HOW TO MEAL PLAN, PREP, SAVE TIME, MONEY & STOP WASTING FOOD!
Are you sick and tired of throwing out good produce? Wasting money on food you think you will cook, and then don't? Get overwhelmed with even the thought of meal planning? If you answered yes to any one/all of these hopefully I can help you... How does cooking for 3 weeks, then not cooking at all for one week or at the very least, minimal cooking for one week sound to you? In this blog I will show you how it can be done, and with not a lot of extra effort at meal times.
I will also share some of my fave meals and recipes, how I plan it, shopping for ingredients, and then lastly meal prepping and planning for the weeks ahead with my Monthly planner from Daily Orders.
So there is Meal PLANNING, which you can do on your planner. Then Meal PREPPING which is preparing the foods to reduce the time to cook at each meal time, snacking, smoothies etc...
Firstly lets talk a little about fresh produce. As you know each month and season brings new fresh produce. Not only is it readily available, it is fresher, cheaper and local. This is a great place to start your meal planning. Check out my Autumn Fresh Fruit and Vegetable downloadable HERE!
For example, lets take Pumpkin for instance which is coming up for Autumn. To avoid wastage, you can buy a whole pumpkin and make various meals out of it. Let's say we make a burnt butter and sage pumpkin tortellini one night, cut up ALL the pumpkin for the remainder of the meals for the week and store it in the fridge. The next day you can pop the slow cooker on and cook a delicious pumpkin soup in a large volume and you can eat that night and also freeze or freeze it all straight away. (HERE IS ONE MEAL ALREADY SORTED FOR WEEK 4 - will talk a bit more about this in depth below). On days where I use the slow cooker, I tend to throw on a second meal also, as the slow cooker cooks without the hassle of cooking... throw some cut up pumpkin and a roast beef in the oven, another easy meal. Dinner night 2 done. Left over beef, no worries... use that for lunches the next day and create a beef salad the next night. See where I am going here? Other things you can make with pumpkin are pumpkin muffins, a pumpkin salad, cheesy pumpkin puffs, a curry, arancini with leftovers if you made a risotto! Out of one ingredient you have had so many options and have used it all up with zero waste, and all because you planned ahead and had everything you needed- so that you are not eating the same leftovers over and over!
Next tip... each time you touch a new ingredient, such as chicken, or meat or vegetables cut it all up and store all of it straight away. There is no point going back to it unnecessarily and touching the same item twice. Twice the washing, twice the cutting, twice the time.
But how do I know what I am making each night?
Well I did this little exercise with pumpkin above to get you in the mindset of creating many meals out of one item and or reusing some of the previous nights meal. You do need to plan it out. Whether it is weekly, fortnightly or monthly- plan ahead! Believe it or not, I plan my meals for the month ahead, do my large grocery shop once a month then purchase fresh produce, breads and milks in a weekly top up shop. The first week is a huge cook up for me and is where I do a lot of my actual meal prepping for the month.
And don't forget it isn't set in stone..
You can get your planner HERE
Step 2: Select your dinners and recipes if needed, and plan out the meals making them visible for all to see
Select your recipes and meals around crowd favourites/requests, keep in mind the seasonal produce. Also have a good look in your fridge, freezer and pantry and see what inspires you to make a recipe from what is existing (shop at home first). When planning out the week, fortnight, or month on your planner, make sure you take into consideration other events and activities. If you are stuck on recipes, I always have a stack saved in my Instagram highlights which you can view HERE , or if you want to cook with pumpkin simply google pumpkin recipes or reference your favourite cook book. Also make sure you select a good handful of recipes that warrant leftovers. This is where that last week (week 4) or the no cook week' for the month works well, I literally empty the freezer and fridges and use up every last thing I can! If you don't want to keep all the frozen meals for the last week, then spread it out and utilize them through out the month instead of ordering last minute take out.
Step 3: Purchase ingredients
Shop online, or shop in person. I like to split my lists into Aldi, Coles/Woolworths, fresh produce, deli, and butcher meats. I also write my list in the order of how Aldi has the items set out in store! One of my fave tips... when you place your items on the conveyor belt, pop them on in likeness categories so that your bags are packed like so, so when you get home it makes life a lot easier and things quicker and easier to pack away!
Step 4: Prepare and store ingredients
I wash all fruit immediately with a bicarb and salt wash (2 teaspoons of each), and then pack away. I do not wash all berries as I find they don't last as long. I decanter all my packages into baskets or canister's if empty, otherwise packages go into the excess basket. Wash and spin your lettuce and any vegetables you can. I chop all of it when I need to start chopping for the meal I am making, not when I get home from the grocery shop- however this is also an option.
Step 5: Stay a step ahead
Always think about how you can be a step ahead for the next meal. Are you peeling garlic and crushing it- if so, peel extra and pop in a container for the next night. If you are cutting up the chicken you purchased in bulk for a meal then wash it all (I wash with white vinegar and cold water). I then dice some up to freeze, sometimes crumb some into schnitzel to freeze, keep some in whole pieces, and then obviously cook the meal I set out to cook. It is important to label your frozen meats with the date, and what it is, so you know how long it has been in the freezer for.
