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Monday, 8 April 2013

Meal Planning and Bulk Cooking

Meal Planning... I know... Boring!! But trust me, for the 30 minutes it takes to plan a whole month, it is well worth it! I'm confident it has contributed to our reduced food bills and it's actually made life much easier.

I had a friend when I was at school who had parents that were about 10 years older than mine, and his mum meal planned rigidly. She always needed a good 24 hours notice MINIMUM if he was going to have someone staying for tea - she had no problem in people staying as long as she had lots of notice. I always thought I was glad my mum wasn't like that because she would happily let friends stay for tea and would adapt what she cooked depending on who was in the house. My mum usually decided what we'd have for tea about an hour before she started cooking, and it depended on what food we had in the house.

I also regularly thought "What if I don't fancy that meal on that day?!" There's no way I could plan for what I fancied a month in advance. I think that was our downfall when we were engaged and newly married, we tended to go and buy what we particularly wanted that night rather than use the food in the cupboards - not always but often. (And inevitably buy more things we'd see on offer that we didn't NEED to have.) I suppose it's the student mentality that we both had and although I've always been organised, I've become more so as our family has grown.

I have to say, I don't rigidly stick to what I plan - if we really don't want something, then I switch it with another nights. On the calendar we have 5 columns, the last one being "Meals" so I cross off each one as I've cooked it. That way I can keep track of what meals are "spare" or need to be cooked later on. It's more to limit what we have in the cupboards/freezer so we aren't spending more than necessary.

To be fair, I have gone slightly overboard this month, and bought about 4 joints of meat that were in Aldi's Easter offers, plus we did have left over in the freezer last month. I always plan every day, and as is usually the case, we get invited out to meals or if it's been a long week we treat ourselves to the Chip Shop so there's usually a few spare meals.

Now, what I have been doing the last few weeks is bulk cooking. The girls have been particularly trying recently, and I haven't felt 100% so have been trying to make life a little easier where I can. So if I'm cooking something I'll try and cook two meals at once. Today, I cooked 3, which will probably stretch to more like 4 days worth of meals as my Shepherd's Pie is quite big!!

I went out and bought some new plastic food containers (and sorted out the old ones so I had a top for every container!) and have then frozen meal portions for 2-3 of us. If it means I defrost a whole bag of chicken breasts, and then cook a curry, chicken in black bean sauce, and a sweet and sour, then everyone is a winner! I chop a whole load of onion and pepper, and each meal has the same veg in but a different sauce. All the chicken is cooked in the wok, and then divided between 3 saucepans to have the specifics added for that meal. It takes exactly the same time to make one meal as it does to make three this way.

Obviously that's an example where I haven't made my own sauce, but there are some things that just don't taste the same home made! It then means for 3 nights a week, all I've got to do is defrost the meal, and cook some rice, noodles or whatever with it and actually it makes a HUGE difference if I've had a stressful day.

It means we're not spending lots of money on fast food or takeaway, or even going to the supermarket again for something "quick" to eat - which again means you'll just add another few things into the basket/trolley that we're on your list.

It sounds boring, I know! But try it one week, even if you have time to cook everyday, it means you have more time to play with / tidy up after / put on and off the naughty step with your child (!!!) or catch up on a cup of tea and a piece of cake / book / TV program you recorded last week and still haven't got around to watching.

I'm all for making life easier where possible at the moment, because actually the constant and endless list of jobs to be done can really get you down. And I know for me, in this stage of my life, my list is NEVER going to be completed, my house is never going to be completely clean and spotless, my bedroom is going to be piled high with dry clean washing that I must get around to folding away... and most of all, the toys will still be all over the lounge floor because I've refused to tidy them for the 6th time that day. That's life! I have given up feeling guilty about it, and now accept that one day, I'll look back and think "How on earth did we manage!?"


  1. Love it! I plan some meals over a week usually but never a month. How often do you go shopping? I would love to try some more of your easy recipes! Having the chicken and leek slow cooker meal tonight! I have a 4 and 2 year old.

  2. Thanks Angela!
    I find that if I just plan a week, I never stick to the rest of the month as I don't have time to sit down every week to do it (even though it really doesn't take that long!).
    I do the month planning just before payday, then do my shopping lists. I shop at Aldi, and so I do two trips (!!) - one for all the meat, frozen and chilled stuff I will need for the month with a few extras in case we really don't fancy what I've planned!lol! And then a "cupboard" shop - tins, crisps and all things that don't need to be rushed home to be chilled (Mr Strong then does that on his way to or from work). It means manic food shopping but then I know we have everything and just need to buy milk, bread and veg, which for me makes it easier to know where we are with money each month. I also do a shop at Asda for nappies, wipes, toilet rolls and anything else I don't buy from Aldi. Erin is 2.5 years old and Lara about 16 months so I'm all for easy!

    Haven't had a chance to blog for a while but I'll get thinking on some more recipes! Hope your chicken and leek dinner is nice - I'm sure it will be!

    Jenn x


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