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How I meal plan to reduce waste

Meal planning helps to reduce waste

We’ve been talking about preventing and reducing food waste over in the Facebook group. Meal planning (and leftovers) was a common theme throughout discussions, to reduce waste.

Whether you’re looking at more variety, saving money, expanding cooking skills, avoiding that after work/after school, ‘what are we having for dinner?’ question and of course reducing food waste, meal planning can help. 

Steps to meal planning may seem obvious, however, there are some handy tips to make it easier and make it work.

I’m currently using a delivery meal kit service due to the chaos going on in my life right now, however, I still use the following principles when selecting my meals and the sizes of each.

1. Examine your weekly schedule 

Take into account what you have on each day, to determine what type of meal you need. Is it a night to cook, have leftovers or something from the freezer. Or will you be going out for a meal or ordering takeaway.

Determine what each meal needs to do. Does it need to be vegetable or plant based, be quick or have little prep, produce leftovers for the freezer for a freezer meal night, or for lunch the next day at work (and if so, whether you want to eat it two days in a row).

2. Choose your meals

It’s always good to conduct a fridge and pantry audit to see what you might need to use up, and choose a meal using up those ingredients.

Think about the type of meal that would suit that day – bbq because it’s a lovely day and you want to sit outside, slow cooker because you’ll be getting in later that day, a quick family favourite to break up the week knowing everyone likes it, or a solo meal or meal to feed two as it’s just you that evening (or every evening) as there’s no point in cooking a huge roast dinner for one, unless you want to eat it for the entire week.

Take into account the season, for produce and what types of meals suit. For example, you may not feel like cooking butterflied meat on the bbq in the middle of winter or feel like a slow cooked spicy curry on a 40 degree day. And if the recipe is based on something that is ridiculously hard to find or expensive, it just may not be worth the hassle or expense.

Introduce new meals gradually, rather than a bunch of new recipes all at once. You don’t want to be slaving your butt off trying a bunch of new recipes just to tire yourself out and have half the household refuse to eat it. Stick with meals you know and love, or introduce new meals that are similar to favourites, and introduce more exciting stuff as time goes on. Meal planning might not be to expand your cooking abilities or variety of food anyway, so keep your eye on the reason why you’re doing it.

3. Develop and examine your plan

This can be an electronic doc, a note on the fridge or on a whiteboard…or whatever works for you and where you’ll see it.

Look at the week’s span of meals for variety and balance. 

Of course, we want to make sure all the good stuff is in there, plenty of vegetables, wholefoods and good fats. 

But we also want to look at balance of flavour and texture. If it’s looking a bit red meat heavy, consider swapping out some red meat dishes for fish, chicken or vegetarian dishes. If it’s looking like you have a Mexican theme going on, well too much of a good thing isn’t always good. You get the drill.

4. Make your grocery list

Only write down what ingredients and items you don’t already have (check as you go). You might have eight tins of tomatoes at the back of the pantry that you bought on special at some point, so there’s no need to buy more.

5. Shop

Well, this step is pretty obvious. But don’t be tempted to buy too many things not on your list. If it’s on special and can go in the freezer, that’s potentially a great idea. If it’s a perishable item, think again. Remember, you’ve already planned out your week’s meals and reducing food waste is a major part of this. If you buy up on veggies that you haven’t planned to use, more often than not, you’ll find them rotting at the back of the fridge.

6. If you have time, batch prep

There are many things that can be washed, chopped and even cooked ahead of time if you want to save yourself even more time during the week. If you can’t be bothered with this step, it should all be fine anyway as you’ve picked meals based on your schedule and would’ve taken into account time needed and the time you have.

7. Cook, eat and repeat!

Meal planning isn’t the answer to all of your cooking dinner problems, and it can take a bit of work at the beginning phase. I try and think of it as concentrated thinking all at once, then I don’t have to think again for the rest of the week.

Happy meal planning!

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