like a bit of a task it does have some real benefits as well as helping take the pain out of the mundane!
Do you meal plan? If not, does this make you want to start? What’s your favourite meal to stretch into 2, 3 or more?