Claire Saliu Makeup Artistry

Makeup Artist, Beauty and Lifestyle blogger and busy Mama.

Tips For Stress-Free Meal Planning - And A Free Printable ❤

Meal planning tips

If I had a Euro for every time my 6 year old asked me "What's For Dinner" I'd be a very rich woman by now. And with having all of us in the house pretty much 100% of the time I literally am cooking or preparing food every five minutes and can't seem to keep the fridge and pantry stocked for very long at all! I'm sure a lot of Mums out there can relate..

When you combine that with the stay-at-home restrictions, I've been making even more of an effort than usual to get the most out of my grocery budget and make the food shopping last a bit longer to not have to head to the shops more than once a week. For information, I normally do my grocery shopping at Aldi but the same tips could apply no matter which supermarket you prefer to go to. So on with the tips - the first couple of which you should do before you even think about what you're going to feed yourselves with for the week ahead.

1) Clean out your fridge and freezer of anything that has passed its best and is no longer safe to eat. 

Meal planning tips

I'm sure I'm not the only one who in the past has come back from the shops with a mountain of food to put away and realised that the fridge needs a good clean and clear out first. By doing this task before you make your meal plan and shopping list, you will have a much better idea of whether that bottle of ketchup needs replacing or whether it still has some shelf life left in it, and whether you can use those leftovers that are lurking in the back of the fridge or not.

For example, on Friday night I was making my plan and list for the coming week so that I could do my shopping on Saturday morning for the long weekend etc, and I realised I had 4 portions of leftover cooked rice in the freezer. Instead of just leaving them there for another rainy day, I factored them into my meal plan and ended up making Chinese-style chicken fried rice without having to buy too many of the ingredients at all. Plus I made extra room in the freezer for the items I was going to buy.

2) Do an inventory of what you already have. 

Meal planning tips

This is linked to point number one above but you're also going to need to make a list of what you currently have - whether that's fresh fruit and veg, meat/fish, dry goods such as rice or pasta and any tinned items or sauces, seasoning mixes etc. It will stop you from picking up another jar of pasta sauce for instance when you already have 4 in your cupboard, and help you to include what you have in already in your recipe planning.

It will also really help your food budgeting if you don't add recipes into your weekly plan that you will have to buy the entire ingredient list for - unless they are staple ingredients that you will use over and over again.

For example, if you have lasagne sheets, some tinned beans, passata or pasta sauce and some basic herbs, you could decide to make either a meat or veggie lasagne without having to buy the entire list of ingredients. If you don't have recipe ideas to hand, have a google of recipes using your main ingredients and I'm sure you'll come up with lots of ideas.

3)Check out your supermarket's current special offers. 

Meal planning tips

In the current climate when everyone seems to be trying to "stock up" and not go the shops often, I know some ingredients will be hard to find. I know for instance where I live, flour and yeast can't be bought for love nor money - everyone seems to be embracing their inner Mary Berry and baking up a storm. However there are still some good deals to be had on some products especially fresh items like meat and poultry and fruit and vegetables. It all adds up so definitely see if you can save wherever you can. 

4) Take a pen and paper and plan out your meals for each day. 

Meal planning tips

You can be as simple or as fancy as you like with this. I used to use an Erin Condren Petite Planner - they have a specific one for Meal Planning which is pretty useful and clever- but to be honest I went through it fairly quickly and it wasn't so economical to replace with the shipping costs to Ireland. Instead, I've been using meal planning templates which have the days of the week on one side and space for your shopping list on the other side.

In fact I have created my own printable meal planner sheet for you all which you can download and print away for yourself here if you like.

It's also entirely up to you whether you include breakfast and lunches in your meal planning - when my son is at school and my husband isn't working from home as he is currently, I don't include meals other than dinner but with everyone being at home together all day I do roughly plan out breakfasts and lunches so that I have enough of everything we need in the cupboards.

