Feeding a family is a mammoth task and providing meals which everyone will eat (most of the time!) can be a huge challenge. As well as food shopping and cooking there’s also the job of deciding what to make each day. Do you find yourself constantly asking yourself ‘what shall we have for dinner tonight? This is definitely one of the frustrations my clients often tell me about so I’m going to share tips to make family meal planning quick and easy.
Planning meals for the week only needs to take 5 to 10 minutes and will make it easier to feed your family nourishing meals. It will also help you:
Reduce stress – Instead of thinking, ‘what shall we eat tonight?’ and having to raid the fridge or fit in a last minute dash to the supermarket you get to calmly look at your meal planner and feel in control!
Save waste – Waste can be avoided by a quick look in the fridge and cupboards before planning your week so you can use any leftover ingredients or keep buying the same store cupboard ingredients like herbs or tinned tomatoes
Eat better – When you know what your going to make and have the ingredients in the house its going to reduce the likelihood of going via the drive through on the way home or having frozen pizza 3 times a week.
Save money – If you’re like me every time you visit a supermarket you’ll buy many items you didn’t intend to. Planning and shopping once a week will help reduce supermarket trips and help you save money. Plus you’ll save money on meals out and takeaways.
Save time – Fewer last minute trips to the shops, less time mulling over what to eat, less time peering into the fridge waiting for inspiration!
Include more variety – Writing down your meal plan for the week allows you to see if you’re having a mixture of different foods and try to mix things up a little. You can also plan to try a new dish or ingredient once a week and expose your family to lots of different foods gradually. Exposing children to a variety of different foods as early as possible has been shown to help reduce fussy eating.
Here are my top family meal planning tips to help you get started:
1. Make a list of family favourites -this is now your master meals list which you can use every week to give you ideas and save you time trying to think about the meals you cook.
Ask everyone to tell you their favourite 3 or 4 dishes and add these to the master list. You can add new favourites to the list as you discover them
2. Think about your week – what do you have on each evening? How much time do you have to prepare and eat your meal? I use a weekly planning sheet to plan meals and start by writing down after school activities by each day so I can see how food needs to fit into that. I’ve found a magnetic planning pad from Sainsburys which stays on the fridge and works really well
3. Give yourself 5 minutes to plan meals for the whole week. Take a look in the fridge to see what you might what to use up and have your master meal list in front of you.
4. Set food nights to save thinking from stratch each week. Could Monday night = pasta night or Friday night =pizza night. You could vary the sauce on pasta or topping on pizza each week but not have to re-think what sort of meal to have
5. Try to batch cook where ever you can. Give yourself a day off cooking by making a double batch of a meal whenever you can. Cooking a roast at the weekend can be a good way to have leftover cold meat or vegetables to use in the week. Put cold new potatoes in the oven with some olive oil and serve with cold meat and whatever salad you have in the fridge. Make a double batch of your favourite dishes (spaghetti bolognese, quiche, roasted vegetables, casserole, lasagne, fish pie) and keep one in the freezer for a day you want to be kind to yourself.
6.Plan for several super simple meals for days when you’re tired or won’t have much time to prepare dinner. Here’s a few of my favourite standbys for busy days:
One tray bakes – My favourite is salmon with potatoes, kale and leeks. All cooked on one tray. Chicken works really well too, find some inspiration here including a cheesy chicken bake with new potatoes
Beans on toast – Theres nothing wrong with beans on toast as a quick meal. Its full of fibre and protein to give everyone long-lasting energy. Top with grated cheese or a poached egg.
Pitta pizzas – Use wholemeal pitta breads or tortilla wraps as a quick and simple base for a pizza. Warm under a grill until gently brown. Meanwhile heat chopped tomatoes or pasta with a squirt of tomato puree, garlic and dried herbs. Top the base with tomato sauce, grated cheese and your chosen toppings. Serve with salad or sweetcorn for a speedy but nourishing meal
Fresh pasta – Knowing you have a packet of fresh pasta in the fridge will help you feel a lot better when you arrive home with hungry, tired children! Simply top with some olive oil and grated cheese, tomato sauce (as above) or stir through some cream cheese with garlic and herbs. While the pasta is cooking chop a few broccoli florets into a glass bowl with some sugar snap peas or ready chopped carrots and cook in the microwave in a few minutes
7. Include meals which can be ready as soon as you get home. Slow cookers are great for this, especially with the colder Autumn weather setting in. The satisfaction of smelling a casserole or bolognaise when you open the front door will make the 5 minutes of prep before you go out worth while. Here are some slow cooker recipes to try:
If you don’t have a slow cooker baked potatoes are another meal you can pop into the oven to have ready when you get home.
8.Have a food discovery night – Encourage your children to try different flavours, textures and put their own dishes together by having food discovery nights. Choose a different theme each week and get the children involved even if its just by putting different foods on the table and letting them build their own dish. Some ideas are fill your own taco night, tapas night, curry night or build your own salad, pizza or burger night. Let children go through recipe books or watch cooking programmes and get excited about choosing a dish to try or go to the supermarket or fishmonger and let them try a new fish for dinner.
*I realise tip 8 may slightly increase your stress levels and take more time but watching your child eat something they’ve never tried before will be awesome and you could make food discovery nights a monthly event instead of weekly!
9. Make sure you’re stocked up on frozen vegetables and simple salad ingredients (cherry tomatoes, carrot batons, bags of leaves) then any meals can be made more nourishing quickly and simply. Frozen pizza become pizza + tomatoes+ carrots, plain pasta becomes pasta with sweetcorn and peas
10. Use fruit and veg pots for a simple way to increase fruit and veg portions and give yourself a little time and space to get dinner on the table. If you have hungry children asking ‘how long until dinner time’ give them a pot of fruit or veg (blueberries and grapes, chopped apple, carrots and peppers or a pot of frozen peas). Being super hungry means they’re more likely to eat the nutrient packed fruit and veg and will take them a few minutes to eat so are less hassled whilst getting dinner ready.
I really hope these tips make family meal planning a little easier for you and give you a few ideas to try this week. Please share your favourite family meals or family meal planning tips with us.
If you would like more food inspiration our Ultimate Wellbeing Nutrition Guide contains a 7 day meal plan with recipes for meals and snacks. You can get your copy from our website Get your copy here and if you live in Portishead you can have your ultimate wellbeing nutrition guide delivered for free! (When you enter your address for delivery the P + P costs will be adjusted if it’s a Portishead postcode to zero)