One of the best ways to avoid food waste is by meal planning. It allows you to shop more frugally, buying only what you need for the planned meals, and helps you use things up before they go off. There are several ways to do this and most people find a way that works best for them as they go along. This is how Attachment Mummy plans her meals. This is how Bea Johnson plans hers. And here is the FLYlady’s advice. Some people like to have lists for every meal of the day, others like to concentrate on the main meal. This is how we do it:
When my husband worked shifts years ago, I found meal planning invaluable for keeping the household organised. he had a three weekly shift pattern, so I came up with 22 meals for our plan back then. Why 22 I hear you ask? Because that way it doesn’t get too boring. You don’t start to expect chilli every third Friday, because it always moves on a day each time. However, we like to keep a little spontaneity with our cooking. My husband likes to bring home surprises from the reduced section and we sometimes like to have a change of plan. Once my husband stopped working shifts, the meal planning relaxed a little.
I don’t meal plan for every meal of the day. We would find that a bit too over-organised for our family. When I go shopping, I have a few ideas in my head of the main meals I’d like to cook that week. I also keep a shopping list on Wunderlist that contains all our basic items and update it before I go shopping with any extras we need. If we’re having guests to stay I plan the meals for the week carefully and make a list of other food and drink items to have in for snacks etc.
We made the decision a while ago to gradually cut down our meat meals. Our diet used to revolve around meat-based dishes – cottage pie, spaghetti bolognese, casserole, toad-in-the-hole, curry, etc. The meat we were buying from supermarkets left us feeling uncomfortable about the ethical side of mass-farmed meat coming from God knows where and the environmental impact of all the plastic packaging the meat was enveloped in. Having been brought up in a household where my mum supported a local butcher, as her mum had done before her, we decided to change our habits. Good quality, locally-sourced meat is undoubtedly more expensive, so we chose to eat less of it. We cut our meat meals down to three a week (and plan to gradually reduce them further in future), but made sure we bought meat from Peat’s Butchers in Barnard Castle. At Peat’s they let me use my own containers. They also have a provenance sheet on the fridge telling you which farms the meat has come from that week.
So, back to the meal planning. I buy enough meat at Peat’s to last two weeks. This costs us about £20, depending on what I’ve bought. The rest of our meals are vegetable, fish or egg-based. I make sure I buy a wide variety of fruit and vegetables at the greengrocer’s, so that I have plenty of choices for meals. I buy cooked meats and cheese from the deli counter of Morrison’s in waxed paper bags (no plastic). We get through about a dozen eggs a week. Then I return home with all my shopping and look at it all and plan out a few meals for the 7-10 days ahead.
The meals we eat most are:
- Spaghetti bolognese
- Omelette with salad and boiled potatoes
- Cauliflower (or broccoli) cheese pasta bake
- Pasta with tomato and courgette sauce
- Toad-in-the-hole with vegetables and gravy
- Sweet and sour pork with rice
- Beef/chicken curry with rice
- Beef casserole with dumplings or cobblers
- Jacket potatoes with fillings and salad
- Homemade pizzas with salad
- Noodles, chow mein style with vegetables
- Corn on the cob with salad
- Trout with boiled potatoes/potato wedges and vegetables
- Leek and potato soup with cheesy bread or cheese scones
- Spiced autumn vegetable soup with fresh bread
- Paprika and tomato chicken with rice
- Cheese fritters with beans
- Bean hash with baked eggs and potato wedges
- Mince cobbler
I hesitate to say these are ‘family favourites’, because with three children I know I’m certainly not going to please all the people all the time. I’m also not claiming to be mum of the year here either. I keep some breaded fish or fish fingers, potato waffles and frozen peas in the freezer for those evenings when it all gets a bit much and I just need to shove something in the oven. I’ll be writing more about how I keep food waste to a minimum as a mum of young children later in Zero Waste Week.
I suppose you could say that my meal planning is done back to front (why be like everyone else?!), working out the week ahead from my shopping. I still think that this cuts down on waste though. I’m not restricting our purchases too much and I’m retaining some spontaneity, but I’m avoiding waste by planning how everything will be used up in the week ahead. I’m writing this on Sunday and my husband is currently in the kitchen making soup that will use up all the vegetables in the fridge that are on the turn. I’ll bake some bread when I’ve finished this and we’ll have a lovely soup and fresh bread supper later.
For Zero Waste Week, I’ve planned our meals a bit more carefully than usual. I like to use Zero Waste Week to push us a bit more towards zero waste each year. This year, I’m meal planning to avoid food waste and packaging waste, so I’ve purposefully picked meals that I know will help us achieve these goals. As it’s the first week of term, I’ve asked the children what their favourite meals are. Tuesday is our youngest’s choice, Wednesday our middle child’s choice and Thursday the eldest’s choice. On Sundays I bake bread and muffins, rock buns or biscuits to go in their lunch boxes. Here are our main meals for the week ahead:
Monday – I’m working most of the day, so my husband is in charge!
Tuesday – Homemade pizzas and salad.
Wednesday – Toad-in-the-hole, vegetables and gravy.
Thursday – Breaded fish, mashed potato and peas/beans/salad.
Friday – Beef curry with rice OR beef casserole OR sweet and sour pork and rice, depending on what vegetables need using up by then, what the weather is like and what kind of mood I’m in!
Saturday and Sunday – We just see how it goes and cook what we fancy from the food in the fridge or the leftovers we find in the freezer.
If you’d like to join in with Zero Waste Week, you can do so here. Do you meal plan? If so, to what extent do you plan out the week ahead?