But I’m not a brilliant cook.
I’m not even good.
And I am downright hopeless when under pressure to cook food fast because we’ve been doing too many other things.
As a busy mum & mediocre cook I totally rely on meal planning to get food on the table.
There’s some great meal planning advice out there but I find lots of it way too complicated!
If … like me … you’re really struggling these 8 simple meal planning tips will really help …
1. Master a Few Multi-Use Recipes
My meal planning depends upon a few core recipes that can be used in multiple dishes.
It looks as if I am providing variety when I am actually depending upon just a few recipes that I know by heart and can produce without stress.
And even better I can bulk cook and freeze them.
A frozen tomato sauce lets you whip up spag bol, chili & lasagne with almost no effort. And a simple cheese sauce with hidden veg can go in super speedy macaroni cheese, cauliflower cheese and fish pie.
2. Plan One Week First & Repeat Till on Auto Pilot
I am in awe of those mums who have a different meal plan every week. But the best way to master meal planning is one week at a time.
Come up one week of recipes that makes use of core ingredients, your freezer, healthy cheat meals and master it, until you can do it on auto-pilot.
Once it’s on auto-pilot, add in one extra simple recipe a week … ideally using a core ingredient.
As you make your way up 10 or 12 recipes you totally know by heart expand your plan so it has a two week rotation. And as you get up to 15 and 20 expand to 3 and 4 weeks.
As you build up your core recipes it is essential to keep them organised … I had notes and pins everywhere and it was a disaster zone, not least ‘cos I couldn’t read my handwriting!
I now use Cozi a FREE.online family organiser which is totally amazing!!
You can super quickly add recipes by pasting in URLs, drag and drop recipes into the weekly plan and populate your shopping list with just one click!
If you’ve not come across it before you can try it out here …
3. Bulk Cook & Freeze Slow Cooking Ingredients
I hate those ingredients that seem so simple but take an age.
I always think mashed potato, fruit for puddings & pies and pastry are going to be quick … and then suddenly everything else is ready and they’re not and we’re still eating at bed time!
These tricky customers are definitely the ones to have in your freezer.
Did you know mash potato freezes brilliantly?
And pastry and pizza dough … both of which seem hard but which are easy and fun to do with the kids at a leisurely pace without the urgency of getting food on the table.
4. Bulk Prepare & Freeze Veg
Most veg are quick to cook & even root veg only needs 20 minutes or so in the pan. But scrubbing & peeling & chopping is a faff.
It’s much quicker & easier to do it all in one go rather than at each meal time.
You can create some great family time by all going to the market, buying a load of veg and bringing it home to scrub, peel and chop together around the table. Then shove it in meal sized portions in the freezer.
It will save you a good 10-15 minutes at each meal time.
And it means failing all else you can always whip up soup in 15 minutes.
5. Make Your Quick Cheat Meals Healthy
I used to feel guilty about the frequency with which sausages, fish fingers and baked potatoes appeared on our meal plan.
But as long as you buy great quality sausages & fish fingers there’s no need.
And baked potatoes with baked beans & cheese is a well balanced meal.
6. Love Your Grill
The quickest way to get meat & fish on the table is via the grill.
If you’ve got mashed potato and prepared veg in the freezer, you can get the whole meal on the table in under 15 minutes.
To liven everything up make up jars of your own grill seasoning.
7. Eggs & Leftovers
There’s all sorts of wonderful ways to use up leftovers.
But when you start meal planning you need a couple of totally reliable ways to use up leftover meat, veg and cheese quickly.
Omlettes and pancakes are definitely the easiest & quickest way.
You can either throw the leftovers on to the pancake or omlette in the pan or just let everyone fill their own at the table. If you’re not great at these Delia Smith has absolute fail safe recipes that never go wrong!
8. Keep a Shopping List
Write up a shopping list of the ingredients you need for your first week’s plan.
As you’re going to repeat the plan frequently, bulk buy whatever you can.
Update the list every time you add a new recipe to your plan.
I do hope these tips help … they really have worked for me.
But if you’re really struggling to plan meals, do check out How To Meal Plan by Crystal VanTassel – a busy mum of 4! – I have picked up loads of really practical, simple tips from her.