If you are a busy person, the secret to maintaining healthy eating habits is a workable meal planning system. Otherwise, all your good intentions can so easily fizzle out under the pressure of your life.
Many of us are inspired to start eating well by lifestyle programmes presented by TV chefs. We resolve to start cooking the dishes they cook. We even go and buy their books. But we haven’t factored in one very important thing—they don’t have lives like ours! Cooking is their job, their profession and for many, their whole life!
They don’t have to cook at the end of a gruelling day at the office, like we do! They don’t have to fit in the weekly shop at the supermarket, in between chauffeuring kids to weekend activities and doing a week’s pile-up of housework!
I believe the gap between the ideal world, represented in coffee-table cookbooks and the real world of real people, has to be bridged. These TV programmes and books are not designed for the vast majority of workers, especially those with families, who, through no choice of their own, are living in the rat-race.
Meal Planning for Real People!
To attempt to bridge this chasm as much as I can, I have approached the matter more holistically, recognising that cooking well, also involves shopping well and planning well. If advice about healthy eating is to be effective, it must help you, not only cook well, but also shop well and plan well. It is intrinsic to my philosophy that these things cannot be separated.
For this reason, I developed a self-contained system of menu-planning, shopping and cooking, in which everything is linked to everything else. The idea is, that you create a ‘mainframe shopping list’, which contains everything you ever need for all the dishes you plan to cook regularly.
This then becomes your reference list, which you refer to everytime you do your weekly shopping list. It makes food-shopping and planning so much easier, because a lot of the thinking has already been done, and you have a checklist to work off. Create your own shopping reference lists, like mine, which suits how you eat. Then create your own weekly survival plan and weekly shopping list, like this one here:
Weekly Survival Plan
Here is my simple, healthy meal planning system which you can easily adapt to suit your own requirements. Below, you will see a sample of one of my filled-in, weekly menu-plans. Notice how I re-use items for lunch that have been cooked for dinner the previous day. I also always have a Stand-By column, in case, when I go shopping, I cannot get fresh ingredients for what I had planned to cook. I also plan what I am going to cook ahead to freeze for next week and so make sure I buy extra food for that too when I do my shopping.
Your Meal Planning
To organise your new, healthy eating lifestyle, devise your own menu-plan and link it with your shopping lists, cross-checked against your mainframe list, and taking into account what you already have in stock.
The simplest way, is to begin with a weekly menu-plan and stick with it, until it becomes second nature to you. That way, you will really reap the benefits of having a shopping and cooking routine that you hardly have to think about. You will find that eating well does not take as much effort as you might have thought.
A seven-day Survival Plan will allow you to plan your meals in advance, a week at a time, and eat the same thing each week on the same day. If you need more variety, just increase your rota, to a two, or three-week Survival Plan, by filling in extra weekly sheets with different dishes. However, even if you can only manage a weekly rota, do change your menus with the seasons.
When meal planing, do always fill in a Stand-By column also, in case whatever fresh produce you had planned to eat on any one day, is not available when you go to buy it. At the same time, fill in any cooking ahead you plan to do for the coming week. Add any cooking you can do for the freezer. Then make sure these ingredients also are put on your shopping list.
Notice how I link in dinners with the next day’s lunch menu. Sometimes, I serve up a cold version of the previous night’s dinner, or sometimes I use it as a base for a slightly different meal.
This way, you get the most out of the time and effort you spend cooking. This week-at-a-glance plan will enable you to plan your entire year’s lunches and dinners, as much ahead as it suits you, if you fill in four meal-planning sheets, one for every season.
In theory, you could plan your entire family’s lunches and dinners for the whole year, in one go, while watching a movie on New Year’s Day, if you like to be super-organised!
When you have filled in your Survival Plan, then do your Shopping List—-this way you will never forget anything you need to buy each week. The first is according to food groups. The second is the one I prefer, according to the shops I have to go to. null
Healthy Food Grocery List Type A (listed by types of food):
Here is the beauty of a healthy meal plan system! When you are tired and short of time, you can go around the supermarket on auto-pilot when you have a proper shopping list like this one! The trick is to literally write everything down that you need to cook each dish from your weekly survival plan. Then you will buy for the healthy meals you want to eat, not the junk stuff you buy when you’re too tired to think and plan while you shop. Then, if you have created a mainframe reference the grocery list, so all you need to to is do a quick check to see if anything on it needs replenishing.
The beauty of having a mainframe list, especially for busy working mothers, is that you don’t have to physically be in your house to do your meal planning and write up a shopping list. As long as you have your mainframe reference list with you, you can use it to jog your memory for whatever you need, rather than having to actually look in your larder, fridge and freezer. I advise busy working mothers to carry a copy of their mainframe list with them on their handbags, or keep a copy at work. If you don’t yet have a mainframe list, when devising your own meal planning system, just do a quick visual larder, fridge and freezer check to see what needs re-stocking. Add that stuff too. And finally, think about miscellaneous extras, snacks etc., that aren’t part of an actual meal. This shopping list is for people who like to organise their list according to food groups.
Healthy Food Grocery List Type B (listed by shops you go to)
This is just another way of doing a shopping list. I use this method for meal planning because I find it easier. When you start eating healthy food, you may find that you have to start going to a few different places to get it, such as health food stores and farmers’ markets. If this is the case, this method will probably suit you best. Just write in the food you need, as for the shopping list above, except this time, grouping it in columns according to the shops you buy each product in.
This is the type of meal planning system, which I devised for myself, in order to survive being a busy working mother. In my opinion, no advice about good food will work unless it is possible to incorporate its recommendations into a practical planning system, such as this. This then becomes your action-plan for a new, sustainable, healthy lifestyle.
This planning system is my plod-along version of the tantalising, futuristic fridge, which will someday remind us what we need to buy. Or the futuristic cooker, which, at the touch of a pad, will display all the ingredients for whatever dish we wish to cook.
I don’t know about you, but every time I read about these intelligent kitchens, I think ‘Roll on the day!’ Especially the self-cleaning ones!
Well, my head is usually so muddled with so many things other than menu-planning and shopping lists, that I couldn’t wait for tomorrow’s Kitchen Utopia to arrive. So my planning system is my own, more mundane offering. But at least it’s here, now!
It helped me enormously, freeing up lots of space on the exploding hard-drive, that was my working Mom’s brain and enabling me to make it available for all the other things I couldn’t develop a simple planning system for. I hope it helps you too.
Meal Planning Saves Money!
A bonus of using this meal planning system, is that you will always have a list when you go shopping. This is one of the best ways of saving money by avoiding impulse purchases that you don’t really need. Having a list is a great way of bringing your grocery budget under control.
When you start meal planning, you will also be less likely to buy all the processed, unhealthy products you are trying to steer clear of, because you don’t have to consider anything that is not on your list and so temptation is avoided.
You will also find that you save a considerable amount of time, as you can whizz around the supermarket purposefully, knowing exactly what you want. You will find shopping a lot easier as much of the legwork (the thinking) has been done in advance.
Since I started meal planning, I find it impossible to
do the shopping without my list and impossible to do my list without my
weekly Survival Plan.