#January Joy: Plan some clean eats

Florence Finds, Michelle Kelly, Pocketful of Dreams

I’ve said it before I’m a planner at heart and the one element this has had the greatest impact on our home life is with meal planning.

We make all our meals from scratch at home as we’re both keen cooks and like to stay relatively healthy but time is always against us. We’ve often had those occasions of arriving home from work starving hungry, looking in the fridge and realising we had no food in or worse still, having food but not being able to come up with a single recipe that would work with the ingredients we had. Resulting in much tetchiness and stomping around the kitchen until our growling stomachs were relieved.

To bring a little more harmony to the home I decided to take matters in hand and took this meal planning task by the balls. I spent a few evenings trawling the net for recipe ideas that met a few criteria:

  1. Quick to prepare and cook, no-one wants to spend 3 hours marinading meat or stirring a pot when they get home from work
  2. Uses seasonal ingredients
  3. Is relatively healthy, clean food with plenty of veg
  4. Not too much stodge
  5. A combination of accompaniments- so rice, potatoes, pasta and noodles being our main go-to’s – I often forgo these but cook some up for the other half or he feels he’s being starved to death
  6. A combination of meats and fish dishes to give us some variation in our diet
We narrowed down a hitlist of meal ideas testing out a few new recipes to see if we liked them and if not adapted them to our own tastes. We now keep our hitlist written down in the kitchen and it includes around 30-40 different meal ideas to supplement our standard go-to’s of stir fry’s and pasta with something!. We settle on a two-week meal plan and buy groceries according to what’s on the plan. Refreshing it again at the end of the two weeks and doing another shop – we’ve recently been doing this online and now we have a favourites file on there it’s making the shop much quicker and simpler too.
Doing things this way does mean we know in advance what we’re going to be eating each day which can sometimes take the joy out of cooking and sometimes we’ll get home and really not fancy what’s on tonights plan so we’ll swop things around. But in the main we try and stick to it.
It also means we throw far less food away as every item we buy has been designated to a meal. Of course this is the goal, in reality it doesn’t always go to plan but I can hand on heart say I throw away probably 1/10th of the food I used to.
As the seasons change I review my meal ideas hitlist and look for new ones that fit better seasonally and then I simply bookmark the recipes on my phone or iPad so I can really quickly find them when I get home, or I email them to the other half to let him know he’s ‘cooking tonight’. It may seem a little like military planning but seriously it has made such a difference to our daily routine that I hardly even think about it now, meaning I have more time for the good stuff in life, like long lazy bubble baths, cuddling under a blanket with the latest edition of Red mag, or scoffing chocolates as we work our way through the Netflix library.
In the interests of sharing here’s my current list and associated recipes in case you’re in need of a little inspiration yourself:
Some of these are not so speedy but as they tend to be more oven/casserole based I will either make a few up at weekends and freeze so it’s just a case of reheating or sticking them in the oven in the morning (with a timer set to switch it off of course!) so they are ready when I get home.
If you have any seasonal meal ideas to share please do pop us some links in the comments box, always room for adding new ideas.

Michelle xx

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20 thoughts on “#January Joy: Plan some clean eats

  1. Meal planning is something I’ve always wanted to get on board with as the less waste and fewer last minute trips to the shops definitely appeals to me. I’ve never quite managed it though as my husband does most of the cooking and he likes to wing it. Now I’m cooking for the baby I am getting a little better at planning and I’ve just ordered a slow cooker which I am told is the answer for minimum effort cooking! Will be looking up some of these recipes and seeing if I can manage any as a novice cook!

    • Slow cookers and casserole type dishes are definitely a godsend, we have about 2 of these a week as I find most of the recipes a bit too heavy and stodgy but great to come home to the smell of cooking and little to do after a hard day.

