Food | How to start meal planning.

The How To series on Fish Fingers for Tea is about answering those kitchen questions that crop up on a regular basis. Sometimes we might focus on skills, sometimes it might be useful things to know or know how to do or simply things that are nice to be able to master. Today we’re looking at how to start meal planning.

I’m the first to admit that I was somewhat resistant to the idea of meal planning but I’ve come over a little politician like and done a u-turn. I am officially a convert. I thought that meal planning would be tedious, somehow restrictive and more of a faff than a help. I don’t think I could have been more wrong.

Since we’ve been working out a meal plan each week I’ve found that we’ve dramatically cut our food bill (hand in hand with other changes that are destined for another post), are eating a more varied and somewhat healthier diet and have really reduced how much food we waste. I feel more organised knowing what I’m cooking in the week rather than standing in front of the fridge trying to cobble something together. It’s made food shopping more streamlined and a damn site quicker.

We’re coming up to our fourth week now which I know is no time compared to some of you, but I wanted to talk about how we’re making it work for us. There seems to be such a variety of ways to meal plan but it really does boil down to what works for you as a family but these are the main things that I’ve learnt in the last month: 

Decide how extensively you want to plan.

Do you want to plan every meal of the day for that week? Some people love the thought that all of their meals are organised and they don’t have to think about it again. There’s no need for us to plan breakfasts and lunches so I focus on our main meal each day.

Though the photo shows 7 meals planned, that didn’t work for us in reality so I now choose to work with planning 6 meals, leaving one free for those nights when no one can be bothered and we need to pull something out of the freezer or it’s allocated as a leftovers or sort yourselves out night.

I don’t allocate meals to specific nights. We don’t always know when Rich will be working until the very last minute so I make sure that around half the meals are re-heatable in case he gets called in and will be eating much later than us.

I also make a note of the main thing that I plan to bake that week, though extra things do seem to appear as the days go on.

Get organised

I’ve devoted a section of my notebook to meal planning. It’s the same book I use to keep track of my to-do list, draft the main points of blog posts and scribble down things I need to remember. I’d be lost without it. Keeping all the plans together means that I can see what we’ve been eating recently and make sure that there’s enough variety to keep everyone happy.

I also hung a white board up in the kitchen. Yes, I am a bit of a geek but I’d been looking for a use for it and this is just perfect. My board has two sides, one where I can write the meal plan for that week and a corkboard on the other where I pin my most used recipes, notes and things that I’ve pulled out of magazines.

Both of these may seem slightly obsessive and they’re in no way essential but I do find that using both helps me keep track and means I have less to think about each week and, for me, that can only be a good thing.

Look at the week and see what needs to be accommodated

Are there any birthdays? Days out? Do you know for definite that people will be in or out on certain days? Even if you’re like me and don’t specify meals to days, it gives you an idea of the kind of meals that will be needed that week. Perhaps you need to do a trial run for an important meal. Have a look and see what you need to fit in.

I also look at blog stuff here. I try and join in with challenges when I can, or I might want to make a start on something seasonal so I see what would work that week. This blogs focus is family friendly food, what you see here is what we actually eat.


When it comes to writing the plan I have a quick look through the cupboards, fridge and freezer and see if anything needs using up, then I sit down with a mug of coffee and get on with it.

I asked over on Facebook how other people managed their plans and Katie recommended keeping a ‘mother list’ of family favourites so there are always plenty of ideas there. I’m really glad she did because when I sat down to plan my first week, I couldn’t actually remember what we liked. I’ve kept a lot of the things on the list rather generic so I can use them as a springboard for ideas, so you’ll see burgers, curry and pizza written down but they all provide a multitude of options.

I also add in new to us meals, whether they’re ideas from magazines, books or things I’ve bookmarked and anything that Rich has requested. I do ask Izzy but her contribution is usually biscuits or pasta.

The shopping list is written from that and I’m done. Taking 15 minutes to write a meal plan has saved me a lot of time throughout the week.

What about you? Do you meal plan? How do you do it? Any tips to add?