Meal Planning by Numbers

I’m going to show you how I save time and money by planning our meals for a week in one go. I simply haven’t got the energy to think what to make for dinner on a day to day basis or to go shopping more than once or twice a week. I make a list of our evening meals for a week and go shopping once to get everything we need. Instead of having to think every day I just look at the list and it tells me what to make.

The Best Laid Plans…Go Wrong!
When planning the menu I always plan for things to go wrong, jigged around or totally abandoned so I have backups a-plenty to help me stay sane. My store cupboard and freezer are key to making sure dinner is something everyone will eat in the time available and that nothing goes to waste.

Frozen pizza, frozen leftovers, passata to make a quick spaghetti sauce, sausages, tinned tuna, jacket potatoes I can chuck in the microwave, tortilla wraps and eggs; all these options, that can be made quickly, help me stay flexible. A bit of preparation and a bit of flexibility mean Paul and I still eat the foods we love, the kids eat meals they love and I NEVER feel guilty when dinner is frozen fish fingers and chips.

I write my weekly menu using my Meals by Numbers structure. I have a notebook with all the meals we eat regularly and they’re organised by the number structure below. When I come to write my weekly menu I flick through each numbered section and select one dish from each section. For example, instead of trying to think what’s for dinner on a Tuesday from all the meals I know I just look at my number 3 recipes and pick one. It saves me so much time and effort.

Your list doesn’t have to be huge. Just 3 options in each section is plenty. Your number categories can be whatever suits your life. My number 1 is Sunday dinner because that dictates what my leftovers dish will be. Here’s how my numbers work out.

  • SUNDAY – SUNDAY DINNER My cooking week hinges on making Sunday Dinner because I rely on the leftover meat, and often veggies, to make other weeknight meals.
  • MONDAY – LEFTOVER DAY This tends to be our busiest day so it makes sense for me to make a dish with the leftovers from the Sunday meal because they’re either quick to cook or can be made in the morning then left until everyone’s ready to eat.
  • TUESDAY – PASTA NIGHT A week without pasta is a missed opportunity. If I want to make a spicy dish for me and Paul I also make 5 minute Kid’s Spaghetti or 10 minute meatballs so that everyone is happy. Pasta often makes leftovers for later in the week or can be slung in the freezer for days when I don’t want to cook.
  • WEDNESDAY – VEGGIE NIGHT I eat meat and fish but that doesn’t exclude me from loving Vegetarian food. Veggies often last longer than meat and dairy so as Wednesday is the day furthest from when I shopped it makes sense to have veggie night here.
  • THURSDAY – KID’S TEA After I’ve done the shop I don’t really feel like cooking so Frozen Chips, Jacket Potato night, Hot Dogs, Gammon, Toad in the Hole are all meals I know everyone will eat with no complaints.
  • FRIDAY – FISH NIGHT Because I go shopping on a Thursday I like to make a fish dish as soon as possible so that the fish is fresh. I use frozen fish for fishcakes, stews and pies and fresh fish for pan fried, roasted and steamed dishes.
  • SATURDAY – FAMILY FAVOURITES I’m lucky that Paul doesn’t work at the weekends so I have more time to cook. If I want to make a grown-up dish like Prawn Rissotto for me and Paul then I still have time to make something for the kids.

Your numbers might be categories like 1) Mince 2) Chicken 3) Frozen Food 4) Take Away 5) Pasta 6) Sandwiches 7) Sunday Lunch. It doesn’t matter what the categories are it just helps you break down the never-ending question of “what’s for tea?” into more manageable sections.

Writing the List
I have an A4 notebook and I fold a new page in half lengthways then write the menu on the left and the shopping list on the right. Once the shopping list is done I tear it off and take it with me. The menu stays in the notebook to tell me what to make each day. I write the list on a Wednesday because I shop on a Thursday morning so my menu starts on a Thursday. It’s important to plan your meals to suit your life, the way you eat and the way you shop.

Going Shopping
Since February Paul has been working from home and I have been able to leave the kids at home whilst I shop. It is a luxury that is not lost on me. If you’re shopping with small children then you have my utmost admiration because it’s not an easy job, especially during a pandemic when they can’t touch anything. The only tip I have for you is a snack bag. You can see in this picture I had a mini cool bag that I put in the trolley seat next to Evelynne and she could help herself to rice cakes, raisins and cheerios.

Shopping with young children in tow is a difficult job especially during a pandemic. It was something that could trigger my anger. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you were ‘that Mum’ in the supermarket. We’ve all been there.

One Tough Cooker

Published by One Tough Cooker

I'm the writer at One Tough Cooker. My experience with post-natal depression has shaped my appreciation for the family cook. We make thousands of meals to feed our families' tummies, hearts and minds.

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