In my last post on meal planning, I shared with you the WHAT & BENEFITS of Meal Planning. In today’s post, I will be sharing the process or steps you can follow to meal plan for you or your family. I will aim to make my explanation as simple and easy to follow as possible. As a refresher, you can read the post on the BENEFITS OF MEAL PLANNING.
Before I get into the steps, I will share with you a few ideas about MEAL PLANNING so that we are on the same page,
MEAL PLANNING DEFINED
In Complex Terms: Meal planning is a process that involves taking time to select and schedule meals and snacks for a person or a group of persons ahead of time for a specified time period.
In Simple Terms: Meal planning is just about asking the question ” What’s for dinner?” once, instead of every night; and then shopping for and prepping the ingredients before cooking.
What is really important to know to make your meal planning process as easy as possible is to decide for yourself the reason you would like to meal plan. In other words, ask yourself the question, “How would I and/or my family benefit from meal planning?”. Here are some points to consider when attempting to answer that question,. Am I trying to:
- Save money?
- Become more organized?
- Eat healthier?
- Spend less time in the kitchen?
- Reduce food waste?
- Reduce stress?
- Have a ready answer for my spouse or children when they ask?
Once you can answer that question for yourself, then you are ready to go ahead and start meal planning.
So, now that we have covered a few of those details, let’s get into the meal planning process. I have broken the process down into 3 steps which are:
- Choose your meals, and recipes if needed
- Buy ingredients
- Prepare ingredients
Start thinking about your meal plan and choice of meals at least three days before you want to start so you have a few days to go through the full process of making a grocery list, grocery shopping, and then meal prepping. So here are things to consider when choosing your meals:
- CHECK YOUR CALENDAR: before selecting your meals, check your calendar to know what your days are like and if or what type of meals or recipes you need for that day. Obviously, there’s no need to plan dinner for the night you are meeting friends out or ordering take-out. Your calendar will let you see schedule details that will determine which kinds of recipes (quick, one pot (jollof type meals), vegetarian etc.) that you’ll need to fuel you and your family for that particular week. On a night that you have church service, you might want to make a quick meal like this stir fry pasta recipe. Calendars can change weekly, which is why it’s best to plan for one to two weeks at a time.
- DECIDE HOW MANY MEALS TO PLAN FOR AND WHAT THEY NEED TO DO: some people like to plan for all 3 meals of the day, others might just be interested in dinner. Depending on your lifestyle make the meal planning choice that best suits your needs. For instance, if your kids have lunch provided for them at school, then there is no need planning for lunches during the week.
- CHECK YOUR PANTRY, FRIDGE, & FREEZER: There are few things worse than thinking that you have some extra plantains in the store only to realize during meal prep that your children ate those last week. More than just verifying what you do and don’t have, a quick check of the pantry and the fridge or freezer will help you use up ingredients before you buy more. This is one of the ways that meal planning saves grocery money and prevents food waste.
- CHOOSE MEALS THAT GIVE YOU LEFTOVERS: That way you can have the twice or thrice in a week; saves you extra kitchen time. Meals such as beans porridge or other kinds of porridge work well
- PICK RECIPES YOU KNOW + 1 NEW RECIPE: If the idea of meal planning is to save you time and keep you organised then choosing a list of recipes you know by heart — the ones you make almost every week and know your family loves is a great way to achieve this. Then if you want to add one or two new recipes each week for something different.
- PICK RECIPES BASED ON COMMON INGREDIENTS: This is a very important step that starts with looking at what you already have in your fridge, freezer, and pantry and then picking recipes that allow you use most of the same ingredients in different ways.For instance you can use plantains to make plantain porridge, beef and unripe plantain peppersoup and fried plantains and tomato egg sauce.This is the time and money-saving aspect of meal planning in full effect.
- COOK THINGS YOU ENJOY EATING: You might have to spend some extra time uncovering recipes that are right for you, but it’s worth it if you still can’t wait to eat them.
SHOPPING FOR INGREDIENTS
Now, you’ve got your recipes. Well done! So what do you need to make them? I suggest a two-step process of making an ingredient list and then a grocery list. Don’t worry, it’s not as tedious or time-sensitive as it sounds. In fact, go through the process once and you can pretty much consider yourself an expert. If you make your final grocery list this way, you won’t ever buy another basket of tomatoes when you already have some in the fridge!
- Make a master ingredient list: This is not your grocery list, but it’s what leads to a really good one while also helping you take stock of what’s in your kitchen. Start by going through each recipe’s ingredient list to make up the master list of things you’ll need for the week. Then go through your kitchen and cross off anything you already have. Now you’ve got a very accurate list you can turn into a grocery list.
Tip: If you picked recipes based on things already in your pantry and freezer, you should be crossing a fair amount off the list. But, not too fast! Consider keeping the pantry items on the list so you can restock your pantry. You never know when that pack of spaghetti or that bag of frozen veggies will come in handy.
- Make the market or grocery list: Now you have your ingredient list to take to the market or grocery store and pick up everything you need without much wahala right? But there’s still a better way! For one, writing over the recipe is a nice double-check on ingredients, but, beyond that, rewriting it lets you organize it for easier shopping.
Begin by grouping ingredients together by stalls in the market or departments in the grocery store. Go a step further and put those sections in order of how you like to navigate the market or store. This way it will be easier for you to get similar food items at once; saving yourself time and the possibility of forgetting an item on your list.
A word to the wise: Buy frozen food at the end of your shopping trip, so it is not thawing during your search for other items!
You’ve done all the hard work and now you’ve come to the point where the plan truly becomes dinner. But there’s one more step — and this one will help you escape cooking fatigue during the week. You’ve got to do some meal prep! I suggest you set aside an hour on Saturday or Sunday for batch cooking and chopping. I usually meal prep on Saturdays.
What you do depends on the recipes for the week. I generally make my sauces, stews, and eating soups; marinate meats, chop veggies for salads and side dishes (store in ziploc) and boil some plain rice. Then on weeknights, I make the carbs to go with the particular sauce or soup, bake or boil the meats or fish, steam or stir fry the chopped veggies etc.
Trust me meal planning is very beneficial and once you get a hang of it you will fly through the process with ease and expertise. Personally, it has helped me cut down on excess grocery shopping time and the 2 – 4 hours I spend meal prepping every other Saturday, saves me so much time during the week.
Here’s a SAMPLE MEAL PLAN TO GET YOU GOING. Feel free to adapt it to your own needs. I created it based in the steps mentioned in this post and adapted it to a family of 4 who all take packed lunches to school and work.