Start by writing a list of all the meals your family enjoys. We do this regularly together, the kids always remember meals that have fallen out of my rotation!
If you get stuck, have an internet trawl or pull our your recipe books.
Decide how far ahead you want to plan and into what detail.
This may be weekly, fortnightly, or monthly. I recommend aligning your meal plan to your shopping day (if you shop fortnightly, then meal plan for a fortnight).
Decide how much detail you need in order to plan. Is ‘chicken and rice’ enough, and you’ll decide on salads or vegetable sides on the night, depending on whats in season/in your garden/what is leftover? Or do you need to write ‘butter chicken with cauliflower rice, frozen beans, fresh carrots and homemade keto naan’ for this to work for you?
Print or draw up a page covering your days.
Are you going to meal plan breakfast, lunch, snacks, lunchboxes as well? You may need more squares.
(Tip: I have a breakfast menu for choices, and a lunchbox menu for choices so the kids can pick from that, but I meal plan Sat/Sun lunches in the same way as all the dinners).
It can be easier to theme your days – Monday stirfry, Tuesday meat & vege, Wednesday chicken, Thursday burger night, Friday tacos or pizza, Saturday meat and salads, Sunday roast, for example. Then you can alternate whether they’re fish or pork tacos, or beef or chicken pizzas, in different weeks, but its a good starting point to get going!
Consider the use of leftovers. If you have a small household and use leftover roast chicken for a pasta dish, factor this into your meal plan. If you use Sunday’s to plan for the week ahead, choose meals that enable you to do that – i.e a large roast may give you leftover cold meat, and leftover roast vegetables, for salads, sandwiches and other lunch meals for the working week.
Pencil in the meals across the days, taking care to spread out your dishes (unless you want to eat chicken tacos, chicken curry and chicken fettucine three nights in a row!).
Have a separate piece of paper beside you to write down your grocery list as you meal plan. Pork tacos on Tuesday? Tacos, cheese, cucumber, tomato, pork, seasonings, mayo etc on the second separate paper.
How does it look?
Transfer your grocery list to your phone or shopping list, and then staple it to your meal plan before putting onto the fridge or noticeboard. If you keep a folder of your meal plans, you can reuse them, saving lots of time in planning. If you eat seasonally, you may find this summer’s meal plans useful next summer as well!
Factor in your lifestyle – if everyone gets in late on Tuesdays because of your commitments, ensure that night uses your slow cooker or pressure cooker instead of accidentally planning in an elaborate meal.
Add in contingency/emergency meals – whatever ingredients it is for you to create a quick and easy meal. Is it bacon, eggs, sausages, chicken for a quick curry, BLAT sandwiches, mince on toast? What can you create in a hurry, that you can keep the ingredients on hand, to stop you from purchasing a take-away?
Plan the other meals. Plan what goes into lunchboxes as well as weekend lunches, so you can make good choices. Plan what breakfast foods you need if this changes each day/week.
Be flexible. If you feel like chicken skewers on taco tuesday, swap the meals around. If you’re a spontaneous person, just plan 7 or 14 meals, get all those ingredients, and then just decide each day what to have from the list, rather than allocating every meal to a day.
Shop seasonally. Salads in winter cost more than salads in the summer, likewise cauliflower in summer will cost you three times the price of cauli in the winter.
If you’re budget conscious and shop to the specials, plan your meals around the weekly mailer.
Also consider some flexibility in the supermarket meats. If you find reduced meat, buy it and adjust your menu plan accordingly to take advantage of discounts.
If you shop online, you can create ‘lists’ – use this to your advantage and consider naming them ‘menu 1, menu 2’ etc and align each list to that week’s menu plan. Then run a rotation of four, six or eight weekly plans. It saves you heaps of time as you can just add all of those ingredients and then tweak/add as needed.