I recently asked Stonesoup readers what their biggest problem is when it comes to meal planning.
The response was overwhelmingly vocal. As I was reading through the emails, there were some very clear ‘themes’ coming up.
Last minute changes in plans and chaotic schedules were one of the most common problems. Another was that meal plans often ‘fall apart’ because you don’t ‘feel like’ eating what you’d planned to cook that night.
Then there were the people who struggled to come up with new ideas and felt bored with their current meal routine. And running through all this was the costly problem of ingredients and leftovers going bad and having to be thrown out.
Anyway it got me thinking about meal planning and the root cause of most meal planning problems.
What IS the biggest meal planning mistake?
In a nutshell, the biggest mistake is deciding what you’re going to cook in advance and then building your shopping list around that plan.
Having a list of set recipes or dishes is problematic for a number of reasons. First, it takes a lot of time to figure it all out in advance. But the biggest problem is the lack of flexibility to cope with the changes that naturally come up with modern life.
It’s nearly impossible to predict that Wednesday is going to be the coldest February day on record and you’ll be craving a comforting bowl of soup, rather than the cool & light salad you had in the meal plan.
No wonder meal plans tend to get broken.
How do I avoid this mistake?
You just need to learn how to ‘reverse’ the process.
It may sound a little scary, but in practice it’s a really liberating way of approaching meal planning. And it’s actually much quicker and easier than traditional meal planning.
I’m going to be teaching the ‘Stonesoup’ meal planning method as part of the ‘Master Your Meal Plan’ class. And there are 3 main parts to the class…
The three keys to Mastering Your Meal Plan
1. A super simple ‘formula’ to help you figure out how much food you’ll need to buy.
The formula I’ve developed is really quick and easy to work out. It tells you how many types of protein (or main events) and vegetables to buy. This gives you the freedom to shop for what looks best, rather than having a rigid list.
The formula helps get the quantity right so you don’t end up with more than you need.
It’s designed so you control the amount of flexibility you have. If you’d prefer to have a few specific recipes in mind before you shop, the formula will help with that as well.
2. The collection of ‘master plan’ template recipes.
To help you learn to cook based on what you have in the fridge, I’ll be teaching you the blue prints for my favourite go-to recipes.
These ‘master plan’ recipes are the general templates for how to make different classic dishes. For example a great stir fry, a quick soup or a fragrant curry. Each template comes with suggestions for variations so you’ll be able to adapt them to the ingredients on hand. You’ll have plenty of inspiration. No need to suffer from ‘food boredom’ again.
3. Real live examples so you can watch and learn.
I’ll show you EXACTLY how to put the method into practice by letting you ‘watch over my shoulder’ as I plan, shop and cook over 4 different weeks. I’ll guide you through my decision making processes to train you how to implement the system in a way that works for your lifestyle and cooking ability.
I’m super excited to announce that the 2-Minute Meal Plan System is now ready.
To pick up a copy today, go to:
roast chicken soup
I used to freeze leftover chicken bones thinking I’d make stock ‘one day’. Which of course never came. Recently I’ve started collecting the bones and keeping them in the fridge so I remember to use them. Makes all the difference.
This soup is so nurturing and lovely I’ve found myself planning a roast or BBQ chicken just so I could have leftovers for the soup!
bones from 1 roast or BBQ chicken + meat from 1/4 of the chicken
2 carrots, finely diced
2 onions, finely diced
2 tomatoes, diced
1-2 tablespoons thyme leaves, optional
1. Pop the meat from the chicken, carrots, onion, tomato and 4 cups water in a medium saucepan. Place the bones in a small strainer that will fit in your saucepan. Then pop it on top of the soup so the bones are mostly covered with the liquid. You might need to move the veg around a bit to fit it in.
