By Belinda Pooley
Meal planning is the secret weapon that allows us to make 200 meals a day in as little as 3 hours. Discover how this one simple tool will save you time, money and the stress from thinking about what to make each day – plus make your whole family healthier!
When we were planning the launch of Wholefood Canteen in Redbank we realised early on that the only way that we would be able to feed 65 babies and children a day, manage stock, minimize wastage, cater for allergies and offer a variety of nutritionally balanced meals over the course of a week, and each season, would be to meal plan. We now make around 7200 meals per month across both centres and our meal plans are gold!
As they say ‘Failing to plan is planning to fail.’ Meal planning is no different!
The 6 Benefits of weekly meal planning plus tried and tested meal planning tips for busy households
1. Saves time – and more of it than you think!
Consistently using a weekly meal plan means no more time spent at the end of a long day figuring out what to feed your (starving) kids and then only to discover that you don’t have all of the ingredients you need to make a delicious meal. Your time in the kitchen will be productive and organized and you’ll get things done a lot quicker because you know exactly what you’re making. A meal plan also means no more last minute trips to the shops to get a missing ingredient– all those ‘quick trips’ to the supermarket soon add up over the space of a week.
2. Saves $$ and minimises food wastage
When you have a meal plan, you will always spend less because you’re only buying the ingredients you need to make the dishes on your meal plan. Without a plan for the week, it’s so common to fill your trolley with a whole selection of items with a vague idea of what you ‘think’ you ‘might’ make, and invariably at the end of the week you have to chuck out a bag load of wilted, sad looking produce that never made it’s way onto the dinner table. Sound about right? Meal planning also means no more impulse buys.
3. The daily nutritional needs of children (and the family) are sufficiently met
One of my favourite quotes is “Every time you eat is an opportunity to nourish your body.”
A meal plan allows you to consciously do this every day.
When you map out your families meals over the course of a week, you very quickly can see how well you are meeting their nutritional requirements across all of the food groups.
For children to thrive, grow optimally and perform at their best it is critical that no food group is overlooked. Meal planning from this aspect will give you a greater awareness of what you are feeding your family each day and to what degree you are truly nourishing them.
We’ve even gone so far as having our rotating 4 week menu plans assessed by Nutrition Australia to ensure that we are providing the minimum nutrition serves across all 5 food groups for the children in the Head Start Montessori Centres who use our food service.
4. You increase the variety of foods that your kids eat – which over time means fussy eating goes out the window!
Without a meal plan, and particularly at the end of a long day, it’s all too tempting to fall back on your 2 or 3 (same old) dinners that are easy and quick to make and invariably aren’t greeted by the family with much delight.
A meal plan (In the Wholefood Canteen kitchens we use a 4 week rotating seasonal meal plan) will also ensure that over the course of each week, your children will get to try new seasonal foods and flavours which makes it easier to introduce new recipes as their taste buds become familiar with new tastes and textures. Using a variety of produce will also automatically provide them with the broadest possible range of antioxidants and nutrients for their growing bodies.
5. You increase healthy eating and decrease consumption of processed foods
Having a meal plan means you’re far less likely to make unhealthy food choices as a result of lack of organisation. Knowing what’s on your plan means you won’t have to fall back on take away for dinners or lunches because the thought of making a meal is too hard.
It’s no secret that take away foods are loaded with dodgy oils, excess salt and sugar and aren’t prepared with your health in mind.
6. Meal planning allows you to coordinate food preparation and meal times around your schedule
Your meal plan must be designed around what works for you (work, after school commitments, budget and preferences etc.) Design one that matches your weekly schedule and plan accordingly. You will be more likely to stick to it and see the immediate benefits.
For example, on those days when your schedule does not allow time for cooking, you can plan to cook a larger amount the day before and have enough for leftovers the next day.
And because you know what’s on the menu for each day of the week, you can combine certain food prep tasks. For example, if you know that your Tuesday and Wednesday meals require sliced carrots or onions in them, slice enough carrots and dice enough onions for both meals on the Tuesday. When you have planned ahead, you can prepare a variety of meals in a short amount of time.
With this in mind, the Wholefood Canteen menus are carefully designed so that our Chefs can execute multiple tasks at one time. For example, on a day where we’re poaching chicken for lunch, we have planned to use the stock for a risotto. Or extra steamed veggies will be used to make baby purees.
10 Meal planning tips for busy families
- Create a meal plan that fits your schedule – you’re more likely to stick to it.
- Choose a time slot during the week (evening or weekend) where you can set aside a block of 1 or 2 hours to do some bulk preparation and cooking. Making and freezing bulk batches of muffins, slices, crackers, casseroles, and rice, grating cheese and making dressings for example will significantly reduce the amount of time you spend cooking during the week and make lunch box prep during the week a breeze.
- Involve the whole family! Cooking with your kids is an excellent way to help them build healthy eating habits and begin to enjoy the family ritual of meal times. Its been shown that children like to eat food they make themselves and are more likely to try new foods too.Check out our facebook post here that gives oodles of ideas on the ways that kids can help in the kitchen.
- Use recipes that can be made ahead of time and reheated for a meal during the week. This will help on the days you get home late and have hungry kids waiting to eat. Most of our recipes can be made and frozen ahead of time.
- Buy in bulk and keep a well-stocked pantry– it’s cheaper in the long run and you’ll never be short of key ingredients.
- Shop online or find a suitable home delivery service. Most big providers deliver between 6am and 10pm, which should suit the schedule of most busy families.
- Keep the weekly meal plan in a central place in your home where the whole family gets to see it. Especially for younger family members who may not be able to read, talk about what’s on the menu for the week and build up some discussion about what you’ll be enjoying as a family.
- Make lunches the day before if possible – the morning rush will be waaay less stressful.
- Start building up a catalogue of family favourite recipes, which will make the process of meal planning more enjoyable. But keep it simple! You don’t want to be spending hours cooking up a culinary storm each night.
- Plan for a ‘left overs’ night towards the end of the week. Treat this as a bonus ‘no-cook’ night that will clean out the fridge and ultimately reduce your food waste and save cash.