Food waste is a massive problem in Ireland, with sources reporting that we throw out around one million tonnes or €700 million worth of food as a nation each year.
As a response to this problem, we created a series of features to raise awareness of this issue and our personal responsibility to try to reduce food waste at home, and where we offer some help and ideas for how you can minimise the food waste in your life.
What is a meal plan?
Meal planning is something you need to add to your life if every evening you ask yourself what you can throw together for dinner based on whatever scraps you have in your fridge.
Instead of resorting to cheese and crackers or poached eggs on toast (no judgement here, they are solid options when you’re in a pinch!), a meal plan helps you to plan out all the food that you’re going to have for the whole week; some people just plan out their dinners, while others organise every single thing that they’ll eat for the week from breakfast right through to snacks.
To start a meal plan you need to sit down once a week and decide what you want to eat for the week; we would recommend that you look at how your week is shaping up before you start so you know how many people you’re cooking for each day. Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning are both good times to sort out your plan and flick through cookbooks, as it is likely that you’ll have a bit more time on those days.
It’s estimated that the average household has around 21 recipes that they cycle through each year, so a meal plan could be a good way to introduce new flavours to your life; start out by filling your plan with firm favourites alongside one new meal; why not try some of our delicious FOOD&WINE recipes?
A meal plan will also help you to ensure that you use up foods you already have in your house and that you don’t let anything go to waste, which is good news for the environment!
Once you know what you’re going to make, move on to your shopping list.
Read more: Lunch ideas for people who hate salads
Shopping lists for meal plan success
We think that a thorough shopping list is the most crucial part of meal planning! Once you’ve decided on your meals for the week, write out all the ingredients you need and make sure you include every single thing; there’s no point in deciding to make a recipe, buying everything, getting home to cook it and realising you’re missing something obvious, like salt or rice.
Once you’ve written out your ingredients, group it all together: for example, if you have one recipe that requires four chicken thighs and another that requires six, add it together so you know you need 10 chicken thighs. It will shorten your list and make sure you don’t forget anything.
This next step is key: Go through your presses, fridge and freezer to see what you already have, then cross off what you don’t need to buy from your list. Checking your ingredients before you go shopping and marking off what you don’t need will help to eliminate excess food waste and help you save a bit of money on your shopping, which is a win-win in our book!
Ideally, you’ll only need to shop twice a week: on Sunday, buy your dry goods for the week (rice, pasta, potatoes etc.) and enough fresh produce to do you through Wednesday – make sure you check the dates on everything to ensure it will all last – then on Wednesday, pick up the fresh goods that you need to get you through the rest of the week.
Read more: Our top five meat-free meals
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GO TO THE GROCERY STORE WITH A PLAN! This is probably one of my biggest budgeting tips! If you don’t go to the grocery store with meals planned out, you will overspend and buy useless items. I always make it a point to create a menu before going to the grocery store, this way I know what I need to buy! Another tip is planning your meals around work, I always make sure to know which days I need to make “two night” dinners so I have food for work the next day! (This also prevents eating out) . I’m also obsessed with @krogerco their ecoupons on their app saved me nearly $20 this shopping trip!
Meal prep your way through the week
Meal prep is a funny thing: if you search the term on Instagram, you’ll find loads of pictures of gym buffs cooking off enough chicken and broccoli to feed a small country (or just enough get them through the week!).
However, it doesn’t always have to be a multi-pot, all-day event where you pack 21 lunchboxes with food to get you through the week; although if you want to do that, it’s fine by us and we envy your level of organisation.
Meal prep can be just as simple as marinating chicken and slicing up veggies on a Sunday to get a head start on your Tuesday night stir-fry – it’s all about helping yourself to cook healthy, tasty food without stressing out or wasting food, so go for whatever level of prep feels right!
Our biggest tip for prep is to embrace batch cooking and leftovers: If you’re making soups or sauces for the week, double the batch and freeze half to save yourself a job next week or next month. If you’re cooking for two but your recipe serves four, use the leftover two servings for lunch during the week or if it’s freezer-friendly, save it for next week.
The chickpea, spinach and squash curry above is a great batch cooking option - you'll get the recipe here, alongside with a few more ideas.
It might sound like a lot of work at first, but once meal planning and prepping become routine, it’ll be a walk in the park. Getting your meals organised will help save you time and money, as well as ensuring that your waste is minimal.