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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 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 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 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?

 

The Empowered Cook Meal Plan – Week Starting 8th January 2017

Hello and welcome to 2017! I have such a big plan for The Empowered Cook this year – and I’m so glad you are here at the beginning to see it all unfold. I can’t wait to share with you what I have planned.

To start the year off – a few of you have mentioned that meal planning is the biggest focus area for you: how to do it, does it save money, why do it, etc. So I thought I’d share with you all our weekly meal plan. I’ll do this most weeks (life permitting). That way, you can see a real life meal plan in action.

I have found meal planning to really work in our current family setup. When I was single, or when it was just my partner and I – meal planning was something that came and went. Sometimes I did it, sometimes I didn’t.

But now, with a toddler and working outside the home – I rely on my 15 minutes of meal planning on Sunday. It sets us up for the week. I take the time to think about what we have going on this week, what do I have in the fridge and freezer this week – and also what is my budget this week. Taking all of this into consideration, I then choose my meals for each day of the week.

Take this week, for example. This is our last week of holidays, but our first week of our little one starting childcare for 3 days a week. I will be home all week – so I can take the time to cook. I do want to do some bulk cooking if I can – so I need to ensure there are some meals here that I can double batch and pop some in the freezer. Our budget is a little tight – so I need to use what I have on hand – and limit buying anything else.

So this week – our meal plan looks like this:

My family's meal plan for this week.

The recipe I am using for the Mac n Cheese is this one from Live Simply. It is delicious – AND I can double batch it and freeze one. Simple.

The Baked Tofu recipe is similar to this one from Heather at Beauty That Moves. I took a course of hers last year and it included a very similar recipe and it is really delicious. I had never baked tofu before – but it gives it such a ‘meaty’ texture. The marinade is also super flexible, so you can adjust this to suit your family.

I serve this with Fried Rice – using Janella Purcell’s recipe as the basis. Janella is my naturopath and I idolise her approach to food and health. A goddess.

We’re also starting a little family tradition this year and making Saturday night Mexican Night. So this will be burritos or tacos or enchiladas or nachos! We’ll decide closer to the weekend what we feel like here.

I hope this meal plan inspires you! What are you planning this week?

 

How to Eat from the Freezer – Yet Still Eat from Scratch

Eating healthy freezer meals all starts with planning ahead. When I meal plan each week, I always start by thinking about the week ahead. Am I working late this week? Is there something on that means we’ll need a quick dinner? Or is there a lazy weekend ahead where I can take my time and prep something from scratch?

Once I know this – I then start slotting in my meals.

For those nights when I am coming home late from work – or towards the end of the week, when we’re all just tired and won’t feel like cooking – I simply jot down “Freezer Meal”.

In my freezer – we have a bunch of different types of “freezer meals”. These are a saviour. They have saved me when I was pregnant, when I had a newborn – and they continue to save me today with a toddler.

Convenience is clearly a big tick for Freezer Meals. However, they also bring more to the table.

I also know that even if I choose a Freezer Meal, I am still providing my family with a healthy, wholefood meal – that I have cooked myself.

This is HUGE for me. One of the biggest barriers that people quote when they start to think about cooking from scratch each night – is time. Who has the time to cook a meal from scratch every night of the week? Dinner needs to be on the table in minutes not hours.

And you know what? They are right. No one has the time to do this every night of the week. Well – there are some of us – and I am envious of you!

But in my kitchen, on a Wednesday night with a toddler who is hungry and tired – and a partner who has been at home all day with said toddler, and a Mama who has been in back to back meetings all day with very little breaks apart from a Nursing Mother break where she multi-tasked pumping milk, eating lunch and answering emails – we need dinner on the table pretty much as soon as Mama walks in the door.

But I don’t want to feed my family junk or processed food. I want us to eat food that I know – and that I have made. Eating from scratch is the best way to skip any processing, and to ensure I know what is in my food.

So not only do I need dinner on the table quickly, I also want to feed my family as if I have still cooked the meal from scratch.

Freezer Meals are what enable us to do this.

