Many people brush off meal planning as something they cannot do, that it is for more organised people or simply do not have the effort to do so. However, once in the routine of doing so, it is very easy and will exactly be a lifesaver for students.
Firstly, it will save you a lot of time when you are in the shops. Once you have a list of foods you need, you will not have to waste time wandering around looking for something ‘that will do’. It will also save you a lot of time when it comes to deciding what you actually want to eat.
Secondly, planning will make sure that you portion all your meals appropriately. This means that you will not unexpectedly run out of something because you were not paying attention to how much you were using. There is nothing worse than going to make a meal and realise that you do not have enough, or nothing at all.
Also, as cheesy as this sounds, you can get all those vitamins and nutrients that you may have been missing out on.
Here are a few steps you can make to meal plan.
Make a list
The first thing you want to do is write a heading for each day of the week. Make sure there is enough space underneath each heading for three meals. Then underneath each day, write what you are going to have for breakfast, lunch and dinner. For example, every day you could write baked oats for breakfast. This then means that you have breakfast sorted for the whole week. I have created an example of what a basic meal plan would look like, see the image to the right.
Try and plan meals with the same ingredients, then that means you have less to buy. For example, in the picture, you can see that on Monday and Tuesday, each lunch is a type of sandwich and each dinner is a type of pasta meal.
If you go on to use my example as a template, you can always adapt it to add a snacks section between lunch and dinner.
The second list you will need to make is the shopping list. You could do this two ways with the first being a completely new list with all the ingredient you will need for the whole week. The second way you could do it is, using the meal plan you have created, write the ingredients under each meal. Does your prefered grocery store have a website? If so, have a look at it and compare what ingredients are better to buy. By doing this, you can save money because if something may be too expensive, you may need to change your meal plan.
Once you have established what ingredients you need and how much you want to spend, you can set yourself a budget or limit each week going forward.
You want to make this shopping trip your only one for the week, ideally on the Monday or the Sunday before. This saves you from having to make impromptu shopping trips throughout the week. Also, you do not want to be going outside a lot with the current pandemic.
From now on, your shopping trips are going to be a whole lot quicker than they used to be. Like I said in the step before, if you plan meals that consist of some of the same foods, it makes shopping a lot easier. It also means you are saving money as you are buying less. Or, if you have a loyalty card, use that as well. If you do not have one then see if your flatmates or family members have a card or coupons.
Make sure to bring your bags with you as they will only add to your spending if you do not. To also save money, see if you have any coupons or discount codes, use them.
Prepare the meals
Now, this may take up your Sunday or Monday evening, but it is going to save you much more time every other day.
To start, you need to make sure you have enough Tupperware. Then you also need to make sure that you have enough space in your fridge and freezer, either organise it really well or incorporate what you have left into your meals.
Next, with foods that take a long time to cook, cook them all and put them in air-tight containers, Tupperware or wrap them in tinfoil. For example, a chicken breast takes around 40 minutes in the oven, so cook all the chicken at the start of the week. Then wrap it in tinfoil or another appropriate, air-tight and stick it in the fridge. The cooked chicken should then last you around 3-4 days.
Similarly, if you cook pasta and put it all in some Tupperware in the fridge, it can last you around 4-5 days. Then you have fives lunches or dinners for practically the whole week. So, make a pasta bake, stick it in a box and shove it in the freezer. Then make a pesto pasta dish, put it in another Tupperware and put that in the fridge as well.
Also, if you buy ready meals you can freeze them and eat them whenever you need them. Especially if you have bought food from the reduced section of the store.
If we look at the example meal plan I created, seven lots of baked oats can be made and put in the fridge. The sandwiches can be prepared, or if you do not like cold bread, you can prepare the sandwich filling. Rice pudding depends on if you are making it from scratch or a tin. If it is from a tin, there is no point preparing it beforehand. Brownies you will want to make in advance anyway, especially if you want them gooey and fudgy. If kept air-tight, they can last a few days.
Stick with the plan
There is no point doing all of this for you to just dump it and do your own things. Put your finalised meal plan on the fridge or noticeboard in the kitchen.
When you get into a routine of meal planning every week, two weeks or even a month, you will see how it accommodates other parts of your life. As stated earlier, meal planning can help you save money and budget. It can help with your health as you are tracking what you eat and can plan when to eat healthier foods.