Some people may consider the task of planning a week's meals and writing out a shopping list to be tedious and pointless. Myself, I consider it to be a small price to pay. Meal planning for parents is always going to be more tricky than for people with no kids. For a start if your kids are anything like mine, they change their preferences at least once per day. But still, having a plan of action will definitely help keep you sane. Relatively.
I hear parents complain fairly often about wasting food, wasting money, and being stuck in a rut not knowing what to cook. Do you find yourself wandering round the supermarket with no real plan, just picking up whatever seems like a good idea at the time? How many times do you have to nip back during the week to pick up something for dinner, or something you forgot? How often does food sit and rot in your fridge when you can't really remember why you bought it? But okra was three packs for a fiver! Maybe so, but you still have no idea how to use it.
I feel you, I've been there. I still do it sometimes, you should know by now that I'm not perfect by any means. But this one simple process can fix these things, to a degree. I've been asked by a few people to share my basic principles of meal planning for parents so here we are! It is split into two main parts: planning, and execution.
Meal Planning for Parents
How many recipe books do you have which never get used? I am sitting next to my cookbook shelf in the kitchen as I write this, and I have over fifty. Do I win? Ok, so maybe I never used them before but I am getting much better! And I'll admit it, I actually really enjoy flicking through the pages and finding new ideas. If you don't have the physical books try browsing sites like Jamie Oliver, BBC Good Food, or follow some food blogs such as Oh She Glows and Hungry Healthy Happy.
I like to follow a simple flow with any of these habits, so here's how to start making the all-important plan...
- Pick a day you're going to do your weekly shop. Yes, I realise sometimes this will have to change, but habits work better when you create routine. Pick a day and stick to it wherever possible. Let's say, for example, that you pick Saturday. Your meal planning day will now be Friday, to save it being a rush and giving time for edits if you need them.
- On Friday, grab a pen and paper and some recipe books (or your tablet/phone/laptop if you're futuristic), and preferably involve your family. Sit down and plan your evening meals from Saturday to Friday. If you want to take it up a notch you can plan what the kids want in their lunchboxes, what breakfasts you want, snacks etc. It's completely up to you, it's fine to start just with evening meals.
- It's important to note here that you can plan meals which last more than one night. Leftovers are a staple in my house, we rarely cook something which will only feed us once. Curries, stews, pasta sauces, chillies...all of these are easy to bulk up and produce a lot in one go for no extra effort and very little extra cost.
- When your weekly list is complete, it's time for you to transcribe this into a shopping list. Write out the ingredients for each meal on your list. While you are doing this, check your cupboards as you may have a tin of cannellini beans lurking which you'd forgotten about. Once you have added all the ingredients for your evening meals you can add any other bits and pieces you'll need for the week.
Try something new: dark chocolate vegan flapjack
Shopping/Executing the Plan
This post isn't just about meal planning for parents, oh no. I'm talking about shopping too! You may think that shopping is just a case of going in and getting stuff. Oh no my friend, a few pointers here and your whole experience will improve!
I don't know about you, but I used to dread taking the kids shopping. I wasn't particularly enamoured by the prospect of screaming, fighting and snatching random bottles of wine of the shelves. The kids, not me. Although by the end of it that's what I would be considering. Who can blame the kids though, it's not actually that exciting for them is it?
Well, you're about to change all that.
Here are a few pointers to smooth the ride:
- Involve the kids. Don't get scared, hear me out. If you have involved them in the process from the start then this will be easier, as they feel invested in the meals for the week already. Even if you haven't, kids love being given responsibility. You are in charge of the list (unless you have an older kid who you trust with this part) and you can instruct the young'uns to go and fetch what you need. Within your sight, of course. If you have very young children who are sitting in the trolley/pram then involve them by showing what you are picking up. You may feel this would add more time to the shopping trip. My experience is that you save time which would have been spent fighting and arguing! Also, if you're more calm you are less likely to forget things and therefore less likely to make further shopping trips.
- Stick to your list. Don't go picking up other bits, no matter how you may feel, or what the kids say. If you want to stay clear of food wastage and spending extra quids then this is important! The supermarket is laid out to encourage you to buy stuff you don't need. Only pick a special offer up if it's something already on your list.
- Don't go shopping on an empty stomach. Seriously, you should know this one! It's much easier to steer clear of impulse buys if you (and your kids) aren't contending with stomach rumbles.
Read more: Staying Healthy As A Parent
So there you have it, meal planning for parents in a not-so-complicated little package. How to reduce your food wastage, money wastage, and get out of that food rut. Please let me know in the comments how you get on! Or if this is something you already do, how have you found it benefits you!
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