While you are doing up your meal plan, think about the days where you might have less time to cook for whatever reason, and choose an easier dinner for that day. Think about where you might have leftovers to add in, and don't forget to pick one day where others have to either fend for themselves if possible or for you to be able to just grab something from the freezer and throw it in the oven. Because lets face it, cooking and eating your own food can get pretty monotonous - I know for me it does anyway after a while!

5) Think about where you can make ingredients go further for you.

Meal planning tips

This is honestly so worth trying if you're not already. If you're cooking something with minced beef, lamb etc as the main ingredient, make the meat go much further by adding some lentils or beans or any pulse veggies that you might have. This trick works for a lasagne, a bolognese, a chilli/enchiladas/tacos or even a shepherds/cottage pie. If I'm short on the main ingredient for a curry, I'll add in some sweet potato cubed up or even normal white potatoes, which will bulk out the meal and also thicken the sauce a little. And most of the time, even the pickiest little eaters don't notice.

Also, you might think that the extra large family-sized pack of whatever meat or poultry is too much for your family, but it will cost you less per ounce than the standard 400g or 500g pack - so instead, buy the larger pack if you can, and cook half and freeze the other half for a later date. This way, you are building up your stock in your freezer gradually without ending up buying way too much in one trip and "stockpiling" which is not really practical - or helpful to others when the shops are currently finding it hard to restock things quickly enough these days.

If you have a slow cooker, cooking your whole chicken breasts in it - or any larger piece of meat - will make it stretch way further for you as once it's cooked, the meat will literally pull apart and shred for you almost by itself - just use a fork to pull it apart. That way, the meat is in much smaller pieces instead of the usual diced bits you might have, and you will get far more portions or meals out of it.
For example, in the chicken fried rice I talked about earlier, I only had to use two chicken breast fillets to feed our family of four by cooking them this way when normally I would use at least three depending on their size. And because the fried rice had egg in it, the protein content was still enough that all tummies were full enough without noticing the lesser amount of chicken!

6) Buy own-brand products where possible.

One thing that is sometimes not known is that own-brand products are quite often just as good quality as the well-known brands. And if you're on a tight budget, even temporarily, then you need to cut costs where you can. Quite often, that packet of spaghetti or tin of beans that are in the supermarket's own packaging are actually made in the very same place as the brand leader's product and just packaged differently. So you may cut your shopping bill by quite a lot just by checking out the lower-priced versions! I know a lot of the time my family don't even notice a difference in the taste of something that I've substituted so I'd rather have the extra Euros to buy something else with in that case!

7) Frozen food isn't always the inferior option. 

Meal planning tips

I'm not talking about your chicken nuggets or your ready-make jambons here - both of whom have been in my freezer on occasions though I can't lie - and there is many a hangry tantrum I've coped with after a long day at work by rustling up chicken goujons and chips - but there are some real gems to be found in the freezer section that can really save you time and save you wasting fresh produce.

For instance, I regularly pick up frozen diced onions, frozen sliced peppers and sliced mushrooms to make cooking up stir fries or pasta dishes quicker and to save me when the fresh veggies in the fridge are looking a bit worse for wear.  They have so many different frozen vegetables -and fruits for smoothies, tarts or crumbles too - that makes getting your five a day into you and the kids much easier.

Also, how many times have you bought a bulb of garlic or a big piece of ginger only to use it once and for the rest to linger in the fridge or cupboard for weeks? My local Aldi also has frozen ingredients like chillis, garlic and ginger in handy little boxes that you can just open and sprinkle into your cooking. Or, you could buy the fresh version and chop it all up yourself, pop into little ziploc bags and freeze it on the day you buy it and you have your own ready-made version too. Either way, the key point is that your freezer can do a lot more for you than you realise :)

So after all that, it's time now for me to start on today's dinner prep so I'll leave the tips there for now.
I hope you found them useful - and if you have anything else to add, please do feel free to comment below!

And don't forget to download my free printable free printable meal planner to help you with your own meal planning too :)

Bye for now. Stay safe and well xx

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