The (return of the) Weekly Freelance Challenge: Meal planning

Oops. Dropped the ball on this series.

I like to cover a range of topics in this freelance lifestyle challenge, ranging from how to pitch to new clients to how to fit exercise into your schedule. The last few challenges have been work-based, so I thought it might be time to throw in something freelance lifestyle-related.

Food.

Ah food. Working from home means you’re close to a) a fridge full of the stuff, and b) numerous gadgets to cook it up. No more supermarket soggy sandwiches for you! Unfortunately, this often means a hastily thrown together mountain of pasta, or something deep fried. Or nothing at all, aside from a constantly refilled coffee cup.

For me, one of the best ways to get on top of food and meals as a freelancer, is to create a weekly meal plan. Sitting down to plan out your meals for the week will hopefully save you time, money and, if you’re on the diet wagon with me, calories/fat/carbs. I tend to do it on a Sunday, then do the shop on a Monday (when the shops are quieter).

Here are my five steps for Meal Planning success.

Find your recipes

Search through your cookbooks, Pinterest boards, favourite blogs and bookmarks for recipes. The first time you’ll do this, it’ll probably take a while. To make things quicker in the long run, keep a notepad by your side and make a note of all the recipes you like.

Get scheduling

Meal planning in Wunderlist

Pop the recipes you’re going to do this week into a planner. I just write mine down in a Wunderlist list, but you could use a spreadsheet, or a whiteboard/blackboard on your fridge. I like this meal planner on Amazon for easy planning.

Search and shop

Make a shopping list of all the foods you’ll need. Have a look through your cupboards, check what you need and then hit the shops (or do an online shop). Personally, I like to visit shops like Aldi or Lidl first to pick up cheaper fresh produce, then check out one of the bigger supermarkets after for the rest.

Store, freeze or eat

Breakfast burritos being made

Breakfast burritos in progress

When you get home, work out if you can cook any of the meals ahead and freeze now, so you can just defrost and reheat later in the week. It’s no exaggeration that doing this has changed my life. Once a week, I cook a batch of breakfast burritos for the Mr to take to work, some pizza puffs for snacks and lunches, boil a batch of chicken breasts to shred and separate into portions, and some lemon chicken (just pop a raw chicken breast in foil, squirt lemon juice on it, add tarragon then wrap up for the freezer. Then bake for 45 mins from frozen) and some smoothie mixes (packs of mixed fruit).

I can cook, pack or freeze all of the above in two hours. That’s it. Done for the week.

If you’ve picked up a bargain piece of meat in the supermarkets that goes out of date today, throw it in the oven while you’re dealing with the rest of the week’s food.

And….relax

Sit back, smug in the knowledge that dinner is already sorted for the week. Also, keep looking out for potential recipes. Now it’s autumn (YAY!), you should be able to find lots of recipes for foods you can throw in the slow cooker (from the fridge or freezer), so you can smell it gradually through the day. Yum.

I’ve got a little scrapbook of recipes now, both online and off, and a stockpile of homemade meals in the freezer so there’s no reason why I shouldn’t cook.

If you’re not sure where to start, I’ve popped some useful resources below.

Resources

  • Pinterest boards: I have a board filled with Freezables (including the recipes for pizza puffs and breakfast burritos). I’ve also recently created a Meal Planning board with recipes I’m planning to cook.
  • Once a Month Mom is the Queen of meal planning and freezables. She’s recently changed the site recently, so you may have to subscribe for some features, but most of the recipes are still available. I like that you can search by your need – e.g. ingredient, type of diet, style of cooking. It’s all fairly simple too, hurrah! I get the email updates each day, which I’d recommend.
  • Three bloggers, plus Pinterest, inspired me to get into meal planning. A Thrifty Mrs wrote a great guide to meal planning earlier this year. The Lean Times posts her menu plans for the week every Monday, along with recipe links, as does OrgJunkie who has a HUGE range of resources on meal planning.
  • Get using your Kindle. I like the Once a Week Cookbook, especially as it’s currently only £1.54 to download. When I find recipes I like, I screen grab them and save them to a special photo folder on my iPad.
  • If you’re a UK resident, you might notice a lot of the recipes are from the USA. Our friends across the ocean are hugely organised when it comes to food. Anyway, it’s worth getting a set of measuring cups as a lot of their measurements are done this way. I like this super-cute measuring cup set.

I really do think you’ll be surprised at the difference it makes though. I’ve noticed that between shopping at Lidl/Aldi and doing this, I cut my weekly shop by between a quarter and a third a week. Plus, freezing a lot of it means you don’t waste so much fresh food. Best of all, I’m not far less likely to say “oh, shall we just order in from Pizza Hut?”.

Gosh, that was a longer post than I had initially planned! As you might have guessed, meal planning is this week’s challenge! You don’t have to go to the extensive lengths I have – but try writing down a basic idea of what dinners you’re going to have this week before you do your shop. I bet you’ll find you avoid that panic in the first few aisles of Tesco, when you fill your trolley with anything plastered in a special offer sticker.

Are you a meal planner? Do you have any tips to share? 

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  • Lauren

    Great article, I need to do this too! alaurentoherself.com x

  • http://www.onemanbandaccounting.co.uk/ Rosie Slosek

    While you’re doing meals for the week, make a batch of cookie dough, the slice and bake kind. Then you can bake a few from the freezer when you have the oven on for something else during the week.

    Nothing like a cookie to make an unpleasant task more fun.

    • EmmaCossey

      I approve of all cookie forward planning.

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