Meal Planning with Meals for Mini Mouths
Updated: Sep 29, 2018
As a busy working mum, meal planning is vital for us. Meal planning in our house is done on a 4 week rota. I plan all our meals for the next 4 weeks in advance, I draw up a table and include Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner (Tea!) over a 4 week period. As ideas for food pop into my head, or the husband and kids give suggestions, they get pencilled onto the rota as ideas.
Then as it gets close to the 4 weeks being up from the previous rota, I’ll gradually start to form a new rota for the next 4 week block using the ideas and suggestions pencilled onto the draft rota, seeing what meats/fish we have in the freezer that need using up. These meals will then be put into their ideal days to be eaten.
This part is all based on how fresh the veg will be, how much time I’ll have to prep the meal, doubling up on the cooking of ingredients one day, to use as part of a meal on another day. (i.e. if we have pasta, I’ll cook extra for lunches the next day, if we have mash I’ll cook extra to use in fish cakes or as a pie top for on another day), Also ensuring that all ingredients are used up over the week, meaning there is very little to no food being wasted and foods always prepped for the coming days (i.e. if I need some passata in one dish, I’ll make sure there’s another dish a few days later that will use up the rest of it).
Planning over 4 weeks also means that generally we don’t end up eating the same meals for at least 4 weeks in a row. We can see so far ahead that we won’t tend to eat the same meal twice in the same 4 week block. We will use similar ingredients, to avoid waste but won’t eat the exact same meal twice. This allows for plenty of variety, keeping mealtimes interesting and stops them becoming repetitive, meaning we aren’t tempted to turn to convenience foods.
I try to include plenty of meals that freeze, so that during the 4 weeks I can allow myself days off from cooking anything at all, and also have things there for emergencies, which at the moment is very handy with an unpredictable baby who may not allow me the time to put him down to prepare meals, no matter how little prep they may involve. Say I’ll pencil in a lasagne one night, I’ll double up on the ingredients and make two at the same time; we will eat one that evening and the other I’ll stick in the freezer to use either in the following 4 week rota or the one after that. I buy zip lock bags to freeze portions in and also the foil food containers, for things like lasagne, fish pies, cottage pies etc.
I shop for our food online on a 2 weekly basis, I try to get store cupboard ingredients and the meat/fish for the whole month all at once, then just top up every 2 weeks with fridge/fresh produce and anything we’ve ran out of. Our fruit and veg is delivered weekly by a local greengrocers. This keeps our food bills very low. We tend to pencil in a couple of meals out each month as well.
I leave some days blank, purposefully, in order to use up any items that might be left over, this is usually when the wonderful and interesting meals/items are created. Generally I just make something up with the leftovers and hope for the best. If it doesn’t work out, we eat pasta!
The days following the fresh fruit and veg delivery is when I will pencil in meals that require really fresh produce, then as the week goes on I’ll gradually alter the meals so that by the end of the week I’m using the veg in meals, as opposed to an accompaniment to a meal where not so fresh veg is fine, i.e soups, curries, stews, pizzas, muffins, pancakes, etc.
Now I’m back to work full time, Sunday is usually the day I’ll either stick our evening meal in the slow cooker for the day or we will go out for tea, this then frees up my morning to prep for the week ahead.
I’ll usually aim to make 3 items, taking me roughly 1 hour to prep all 3, normally 1 breakfast item to last 2 days and 2 lunch items, or the other way round. All meals are served with easy to prep fresh fruit & veggies and healthy packaged choices, such as rice cakes, breadsticks, dried fruits, yoghurts, cheese. Anything that isn’t eaten on Monday or Tuesday will get added to the freezer stash to use on other days. So our breakfast and lunches for the coming week will look something similar to this:
Whenever I get a free 20mins of an evening, I’ll often use the time to whip up something quick, to literally stick straight into the freezer for another day, basically to ‘top up’ the stash. This is such a key trick, and is also a fab way to reduce food waste.
Get the whole family involved in the planning, that way everyone will have meals that they will enjoy somewhere on the rota, again another way to keep waste low. Saturdays tends to be the kids’ choice for evening meal. If it’s too much of a children’s meal that they’re wanting, then the husband and I will eat alone later on.
Planning on a 4 weekly rota also means that you’ve got plenty of time to think about meals for the next rota and have them well planned out, rather than rushing to think of meals one week at a time. This way means once you’ve planned one 4 weekly rota, you can relax for at least a couple of weeks before thinking about the next.
Once I’ve drafted up the 4 week plan, I will write a shopping list of all the meats/fish and store cupboard ingredients I’ll need for every week. I’ll then order these in and freeze the meats/fish until I need them. The rest is ordered every two weeks and will include things like, cheese, milk, eggs, butter and anything we’ve run out of.
On the whole we tend to stick to the plan, especially during the week, as it’s just easier. But there are always days where the plan goes out the window, or we really don’t fancy what we’d planned to eat, so we end up making something totally different, often with the ingredients from the meal planned. Or we will eat jacket potatoes, omelettes, pasta, noodles, something on toast, a picnic style tea or good old fish fingers (which we always have a box of in the freezer). The weekends allow for a lot more movement; we go with the flow a little and often have a large breakfast to keep us going, snacky lunch whilst out and about and then home for tea later on.
Below is the plan I work from each week.
***Batch Cook meals tend to be something I can make two of, to freeze one or there will be enough leftovers for lunch the next day. On Fridays I work a really long day, so I either pull one of the frozen meals out or leave the slow cooker on all day. Leftover teas are made of whatever ingredients and veggies I have from the previous week.
Below is an example of a whole month’s meal planning, so you can see exactly how it all works.
I hope this is helpful for those of you who want to ensure you are providing varied healthy meals with little to no food wastage, and hopefully little to no stress!
Follow Meals for Mini Mouths on Instagram for more meal ideas, and check out recipes on the Ordinary Mothers Online Cookbook!