      My partner is exactly the same re winging it and he still doesn’t ‘get’ why my meal planning process is so detailed so I’m going on strike and leaving him to deal with it on his own next month. The key thing for me was to eradicate those frequent trips to the local shops for things that were missing from a recipe or we’d run out of and coming out with a bag full of shopping and £20-£30 lighter (!). I pretty much have done that even though it does take some planning I’m not spending way more on needless crap like I used to. Our monthly food bill has halved since I’ve been doing this.

  2. Ah this is brilliant and so timely for me as (healthy!) meal planning is my number one goal this new year! Great ideas, thanks Michelle 🙂

    K x

    • I think it’s pretty much on most people’s agenda this month, I know December for me was way too over-indulged and I really missed ‘healthy’ food.

      I use the term loosely as it’s not drastic, like cut this out, eat only green foods, etc, I like to think my meal plans are healthy and realistic with the odd treat, which for us is usually a Sunday roast either at home or out.

  3. I posted a picture of sausages and mash the other day on Instagram and immediately before it was one of Michelle’s super tasty-looking and rather healthy meals. It was enough to shame me in to thinking about healthier food…

    • oops sorry about that!

      I couldn’t wait to get back to eating healthy meals again after December’s ‘stuffing-everything-down-my-neck’.

      My weakness though is chocolate and desserts…..if I could just kick those my diet would be perfect. Or find ones that have zero fat/calories.

  4. I used to get all my shopping online so meal planning for the week was pretty easy. Now we live in Germany with no online food shopping we have to do things a little differently. If we are cooking a specific recipe it can sometimes take four different shops before we find everything on the list. The shops here really focus on seasonal veg with some things such as sweet potatoes being very hard to find (They tend to be classed as ‘exotic’). I have to be a bit creative at times, we see what veg we can get each week and I create something out of that. However, I still plan for the week, I just do it as we walk round the shops. Being vegetarian too we don’t have these meat dishes to fall back on (and ready meals are near non-existent here) but there are some fantastic vegetarian ‘clean eats’ that are really easy to cook…and delicious enough that my meat-eating husband is perfectly happy 🙂

    • Oh gosh that does sound like a chore, but I kind of like the idea of reverse planning. I would love to have the time to go to the markets and buy seasonal/local etc then get creative with what I cook…it’s my dream life, never gonna happen though! 🙁

  5. I go through phases of planning meals ahead and then, only a few weeks later, we find ourselves in a routine of dashing to the shops on the way home from work, often tempted by an easy, straight-into-the-oven foil tray. I’ve started to make recipes in bulk and freeze and have found this a really good strategy. I also want to try to eat more meat free meals in 2014. I think having a few go to veggie meals might be good for getting creative with leftovers. Thank you for sharing your recipes. I can’t wait to try the monkfish red curry. My mouth’s watering at my desk!

    • Having some fallback meals is definitely key, we have a few items that are always in the cupboards and freezer for those times when we’ve not been able to update the plan. Making meals in bulk is a really great idea and one we’ve recently started, I find the more casseroley type ones work best.

      My partner makes potato cakes with leftover mash but other than that we rarely have any leftovers, we must be pigs!

      The monkfish red curry is actually a meal I had whilst out with Rebecca at Alberts Didsbury, I just searched for one online to make and can safely say it’s delish.

  6. I’m really impressed with this list Michelle – can’t believe how many delicious and healthy sounding recipes there are here. I’ll definitely be putting some effort into trying some out – really feeling the need for a health kick post Christmas and planning my shop and meals is the only way we can do it as we get home late and then resort to less healthy stuff. Also healthy often means ‘fresh’ which requires a certain amount of planning.
    Great Post x

  7. I’ve actually got loads more recipes as we’ve updated our Winter list in the last few days so I’ll share them here soon too.

    I just know that if we just had a fridge full of food and no idea what to make it would end up being the less healthy recipe fallbacks we’d go for first. After work my brain is thinking of a million and one things and I’m usually exhausted, the last thing I want to think about is coming up with something creative for dinner too. hence having to do it in bulk….much easier.

