Meal plans are no longer just for health and fitness freaks. When you can’t afford and don’t want to waste a scrap of food, meal planning is key. Express.co.uk spoke to food-waste expert and Oddbox co-founder Emilie Vanpoperinghe to find out her top eight tips for successful meal planning.
How many nights are you cooking this week?
It is important not to put too much pressure on yourself. Be realistic about how many times a week you want to go to the trouble of cooking.
Emily said: “First, think about how many times you want to cook.
“You might have intentions to cook every evening but be realistic and give yourself some leeway to order takeaway on Friday or weekend leftovers on Monday.
“Maybe it’s five nights this week or maybe it’s just three.”
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Are you cooking on the go or feeling creative?
Sometimes you simply won’t have time to spend hours in the kitchen carefully preparing a masterpiece.
Emily advised: “Define what kind of meals you want to eat. Are you looking for quick fixes?
“Do you have more time to spend in the kitchen some evenings? Or a mix of the two?
“Which nights will you be cooking for others? Are you investing more time on Saturday for a special dinner?
“Look at your diary and jot this down.”
What needs using up?
You might have to work your meals around what is expiring in the fridge if you want to avoid waste.
Emily said: “Now is a good time to see what you already have at home.
Take a look at what needs using up in the fridge and make a list as you go.
“A half-empty jar of curry paste? A floppy celery stick? Write it all down.
“If you’ve had your Oddbox veg box delivered, make a list of those items too and put a tick next to the ones that have a shorter life span and which you’ll need to use up nearer the beginning of the week.
“Salad leaves and other leafy greens will need to be used first, while root vegetables, like potatoes and onions, can last at least a couple of weeks if stored properly.”
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Shop from your cupboards
Emily said: “Go through your cupboards to see what you have already and add these to the list.
“By this point, you probably have some vague dinner ideas in mind. Jot these down too.
“It’s worth noting here that a well-stocked pantry is the best way to magic meals using whatever’s in your fridge.”
Emily said: “Now that you know which days you’ll be cooking, what types of meals you want to eat and you have a basic idea of what food you already have to use, this is the time to start brainstorming recipe ideas.
“Don’t know what to do with that cabbage from your box? Google it, check the Oddbox website, scour some cookbooks or your saved recipes on Instagram or Pinterest.
“Hunt around for new ideas but don’t over do it – that would be exhausting in one week! Balance new recipes with firm favourites.”
Which dinners, which night?
Try to assign a dinner to a day of the week, so you use up your oldest ingredients in time.
Emily said: “Which recipes will have leftovers that you’ll want to eat on a busy weeknight? Plan those meals into your diary accordingly.
“Also, think about using your more perishable ingredients on Monday or Tuesday rather than the weekend.
“Remember that you don’t have to be too regimented about this – allow yourself some leeway so you don’t have to eat curry on Tuesday or a chilli on Friday.”
Make a master list
Emily suggested: “Go through each recipe’s ingredients list to check if there’s anything you don’t have at home.
“Do you have other ingredients you could easily swap in so you don’t have to go to the shops? Mayonnaise for yoghurt? Harissa for chilli sauce? Olives for capers?
“Remember, you don’t have to stick to the recipe word for word.
“By now, you’ll have an accurate (and depending how well-stocked your cupboards are, a relatively short) shopping list.”
Emily said: “You’ve got your ingredients and you’re ready to start the week. Prepping at least one of your meals upfront will be a saving grace later down the line when you might be too tired or busy to cook.
“You could roast a bunch of vegetables on Sunday so that you have leftovers to quickly throw into salads, curries or wraps throughout the week.
“Perhaps it’s as simple as chopping onions and storing them in a sealed container to save you time later on.”
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