Where I live there’s an awesome local play group. We’ve been blessed to meet many other families in the area.
The other day, our playgroup talk turned to food and cooking as it often does when I’m around. (Why is that?)
We were chatting about the challenges of mid-week family dinners.
There seemed to be two camps. One group was resigned to putting up with ‘sub standard meals’ during the week and the other resorted to having dinner really late.
My heart really went out to them.
It made me realize how lucky I am. Most of the time I don’t have either problem.
Sometimes I have the problem of trying to cook with a hungry one-year-old attached to my leg. But that’s a whole other story.
It got me thinking why our mid-week family dinners are (mostly) pretty tasty and are (mostly) on the table by 6pm.
Working from home definitely helps but I think the biggest factor is that I’m pretty organized. I love thinking about what I’m going to cook and I usually have some sort of plan.
So I thought today we’d have a look at some of the benefits of meal planning…
6 Reasons to Use a Meal Plan
1. Better Tasting Meals.
I’m a food lover. The most important thing for me is that my meals taste good. Life is to short to put up with sub standard dinners.
When I was talking to members of ‘Soupstones‘ (my done-for-you meal planning service) a little while back, many people mentioned their meals had been tastier and they’d been getting more compliments since using my meal plans. There you go.
2. Increase your likelihood of cooking at home.
Cooking for yourself is one of the biggest game changers to help you look and feel your best. Having ingredients in the house and some idea of what to make with those ingredients makes it much, much easier to cook. Especially when you’re tired at the end of a long day.
Getting stuck in a food rut is no fun and not the best from a nutritional perspective either. Using some sort of plan is a great way to inject some fresh ideas and ensure you try new recipes from time to time.
4. Reduce Waste and Save Money
Having a meal plan that works means you’ll be buying the right amount and types of food each week and actually using them. So you’ll be less likely to be throwing out ‘veg gone bad’ at the end of the week. Both result in more dollars in your pocket and a happier planet.
5. Saving Time
By planning ahead you can save yourself time on many levels. First you can buy more when you do shop, saving you extra trips to pick up ‘this and that’ at the store.
Plus having a plan allows you to prep ahead and prep in bulk (if you like), meaning less time to get dinner on the table on those busy week nights.
6. Less Deciding What to Cook
It’s much harder to make decisions when you’re tired. Following a meal plan means the pressure is off having to ‘decide’. The decision part has already been done so you can just walk into the kitchen and immerse yourself in the soothing world of chopping and stirring.
It’s my favourite way to relax at the end of the day (apart from when there’s that one-year-old-leg situation I mentioned earlier ;)
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Have fun in the kitchen!
“I nearly cried when your planner came through today! My life is really hectic at the moment, lots of decision making needed, stress etc and to have the planner with recipes that are easy and scrummy, portion controlled and a shopping list it was such a relief. Thank you, thank you!”
Cecelia, Soupstones Member.
Spicy Carrot & Chicken Salad
Harissa is a very hot paste made with lots of chillies. It’s commonly found in Tunisia and Morocco and is one of my favourite ingredients. You can buy it online or from good delis. My supermarket stocks it. It comes in a tube and is brilliant to keep in the fridge for an instant chilli hit. If you can’t find commercial harissa you know I’ve got you covered in the variations below.
enough for: 2
takes: 45 minutes
2 onions finely sliced into 1/2 moons
1 bunch baby carrots, tops reserved
4 chicken thigh fillets, halved lengthwise
1 tablespoon harissa
1 tablespoon sherry or wine vinegar
1. Preheat your oven to 200C (400F). Place onion, carrots and chicken in a roasting tray. Drizzle with a little olive oil.
2. Roast for 30-40 minutes, stirring about half way through.
3. Meanwhile, combine harissa, vinegar and 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil. Taste and season.
4. When the carrots, onion and chicken are cooked remove from the oven and drizzle over the dressing. Serve with carrot tops sprinkled over.
side salad – skip the chicken if you prefer.
no carrot tops – if your carrot tops aren’t nice (or a non existent) replace with a bag of salad leaves or bunch of flat leaf parsley or coriander leaves.
grown-up carrots – replace baby carrots with 4 regular carrots halved lengthwise.
vegetarian / vegan – replace chicken with a drained can of chickpeas, white beans, mushrooms or eggplant.
no harissa – Make your own with this recipe. OR replace with any chilli paste or hot sauce such as sambal oleck or sriracha. You could also substitute 2-4 large fresh red chillies that have been finely chopped. See more Harissa Substitute ideas.
different veg – also lovely with sweet potato, parsnip, regular potatos, swede or beets. Some veg may need cooking for longer.
more substantial – serve with flat bread or couscous that has been cooked according to the packet with some extra butter added or serve with cooked quinoa, brown rice or boiled potatoes.
short on time – pan fry chicken and onions instead and serve with the dressing raw grated carrots.
more veg – serve with a green salad or add mushrooms or eggplant with the chicken.
family friendly – use less harissa or serve dressing on the side.
low carb – replace carrots with 1 large head broccoli or a small cauliflower. And use baby spinach or salad leaves instead of the carrot tops.
Personally I’m not a fan of reheated chicken. So I prefer to eat this one fresh.