The magic of meal planning
HLN’s own Dotty helps us save time, waste and money with a little thinking ahead ...
By Dorothy Miles
There are lots of reasons why meal planning is a good habit to start this New Year. For many of us, the idea of meal planning has connotations of weight loss or a diet plan. It conjures up visions of weekends filled with meal prep and lots of Tupper-wares filled with pre-portioned meals to see you through a week of healthy eating. There’s no doubt that meal planning can be a really useful tool if you’re trying to shift some weight, but there are lots of other reasons why it can be a fantastic habit to start:
1. Fewer trips to the shops
This is something that we’re all mindful of these days. Popping into the supermarket on your way home from work doesn’t really fit our lifestyle anymore, so planning ahead can help you avoid unnecessary trips.
2. Less food waste
How many times have you found yourself throwing out some veg or meat because it’s past its best and you didn’t get round to using it. Food waste is something we should all be working hard to stop and meal planning can be the way to do it.
3. It can save you money
Planning carefully and doing one big shop or online shop at a larger supermarket can be so much cheaper than nipping to the convenience store where prices are generally higher. Plus, less food waste in the bin means less money wasted too.
4. Add some variety to your meals
It’s so easy to get stuck into a rut, preparing the same old half a dozen dishes. Meal planning is a great opportunity to get the recipe books out and have a browse for some fresh ideas to add to your remit, or finally try that recipe you saved on Instagram.
5. It can help you eat more consciously
No more reaching for the takeaway menu because you don’t know what to cook. No more sad salads for lunch because you’ve run out of inspiration and the fridge is bare. Planning properly can help you eat a more balanced and varied diet.
How do I start meal planning?
Beginning to make a meal plan begins with the important question: What do you fancy to eat? Pick one or two dishes that you really fancy then build the rest of your shopping list around the ingredients from those dishes.
I like to begin my meal plans from Friday, doing my planning on Thursday nights and then my shop on Friday after work. I love the feeling of going into the weekend knowing that my fridge is stocked full of delicious things that I’m excited to eat. Plus, over the weekend you’re more likely to have a little extra time on your hands to do some investment cooking: dishes that take a bit more time and effort that will leave you with some killer leftovers for future dinners and weekday lunches.
Leftovers are your friend
Never put excess food in the bin! Not only are you throwing away money, but you’re also throwing away so many delicious possibilities, especially for making tasty lunches. Leftovers doesn’t just refer to the bits of a meal you don’t eat, but also the ingredients that you have leftover from making a recipe. For example, I really fancied coleslaw this week so I’ve got a cabbage on my shopping list. All that means is that I need to find a couple of other recipes that use my cabbage! Thinking about your ingredients like this can really help you add some variety to your weeknight meals as you have to get creative.
Over the next week, let me share my meal planning process with you.
- Friday: Chicken burgers with coleslaw
- Saturday: Sausage and Lentil Casserole
- Sunday: Roast Chicken with roasties
Now that I’ve established the core things I really fancy, I can start to make my shopping list: chicken, burger buns, carrots, cabbage, mayo, potatoes…. I’m already beginning to see some ingredients that I’ll a have a surplus of, so I can begin to flesh out my plan a little more. I have mainly focussed on meat dishes so far, so I know that I need to bring in more vegetarian dishes and probably some fish too. This meal plan isn’t for weight loss, but I’m being really conscious about my balance of meat and fish, carbs, dairy and veg.
- Friday: Chicken burgers with coleslaw
- Saturday: Sausage and lentil Casserole
- Sunday: Roast Chicken with roasties, red cabbage, cauliflower cheese
- Monday: Cauliflower and lentil salad
- Tuesday: Sausage pasta with spinach
- Wednesday: Prawn fish cakes with Asian style slaw
- Thursday: Carrot soup
Now I’ve got my meal plan, it’s onto the shopping list. I go through each dish and all of the ingredients I’ll need, mentally crossing off the things I know I already have in my cupboards and jotting down everything else, along with the weekly staples such as bread, cheese, milk, fruit, teabags and other such sundries.
Here’s my shopping list for two people for a week:
- 1 whole free-range chicken
- 12 eggs
- 2 x ciabatta rolls (or burger buns)
- 1kg carrots
- 1 small red cabbage
- Pack of 6 sausages
- Red onions
- Dried puy lentils
- Large cauliflower
- Cheddar cheese
- Small pot cream
- Frozen prawns
- Tea bags
- Fruit juice
- Tomato puree
Once I’ve collected my shopping, the first thing I do is cut up the chicken. I could have bought pre-portioned chicken which would have been just fine, but it’s much more cost-effective to buy a whole one and cut it up yourself. You can also use the bones to makes some homemade chicken stock (this will be especially good for our soup later in the week). You can find a quick recipe for chicken stock here!
Check your store cupboard/fridge for:
- Salt and pepper
- White onions
- Ground cumin, coriander, chilli flakes and paprika
- Soy sauce
- Chicken stock
- Plain flour
- Corn flour
- Chilli sauce
- Gherkins/ pickles
- Veg oil
- Olive oil
My local supermarket is Sainsbury’s, so I do a click and collect order. All of the ingredients, plus the other bits and pieces we need for lunches and breakfasts, comes to £41.50. This works out at just over £2.90 per person, per day – that’s less than the price of a cup of coffee per day.
Chicken Burger with Homemade Coleslaw
- 1/3 small red cabbage
- 1 carrot
- ½ red onion
- 2 dessert spoons mayo
- 2 free range skinless chicken breasts
- 1 egg
- 60ml milk
- 60g cornflour
- 60g plain flour
- Sunflower oil
- Siracha sauce
Shopping away, chicken prepared, I begin by making the coleslaw. I remove the outer leaves and trim off the dry, brown base before cutting a wedge from the side of the cabbage. I shred the cabbage finely and tumble it into a bowl. I grate the carrot on the box grater – no need to peel – then throw that in too. Half a finely diced onion, 2 dessert spoons of mayo and a sprinkle of salt finishes off the slaw.
I pop it to one side and turn my attention to the chicken. Place the breasts on the chopping board and lay a piece of cling film over the top. Using a rolling pin, beat to flatten them to an even depth so that they’ll cook evenly.
Then I take two small trays. Into one, I break the egg and beat it with milk. Into the second I weigh the two flours and season them heartily.
Drag one breast through the flour, then the egg, then the flour again then rest it back on the board. Repeat it with the other.
Hands washed, surface wiped and it’s time for the best part: the cooking! Pour about 1cm vegetable oil into a frying pan and place it over a medium-high heat until it is shimmeringly hot. Carefully, I lower the chicken pieces into the hot oil, enjoying the cackling sizzle as the hot oil rises up around the chicken.
Six minutes, then turn to reveal a golden crust. Six minutes more, then out of the oil and onto a plate to rest. Check the chicken is cooked through using a digital meat probe (it should read 74) or a skewer in the thickest part to check the juices are clear.
I pop the ciabatta rolls into the oven to warm for a couple of minutes, thinly slice some gherkins – you can’t have a burger without gherkins – and shred some lettuce.
To make the sauce – arguably the most important part of a burger – I squirt 1 tbsp siracha into a small bowl and 2 dessert spoons mayo and mix them together.
Sauce goes first, slathered onto the warm, crisp bread. Then lettuce and gherkin and finally the crunchy, succulent chicken. I press the lid down firmly so that the spicy mayo squelches out the edge and begins to leak down the side.
I pour a beer and settle down on the sofa for a box set binge whilst I devour my burger. Happy Friday!