I have always loved food, ever since I was little. I’ve always wanted every meal to be something special. Not extravagant or expensive, just the joy of melted cheese, or the fresh deliciousness of a ripe tomato. I also love cooking. Again, no complicated recipes or expensive ingredients, just the heavenly smell of garlic, or the ritual of making a delicious bolognese. However, since I started in the working world, I have found myself eating far too many meals that are just…average. Of course, this was the result of too many late nights, and not enough time to cook anything worth eating (let alone think of ‘something special’). So this year, I decided that this wasn’t going to happen anymore. No more frantically dashing through near-closing-time-supermarkets, buying microwave meals and chocolate; no more staring into my empty fridge, willing tomatoes to appear. I was going to start meal planning.
So meal plan I did. Was it easy? No. Did it help? Absolutely. Although I don’t always get it right, my meals are now a lot less average, and a lot more rewarding. Here’s what I’ve learnt:
Keep it simple
It’s all good and well to put together a comprehensive (and ambitious) plan, but this is a surefire way to feel disheartened in your first week. At first, I eagerly and enthusiastically planned every possible meal (and snack), spending way too much time choosing recipes, and creating lengthy shopping lists, only to find out that my week didn’t always go exactly as I had planned, and I would end up with sad, forgotten veggies, staring up at me from the bottom of the fridge.
The trick is to keep it simple, and allow for flexibility. Plan your week with a mix of concrete recipes, and vague ideas, spaghetti bolognese one night, and whatever veg and rice the next night. Also, don’t plan for every meal. Keep a lunch open here, an evening open there. We all know that sometimes there are unexpected leftovers that can be saved for tomorrow’s lunch, and there are those nights where you aren’t going to feel like cooking, so allow for some flexibility.
Choosing to buy more local, seasonal produce will make your meal planning a lot easier, and save you some frustration. Instead of planning from the meal to the produce, consider changing it around, and start to plan from the produce to the meal. For example, don’t choose a recipe, and then spend time hunting around for the produce. By looking to what’s in season, seasonal produce is always available, a lot more affordable, and often better quality. Save yourself time, frustration, and money, by planning more of your meals around what’s in season at that time.
In addition to saving you time and money, eating seasonally is also better for your health, and encourages you to change it up every now and then. As the seasons change, so too will the produce, meaning you won’t get stuck in a cooking rut for too long, and you’ll be eating a healthy variety of seasonal produce – good for you!
Do plan for treats
It’s unrealistic (and I think, just a little cruel) to plan for a zero-treat week. Even if you’re trying to avoid sugar, there are lots of sugar-free treats that you and your family can enjoy. What about this indulgent (and sugar-free) berry cream pudding? I like to make a banana bread every now and then, without any added sugar, just a little yum when you need it! By incorporating some sweet treats into your weekly plan, you don’t feel guilty enjoying them, and it will make for a happier you, and a happier family!
Be a little adventurous
As a starting point, plan your meals around the recipes you know, and stick to the flavours you’re used to. Make it easy for yourself by cooking the things you and your family love to eat. But always make the effort to try something new every week, whether it’s doing a pumpkin mash instead of a potato mash, or setting aside one night to cook a new recipe, or try a new cuisine. Changing it up every now and then can be exciting, and encourages kids and partners alike to try something new. For all you know, you may discover a new family favourite!
Meal planning isn’t for everyone, but for those of us with busy lifestyles, it can be a real saving grace. Spending a little time every week thinking ahead, has also resulted in fewer visits to the shops, which means fewer impulse purchases, less petrol, and less time spent walking down shopping aisles. I now have more time to cook the meals I love, for myself, and for the people around me, which makes for a much happier me, and a happier family!
Ordering a weekly box from The Munching Mongoose can make meal planning a little easier. Every week, our boxes include a delicious, healthy selection of local, organic produce, including seasonal fruits and veggies for you to cook with, and you know ahead of time what to expect in your box, making it easy to plan ahead. You can also add delicious dairy, meat, and more, to meet your family’s needs. We believe that eating a good variety of seasonal produce is good for your health! Worried about cooking with veggies you’re unfamiliar with, visit our Recipe Box for lots of simple, delicious ideas!