Whilst writing my book, ‘How To Feed Your Family’, I did a lot of thinking about meal planning and the more I researched the book, the more I started to plan out meals for me and the kids more regularly. I can honestly say that it’s a life-changer – I know it sounds like hard work, but it makes such a difference to my organisation and stress levels mid-week if I’ve done this.
If you feel that you’re always fretting about what to feed your children and constantly trying to chase your tail to figure out what to put on their plates next, then I really urge you to give it a go and see if it works for you.
Life with kids isn’t predictable and as parents we all know that the best-laid plans don’t always turn out. There are weeks when I manage to plan out what we’re eating and stick to it and then there are weeks when everything goes completely to pot. The trick with those off weeks is to have a few meals up your sleeve that you can call on in an ‘emergency’ and this is often where having some “store cupboard staples” to hand can make a big difference, as well as a list of quick emergency meals.
So today I’m sharing everything that I’ve learnt in my 7-step guide to meal planning for your family. I hope you find it useful!
7-step guide to meal planning for your family
1. Check what you have
Before you write your meal plan, look at what you’ve already got in the fridge that needs using up or what dried goods you have in the cupboards that can form the basis of some of your mid-week meals. Search for free recipes online or use the index pages in your favourite recipe books to find recipes that work with what you have at home e.g. ‘eggs’ and ‘broccoli’ or ‘canned tuna’ and ‘tinned tomatoes’. Try to pick recipes which use long-life ingredients that you know you already have tucked away in your kitchen (such as dried herbs and spices, vinegars and oils). That way you’ll reduce both food waste and spending because you won’t be adding lots of new ingredients to your shopping list when you go to the supermarket to shop for your meal plan. I have a BRAND NEW resource for menu planning that you can access on my How to Feed Your Family Factsheets page.
2. Plan your week
Think about the days in the week when you REALLY need the quick dinners and try and use pre-frozen meals on those days or ensure you’ve made a double batch of foods the day before OR use that as one of the days you opt for a quick fix or fridge raid dinner. You can plan your week around these tougher days to make it all run so much more smoothly. For example I take the kids swimming on Tuesdays and have the biggest rush after school, so I usually take a quick snack with me or give them something quick at home and then have a defrosted meal ready for post swimming when they are super hungry and we’re all shattered.
Good meals to cook in double portions to reheat include fishcakes, bolognaise and soups. I’ve also got SO many perfect batch cook recipes in my new book too, it was one of the things I really wanted to get in. The lentil Dahl, coverall curry and the baked risotto are perfect for this. If you’re struggling with super quick meals, this speedy eggy veg is also a winner.
3. Make it work for you
Write a realistic meal plan for the week that you can stick to. If you know you’ll be tired by Friday night, use your emergency meals and think about what you can feed the kids in advance such as beans on toast, pasta and sauce or frozen veg with couscous – then get prepped accordingly. I find the weeks go by so much more smoothly when I manage to do this because not worrying about food last-minute gives you so much more head space to get on with everything else!
4. Be adaptable (really key!)
At the same time, don’t worry if your meal plan doesn’t go entirely to schedule. Things often come up for families at the last-minute and that’s fine – and definitely happens to me all the time! In this case, I freeze what I was going to serve or bump it to the next night and then fall back on one of my plan-B emergency options which include things like porridge with fruit or yogurt, quick egg noodles with frozen veg, or pesto pasta. If you end up with a meal of leftovers, crackers and fruit one night also…so be it. That’s also not a problem!
5. Use tools available
Use my Menu plan template and the details in my book aim to give you all the tools you need to meal plan. The template I’ve created is based on recipes from How to feed Your family, but you can use whatever you need and just plan a few meals instead of everything. Everything is about adapting it to your family. One thing I found helpful though, was to have a “notes” section so you can have reminders to get things out of the freezer and/or make them in advance so you don’t forget.
The template I created also helps you write your shopping list, going through each meal/recipe in your plan, checking for any ingredients you don’t have already at home and then listing them in categories by supermarket aisle so that when you get there the shopping itself is straightforward and stress-free. If you’re anything like me, you won’t want to forget a pen to cross off items as you put them in your trolley.
6. Dedicate 1-2 hours a week to menu planning and batch cooking
This is the tough part, but this is the bit that really made a difference for me. I plan my meals and I batch cook two main meals for dinner and 2 lots of snacks at the weekend (it generally takes me 1.5-2hours to do this, as long as I’m free of the kids) and then I freeze these in realistic batches and pop them out on the evenings before I need them. Snacks I keep frozen and just tap into when I think they might come in handy (out and about or if Ada might need a snack inbetween meals on a long day) and then I plan cooking around this. I put on a podcast and make something like a curry or my easy cheesy potato pies. I then plug these meals into my meal plans as and when I need them and pop a note on my meal plan on my fridge the night before to remind myself to defrost the meal in the freezer overnight. My best tip here is to freeze batch-cook meals in different sized containers or pre-sliced/divvied up into portions so that you only defrost what you need on any given day and not, for example, the whole lot for the whole family when you’re only perhaps feeding two children that day instead.
7. Plan for 1-2 fridge raid meals a week
Another tip of mine is to try and do one or two (sometimes more) “fridge-raid” meals a week. This means looking in the fridge (or freezer) at things that need using up and producing a random spread of bits I’ve found in the fridge for the kids to help themselves to, like a buffet. This might be grated cheese, carrot sticks, hummus, leftover porridge, roasted chickpeas, salad with lemon juice, green beans, strawberries, peanut butter dip etc etc – you name it. It’s often more balanced than you think. This way I allow myself two evenings where I don’t cook, two evenings where I have something pre frozen and then the rest I either cook from scratch (on days where I have more time) or use my “emergency meals” in the evening.
It does take a little time to get into the swing of meal-planning and you don’t have to follow all the above to the letter. Some people will only need to plan out dinners, others will plan out breakfast and lunch too, which can be more onerous. But having a good supply (make meals and snacks in bulk whenever you can) in your freezer is a game changer, it really is, I always have:
- A pasta sauce
That I’ve made to tap into in my freezer. It really makes a difference for me.
Have a think about what habits you could try and how they could make a difference to your weekly routines. I’d love to hear from you on social media if you give any of my meal planning tips a go.
Charlotte’s Newest Book
Following on from her bestselling books How to Wean Your Baby and How to Feed Your Toddler, this book brings Charlotte’s trademark approach of practical support and nurturing step-by-step guidance to help you manage the juggle of family life.