How to meal plan like a pro

Like clockwork, it’s the same question every night: “What’s for dinner?” With a super-busy schedule, preparing an interesting, healthy and economical home-cooked meal every night can seem near impossible. Here’s where the power of meal planning comes in.

By being savvy with your food choices and planning a variety of meals in advance, you can take the stress out of grocery shopping and ensure your family receives a balanced diet. Follow these six basic steps to ultimate menu management.

Ask your family for requests

The best place to start? Ask your family what they actually like to eat! Obviously you’re not going to serve ice-cream for dinner, but every family has favourites and that means you’re more likely to get empty plates and full tummies. If all requests involve junk food, find ways to compromise – if you’re healthy throughout the week, perhaps Friday can be a 'treat’ day.

Do a stock take 

Pantry chock-a-block? You often don’t even need to shop to pull together an amazing meal. Check your pantry, fridge and freezer, make a list of the ingredients with a short shelf life and try to plan a menu around them. This can really help minimise waste and saves you money on unnecessary groceries.

Seek some inspiration

You don’t have to come up with every idea on your own – flick through cookbooks, magazines and websites for recipe inspiration to get the creative juices flowing. Remember to go for a variety of ingredients and cuisines, aiming for two fruits and five veggies a day.

Put your plan to paper

So what’s in a meal plan? Simply note down the days of the week and the meals you plan to make, remembering to consider:

  • How long each meal takes to prepare versus how much time you actually have that day. Some nights will call for a fast, easy dinner like a stir fry or even something you can prepare in advance and freeze.
  • The shelf life of fresh ingredients. Meat dishes should be eaten soon after shopping, or you can freeze ingredients for later use.
  • Which days you are eating out, having guests or other.
  • Your grocery budget. If you prepare a vegetarian pasta or stick to cheaper cuts of meat such as mince for a few nights, you may be able to splash out on some premium ingredients for special meals.

Write a shopping list

Now you know what you’re cooking as well as what’s in your pantry, it’s time to make a list of everything you need to buy for the week/s ahead. Consider listing what you need in columns such as fruit and veg, meat and dairy and cleaning/bathroom goods, so it’s easy to tick it off aisle by aisle.

Mix things up! 

Organised doesn’t have to mean boring – the whole idea of planning ahead is to help you get variety and fresh ideas into your menu. Try new recipes and introduce ingredients your kids haven’t tried before – even fussy eaters may surprise you.

Creating a meal plan can seem like a timely process, but once you have a system in place you’ll save money, eat better and feel inspired to get more creative in the kitchen.