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Sweet chilli tofu with rice noodles.Instagram @todaywecooked

Top Meal Planning Tips

The secret is getting organised.


Life can be hectic and eating well, without too much waste, can be tricky. The solution is to get organised, as planning your meals can make the week run a lot more smoothly. 

Claire Packer's @TodayWeCooked account is full of ideas for meal prep and planning. Making tasty, healthy and interesting meals for people with different tastes, on a budget and with minimal waste is the constant challenge that drives her. She's all about involving the whole family in the cooking process too.

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Easy butterbean curry . This is my simple, in a hurry curry sauce I use on busy days. You may recognise it! I think I used it quite recently for a chickpea curry. It’s definitely a staple in this house and so handy for these school holiday days when I’m running around to and from activities and play dates and general holiday busyness. You could use butter beans, vegetables, tofu, paneer, chickpeas. Whatever you have! . . I use: 1 white onion, chopped 3 garlic cloves, grated 1 inch of ginger, grated 1 red chilli, deseeded and chopped 2 tsp ground turmeric 1 tsp curry powder ½ tsp ground coriander 1 tsp garam masala 1 tsp cumin 3 tins of butterbeans 1 tin tomatoes 1 tin coconut milk Small bunch of coriander, chopped 1 tsp cornflour Salt and pepper Coconut oil for cooking . 1. Heat some coconut oil in a pan. Add the onions and cook until translucent. Add the ginger, garlic and chilli and cook for another minute. 2. Add the butter beans and spices and stir well to coat everything. Cook for a minute or two before adding the tomatoes and coconut milk. Cook on a gentle heat for 15-20 minutes before adding the cornflour, coriander and seasoning. Keep on the heat until the sauce is thick and silky. . #todaywecooked #todaywecookedcurry #meatfreemonday #vegetarian #veggiecurry #midweekmeals #vegancurry #whatveganseat #vegan #feedfeed

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READ MORE: Pantry Staples: Peanut Butter

"Meal planning is my bag," she says, "It is no exaggeration to say that I have cut our food bill almost in half since I began a couple of years ago. People think it’s more complicated than it really is, or that they don’t have time but meal planning saves me so much time and brain space (and money) that I really couldn’t stop now!" 

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Super quick tomato and white bean soup . I’ve been wiped out with a migraine since yesterday afternoon and I’m just starting to feel normal again and this is EXACTLY what I wanted to eat this evening. I usually roast fresh tomatoes when I’m making soup but in the interest of saving time, I’ve used good quality tinned ones instead. The cannellini beans provide creaminess without having to use heavy cream and a pinch of sugar helps to balance it all out. As always, keep trying and tasting and seasoning as you go. . I used: 1 onion 600 ml stock 1 tbsp tomato purée 2 tins good tinned toms (I used cherry) 1 bunch of Basil 1 tin of cannellini beans 1/2 tbsp salted butter 1 tsp caster sugar Salt and pepper 1. Heat some oil in a pan and fry the onions until softened. Stir in the tomato purée and then add the tomatoes, sugar and stock. Season and simmer until it starts to thicken and then set aside to cool. 2. In the food processor add the cannellini beans, butter and basil and whizz until smooth. Add in the tomatoes (in batches if you need to) and combine everything. Put back into the pan to heat through and thicken. . We had ours with grilled cheese sandwiches made using white bread (buttered inside and out) strong cheddar and cooked on the griddle. . I hope you’re having a great week and the end of term shenanigans aren’t taking their toll! (2 boys in 2 schools across opposite ends of town is no joke!) All migraine advice welcome (please don’t say no cheese ). . . . [Side note, this is also makes a good pasta sauce. I know because my two won’t eat soup unless I put baby pasta in it and don’t call it soup ) . #todaywecooked #todaywecookedsoup #tomatosoup #homemadesoup #midweekmeals #homecooking #grilledcheese #feedfeed

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Inspiration for recipes come from everywhere. "Food has the ability to transport us to our Granny's kitchen, a holiday in Greece or just being at home eating beans on toast on our laps as kids," she explains, adding I am inspired by making memories. "I want to make food memories with my children too. They inspire me more than anything. They love to cook and have taught me to enjoy the process rather than just the end result."

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Sweet chilli tofu with rice noodles. Ingredients 1 block of tofu 2-3 tbsp cornflour Sesame oil for frying Rice noodles For the sauce: 2 tbsp Linghams chilli sauce 2 tbsp honey 1 tbsp soy 1 tbsp rice vinegar 1 tbsp sesame oil 1cm ginger 1 clove garlic 1 tbsp sesame seeds . (You can use other chilli sauces. I like Linghams for this because it’s already sweet. If you use one that isn’t, you might want to up the honey measurement a little). . 1. Remove the tofu from the packet and wrap in a clean tea towel. Put a chopping board or baking tray on top of the tofu and weigh down with something heavy (skillet/cookbooks). Press for at least 20 minutes but the longer the better. Once pressed cut into cubes and coat in the cornflour. 2. Mix the rest of the ingredients in a bowl and set aside. Heat some sesame oil in the pan and add the tofu. Fry until it starts to crisp up. 3. Add 3 quarters of the sauce and let it coat the tofu and reduce. Just before you’re about to dish up, pour the rest of the sauce over, stir and serve straight onto the rice noodles and some shredded red cabbage. This was enough for 2 adults and 2 children (just about) here but adapt the measurements as needed. Also if you need more sauce, just double the recipe! #todaywecooked #tofu #midweekmeals #vegeterian #flexiterian #todaywecookedfakeaway

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Claire's Top Meal Planning Tips

Sharing her expert advice on the process of meal planning, from the basic to the more detailed, here's how Claire preps for the food week ahead. 

Step 1: On a Sunday, open all your cupboards and note what you already have. Often we think we haven't got anything in, when in fact, if you raid your cupboard stash, fridge stash and freezer stash, you probably already have plenty to work with. 

Step 2: Next, check the fresh stuff – veggies, fruits, herbs, etc. – and base your meals around those, using up the least fresh first. Then check the dry supplies and pantry. 

Step 3: If you batch cook, or tend to freeze meals that you don't get around to, check the freezer. Leftover bean chilli could make for delicious quesadillas or cheesy tacos later in the week. 

Step 4: Be creative. Think what can I do with the 8 tomatoes sitting in the salad drawer and half a packet of feta? A pasta dish perhaps? A tart or a frittata? What about three tins of chickpeas and an onion? Maybe a chickpea and kale curry

Step 5: Plan as many meals for that week as you can with what you already have, then write a shopping list of the extra things you'll need, along with the essentials (ie. milk, bread, butter). 

Step 6: That list comes to the supermarket and that is all that goes in the trolley. Use up that stash throughout the week and start the cycle all over again!

Follow Claire's food adventures on @TodayWeCooked 

Story originally published by Irish Tatler