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Food Glorious Food! My Quick Guide to Meal Planning

Welcome to the first ever Ecologico blog post. I aim to educate, inform but entertain too!

When I was a kid, my Nana was one of those people who used to eat the same meals on rotation every week, sausage and chips, mince and dumpling, fish on a Friday; you know the kind of people I mean!

So, when, in January 2017 I was a new mum, with an 8 month old Squishy, 4 months pregnant with Baby Red and working full-time, someone suggested meal-planning as a way of saving time and money, I was more than a little skeptical. Not to mention, Mr ‘but I don’t know what I’ll want for dinner’’s reaction!

However, when I read that a 25% of humanity’s water and a land mass larger than China is used to grow food that is never even eaten with 50% of all food waste occurring in the home and that food waste accounts for 7% of global greenhouse gas emissions (which is greater than aviation!); if it were a country it would be the third largest CO2 emitter, after the USA and China, I was more determined than ever to cut our food waste as much as possible!

Over the past two years we have honed meal planning; we’ve picked up tips and tricks along the way and not only has it over halved our shopping bill, it’s also helped us reduce our food waste, and be more mindful of our food choices.

So here are my top tips for using meal planning to reduce food waste:

  • The Inventory

Start with what you’ve got-every month I do an inventory of the freezer and cupboards before I write my plan. That means I can already be forming my meal plan before I even head to the shops and making sure we actually use what we have already bought (because everyone has that random jar or tin that they bought on a whim, or that YS bargain that they’re not entirely sure they like but it was too good to miss right?).

  • The Rotation

During the inventory, and even throughout the month, make sure the food that needs using first is closest to the front; it’s human nature (especially in our busy lives) to grab the first thing we see and run. The main culprit for us is yogurt, and also the fruit bowl, so I try to check those weekly.

  • The Plan

I plan for a month at a time (bear with me!) but I’ve now got it down to about 10mins to plan the month, so it shouldn’t be too time consuming when you’re in the swing.

I start with Sunday as that’s an easy one; 4 roast dinners planned in 30 seconds. Monday is then some re-creation of leftovers from Sunday (more on creative use of leftovers later), whether that be fishcakes from the mash, pancakes from Yorkshire pudding batter or meat in a pasta bake or casserole and Fridays tend to be some kind of homemade ‘fakeaway’ e.g. pizzas, burgers, curry, fish and chips.

So that leaves 4 days a week to think about; I have a rough rule for those of one vegan meal, one veggie meal, one fish/seafood meal and one easy meal. I write these on our wall-planner hung up for everyone to see.

Now, people have said to me, what about unexpected changes or needing to move a meal; of course that’s fine! I just move the meal to another day or the following week, it’s not law! I try not to repeat the same meal in a given month anyway so we don’t get bored and I will ask if there’s anything that people would like adding to the meal plan, or try a new recipe or two to keep it fresh.

  • The Leftovers

By meal planning, I tend to have incorporated leftovers into the meal plan already, but if and when there are leftovers i.e. too much pasta or rice, it is either used from the next day’s lunch or frozen in an individual portion, like a ready meal, for a later date.

It is very rare for us to throw food away at all these days; everything is repurposed!

One thing I will say about leftovers is to get creative; my grandma’s idea was to just give us the same meal on a Monday as a Sunday, reheated. I never do that! Like the examples I mentioned earlier, each leftover can be transformed into a totally new dish, meaning people don’t get fed up (in fact I’m pretty sure the mini-Ecologicos and Mr.Ecologico don’t even realise half the time!).

  • The Batch Cook

I love a good batch cook! I’m also very lucky to have a lot of freezer space. But often it is cheaper and more environmentally friendly to cook a big batch of something i.e. mince or chicken and split down into various portions and meals.

Every couple of months I will do a large slow-cooker full of mince bulked out with oats or lentils and split into mince and onions, bolognese, chilli con carne sauces and chicken which will become casserole, curry, paella, pasta, Spanish/Mexican/Italian/Moroccan chicken, chicken noodle soup, stock…you get the picture.

This also makes meal-planning easier; if I know we have a busy week on the calendar, I can plan one of my ready-made meals to pull out, that I know are nutritious and easy to reheat, where once we would have bought fresh/a ready-meal/a takeaway.

  • Use by/Sell by Dates

I have a love/hate relationship with sell-by dates: my tip here is acknowledge them but treat with caution. In the past people relied on their senses to tell them if food was good or bad, and there’s a lot to be said for testing; I’ve had eggs two weeks past their date that were perfectly good on doing the ‘egg test’ and were perfect in a cake. Milk is another one where the sniff-test shouldn’t be underestimated. Use your own judgement!

Mr Ecologico has also added that part of meal planning, much like dieting, is not denying yourself a treat every now and again! We add a meal out or the odd takeaway onto the meal plan; and believe me we enjoy it so much more when we’ve waited all month for it!

I hope you’ve taken a few tips away; check out my other blog articles to see how we store food and also the adventures of the stretchy chicken (how many meals I could get from one large chicken!) or send me your top tips if you think there’s anything I’ve missed!