The Empowered Cook shows you how to eat from the freezer while still eating from scratch - meaning healthy freezer meals for you and your family.

What exactly are Freezer Meals though?

They can vary – but I tend to stick to the following types. I find these work best for my family.

Pinterest is full of inspiration too. I have a Freezer Meals Pinterest board here too.

#1 – Frozen Leftovers or Pre-Cooked Meals

This is the easiest and fasted way to get a meal on the table. Simply defrost, heat and serve. Easy.

Our supply of these Pre-Cooked Meals is added to constantly and built up over time. Whenever I make a meal, I always make more than we eat (I think this comes from being taught by a Mum who was used to cooking for a lot of people). We either use the leftovers for lunch the next day – or we freeze them.

An example could be a pasta bake, or a curry and rice. We’ll simply package these up in containers, label the meal and date it, and then pop it in the freezer.

The fun part is that sometimes we only have enough leftovers for a single serve. Why is this fun? Because it means that we can have a freezer meal ‘potluck’. We can all choose something different from the freezer and yet all still eat a meal together at the same time. This is one of my favourite dinners. My partner might opt for Sweet and Sour Chicken, I might have Baked Tofu and Fried Rice, and our toddler will enjoy Spaghetti Bolognaise (his favourite). Mind you, our toddler will also help himself to fried rice and chicken too – he can’t miss out!

At any one time, we have probably 4 – 5 meals like this in the freezer. And we eat from the Freezer at least once a week, sometimes more. This keeps a good cycle going in the freezer – so just be conscious to choose the older meals first, and you’re set.

#2 – Frozen ‘Ready to Cook’ Meals

The other item we have in the freezer are meals that are almost ready to eat. They just need to be baked.

For us, this is mainly casseroles. Things that I have assembled, but that just need to be popped in the oven to cook for about 30-40 minutes (or longer if you cook from frozen).

My favourite is this pumpkin mac and cheese or any of these spring casseroles. We simply prep these to the point of going in the oven, and instead freeze them.

To save on freezing my casserole dishes (I only own a couple!) – we line the dish with aluminium and baking paper – with excess hanging over the sides. Pop your casserole in, and freeze for about an hour or until it has hardened. Then remove it from the casserole dish. Use the excess foil to cover the top. You might also need to wrap it again in another layer of aluminium foil to make sure it is air tight.

When it comes time to defrost, I take out the nicely wrapped package from the freezer and put it back in my casserole dish (if you have many different dishes – make sure you label which one you used on the package to save trying to play a game of mix and match when you take it out the freezer). I then defrost and cook.

The only thing to remember about these meals is that you do need to remember to defrost them. Because I meal plan – I have made it a habit of checking my meal plan the night before, so that I can defrost what I need to. If that is one of these meals, I simply pop it in the fridge overnight and it is defrosted by dinner time. I do check this throughout the day though – and will sometimes defrost this on the kitchen bench if it isn’t defrosting quickly enough in the fridge. Note: this is something you’ll need to research and be comfortable doing. There are some safety concerns about defrosting food on the bench. I always make my own educated decision about this (like not leaving it in the sun, or out for hours at a time), and recommend that you do too.

To reheat these – I put the cold casserole in the cold oven. And then the dish and the oven heat at the same rate. This avoids a potential disaster of putting a cold dish in a hot oven. Been there – done that! Maybe that is why I only have one casserole dish now…

#3 Slow Cooker Freezer Meals

This is a Pinterest Phenomenon.

It seems there are thousands of ways to do this – but they are all based on the same premise.

In a large snaplock bag, pop in a protein (meat or legumes), vegetables and a sauce – and then freeze the whole lot raw.

To cook, you simply defrost the bag (or in some cases, don’t!), and then add the lot to your slow cooker and cook as normal.

I was wary of this option – it seemed weird to freeze everything raw together. I mean chicken and sauce and vegetables together? But in a way, it is kinda like a marinade.

I have also had some very dodgy recipes fail miserably. I think this is possibly related to how different I think the American tastes and flavour requirements are to my own – or it could be that my slow cooker is different. Either way – I had to play around with finding some recipes that worked well.

I like Sweet and Sour Chicken, Beef Stew, and Chinese Beef and Broccoli.

I also have a Pinterest board where I have pinned quite a lot of recipes that I have either tried, or that I want to try. You can check it out here.

And there you have it – this is how we eat from the freezer – and yet still eat from scratch.

What are you going to try first? Do you have any other tips you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments below.

Want to start Meal Planning? Try this easy first step!

Do you want to start Meal Planning but are not sure where to begin?

Or have you tried before and failed by Wednesday?

Think it’s all too hard?

Well – how about we try together with a very easy first step.

Want to start meal planning? The Empowered Cook shares an easy first step - and includes a free printable!

Meal Planning doesn’t have to be hard or complicated or time-consuming.

It also shouldn’t be a way for you to set yourself to fail. What do I mean by that? Well, if I created a meal plan every week full of Pinterest recipes that I had never cooked before – I would certainly not make it past the first day of the week.

I have always meal planned in some way. Another life lesson from my Mama – this is just the way we always did it at home.

But importantly – and this is the key – we never really had one tried and true method. We had different methods that worked at different times.

And sometimes the method was: open the pantry and take a stab in the dark. Lol.

I’ll be sharing some meal planning methods with you all as part of The Empowered Cook – but first – let’s start with an easy step.

In order for your meal plan to work – you and your family have to eat the meals that you make.

No one wants to cook a dinner that no one will eat. Been there – done that.

So – let’s make this easy for ourselves.

Create your meal plan full of dinners that your family loves to eat.

No one is going to judge you if you eat spaghetti bologanise every week. We do.

No one is going to care if you eat sausages and mashed potato every week. We do.

I keep these things on our meal plan because I know that a) my family will eat them and b) they are such second nature to me, that I can whip them up quickly and easily without any hassle.

That’s a win-win in The Empowered Cook’s books!

Now to answer some questions:

#1 – Won’t we get bored eating the same stuff every week?

Well – maybe, yes.

But it’s a good place to start.

And I don’t think you will get bored to soon anyway.

I think I have been eating spaghetti bolognaise once a week since I was about 10 – and I am not bored. Same with sausages and mash. Two of my favourite meals!

Also – ask yourself: Are you really eating that much variety now? I mean, really? Don’t you just dish up the same meals every week now anyway?

The trouble now though is just the total number of different meals that you can choose from. You might only have 4 or 5 meals that you just recook over and over again.

So I’m going to show you a way to make that total number much larger. And then you’ll have a greater selection to choose from.

Which brings me to the other very common question…

#2 – How do I know what my family will love to eat? I can’t think of anything!

This is where I can help.

I’m sure there must be some meals that your family will eat. The trouble is remembering them and then being able to recall them when you need to meal plan.

So – let’s start a Family Favourites list.

Firstly – get the family involved here. Let them tell you what they want to eat. Grab their ideas and jot them down on the list.

Next – keep the list on the fridge or somewhere where you see it often.

When you next make a dinner that everyone seems to love – write it on the Family Favourites list.

By just doing these things, you’re set! Soon – you will have a list that you can use as the base of your meal planning.

My Family Favourites list is often 6 out of 7 nights on my meal plan. It’s only when I know we’ll have some extra time that I might add something new to the menu. But we have a solid Family Favourites to work from – and that is the key.

So – last question:

#3 – Where do I write these? How do I keep track of them all?

Easy!

I can help with that!

I have a free printable for you to download. It has the Family Favourites broken down into categories for you: Quick + Easy, Pasta/ Rice Dishes, Slow Cooker / Pressure Cooker / Oven Bakes and lastly, a section for Other.

This will be really helpful when you meal plan.

But first – get this list printed and start writing down all your Family Favourites.

And don’t forget to SHARE this post with all your friends who might need some help with meal planning (use those little icons below – it’ll be very easy to share this free printable around!)

Free Printable: Want to start Meal Planning? The Empowered Cook shares an easy first step: The Family Favourites List!
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