Eat · Meal planning · Useful stuff

Meal planning for beginners. No.1

Did you know that around 5 million tons of food is thrown away by households every year in the UK? ( Food wastage is bad for the environment and our bank balances. By making a few simple changes you can start to reduce your food wastage and make 2017 the year you shop and eat smart!

One of the easiest ways to reduce your food wastage is to put more thought into what you buy and how you use it. Planning all your meals in advance is a big step towards this goal. Now, I wish I was one of those people who can leap into the highly organised world of meal planning and hit the ground running but I, and I suspect others, need a more gentle introduction to this new land. This series will help build up your meal planning skills and confidence over time, allowing you to enjoy the benefits of food waste reduction without feeling too overwhelmed.

Ready? Let’s get started then.

Step 1: Food audit.  

It’s time to conduct a food audit. This means taking out all those jars, tins, packets and boxes and recording exactly what you have. No cheating! Depending on the size of your kitchen/pantry this could take a while.  Do the same for the contents of your fridge and freezer. This will become a weekly exercise but don’t worry- it will become faster as you develop your recording system (return next week for a free food audit download!).


This food audit is essential to your food wastage reduction strategy. You now know exactly what food you have and can begin planning from here. I used to pride myself on having a kitchen well stocked with tins etc but by not keeping track of what was there it led to frequent occasions of finding that I had no chickpeas when I needed them but I had ten tins of red kidney beans…

Step 2: People audit.

If you live alone, this one will be fairly quick. For this exercise, think about the food you and your family particularly love or the types of food you often find yourself cooking. For the time being, limit this to just your main meal of the day. This will become your ‘essentials list’. Having a good stock of favourite essentials in the house will help on days when you have not been very organised and you need to throw something together. For example, mince is something that features quite often in my house so this would definitely be in my essentials list. You may need to tweak the essentials list  if you want to encourage healthier eating habits in your family. I dread to think what my other half would put on our essentials list for example…Below you will find my essentials list. Try to make sure you could rustle up a couple of different meals using only your essentials list.

  1. Mince (cottage pie, spag. bol, chili etc)
  2. Tinned tomoatoes (pasta, chili, sauces etc)
  3. Chickpeas (great for homemade curries)
  4. Red kidney beans (chili, burrito, tacos etc)
  5. Rice (great as a side or a main)
  6. Sausages (had to concede this to my other half!)
  7. Instant mash potatoes (Great for an instant side dish)
  8. Peas (frozen and tinned)
  9. Onion (can be added to just about anything)
  10. Pasta (a few different varieties of dried pasta)
  11. Chicken thighs (cheap, tasty and easy to cook)
  12. Eggs (great for a quick omelet or something fancier)

Step 3: Cross-check your audits

Now you have your essentials list you can cross-check it with your food audit. Cross off anything that you already have. Whatever you do not have you can pick up on your next shopping trip. Make a list of what you need to buy. Think about how many of each item would be sensible for you to buy based on the size of your kitchen. Freeze items like meat and poultry so they keep for longer.

Step 4: Plan an ‘essential meal’ (or two)

Plan a meal (or two if you’re feeling ambitious) based only on your essentials list (you can add a few minor ingredients like herbs or salad etc. If these need to be brought then add them to your shopping list). Think about the week ahead and choose the day/s you will have the meal/s. Write these on a calendar or diary so you do not forget.

Tuesday: Sausage, mash and peas with onion gravy (buy stock cube for gravy)

Cook and enjoy!

Over the coming weeks we will continue to build on this plan and also look at other strategies for reducing food waste. By taking small steps each week you can work towards becoming a meal planning God or Goddess.

Next week: Creating your cast of minor characters in the kitchen




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