Meal Planning: Reducing Food Waste, Eating Healthier and Meal Planning Apps Roundup
What Shall I Eat Today?
From supermarkets to super-fit people, meal planning is a way to keep things organised while also keeping an eye on calories and on the food budget. Not only that, as planning your meals for the week means that you can considerably reduce food waste.
Key Benefits of Meal Planning: Reducing Waste, Avoiding Processed Foods, Improving Nutrition
It is really shocking to know that about 2 billion tonnes of food are wasted worldwide in a year.
In Europe alone, each individual throws away almost 190 kilos of food each year for a total of around 100 million tonnes per year. The UK is the most wasteful at 6.7 million tonnes per year (United Nations Environment Programme, 2013 figures).
In the United States, the figure is 20 pounds of food wasted per person each month, about 30% of the food, totalling 34 million tonnes per year.
Why is it better to plan your meals? If you are not sure about what you will eat during the week you may end up buying more food than is necessary, which means that some of that food will end up in the bin.
Did you know that prepared salad (washed and bagged salad) is the most likely item to be thrown away?
Food Waste Facts
Nutritionist's Tips If You Are New to Meal Planning
Nutritionist and Nutritional Therapist Angelique Panagos suggests:
- Set time aside to write your meal plan.
- Start with one meal at a time, for example breakfast, and choose 3 or 4 different types of breakfasts that you enjoy and that you know you will have time to make.
- Take these 3 or 4 meals from the list, have a look at what you have coming up during the week (meals out, dinner parties etc) and see how your meals can fit in your plan.
Healthy Meal Planning: Meal Planning for Weight Loss
From nutritionists to personal trainers, you will find many healthy meal plans online. Personalised meal plans are charged at a premium and reflect your nutritional needs after an in-depth consultation form which takes into account your state of health, age, current weight and target weight.
Fitness fanatics, rejoice! There are so many resources out there for healthy eating and weight loss plans; the only problem is, which one to choose?
You can find an example of a week's worth of meals on my website.
Meal Planning Ideas
If you are completely new to meal planning, it may seem quite complicated to come up with 14 different meals each week (or 21 if you want to have a different breakfast every day).
One idea is to use a calendar to “map” out the meals for the week, then write down a shopping list with all the ingredients needed to cook all the meals.
Before hitting the shops it's useful to do a stock take of what you have in your fridge and in all the cupboards (and, why not, do a big clear-out of items that are past their sell-by date or any junk food you have in the house).
In terms of recipes to cook, choose 2-3 easy recipes you won't get bored with and that keep well in the fridge for a couple of days and freeze a few portions.
A slow cooker can be a great ally in the kitchen: just put all your ingredients in the slow cooker in the morning and by the time you get back home from work dinner is ready.
Meal Planning with Seasonal Food
Supermarkets are the kings of food waste, as we have discovered, but over time consumers have made themselves heard and supermarkets had to adapt. Some supermarkets offer seasonal produce with their online meal planning tools so they can suggest recipes and automatically create a shopping list for you. For example, UK supermarket Tesco allows you to plan meals using what's in season, and gives you options to ensure you get your recommended 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day, as well as meal options based on how much time you have available for cooking.
Family Meal Planning: Meal Planning to Save Time and Money
Parenting websites like Netmums advise to plan your meals for the week to save time and money.
For example, at the weekend it's a good idea to cook two or three recipes in bulk, divide them into portions and freeze them so that each evening the family meal can be ready in minutes.
If you can afford to get an organic vegetables box delivered, you can plan meals for the coming days based on the fresh produce that has the shortest shelf life (spinach, chard, etc) and meals for the end of the week with produce that lasts longer (potatoes, beetroot, carrots etc).
Meal Planning on a Budget
Some fancy websites (and, let's face it, some fancy supermarkets, too) do feature meal planners with great breakfast, lunch and dinner ideas.
If you look at comments below these meal plans, though, you will probably find many protestations that the ingredients are just too expensive (Norwegian salmon or quinoa, anyone?).
A solid meal plan has to be realistic and suit your family's taste. There is no point forcing spelt pasta onto people if no one is going to eat it.
Meat Free Monday DishesClick thumbnail to view full-size
Meal Planning for Vegetarians
When talking to friends and contacts on social media, one common theme emerged: if you have dietary requirements (for example no dairy or no gluten) or if you are vegetarian, planning your meals is essential.
Vegetarians who don't rely on ready meals reported having less cravings for sugary foods so their diets tend to be healthier than average.
Meal Planning Apps
Meal Planning Apps At a Glance
Healthy recipes, cooking skills
Plan to Eat
Add items to shopping list, collect recipes and add to the app
Eat This Much
Tailor it to your weight goals and your food budget, sends you a weekly shopping list
Party planning and every day menus, add items to shopping list
AllRecipes Dinner Spinner
Member-shared recipes, video cookbook
Love Food Hate Waste
2-week meal plans, portion plans for family meals and parties
Recipe management, shopping list
Recipes from popular websites and blogs, shopping list
Tailor to your family's taste in food and favourite supermarkets, shopping list
Shopping list, choose date range for meal plan
Having failed several times at planning meals for an entire week, I thought it would be useful for myself and others to learn more about food planning so I started my research by seeking inspiration among friends, contacts and a variety of online resources.
Because I love foraging, I enjoy the challenge of seeing what foods are out there to pick, what's in season at the supermarket, and come up with meals off the cuff (I can virtually see all professional chefs shaking their heads in disapproval). I also find knowing in advance what I will have to eat a bit boring. But don't worry, I can see why meal planning works for people and that is why I wanted to offer a roundup of the key benefits of meal planning. What works for me is to buy cupboard essentials like oil and flour and keep fresh produce from the supermarket to a minimum so that I can integrate foraged food into my diet. With foraging you only pick what you need and that way you reduce waste. Read more about foraging in my article.