• Hayley

Save money and reduce waste through meal planning

As part of my preparation for July's Change One Challenge, where I will attempt to eliminate as much packaging as possible from my grocery shop, I've been in preparation mode. One of the biggest ways I can think of to be prepared is to plan out my meals in advance. This is something I have been doing for a while but want to share with you why it's so great and how it's going to help me achieve my goal.

Meal planning might sound a little intimidating but once you've done it for a few weeks I think you'll start to see great results particularly with regard to cutting down on your food waste.

Benefits of meal planning

* Less stress - When you know what's for dinner ahead of time there's no last minute stress around what you can rummage up within the contents of your fridge or pantry. If you need to, you can prep things in the morning before work or the night before to make the actually cooking process easier and save some time.

* Reduce food waste - if you plan your meals in advance you know what things you'll need. This means you don't end up buying a whole lot of vegetables that you end up wasting because you didn't use them. It also helps you plan to use left overs. For me, if we do a roast then I know we'll have leftover meat so I can plan to use it in the next night's meal. Also if I want to buy some spinach for one meal, I'll make sure I include other meals with spinach that week to ensure it gets used up.

* Save money - once you've got a meal plan sorted your grocery list naturally flows on from this. If you stick to your list at the supermarket you'll find you're likely to save money as you don't end up throwing in extra items thinking you might need them.

* Variety - I don't know about you but sometimes I feel like I cook the same thing over and over. Meal planning helps me to ensure that if I cooked Lasagne last week I mix it up a little this week, I mean Spaghetti bolognese is a totally different meal right?

* Plan around your week - if you've got extra busy days or nights when you know you'll be late home you can plan to have something quick and easy, have a frozen meal or even plan to have a take-away. There's no rules around having to cook everything yourself.

* Make extra and freeze for another meal - if you plan in advance you can easily make a double batch of something and have it in the freezer to make another nights cooking easier.

Now that I've covered why meal planning is so great I'll tell you a bit about how I do it. I typically do my meal planning on a Friday so that I can write my shopping list and do the groceries on the weekend. I buy meat that is on special but I buy it one week ahead of my meal plan. I do this so that I can take advantage of specials and then I base my meal planning on what meat I already have in the freezer. (Full disclosure we love meat, I'm going to try and start incorporating vege meals more regularly but I'm going to tackle one thing at a time).

I have a master list of about 30 meals that are my tried and true recipes that I know the kids will eat and how long they take to cook. I try and add a new recipe every once in a while to keep things interesting. Having this master list makes the process easier as I can look at the list and just pick a few things based on how my week is shaping up and what meat is in the freezer.

I love my slow cooker and with three kids sometimes having dinner ready before lunch time is a life saver. My older two kids are in daycare a couple of days a week so on those days I try to have dinner organised before I pick them up so I can spend more time with them when they're home. So I just plan my meals accordingly.

Actual photo of my meal planner complete with baby mermaid picture. The writing may look like my daughter wrote it but I just did it in a hurry!

My meal planner lives on the fridge and is just a whiteboard that I've drawn on. My 4 year old likes to help with the meal planning and sometimes writes it for me, as well as drawing pictures of baby mermaids and suggesting every meal is fish and chips. It's great to get the kids involved in the meal planning so when dinner time comes the chances they'll complain are greatly reduced!

If you want something a little more fancy then check out www.frameon.co.nz. They have A4 magnetic frames which you can write on. They also have a cool meal planner that slots in allowing you to meal plan with ease. I've ordered one and can't wait for it to arrive. I feel like I'm more organised when things are nice and tidy (I know I need to let go of this now I have three kids!)

One other tip for success for meal planning is to be flexible. If you have something on the list but it comes to the day and you just don't feel like that, swap your plan around. If you make the plan too rigid you're less likely to stick to it. My husband will sometimes look at the plan and say, "hmm chicken curry, do we really feel like that tonight?". My response is typically "happy to have something else, what are you making".

So how is meal planning going to help me reduce my packaging? By knowing in advance what we're going to be cooking I can plan my shop accordingly. I know what fruit, vegetables and meat I'll need so I can take my reusable bags and containers to get them in. I'm also making a list of the items that I'm going to try and make myself rather than buy. I don't want to be making a whole lot of things in one week so meal planning allows me to space things out so I don't get overwhelmed and give up.

If you haven't tried meal planning yet why not give it a go, it could even be your Change One Challenge.

Hayley x