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How to create, and stick to, a meal plan

The benefits of having a meal plan are plenty and well-known. You will be able to create a precise shopping list from your meal plan which will limit over-spending. The need for quick solutions when everyone is hungry, but nothing is defrosted, is eliminated, which means your family will eat healthier and your budget will look even better.

Weekends are, however, notorious for wreaking havoc with good intentions: You’re out for a braai with friends or unexpected family members show up and stay longer than anticipated, throwing your meticulous meal plan out of kilter. Here are five ways to best approach this time- and money-saving life-hack, and still enjoy your meals.

#1 Plan to plan

You need to start off by setting some time aside for the specific task of planning each meal. It will eventually become less of a hassle as you and your family fall into a routine with a weekly template of the kind of dishes you eat. To make this transition easier, it helps sticking to a master plan and changing some of the details. For example, assume that you will make two stir frys, a roast, slow cooker meals, sandwiches, wraps or home-made pizzas, salads, etc. each week, changing key ingredients to keep it interesting. Have Pizza Fridays, or Mince Meat Mondays, further simplifying your meal plan.

To make this work for your whole family you need to consider firm favourites that are a must-have on your plan and then ask for input from your spouse and children. This will ensure that the whole family is excited about this change in routine and enjoys the dishes being offered.

#2 Create the plan to fit your life

This is probably the most important point of all. The plan has to be created to fit your life and schedule, not the other way around.

You know which days are busiest, requiring the quickest meals, so plan accordingly; maybe opt for wraps, salads or freezer meals. If you know your Saturdays are always filled with loved ones stopping by, plan meals for these days that can easily be stretched to feed the added mouths. Things that work well are stews, pastas, and other one-pot wonders that may be a favourite in your home. It is easy to add ingredients to or whip up a quick salad to make the meal stretch further. An added bonus is that you can add veggies to any of these dishes instead of needing extra meat for a braai for instance, which is typically more expensive.

Here are some #HomeTimesApproved one pan wonders to add to your meal plan

#3 Follow through with a shopping listShopping list

This is where the money-saving part comes in. Once you have a meal plan set up, you can create a list with only the ingredients you need, and top up on a weekly basis as required. It is important to plan shopping for when you know your schedule allows, and plan meals accordingly to fit this schedule. Nothing can derail a meal plan faster than Tika Chicken Tuesday without chicken in the freezer.

Having a shopping list and dedicated shopping times eliminates going into shops and buying on a whim – and while hungry. You will also be able to buy good specials when you see them as you have planned ahead and know what you might need two weeks from now.

Food wastage should also hopefully decrease, further saving you money. There is nothing worse than that cucumber rotting away in the fridge.

#4 Keep it flexible

Setting up a meal plan for you and your family is not about being overly fancy, and serving five course meals every day. When you know your work schedule might be hectic it is completely okay to work take-aways or hot-dogs into your plan and budget.

Following an approach of trying not to be too rigid will mean that you feel more accomplished. Trying to serve your family leg of lamb and lemon meringue pie on Tuesday when you know you’ve got an important presentation first thing the next day, and will need to prepare, really is just setting yourself up for failure.

#5 Have fun and explore your creativity

If you know your Sundays are usually lazy days at home make that the themed day. You can opt for themes such as “Around the world Sundays” or “Movie Fridays” depending on when your easy day of the week is. Use this day to experiment with new recipes and add new flavours and textures to old favourites. This will also help you build up an arsenal of favourite dishes that can be added to your meal plan for quick go-to on days when you need a break.

Creating, and sticking to a meal plan, may seem like hard work in the beginning, but working with the time and budget you have will really make all the difference. Having meals sorted means that you and your family get to relax and enjoy the special time together during mealtimes.


Mariette Steynberg is a qualified economist with a post-graduate diploma in financial planning. She has enjoyed working on holistic financial plans for clients in various stages of life, as well as a development economist assessing the socioeconomic impacts of new developments. When she is not working, Mariette enjoys parenting her quirky, delightful toddler girl. Cloth diapering, Eskimo kisses and the importance of reading to your child are all causes close to her heart. Mariette is passionate about financial education and hopes to use the experience she has gained to share knowledge with HomeTimes’ readership. Her goal is to provide information that is implementable by everyone.

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