  8. Love a bit of meal planning! We’ve always done this and it makes life so much easier. We’re currently on a ‘beat the meat’ week to make things a bit more healthy and then a detox next week. I’ll be sure to check out the recipes you’ve posted here too. Thanks!x

  9. I spent last night coking the Hairy Bikers Healthy Chilli con carne and also a Moroccan one pot tagine (my new signature dish) so I sorted 2 days worth of dinner and lunch (otherwise known as left overs). I would love to get better at planning. Yours sounds a touch too organised for me. One baby step at a time for me 🙂

  10. I tend to plan what I’m eating on a weekly basis and shop accordingly and I agree it leads to much less waste. I tend to only plan for 6 nights and I always make extra portions of things like curry or stews so I can keep some in the freezer for those nights when you know you’re going to be too late home to cook a proper meal. Mind you I also have a fairly extensive list of “things on toast” which get used on a frequent basis when I’m home late – beans, mushrooms, eggs, the list is endless!

    Really useful to have links to your recipes, I always tend to get in a rut and use the same half a dozen recipes again and again so I’m looking forward to trying some alternatives. Thanks Michelle I’ll definitely be coming back to this one! Xx

  11. I have to say, the chicken and chorizo risotto that’s in your recipe list is by far and away the best risotto that I’ve made (and tasted!). Would definitely recommend this recipe to anyone!

    We’re not quite as organised you, but we’re getting there. I do all my supermarket shopping online and allocate a set budget each week. If I go over, I take things out of my virtual basket until I’m within budget. Doing this has definitely saved us a fortune and we actually buy things that we need rather than wandering aimlessly around the supermarket throwing in CDs/DVDs and other things we don’t particularly need!


  12. I’m definitely a planner. Sorry for late response as I wanted to make sure I added the links!
    A stir fry doesn’t really cut it for me in this weather (plus there is still chopping and cooking to be done whereas I’d rather have a shower and put my pyjamas on), so I’ve got into the habit of making large batches of one pot casseroles (also saves on the washing up!) and then freezing portions in labelled boxes from the pound shop. I never really know whether I’ll get home at 7pm or 10pm and 10pm is too late for me to be julienning ginger. I then just put them on in a saucepan to warm gently for 5 minutes when I get in.

    My favourite recipes currently are below:
    1. Beef with Paprika
    This is a great blog for casseroles and they are always really warming and packed full of flavour. Ingredients she uses can be a bit hard to get hold off so I tend to plan in advance what I can get hold off and work backwards. This recipe just contains stuff you would have anyway. I take out the potatoes and serve it with chunky bread instead.

    2. Pork, Cider and Apple Casserole
    Its probably a bit weird that I use mumsnet but I found it via google and now I find Mumsnet a go to recipe source for fuss free one pot dishes. I cook this one in a flat cast iron pan and the apples all caramelise which is awesome. Can be served with either rice or chunky bread. The pork here is delicious and I’ve been known to cook supper for 8 using a pack of M & S pork steaks for 3 so it goes far.

    3. Chilli Chicken (Stir fry)
    We had this one last night and it takes just like Wagga’s chicken chilli men. Served with rice but I made the sauce in about 5 minutes. It is a bit of a faff with having to make the sauce yourself but it does taste fresher that way and its all made using ingredients you probably already have left over from making Thai noodle soup (tomatoes, tomato ketchup brown sugar, ginger and chilli).

    4. Thai noodle soup
    At the minute, I can’t get enough of either chilli or ginger to ward off winter colds.


  13. Thank you for this. I want to meal plan, and to use meal plans to make some savings on the weekly shop. This is inspiring. Xx

  14. Love this post and having recently moved house I really want to get back to meal planning. My ‘go to’ site is always Jamie’s and before Christmas I really got into the Jamie’s Italian book. Amazing recipe for almond pesto, chicken cacciatora etc and all really quick! A great book for quick suppers is In the Mood for Food by Jo Allen. I got it as a gift a few years ago and absolutely love it! Leon is also fantastic for quick suppers. We made the chicken & tarragon casserole on Sunday night and it was absolutely delicious and so easy.

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