A step by step approach to meal planning

easy meal planning


I am back at Uni, still finding my feet with this new hospital placement. The key words repeated constantly by our tutors seem to be “organisation”. A lot of what I need to learn is not timetabled, I need to find the time to book myself onto different clinics, ward rounds etc. I have also decided to live into hospital accommodation this term. Great for my wallet, which is still not used to not receiving a monthly income, not so great for my luxury habits in term of cooking: I know have to share my kitchen space with 5 other people and have very little storage space. Meal planning seems absolutely essential at the moment, both for my restricted available space and budget. I decided to ask Steph for some advice as she is a pro when it comes to meal planning (and organisation in general). Over to Steph.

Piles of open cookery books, Pinterest on my Macbook, a note pad, the cupboards open; my boyfriend comes home to this chaos. Instead of being ruffled he breathes a sigh of relief. I’m there, sat in the middle of it all, planning our meals, a challenge I relish. He recently said to me for the first time (as I got upset about some food going in the bin) “you do such a great job with meal planning, you save us so much money” I don’t think he realised how much that meant to me but I was over the moon.
I love meal planning, for loads of reasons: I’m a bit of a control freak, relatively time poor and hate waste. You may think I am a confident cook, but if I‘m left to look in the cupboards and fridge after a long day at work, all you are going to get is sweet potato and beans, I need a recipe or at least a vague starting point.

I’m just about to sit down and do my next set of meal planning so I thought I’d talk you through how I do it. It’s changed about over the years and in the last month I’ve switched from recording on a notebook to a shared google calendar. David (my boyfriend) and I can see what’s coming up no matter where we are/on any device and I can set reminders if we need to pick something up.

Meal planning for beginners

Before I start my meal planning I gather the following:
A. A list of what is in season. I use Eat the Seasons.
B. Your favourite recipe books.
C. Clippings (I used to get BBC Good Food magazine and still have lots of clippings!)
D. Online recipes, I store mine with notes in Pinterest. You can see the recipes’ I want to cook and one’s I have cooked.
E. A notepad and pen
F. Your diary (and the schedule of others in your household if meal planning for them too)

I meal plan for 10 ish days at a time, normally a week ahead. So today 23/09/15 I am planning for 03/10/15.
Note on Pinterest, don’t take the standard comment when saving a pin, add notes that make sense to you. I normally add how many it serves and the key ingredients. This saves you a lot of time when meal planning. After I’ve cooked a recipe I make more notes, using the acronym NARM as a prefix, again for easy searching.

Rather than write long, lengthy prose, I’ll give you a step by step of what I do.

1. Look at your diaries, I note down the days I am meal planning for in a notebook and then note what we are doing on each day. This way I know how many days need a meal for both of us, just one, lunches at the weekend or if we are going out. I leave space between each day to write the recipes.

google calendar

2. I look at Eat the Seasons and note down some seasonal ingredients I’d like to cook with. I also work on a few basic principles

a. One meaty evening meal (at least)
b. One fishy evening meal (at least)
c. Two vegetarian evening meals
d. One Soup (in winter) or salad in summer.
e. One of the above I make a recipe for four for lunches/freezing.
f. One ‘use it up meal’ with no recipe
g. One store cupboard supper, just a suggestion

eat the season
3. I then start flicking through the books, clippings and Pinterest, picking recipes that use the ingredients and then depending on cooking time pick a day to cook it. As I pick each recipe I note each ingredient on a list with a tally. I shop at Ocado so I can’t buy just one courgette, I have to buy a pack. By using a tally, I know that if I haven’t used four courgettes I’ll have some left and then go about looking for a recipe to use up the remainder or put a note next to my ‘use it up’ meal that it must contain courgette.
4. I go back over the days and shopping list and check I am happy that we aren’t having pasta two nights in a row and there aren’t any half used ingredients. This may require some jiggery-pokkery or switches. I add my standard items to the shopping list. E.g. Milk, eggs, bananas.
5. I log the recipes on our shared meal planning google calendar and do the Ocado shop, once the shop is scheduled I add the delivery time to the calendar too. Note on your cupboards: the Ocado app is amazing and whenever I run out of store cupboard stuff I add it to the app straight away, so I know I always have pasta, rice and oil!

Note on Ocado, I have some standards I like to stick to when buying food (not a topic for this post) and the money I save by meal planning allows me to shop at Ocado and buy the standards I want to live by. It also means I don’t have to waste two hours on a Saturday in the supermarket and I don’t have to carry the shopping for 30 minutes home and up five flights of stairs. If we have time we visit out local farmers market on a Saturday and armed with my Ocado app we buy the veggies we can and I remove them from the online shop as we go. I’ve tried shopping online with other supermarkets but none live up to Ocado!
I’ll share my latest shopping list and meal plan with you in my next post.
If you want to start meal planning and have questions just ask. If you are looking for tried and tested recipes I log some of my successes and failures on my blog.

Thanks for sharing your tips Steph. I tend to meal “prep” and just cook a big dish and eat it over a few days but I have to admit that it can become a bit repetitive. Steph’s way allows for more diversity. Regarding Ocado, until now, I have been shopping at Ocado, even as a student. This gives me an idea for a future post about food shopping online.

Don’t forget to check Steph’s blog and her Pinterest meal planning board.

Wilko meal planner

I have since bought this meal planner from Wilko, which I really like with its detachable shopping list.

Do you plan your meals? If so, how?

I tend to meal “prep” rather than plan i.e. cook a big batch of something and eat the same thing for a couple of days…With a bit more planning now, I will be able to add a bit more variety into my meals.


  • Katie G says:

    Ooooh I love the new look blog! 🙂
    Steph appears to be super organized and I can imagine she eat’s *really* well, I’m a bit envious to be honest..why? I’d set out to be as beautifully organized and fail after a week! 😀
    Anyway, saying all that I do always have a vague food plan and I always food prep on a Sunday..I try to grow as much produce as possible and freeze/pickle this so that we always have plenty of veg. When I meal prep I try to work with what we have in, what I’m doing in relation to work/exercise and I find batch cooking relaxing/rewarding.
    Katie G recently posted…Protein Packed Chocolate Breakfast Bowl : Go NutritionMy Profile

    • peachylau@gmail.com says:

      I think that it’s good not too be too rigid about it as meal planning is suppose to make your life easier, not become a source of stress so don’t feel like you have failed after a week if you derail from the plan. My trick is to always keep a few key essentials like eggs and frozen veg so I know that I can alway whip out a healthy meal in 10min if needed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge