How to Meal Plan: The Empowered Cook Way *Free eCourse*

Would you like to learn how to meal plan for your family? I will share my top tips for meal planning in this article, and I also have a free email eCourse for you – that will walk you through each step to get a meal plan done for your family.

Meal Planning forms part of the foundation of my kitchen. Learning how to meal plan was a game changer for me. Yes, my Mum had shown me the basics – but it wasn’t until I created a system that I really saw the effects of meal planning in my kitchen and for my family.

Would you like to learn how to meal plan for your family? I have a free eCourse that you can join where I walk you through the very simple steps to add meal planning to your kitchen rhythm. It includes a daily email with a 10 minute task each day - and a bunch of free meal planning printables!

Meal plans save you time. Meal plans save you money. And they save you Thinking Time.

You know what I mean by that last one? This is the critical one for me. Walking in the door after work, and NOT having to think about what we’re going to have for dinner is very important for me.

Yes, it does mean that I need to dedicate some time during the week to actually meal plan. But really, this can take me about 15mins. And I think that is a good investment of my time.

I have however found meal planning onerous in the past. I used to sit down with a pile of cookbooks or magazines and dream about the meals I could cook during the week: an italian inspired pasta dish with a smooth creamy sauce served with a side of greens and some crusty bread. But then when it came to the day I’d scheduled this meal, I would have had a crap (I mean intense) day at work, and my train home was delayed – and then I’d check the fridge to find the greens had wilted and I had forgotten to buy cream. Those are the nights we used to end up with take-away or a pub meal.

Now that we have Oliver though (our little boy), we can’t really just duck down to the local pub for a meal (oh how I miss those nights!). I need to be more organised – but more importantly, I need it to actually work.

So I researched. I tried many different meal planning tips and tricks. And now I have a pretty good system.

So how do we do it?

It is a simple 3-step process: Family Favourites, Inventories, and Meal Plan.

But most importantly – it is about creating a habit. Meal Planning can be great – but you really need to embed the steps into your weekly rhythm of your kitchen.

So – to help you really embrace how to meal plan for your family – I’ve created a free eCourse to walk you through the process, simply and easily.

Simply click on the image below to sign up. I’ll need your email address to get started. The content is delivered over 7 days – with a new email each day. I will give you simple steps to complete – taking around 10 mins a day.

By the end of the 7 days, you’ll have a Meal Plan for your family. AND you’ll know the system that you need to repeat to create another meal plan.

Please come along and join us. I’d love to have you.

You can join the eCourse here.

Join The Empowered Cook FREE Meal Planning eCourse

And don’t forget to jump on over to The Empowered Cook facebook page or Instagram account and share some photos of your meal plans! I’d love to hear how you go!

 

The Complete Christmas Menu Planner

Preparing a Christmas Menu Plan can be a little hard to do. Deciding what to cook can actually be a joy – but putting the plan into action, can quickly become overwhelming. I have had many menus start out wonderfully – but have then spent all morning in the kitchen cooking, lunch has lasted for less than an hour, and then I spend all afternoon cleaning the kitchen. Not to mention eating leftovers for the next week.

I have learnt many lessons along the way though – how to cook the right amounts to minimise leftovers, how to plan and prep, what to cook in advance, how to reheat and serve efficiently, and how to minimise the kitchen mess.

Today – I’ll share what I’ve learnt with you.

And, to help make this super simple – I have created a Christmas Menu Planner for you to download. This includes all the templates that I mention below – and is ready for you to download, print and start filling out today! Click here to get your free copy now.

Once you have your templates downloaded and printed, make yourself a cuppa and get settled. Planning takes time – but it is worth it. And this process is easy and simple to do.

Let’s get started.

The Complete Christmas Menu Planner - free printables!

#1 – Write your Menu

(download: The Empowered Cook Christmas Menu)

Don’t skip this step. It is important to actually take the time to write down your menu. A little bit of planning goes a long way. And include everything on your menu:  from snacks and nibbles to the main and sides. Also include drinks: will you serve cocktails, punch, water?

Writing this down helps you with the next step, but it also allows you to work through how much food you’ll need, and if the flavours all meld together. Sticking to a good theme of either hot or cold, with a single protein can make things so much easier. There is no rule that says you need to serve every possible food item all on Christmas Day. If your family enjoys an eclectic mix – try spreading this over a few celebrations through the holidays: a Christmas Eve feast, a New Years Eve dinner, for example.

Also remember to cater for different tastes and diets as you write the menu. Will you be expecting vegetarians? Are their members of your party that are gluten-free or dairy-free? Any allergies? This is far more common these days, and your guests will welcome the thought and care that you put in to cater to their needs. Make their day special too.

If there is a recipe for the dish that are cooking, make a note of it on here too. This will make finding the recipe a little easier when you need it.

Are you trying something new this year? As I mention in this post, I try and serve one new dish each Christmas. I may try a different way of cooking the main protein, or I may just add a new side. Either way, I find this spices up the menu a little and keeps it from being the same old dishes served up every year. That being said – there are certainly some dishes that you just wouldn’t miss each year. Make sure you include those on your menu!

A special note for big families: writing a menu like this, also gives you an excellent opportunity to delegate. Carve off sides, desserts, nibbles, drinks to the rest of your family – and you simply provide the main dish. This evens out the workload and means that you won’t have to do all the work yourself. Unless – of course – you love it. Like I do 🙂

Once you have written your menu (using The Empowered Cook Christmas Menu download), you can then make this extra special by preparing a special printed one for the table, or small menus for each place. There are loads of templates on Pinterest to inspire you with this activity. It is even something you can give your kids to be in charge of – give them your menu, and they can prepare the printable.

#2 – Total Your Ingredient List

(download: The Empowered Cook Christmas Menu Ingredient List)

Once you have your menu chosen – this step is much easier. I simply do this very systemically. For each meal that I am making, I write the full ingredient list onto a piece of paper. I then write the amounts of that ingredient next to it, and then sum them all up at the end.

If you use The Empowered Cook Christmas Menu Ingredient List, I’ve made this process super simple: with three columns. The first is your Ingredient list. In this column, you’d record things like brie cheese, potatoes, dark chocolate. In the second list, Amount, you would write the amounts you need. This may be more than one amount if you use the ingredient in multiple recipes – so be sure to leave a little more room around common ingredients like butter, chocolate or flour for example. The last column, Total, is where you can sum up all the individual amounts – so that you now have a clear idea of how much of what you will need.

Once you are finished, the first and third columns are the two that you need. The middle Amount column is just your working area.

For example, if I need ½ cup of cranberries for a side salad, and another ¼ cup for a cranberry sauce – then my list will have cranberries in the Ingredient column, with a ½ cup and ¼ cup in the Amount column. Once I have finished with all my ingredients – I then simply write ¾ cup in the Total column next to cranberries.

This does require you to do a little math – but it is so much better than missing a key ingredient! Or running out of something at a critical moment! And see? Your math teacher was right – you would use those lessons in real life. Lol.

#3 – Shopping List

(download: The Empowered Cook Christmas Menu Shopping List)

Once you have your FULL ingredient list – listing all your ingredients, you now need to work out where you are getting all this food from. Do you already have it in your cupboards? Can you get it from the local supermarket? Do you need to order anything online or from specialty stores?

This is where I make my shopping list. I’ve created the The Empowered Cook Christmas Menu Shopping List for you for this step – and I’ve replicated the structure of my shopping list.

I have three separate columns on my list: Pantry, Supermarket, Fresh Food. Items that I generally have in my pantry go in the Pantry column. This list is then checked closer to Christmas to make sure my pantry is stocked (don’t skip this step! I have run out of flour when making gravy on more than one occasion!).

Items that I will pick up at my local grocery store are on the Supermarket column. I buy these over the course of a few weeks – they are all non-perishables and will last between now and Christmas. Things like crackers, canned goods, grains. I find setting myself a budget each week and then shopping to that amount helps enormously when being conscious of spend in the lead up to Christmas. Also – check out this post. This mentions another great way to save some cash in the lead up to Christmas Day.

My Fresh Food list is the last column and will generally be items that are bought as close to Christmas Day as possible. The only exception to this is where I am cooking in advance – more about that later.

Once you have these 3 steps completed – we are almost ready to start cooking.

#4 – Make a Plan

(download: The Empowered Cook Christmas Menu Cooking Plan)

I say ‘almost’ ready to cook because we still need a plan as to how we are going to actually get all these things made, stored, reheated, and served on Christmas Day.

This is where people tend to get into a fluster: leaving things until Christmas Day, attempting to cook a new recipe for the first time an hour before you are due to serve it – all of these things can just add to a stressful situation, and can be ringing the toll of a Christmas Day disaster.

Instead – we’re going to spend a few more minutes (pour yourself another cuppa while you are here – I’ll have one too!), planning out what you’re going to cook when. And I’m not just talking about a plan for Christmas Day. My plan extends far backwards from then.

On The Empowered Cook Christmas Menu Cooking Plan – you will see three columns: Cook Ahead, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The rule of thumb here is that the lists in these columns should decrease in size as you move towards Christmas Day. On the actual morning of Christmas, you want to be doing the least amount of work as possible. This is when you want to be sitting on the floor with your kids playing with their new toys, or enjoying a lazy breakfast before the family arrives for lunch. You do not want to be running around like a mad woman trying to clean the house, roast a turkey and make custard for dessert – all while trying to make that supposedly easy table centrepiece you saw on Pinterest. D-I-S-A-S-T-E-R.

So – let’s put that crazy image away – and imagine one of organised calm. My Mum always said: If there’s going to be panic, let it be organised. And never is that more true than when cooking Christmas lunch for a group of people.

Go through The Empowered Cook Christmas Menu that you prepared in #1 – and write each of the items under one of the three columns on The Empowered Cook Christmas Menu Cooking Plan.

Be realistic about what you can actually cook on Christmas morning – and be equally realistic about what you can actually cook in advance.

Keep in mind a few logistical things too – how much food can you fit in your fridge, freezer and pantry, for example. Ideally, ensure you clean out the fridge and freezer regularly in the lead up to Christmas (see this post). Keep only the essentials – and you’ll have plenty of space for the Christmas lunch.

Also remember that the more that you cook ahead, the easier Christmas Day will be. Less stress, less time in the kitchen and more time with your family and guests. If you are in Australia – it also means less hot ovens on Christmas Day – which is such a blessing if we get a screaming hot Christmas Day. I remember many Christmas Lunches sweating to death while helping Mum in the kitchen – and taking it in turns to waft each other with a tea-towel as we stirred something on the stove. These were the days before air-conditioning – but still, cooking on a hot day is nobody’s idea of fun.

So what can you cook ahead of time? Well, everything. You can, if you like, cook an entire roast dinner ahead of time and serve it reheated on Christmas Day. This is really not that unusual – and it is how our grandmothers cooked. Everything would be cooked in the days leading up to Christmas – with maybe just the finishing cooking time being done on Christmas morning.

A few recipe ideas to get started:

Jamie Oliver’s Get Ahead Gravy – this is honestly the best thing I have done. Gravy is my achilles heel. I don’t know if it is because I have such high expectations (my Aunt used to make the BEST gravy of all time – and I am not kidding), or I just lack this skill – but if I try and make gravy the day of the dinner, it will fail. Jamie Oliver’s recipe removes the pressure and stress – and yet still makes a delicious gravy to simply reheat and serve on Christmas Day. Remember too – there is something particularly scrumptious about leftovers. The flavour is often better than when they are first served. This is true of this gravy. Depending on when you make it, you can store it in the fridge or freezer.

Christmas Stuffing – this is another Jamie Oliver recipe – but it is another awesome option for making stuffing and making it in advance. You can freeze this, or make it Christmas Eve.

Christmas Turkey – I love this video of Gordon Ramsey’s turkey. It is easy and delicious.

Once you’ve identified what you can cook ahead (either way ahead or on Christmas Eve), you’ll simply be left with a few items that you need to cook on Christmas Day.

This part of the plan will need to be written in chronological order – ideally with a timeline next to it. For example – 10am pop spuds in oven, 12noon pop greens into steam, etc. Take some time to really carefully plan this out. The clearer this part of the plan is, the easier it will be to follow on Christmas Day.

The added bonus with such a detailed Christmas Day cooking plan is that it makes delegation really easy. If someone offers to help, a quick glance at your cooking plan will easily identify the next item on your list – and you can choose to accept the help and delegate that task (or another one!) to the helper. Many hands make light work!

And that, my Empowered Cook readers, is that. You now have a full Christmas Planner ready for you to use and action.

Where will you start? What will you cook this year? Leave me a note in the comments and let me know.

And don’t forget to share this post if you think your friends will find it helpful too. Let’s make Christmas Day stress-free, easy and relaxed – and enjoy a beautiful, delicious meal together.

The Empowered Cook Meal Plan – Week Starting 19th March 2017

I started preparing this week’s meal plan by checking the contents of our freezer, and our fridge. I have a couple of packs of meat that we need to use up (or freeze) and a random selection of vegetables in our fridge. In the freezer, however, I have a large number of single serve freezer meals that need to be eaten. So this weekly meal plan will be all about freezer meals.

The Empowered Cook shares her family's weekly meal plan. This week - it is all about freezer meals!

The added bonus of course with this, is that we don’t need to spend money this week on food. We’ll simply eat what we already have. And I also know that we’ll have a fuss free few nights of cooking – because we’ll simply be reheating previously made with love meals. They will still feel like we’re eating home-cooked goodness – but without the time commitment.

You’ll notice in the meal plan that I don’t specify what meal we’ll be eating. This is another positive of having multiple freezer meals. We can easily decide the day before (so that it will defrost) what we want to eat. Plus – a lot of my freezer meals are ‘single serve’ leftovers, so we can actually choose a couple of these and all eat something different – or even have a bit of a buffet.

If you want to get started with freezer cooking – come read this post. And let me know in the comments below if you ‘eat from your freezer‘ like we do.

 

The Empowered Cook Meal Plan – Week Starting 5th March 2017

How are we already in March?! This year has already taken 2 months – and it hardly even feels like. Yet – here we are. Ready for another week and another weekly meal plan.

The Empowered Cook shares her family's weekly meal plan. What are you eating this week?

We had the yummiest dinner last night – I did a version of Jamie Oliver’s 7 veg pasta sauce. It made such a huge batch. There are 5 more servings in the freezer now.

This sauce is great – not only because it has such a great load of vegies included, but because they are hidden. My little one has just started to say “no” to certain foods – and I’m keen to make sure that he still gets a lot of vegetables in his diet. I already know that he loves tomato based sauces – so this was a no-brainer. And much to my delight – he loved it. Definitely a regular in our house now. You can find a version of the recipe here.

We have a couple of freezer meals making an appearance on our weekly meal plan again – burritos, chicken and kale hash. These are towards the end of the week – when making dinner from scratch becomes harder.

Our Saturday night theme of Mexican has been a little hit and miss. But I am hoping we can get this back on track this week. What should we cook? What’s your favourite Mexican meal?

 

The Empowered Cook Meal Plan – Week Starting 26th February 2017

We are back from a weekend away and with minimal fresh groceries in the house, our weekly meal plan has been a challenge this week. But – because we love our freezer and have it stocked really well, we can still pull together a week’s worth of meals from our stockpile.

What’s on your weekly meal plan this week? Share in the comments below – let’s compare and see what we’re all eating at our dinner tables this week.

The Empowered Cook shares her family's weekly plan. What are you eating this week?

You’ll also notice a few double-ups of the meals over the last few weeks. For example, Chicken and Greens has appeared a couple of times now. This is a meal that I made in bulk a few weeks ago and it was incredibly delicious but made such a mammoth amount, that we have loads in the freezer. It is basically chicken mince stir fried with a bunch of different greens. Our toddler also loves it – so it is a bonus!

As we’ve been loving our freezer fairly regularly lately – I do need to restock. So this coming weekend, I will need to do some cooking. I’ll start with the basics like this bolognese recipe – and maybe add in a curry recipe. I have had a curry craving for the last week or so. We also need some more childcare lunch ideas for our toddler, as well as some snacks for work. A few baking items will be needed!

I hope the week ahead is a good one for you. Please share your family meal plan in the comments below – I’d love to hear what you’re eating this week.

The Empowered Cook Meal Plan – Week Starting 12th February 2017

Welcome to another week!

This week, our meal plan is opting for lots of greens again – with the main coming from the freezer, but served alongside a big pile of leafy greens and vegies.

We’re almost back to full health. Almost. There have been a lot of green leafy vegies and fresh fruit in the last week. Plus a good probiotic for all of us – and some immune tablets. I am determined to get us back to full health, and keep us that way!

I’ve also been researching other ways to boost immunity – so I am going to try some elderberry syrup. I’ve bought some dried elderberries and will try this recipe from Live Simply. Have you tried this at all? It looks easy – and so we’ll give it a go. I’ll report back on how we go!

But now – on to this week’s meal plan.

The Empowered Cook shares her family's weekly plan. What are you eating this week?

A note on Food Prep

To help out this week, my food prep over the weekend consisted mainly of salad items. In the fridge I have:

  • Homemade Potato Salad
  • washed and cut cos lettuce
  • grated carrot
  • grated zucchini
  • feta cheese
  • chopped cucumber
  • sliced capsicum

Having all of these items individually prepared, means that I can simple ‘assemble dinner’. I can quickly cook the main protein – so schnitzel or lamb cutlets – and then just add on all the salad components. It makes dinner super easy – but also super healthy. Simple, clean and delicious.

Enjoy the week ahead.

I hope you have a meal plan stuck on your fridge like me? What are you cooking this week?

The Empowered Cook Meal Plan – Week Starting 5th February 2017

Another week, another weekly meal plan!

We are still recovering from a super bug that our little one picked up from childcare. This one really got it’s hooks into us. My partner and I rarely get sick – and so it has been quite a shock to the system. I’ve been researching and reading about how to build immunity – so no doubt, we’ll be doing this as part of our food planning in the coming weeks.

But for now, we are back to work and childcare this week – so hoping that we can kick this bug right out of our home!

I made a big batch of chicken soup (you can see my instagram post here) and that has made a difference. We’ve also eaten loads more leafy greens – again, something that really does help.

The Empowered Cook shares her family's weekly meal plan. What are you eating this week?

Meals this week will again be simple and fast – so that we can rest as much as we can. Monday to Wednesday (childcare days) are all freezer meals too. I actually need to start planning to refill my freezer – I don’t want it to get too depleted! The easiest way is to of course cook double – and freeze a batch. But I might simply aim to pop a few more casseroles in the freezer next weekend. One for the To Do List I think!

I also have a bit of food prep to do this weekend too. I have already made some trail mix (sultanas, apricots and nuts) and still have some chocolate chip cookies in the freezer. But I think we might need some veggie sticks and hummus – and maybe some granola bars. So I must get a wriggle on and start that before Sunday is over and Monday is here.

Enjoy the rest of your weekends – and may Monday morning be gentle with you.

 

 

The Empowered Cook Meal Plan – Week Starting 29th January 2017

Argh what a week! We’ve caught our first childcare bug – and it has really knocked our little one about. Who knew such a little person could produce so much snot?!

As I’ve been playing Nurse Mama for the last few days, I am a little late in posting our meal plan.

You might wonder why on earth I still have a meal plan when we’re dealing with a sick household – surely that’s enough for this week? Well yes – but also no.

Having a meal plan makes this process easier. It means that I don’t have to think each night – I can simply do dinner. I have been prepping dinner during his nap time too – just like I used to when I was a stay at home Mum. This is so much easier that trying to do dinner during arsenic hour. I can plod along in my own time and enjoy the time alone in the kitchen.

My family's meal plan for this week.

Our meals this week are vegetable heavy. We need the nutrition, and I know these meals are all something that our little one will usually eat. He doesn’t have much of an appetite at the moment – but he will never turn down some mashed potato (clearly, he is my son).

Depending on how we all fare in the next day or so, one of these meals might get swapped out for some homemade chicken soup. This will cure all sickness! But at the moment, we are in the middle of a heatwave – so the idea of hot soup if not very appealing. We will see how we go.

I also know that by Friday night, we will be exhausted. So Eggs on Toast it is – or simply, anything you can find in the fridge. An easy, laid back dinner will be needed.

What’s on your meal plan this week? Let me know in the comments below – as well as any helpful tips for managing a sick toddler! Lol!

 

The Empowered Cook Meal Plan – Week Starting 22nd January 2017

Our family meal plan this week is again built from freezer meals. We’re only into our second week of our new childcare routine – so easy meals are still very much needed. I’ve also tried to choose weeknight meals that will provide leftovers so that we can eat these for lunch the next day. This will help the lunchbox preparation time!

My family's meal plan for this week.

Tonight we have one of my newly discovered favourites: lentil loaf. I honestly never thought that I would make this – it just sounds so hippy! But seriously – it is delicious. I have made it to the point of cooking it, and it is now happily waiting for me in the freezer. I just need to defrost it and bake it. We’ll be serving it with leftover vegies from last night’s dinner. So although it is quite a hearty, homemade meal – it will actually be quite simple and easy to prepare tonight. The recipe I use is similar to this one – but if you are keen to give it a go, have a google and find one that appeals to you.

The bonus night this week is that we also have Australia Day and a public holiday on Thursday. This year we’re bringing back a little tradition that we started many years ago – with a good homemade Aussie burger on the family meal plan. I am looking forward to that meal! Beetroot and pineapple and egg! That’s the Aussie way, right?

With traditions in mind, our Saturday Mexican Nights are going well. We had some really delicious nachos the other week – so they will be making a comeback this week I think. I made a very yum vegan nacho cheese sauce to go over them, and while it wasn’t ‘cheese’ – it was still very more-ish. The recipe I used was similar to this one from The Minimalist Baker. Give it a go – you might be surprised.

What’s on your meal plan this week?

 

The Empowered Cook Meal Plan – Week Starting 15th January 2017

Our Meal Plan this week is beginning to reap the rewards of all the meal prep that I have done over the last few weeks. With our little one about to start childcare, and our return to work – it will be harder to cook each night, so I’ve devised a plan to keep us eating healthy, homemade dinners.

I took a few weeks off work over Christmas – and used that time to relax and rejuvenate. For me – that means I spent the time cooking. I have stocked our freezer full of homemade delights: burritos, lasagne, pasta bakes, lentil loaf, meatballs, brown rice, and a whole lot more.

This freezer stash will form our weekly dinner menu for the days that Oliver is in childcare – at least for the next month or so – until we get ourselves established in a solid rhythm of both parents working outside the home.

My family's meal plan for this week.

For the coming week, Oliver is in childcare Monday through to Wednesday – so we have freezer meals those days. 

I’ve also chosen the sides to be simple – and something that I can prep ahead. We’ll eat salad a few nights – and that will be a big salad that I’ve made over the weekend.

Plus most of the meals will double as lunch the next day. The Frittata for example will easily do us for dinner and all 3 of us for lunch the next day.

We’re sticking with our Mexican Night theme on Saturday – and again, we’ll decide what that looks like closer to the weekend. I am thinking burrito bowls…

The added bonus for us this week is that we will spend a very small amount on groceries this week – almost all of the meals are from the freezer, meaning no need to shop! $$ saved!

How do you tackle the return to work/school? Do you use your freezer to prep ahead?