Meal Planning Survival Tips & 6 autumn recipes

Author: Dr Jane Watson
Accredited Practising Dietitian

I’m very much a ‘survival cook’. It’s quick, easy meals that make it to the family dinner table with the priority on good nutrition with minimal effort. I’m motivated by the need to churn out nutritious food for my husband and our 3 hungry sons, as well as other friends and family that regularly join us for meals.

Sitting down to a family meal is something I value and prioritise, but the food doesn’t have to take hours to prepare. Busy lives rarely allow the time to prepare the gourmet food seen in glossy-magazines and cookbooks. On the contrary, I want to be busy doing things other than slaving away in the kitchen.

Top 5 reasons for meal planning family

  1. Saves money Knowing what you’ll be cooking for the week and having a shopping list simplifies grocery shopping and helps avoid impulse buys at the supermarket, which can be expensive. In addition, you don’t end up ‘stuck’ for an evening meal and tempted to grab takeaways.
  2. Saves time A shopping list saves time in the supermarket and a meal plan saves time in the kitchen. You can cook double and freeze the leftovers for another night. On quiet nights you may want to do some extra food prep, so you have something ready to go for a busy night later in the week.
  3. Reduces stress Meal planning avoids the end-of-day panic about what’s for dinner and helps the sometimes fraught afternoon/evening run more smoothly.
  4. Improves nutrition Family meals have been shown time and again to result in better nutrient intakes. Children get to see adults enjoying vegetables and salads and other foods they are still learning to like.
  5. Contributes to calmer mealtimes Meal planning helps with getting meals on the table but can also contribute to calmer mealtimes. If you can write up the meal plan and display it somewhere for everyone to see, the household knows in advance what’s for dinner. In families with small children, this might be a picture meal plan. Planning in advance helps convey to children that the family meal has been decided and no amount of ‘pester power’ will change it. When meal planning for a family, ensure that each meal includes at least one food that children will eat.

Below are my survival tips.

My 1-2-3… of meal planning

Step 1

Usually sometime over the weekend, we’ll have a quick family conversation about meals for the week. This might be when we’re all in the car, or over lunch or dinner. It can easily be done on-the-run. A quick cross-check with diaries helps ensure the meals that are planned will fit in with activities for the week.

Step 2

Everyone in the family chooses a meal they will cook for the week and I make a shopping list at the same time. We try to vary the type of meat or protein (beef, chicken, fish, lamb, eggs or beans such as black beans, chickpeas). We then choose whether we have it with vegetables or salad. That way, when I do the shopping, I choose whatever salad or vegetables are available and seasonal.

Step 3

We write it up for the family to see using a whiteboard marker on the inside of a cupboard door in the kitchen. The meals we include are quick and easy.

If we happen to have a quieter evening or some time on a weekend, we might cook something new. If time is really short, we might have leftovers or a ‘toast’ night – which means absolutely anything you’d like on toast, eg. cheese, eggs, tuna, baked beans, leftover mince etc. Our meals are far from fancy, but they are nutritious and enable us to get food on the table with a minimum of fuss and time.

Last week’s meal plan is below with some of our go-to recipes.

Mexican Monday: Tacos
Tuesday: Slow Cooked Lamb with Chickpeas
Wednesday: Butter Chicken with Spinach
Thursday: Tomato and Bean Soup
Friday: Chicken and Mustard Sauce
Saturday: Homemade Hamburgers
Sunday: Leftovers

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