Sharing my weekly meal planning on Instagram is something I’ve been doing for a while and it’s so nice to hear when people find them useful. This post is all about how my meal plans and recipe ideas have changed and some top tips to get into meal planning yourself. Looking back over the past year there has been a noticeable change in what I’ve been cooking and eating and it’s happened so slowly I’ve barely noticed it. I have accidentally become (almost) vegetarian. I didn’t mean to, it just sort of happened.
I think the thing I get asked most often or get comments about are from people who are looking to eat more vegetarian meals; a bit of veggie inspiration above and beyond a vegetable lasagne or simple pasta dish (although don’t get me wrong, both of those are delicious). I started eating meat free once or twice a week simply because what I was cooking didn’t need meat in it but I found it really difficult to plan many meals that didn’t include meat. Over time, trying new things and adding to my veggie repertoire I now eat far more vegetables and a much more varied diet than I did this time last year.
March 2015 – three meat meals and two vegetarian. The other two meals would have been cooked on a whim (or could have been a takeaway (shocking, I know) or meal out) and I didn’t plan much for breakfast or lunch. Hearty, comforting but not too much fatty food this week.
Bean and lentil chilli, rice and guacamole (recipe here for this)
Beef, tomato, potato and spinach curry
Pan haggerty with buttered kale
Mushroom and courgette carbonara
Sausage, kale and barley stew
June 2015 – an all vegetarian week this time! I think it’s a bit easier in the summer months as there are so many different vegetables in season, things are brighter and more vibrant. Again, no plans for the weekend, breakfasts or lunches.
Veggie burgers with roasted new potatoes and rocket salad
Peppers, potatoes and onions (similar to this recipe)
Fresh tomato and basil pasta
September 2015 – more vegetarian than meat this week and I’ve gone to six days rather than five but still no lunches or breakfasts specifically planned. It’s late summer so there’s plenty of bold, fresh flavours going on.
Pea and bacon soup (recipe here, such a classic)
Tomatillo salsa, sweetcorn and halloumi
Beef in beer and onions, potatoes and cabbage
Veggie burgers with sweet potato wedges
Beetroot and goat’s cheese speltotto
Peppers stuffed with giant cous cous, herbs and nuts
January 2016 – it’s a six meal all vegetarian week (and a few vegan for good measure) and lunches and breakfasts are all planned too. Looking back to when I first started scribbling down a few ideas to where I am now with almost military precision I’m as surprised as anyone and very pleased with a delicious start to the year.
Lunches – beetroot salad or homemade ‘pot noodle’
Breakfasts – homemade granola with yoghurt (recipe for the granola here)
Dahl, saag aloo and rice
Leftover dahl with quick flatbreads (these flatbreads are amazing, recipe here)
Tomato, olive and artichoke pasta bake
Leek and cannellini beans with wholewheat spaghetti
Veg box risotto (probably mushroom, pepper or tomato depending on what turns up!)
Frittata with roasted tomatoes
As you can see things have certainly changed but if you asked me why I’m not sure I’d be able to tell you. I still eat meat but I just don’t eat it very often and when I do it’s the very best I can get my hands on. I think I just wanted a bit more variety and I wanted less cream, cheese or meat and more vegetables, wholegrains and pulses. Whatever you eat, meal planning has been immensely useful for me so below are my top tips if you want to have a go at it for yourself.
- Don’t take it too seriously. You’ve made a plan but so what if something gets pushed back a day because you do something else. If something else takes your fancy, go off-piste and if anyone has a problem with it, they can do the meal planning next week. You can imagine the conversations in my kitchen…
- Start with recipes you know and think about adding in just one new recipe a week. If you like it, try it again in a few weeks, if not, move on to something else. After cooking it a few times you’ve got another recipe up your sleeve and before you know it you’ll have an arsenal of them.
- Leftovers are always a good idea. I tend to turn them into something a little different the next day. For example, thicken some leftover chilli and have burritos or make twice as much curry and have it with rice and then baked potatoes the next day.
- It can be easier to base your plan around which carbs you’re having. In other words, avoiding too many meals with potato, pasta or rice in a row means you force yourself to look elsewhere for ideas. Oh, hi bulgur wheat, quinoa and barley.
- If you want to include a vegetarian meal or two, beans and pulses are your best friends. They also seem to keep the carnivores happier, for example a lentil bolognese is much better received than an aubergine one for the first timers.
- Consider trying a vegetable box. When you’ve got a box full of fresh vegetables on your doorstep you really don’t want to waste them so they can inspire trying out something new.
- Your cupboards (or larder if you’re lucky enough) should be a great place to start. That half bag of giant cous cous lurking in the back corner? The spelt flour you swore you would use? Commit to using it up and then you’ll have to try something different!
They (wise people they are too) say, “A Sunday well spent means a week of content” and I can honestly tell you that getting all my meals and recipes planned, ingredients in and granola/soup/biscuits made ready for the week ahead is a great thing to do. Excuse my ever so slight smug face. I genuinely look forward to each meal and the impact is measurable: financially, as I only buy what I need and never end up with anything unnecessary in my basket; personally, as there is no stress or hassle trying to think what to cook each night (I don’t have a freezer so cooking from scratch every day is really the only option for me); internally, as I am eating much healthier than I used to.
Until I wrote this I had no idea how much something simple like writing down what I wanted to eat each week had impacted me and the ever patient, tolerant (leeks again?) and honest (sometimes brutally “I am never eating roasted cabbage again”) other half. I have no idea what I would do if I didn’t plan meals each week, although I bet having a freezer and doing some batch cooking would be mighty helpful. One day *sigh*. I hope this post is useful to you whether you fancy a bit of meal planning, trying something new or adding a few vegetarian meals to your week.
I have also done another post about meal planning with more detail about the techniques you can use to get your own weekly menus started.