Meal Planning by Numbers

Besides making the family meals the home cook is often the one who has to think about what’s for dinner tonight, tomorrow night and every other night. It’s a big job that some people find understandably boring or hard. I’m going to show you how I save time and money by planning a week’s worth of meals in one go by using My Meal Planning By Numbers method. I’ve been using this method for about a decade because it requires less thinking, saves me time and money at the supermarket and during the week I don’t have to think what’s for dinner, I just look at the list and it tells me what to make.

In a regular A4 lined notepad I have 7 lists of meals (my Meals Notebook) and each list is a different group of foods. For me these groups are:
1. Sunday Dinner
2. Meals to make with leftover meat
3. Pasta Dishes
4. Vegetarian Dishes
5. Kid’s Tea (meals that require chips or being cooked from frozen)
6. Fish Night
7. Family Favourites/Weekend Meals

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 deciding what’s for dinner on a Tuesday out of all the meals I know, I just look at my number 3 recipes and pick one. It saves me so much time and effort. Each section doesn’t need loads of options just 2 or 3 in each section is plenty. Your groups 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 Dinner is the start of my food week because I rely on the leftover meat and veggies to make other weeknight meals.
  • 2. MONDAY – LEFTOVER DAY I have the meat leftover from Sunday so it makes sense to use it up the next day. It usually makes extra that can go in the freezer too.
  • 3. TUESDAY – PASTA NIGHT If Paul and I want a spicy pasta dish I make 15 minute Meatballs for the kids so that everyone is happy. Pasta often makes leftovers too.
  • 4. WEDNESDAY – VEGGIE NIGHT Wednesday is the day furthest from when I shop so it makes sense that it’s veggie night as veg tends to last longer than meat.
  • 5. THURSDAY – KID’S TEA It’s almost the weekend, I’ve done the shop, the kids are tired so I need a meal no one will take issue with and we all want chips.
  • 6. 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 and Friday is a classic fish night.
  • 7. SATURDAY – FAMILY FAVOURITES At the weekends I have time to make more complex dishes or a grown-up dish for us and 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 dinner?” into more manageable sections.

Writing Your Shopping 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.

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 quick/easy cook options 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.

Going Shopping
Since the kids started school I can do the food shop without them. 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. 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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