You are now ready to start cooking your planned meals from the planner! The fun bit! Don't you love it when you know you have an amazing meal coming up, and then can't wait to get stuck into eating it?
What's even better, is that you have it all planned ahead and will barely need to cook for an entire week (week 4)!
So for Week 1 ,a lot of your prep and meals occur here ensuring you are cooking at least 1 to 2 meals that warrant leftovers for week 4. Week 2 & 3 where some prep and cooking is required ensuring that 2 to 4 meals warrant leftovers. Week 4 is leftover week!
Some of my other top tips:
- I plan my grocery list of a Thursday to shop either Thursday night or on the weekend. (usually depends on Hubbies pay cycle which is monthly)
- Plan takeouts, plan the freezer meals, and nights out. If you freeze at least one meal a week that you can utilise another week- it is still all worth it, and accommodates for any changes to the plan
- Utilise the keep warm option on your slow cooker. If you have sports of an afternoon, cook dinner before you head out then pop it in the slow cooker on the keep warm option so it is ready to go soon as you get home!
- Write down what you have as left overs on your planner so you don't forget whats in the fridge. You can always eat some for lunch.
- Cut up meats, and label your freezer meals with what they are and dates.
- Ensure you eat cooked meals stored in the fridge within 3 days
- Don't cut up more than a weeks' worth of fresh fruit and vegetable produce as it won't keep for much longer than 5 days
- If you cook a little extra vegetables, rice or quinoa- makes for a quick and easy lunch the next day
- It depends on your work schedule, but you may want to prepare all your fresh produce and meats once a week. Pre-marinating even. Just remember to either cook or freeze your meat before it spoils.
- Utilize your slow cooker. Put it on in the morning before you leave the house. There are so many meals you can cook in it even a roast chicken!
Burnt Butter & Sage Tortellini
Melt on low 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter in a saute pan, as it slowly caramelises add in some torn up fresh sage leaves to crisp up. Turn off and add a teaspoon of seasonal all. Toss through your already cooked tortellini of choice. Serve with crumbled feta. If the kiddies are a little fussy, offer them a dipping taster plate of sauces. Tomato sauce, crushed cruskits, dukkah, butter sage sauce, sesame seeds etc.. and encourage them to give plain pasta a go with either dipping or brushing on
1 to 1.5kg of beef (chuck, gravy or brisket) Sear in a saute pan then and add to the slow cooker
2 medium onions and 4 cloves of garlic finely chopped and sauteed until translucent and add to slow cooker
Add to the slow cooker: 2 x 400g cans of chopped tomatoes, 200ml bbq sauce, 60ml honey, 120ml Worcestershire sauce, 600ml of hot beef or vegetable stock, 4 tsp of paprika powder and salt and pepper
Cook on high in slow cooker for approximately 6 hours. Once falling apart, pull a part with a fork. Turn the sauce into a gravy.
No Fuss Risotto
2 Tbs butter, 1 small spanish onion, 2 cloves of garlic, 1/2 cup sundried tomato, 1.5 cup arborio rice, 1 litre of hot chicken stock, 1 cup parmesan, 250ml light cream optional, salt and pepper
1. Melt 2 tsp butter in sautee pan. Add in 2 cloves of finely chopped garlic and a small spanish onion. Turn heat down and cover with lid for 3 to 5 min. Once translucent add either mushrooms or asparagus or even sundried tomato strips.
2. Add 1.5 cups of arborio rice and fry off for a minute stirring occasionally.
3. Add in all of chicken stock (except 1 cup)
4. Stir and bring to a simmer. Once bubbling turn heat as low as possible and cover with a lid. Leave undisturbed for 10 min
5. Stir, cover and leave for another 10 min
6. Pop in remainder of stock, peas or asparagus or even spinach. Stir and cover for 5 min
7. Add in a cup of grated parmesan and 250ml of light cream if you wish. Stir well and season with salt and pepper.
Arancini - with leftover Risotto
Baked herbed rub chicken breast with pumpkin sweet potato
Coat Chicken breast in olive oil and sprinkle with your favourite herb/spice blend. Rub in well and place in a baking tray. Cut up some of your fave roast vegetables, sprinkle with olive oil, salt, pepper, paprika and some seasoning all. Bake on 180 degrees for approximately 45 min to 1 hour.
Enjoy! I have heaps of other recipes saved in my highlights on Instagram so you can check them out HERE in QUICK RECIPES
I hope you have enjoyed my latest blog on meal planning and preparation. Next week I will be sharing Fridge organisation with you, and the best ways to store your freezer items.
It really is a great way to save money and reduce waste by planning ahead with a Daily Orders planner. And... you will save so much time!
It will help meal times run more smoothly and you will eat more of a variety when it comes to meal times.
If you haven't yet organised your pantry, check out my blog HERE with lots of tips and helpful advice. This will cut down even more time for meal times!
This has been a collaboration blog with DAILY ORDERS and contains affiliate links. All photography and content creation related to this blog are my own, and I only endorse products and brands that I love to work with. I will always put the products to test and review before sharing with you, my results, favourite features and key benefits as well as cons.
Until next time