Meal planning when you hate plans

In a nutshell: Meal planning saves money and wasted food but can feel restrictive. Planning loosely around the main element of the meal is an easy solution.

I’ve avoided meal planning for years because I don’t like the idea of being tied to a menu. I may have planned pizza for Wednesday but when Wednesday comes round what happens if I fancy curry instead? The solution I use is to plan very loosely around the feature of the meal – usually this is protein, sometimes it is carbs. I allocate a day for that type of meal on the plan but it can always be swapped for another day.

When I go shopping I head straight for the reduced section and jiggle my rough weekly meal plan around that. I’ll know I’m looking out for some sort of fish to eat that week and whatever is cheap, seasonal and/or reduced gets bought. I have ‘fish’ on the list instead of ‘salmon’ so I have more flexibility shopping. I don’t add veg to the shopping list because other than a few things I need for packed lunches like bananas and satsumas, everything else is bought because it is in season or because it is cheap. And sometimes we have our own veg from the garden.

Batch cooking really helps here. I’ll make a huge quantity of tomato sauce and freeze it in portions. Adding herbs or spices changes it radically so it doesn’t get boring. I’ll make double quantities of stews and buy whole reduced salmon to chop up into portions and freeze. I’ve also got good food stores so I’ll generally always have staples like flour or tins of tomatos or beans.

I usually only plan the evening meal – my son has a packed lunch for school and I make a slow cooker soup that lasts a few days.  If there are leftovers I’ll eat them instead. Some times we swap out a meal idea for a leftovers meal.

This works for different eating habits too – generally my plate has more protein and my sons has more carbs. Everything can be changed to cope with vegetarians or vegans because the days can be swapped.

My meal planner (magnetic, from Wilkos with a useful tear off list) looks like this:



So Monday’s sausages might be vegi or meat, they might be with mashed potatos, oven chips or turned into toad in the hole. Tuesday could be anything from fish stew (using frozen tomato sauce) to home made fish fingers. If we have a vegan visiting that night I’d swap it for tofu, which could be roasted, stir fried or whizzed up with squash to make a pie filling.

This way of planning works really well for me, it’s not restrictive and it means I can shop really frugally.

I use these lists as prompts when I forget what we like to eat. They are not extensive and they could be added or edited if you wanted to use them yourself. I do have plans to turn them into fridge magnets one day!

  • Fish
    • White
    • Oily
    • Smoked
    • Shellfish
  • Meat
    • Pork
    • Beef
    • Chicken
    • Lamb
  • Pulses
    • Beans
    • Chickpeas
    • Tofu
  • Eggs
  • Cheese
  • Nuts
  • Wheat
    • Bread
    • Pasta
    • Couscous
  • Potatos
    • Baked
    • Boiled
    • Roasted
    • Mashed
  • Rice
    • Long grain
    • Risotto
  • Oats

And if you need recipe ideas, I really like which has loads of easy, tried and tested recipes that don’t call for weird or expensive ingredients.
Disclosure – none of the links on this post are affiliate links, I don’t get anything if you visit any of the sites or shops mentioned. I’ve written about them because I think they are good.