2. Simmer, covered for 45 minutes to an hour or until the soup tastes heavenly and the veg are tender.
3. Remove the bones. Season. Serve with thyme on top.
different veg – play around with the veg you use. Celery is always great. You could also try fresh corn, cauliflower, zucchini, even eggplant.
no fresh tomatoes – pop in a tablespoon or two of tomato paste.
vegetarian / vegan – make a chickpea soup. Replace the chicken and bones with 2 cans of chickpeas + their juices. You’ll only need 3 cups water and simmer uncovered so it reduces down nicely.
different herbs – thyme is one of my all time favourite herbs, but you could serve with fresh parsley or mint for something different.
chicken broth / stock – save the chicken meat for another use. Simmer the bones and veg. Then strain everything and discard the solids.
roast chicken & lemon – skip the tomato and simmer a finely sliced lemon in with the veg for a different freshness.
video version of the recipe
Living in Eastern Europe, I have grown up to cook what’s in the fridge and not what I plan on the menu :) Making less trips to the store is the only way to save here (we don’t have sales, coupons and such). We use and reuse lots of things, but I have learned something new from you today. Using the strainer to put the bones in the soup and not have to fish them out later is a brilliant idea. Now, why didn’t I think of that? Thanks.
Glad to hear I’m talking to the converted….and also glad you learned something :)
I meal plan & shop weekly, and decide what I will cook before creating the shopping list. In the 5 years I have been meal planning, I have never had a problem with not using up what is already in the fridge/freezer/cupboard (I check what’s on hand already & base plans on that). I check the weather forecast to see what would be appropriate when I make my plan, and always have a something ‘up my sleeve’ (well, in the pantry & freezer) for when things don’t go to plan (but this rarely gets used). Considering that I have a serious chronic medical condition, 2 pre-school aged kids, a hubby, and I work and study part-time, I think we fit the bill of being busy & needing flexibility! Though perhaps bc I have been brought up by my Mum (who is from a poor country) and my late Nan to live & cook frugally but tastily, it’s not an issue for me?
Lovely blog, great cooking and photographs.
Will be following your recipes.
Kiss from Portugal (OPorto) ;)
What a great idea for a class. I don’t like meal planning due to time and boredom, but I do it anyway. I also have 2 young kids who won’t eat most grown meals/soups/dishes. The hardest thing for me is finding something everyone will like. They get cereal if they don’t want to eat it!
Wonderful post. My life got so much easier when I gave up the time consuming, stressful process of trying to pre-plan our meals a week at a time. It’s so much more fun to cook based on what is available and looks best, instead. Your course sounds wonderful.
Great to hear from someone who has also ditched traditional meal planning
Really looking forward to making this quick & simple meal soon, Jules. Quick question—do you simmer already-cooked chicken meat for the entire 45 minutes? I’m just concerned that the meat would get really dried out or over-cooked being in there for so long. But I don’t know anything about soups so I’m probably just ignorant haha.
Thanks so much for all the free resources you have on this blog. It has been a HUGE help for me in learning to cook in my first year living “on my own.”
The soup looks wonderful Jules. Thanks again for your ideas and lovely photos.
You’re welcome Mary!
Oh my gosh, I was going to ask you a question about my mom’s chicken soup but you just solved it for me! You are amazing!
My mom makes the best chicken soup! We save the bones from a chicken or turkey and she makes stock and soup. However, no matter what we do there are always little bones in the soup and I always seem to get them. The last time she made it, her and I spent an hour or more checking the soup for bones and I still had some in my soup. I never thought of putting the bones in a stainer in the water to make the stock. Then maybe the tiny bones would stay in the strainer and not get in the soup. My mom does carrots, celery and onions but then she adds spinach. I’m not a fan of spinach unless it’s creamed but I love it this way too. We also add tiny pasta (tiny soup elbows, alphabets, tubittini, or orzo) and sometimes she stirs in eggs like in egg drop soup only this would be the Italian version like my grandmother made. I hope this works because I hate almost swallowing those tiny bones.
My husband hates the bones too Gail!