If you follow me on Instagram (handle: @teacalls) then you might have seen my old school method of meal planning. By old school, I literally mean a board and markers. We sit down as a family, including my toddler, on friday afternoon and discuss our menu for the week. Saturday or Sunday morning, we buy our groceries and generally, we avoid shopping again unless absolutely necessary.
This wasn’t always the case. I used to just ballpark our grocery needs and would decide on the day, the meals of the day. This proved inefficient with lots of vegetables going bad, and wasted cooked meals and abuse of delivery. Basically, loss of effort and resources.
And since becoming a family of 4, there’s been a much more conscious effort into becoming more waste free and that included less delivery, and less food waste (we had gradually moved towards plastic free + recycling a few years ago so this felt like a natural progression).
Anyway, I digress, but the below are some tips that have helped me to stick to the meal planning process + budget, and hence, have home cooked meals every day, all day, unless we have a planned activity out.
- Don’t be afraid to mix and match. Forget conventional meals and stews. Sometimes all it takes is adding a base like rice, quinoa, cauliflower rice, bread + sautéed vegetables and an egg, to create a combo that is delicious and filling. [A plate should be half vegetables, 1/4 protein, and 1/4 starch whether it’s starchy vegetable or carbs like the ones mentioned above. If you have that, you’re good to go!]
- Create a system for your grocery shopping haul – maybe it’s every Friday . Maybe it’s Friday and Tuesday. Just make it a consistent schedule and stick to it. I wouldn’t assign more than 2 days for groceries because it’s easy to fall into a routine of shopping daily then, and that becomes harder to keep track of (especially financially). I say this particularly if you live in UAE because it so easy to order groceries online. I used to find myself ordering daily when I created meals on the day, which is why the board came in handy (some prefer apps, others meal planners, or just plain paper – find what works for you!) Which brings me to the third point.
- Third, create a menu and stick to it. Maybe you switch on meal around or switch dinner for lunch, but overall, same ingredients for the week.
- Dont be afraid of some repetition . We love our leftover curries and leftover tacos, and we will have those 2-3 times per month. They are budget friendly, healthy and work great for us as a whole. This last point is key, because if someone isn’t happy with constant repeat meals, you risk throwing out leftovers and/or overusing delivery options.
- Shop during discounts — and then Have a ballpark estimate inventory prepared. ➡️➡️How we do it, we buy organic beef when the organic store has a sale. I stock up and I keep track, which means when I’m menu prepping, a quick look at my freezer inventory tells me I have enough beef for 2 meals for example. Same goes for berries, for example, because those are seasonal and otherwise ridiculously expensive, I’ll usually buy when discounted and freeze for later use. Another tip? Organic tomatoes are quite pricey for the amount I need at home, so I usually replace it with tomato sauce (read: not paste) which is much cheaper and thicker (and sugar free, plus actually much healthier). Again, once you have menu prepping settled, it becomes easier to find patterns and create your own little money/haul “cheats”.
- Find a farmer’s market if there is one near you and shop local and directly from the source. Not only is that cheaper, it supports local farmers, and gets you seasonal produce that is often organic and fresh! Another option available here in the UAE is ordering ready made hampers- sometimes these force you to stick to your budget because they are preset (weighed and paid) and help you get creative with cooking (again,no veggies left behind!).
- Weigh the buying organic Vs sticking to budget battle. I stick to the clean 15 when buying non organic and I’ll confess – when buying poultry or eggs my priority is avoiding hormones and antiobiotics. It’s not always within our budget to aim for free range + organic, though that would be the holy grail. I try to minimize chicken in our meals, but eggs are difficult so more often than not, I’ll just buy hormone free eggs (we have the luxury of being able to nitpick).
- Final tip, there’s absolutely no need to try all these at once. Again, just see what works for your family, and what is sustainable on the long term. These are just some of the ways that have worked for us!