Meal planning is something many of us can feel like we don’t have time for but it may be well worth the half an hour it can take each week as it pays you back in less stress and more time during the week, healthier (and lower calorie) diets, reducing food waste AND reducing bills. But recent research has shown that only 57.4% of people plan their meals on a semi regular basis (Ducrot et al, 2017). I can completely understand why people would feel that it’s an extra half an hour they just don’t have to spare. We live ridiculously busy lifestyles nowadays and when we get 30minutes to ourselves the last thing we want to do is plan meals. But it really is SO worth it and I’ll tell you why.
1. It saves you time in the long run
This isn’t based on research but my own experiences. The weeks when I meal plan (because don’t get me wrong, there are weeks when I skip it too – I just always regret it!) are the weeks that I spend the least amount of time in my kitchen, wondering from cupboard to fridge, to freezer, to cupboard scratching my head and wondering what I can make. I also spend a LOT less time ‘popping into Tesco’ on the way home because I’ve realised I have all the ingredients I need, bar one, to make that food I could make for dinner.
2. It reduces food waste AND bills
I'm giving you two for one on reasons for this one - A simple fact is that food thrown out of the average family home is worth over £700 a year (WRAP, 2019). Planning targets some key causes of food waste such as excessive purchasing and poor stock management helping you reduce the amount of food you throw out which you’ve already paid for. But by planning ahead you can not only reduce the amount you throw out but also related bills by:
- Not buying duplicates
- Not having to buy replacement food (e.g. you can use leftovers for lunches rather than buying expensive on the go foods)
- Not impulse buying
- Not spending money on takeout’s because you’re too tired to figure out what to cook
3. It reduces stress
Did you know that have ‘too many choices’ can cause stress, demotivation and unhappiness (Desmeules, 2002)? Even before I read this study I felt this truth on a spiritual level as I’m sure many of you have during The Conversation. You know the one.
Me: ‘Darling, what do you want for dinner tonight?’
Boyfriend: ‘I don’t mind sweetie, whatever’s easiest for you.’
Me: ‘Oh that’s sweet but honestly what easiest for me is not having to decide.’
Boyfriend: ‘Oh…but I don’t really know what I want either…’
Me: ‘Well you’re going to have to figure it out.’
Boyfriend: ‘Why can’t you!’
Me: ‘Because I can’t. Now pick.’
Meal planning is an EXCELLENT tool to avoid this quickly devolving conversation from sweetness into bloodshed – use it!
4. It supports healthier diets and weights
Even more incredibly, not only can food waste save you time, money and stress, it can also save your waistline and more importantly, your health. In a 2017 study, meal planning was found to lead to better adherence to nutritional guidelines such as the 5-a-day fruit and veg guidelines (Ducrot et al., 2017). The same study found that meal planners ate a wider variety of fruit and veg, which we know is a good indicator of sufficient nutrient levels i.e. minerals and vitamins (Steyn et al., 2006). More than that, the research finds that women who plan their meals are less likely to be overweight or obese and men were less likely to be obese (Ducrot et al., 2017).
As if you needed more evidence of the amazingness that is meal planning I will leave you will this one last quote before I give you some tips on how to get the most out of meal planning:
“The association between perceived stress and haphazard planning of meals suggests that, during stressful periods, individuals are less likely to plan their meals carefully. Consequently, they are more likely to indulge in those foods that are characteristically high in fat.” (Sims et al., 2008)
How to get the most out of meal planning
- Pick a day to plan
Each week have 30minutes on a set day when you can sit down and plan. I use Saturday mornings and normally order a home delivery from the supermarket on Wednesday evenings. By booking this far in advance delivery slots are a lot cheaper.
- Take note of your families plans
On the meal planner note any days when you, some of your family or the whole family is going to be out during meals so you don’t buy or make unnecessary food.
- Plan what main foods you want during the week
Get inspiration from cookbooks, the internet or (of course) The Food Waste Doctor. I always keep a list of fall back favourites. If I’m short on time or just suffering from decision fatigue (it’s a thing) I’ll go for easy options like spag bol or a ‘freezer meal’ (Quorn sausages, chips and peas etc).
- Plan your sides
Know what you want to have with your ‘mains’ to make to make sure you a. don’t waste any and b. get a good range of vegetables. So if you’re having steamed broccoli on Monday night with your chicken and you know you won’t use a whole head plan to have it with another meal during the week.
- List the ingredients you need and double check for duplicates
Check your fridge and cupboards to make sure you don’t buy any duplicates – bear in mind at this stage that quantities aren’t exact so don’t be inflexible, especially with fresh and spoilable foods. If a recipe calls for 200g of cream cheese and you have an open pack with 130g left in it you can make it work, so you don’t need to buy a whole new pack.
- Plan for leftovers
Look at how many portions of each meal you should get from the recipe and place the leftovers for either lunches or a ‘leftover meal’. We’ll have one day a week when we either eat leftovers if we’ve got them or I’ll make something out of the ‘extras’ left in the fridge, all the bits of veg or sandwich fillers we didn’t use.
That’s it for now so get to planning and let me know how you get on. I hope this helps!