It would be lovely to be spontaneous about what you eat every day but is that really practical? I find it time consuming and stressful. With busy jobs, long commutes and endless family commitments, serving up and eating an evening meal can often be purely functional. But food is too important to be such a low priority. It is the essence of who we are. It can affect your health, your lifestyle and your emotions. So I decided it was time to take control again. Cue the meal plan. Meal planning encourages a more balanced diet, enables you to serve better meals, saves a significant amount of time (and money) and wasted trips to the supermarket and can significantly reduce your stress levels.
Now I’ve dabbled with menu planning many times before and even though I know it makes sense for some reason it never sticks. I think the key is making the planning a part of your routine and making sure it fits in with your weekly food shopping. So now I menu plan on a Thursday night for the following week! It sounds bizarre and I find it hard to think that far ahead but it’s the only way to get the food in my Saturday morning delivery. The other change I’ve made is to write my meal plans in a book so I always have the previous ones for inspiration. I previously used a wipe clean board or throw away paper.
So, could meal planning be for you? The answer is that meal planning is for everyone as it means different things to different people. Essentially it is the way YOU get your meals on the table. My variables are whether it’s a day I am at work or not, which governs how much time I have, and whether the kids will be eating with us. If meal planning is new to you the key is to start simple. But before you start there are two essential tasks to complete to ensure that this fad becomes a lifelong habit.
The first one is to create a recipe database. This could take on a number of appearances. It could be as simple as a list of dishes you love to cook, cut-out recipes in a folder or a complicated spreadsheet, the choice is yours. The second task is to have a well-stocked store cupboard of essentials. The list could be endless and you will add to it as you try out new dishes but some examples are tomato puree, flour, herbs and spices, sauces and condiments. Just a few key ingredients can transform a regular dish into something completely new. In the blink of an eye some harissa paste, a pinch of sumac, a handful of dried apricots and a jar of olives can turn a lamb casserole into a spectacular Moroccan lamb tagine.
So go ahead and try it. Start simple but be flexible. You may not fancy what you’ve planned and that’s okay. By planning your shopping in advance you will know what ingredients you have at home and can make amendments without wasting food or making an extra trip to the shops. And if you’re looking for inspiration this is my weekday meal plan for next week, if this works for you go ahead and use it!
Monday: This haddock and rice with olive tapenade and basil dish is all thanks to Jamie Oliver and his new 5-ingredients dishes. I saw it on his channel 4 series a few months back and since then it’s become a staple. It’s so quick I always make it on a Monday, my most hectic day of the week. Granted I often add some frozen fine green beans at the same time as the cherry tomatoes but then again, unlike Jamie, I can use as many ingredients as I like!
Jamie Oliver’s One-pan fabulous fish
Tuesday: I have a bit longer to cook on a Tuesday so it’s nice to make something a bit hearty and comforting, especially now the temperature has dropped and the 2 inches of snow we had today has made the country come to a standstill. What could be better than being snowed in with this delightful lamb and aubergine one-pot and a glass of red?
Wednesday: The kids always eat at home on a Wednesday and I tend to make something I can prep earlier in the day as I normally have some time. This salmon and cous cous dish is a firm favourite with all the family.
Thursday: If I am really organised I could cook this daal on Wednesday night, but I never am. Luckily if you soak the lentils the night before or even in the morning it only takes about 20-25 mins to cook. Which gives you enough time to make the tomato and cumin ‘tadka’, heat some wraps and chop up a little side salad. It’s a perfect dish for a mid-week detox.
Friday: I try to balance up the week as much as possible with at least 2 fish dishes and no more than one red-meat meal. The only thing missing this week has been some chicken. This Chinese chicken soup is a meal in itself and a perfect wind-down after a busy week. It can be made with noodles or rice and all the fresh ginger and garlic is also a great way to fight off any winter bugs that may be brewing and get you all set for a fabulous weekend!
Note: all recipes apart from Jamie Oliver’s one-pan fabulous fish are available on http://www.theaccidentalcook.me. All weblinks should take you directly to the recipe (I hope!)