The amount of food that goes into landfills each year is truly staggering. It’s not only an environmental problem, it’s also a waste of your hard-earned cash! A scientific study calculated that wasting food means that the average 4 person, American family puts at least $600 or more worth of food a year in the trash. Meal planning will put those dollars back in your pocket. In 2010, 34 million tons of food waste was generated in the USA! Yeah, makes you think doesn’t it?
The supermarkets make it easy for us to buy food that we don’t use. Special offers only save you money if you actually consume the goods before the use-by date. A simple grocery list is the key to smart shopping and resisting unnecessary purchases. That list should be based on a realistic assessment of what you need. A meal plan will allow you to draw up a shopping list that covers those needs.
Meal planning doesn’t mean a rigid schedule where you have pasta on Monday, meat on Tuesday and fish on Friday. It means knowing what your eating habits and meal preferences are so that you only buy the perishables you’ll use and don’t get seduced by the bargains in the store.
You may want to keep a food diary for a few weeks to see what your meal pattern is. How much salad do you actually eat in a week or a month? Realistically, are those fresh vegetables going to be used up while they’re still fresh? What types of food do you regularly consign to the garbage?
Make a note of your staple, regular meals. Your core menu might include a favorite pasta dish, a stir-fry and a weekend barbecue. If you have pasta and home-made spaghetti sauce once a week, it’s easy to calculate quite precisely the quantities of fresh ingredients you need. When you know what you normally eat, you can draw up a meal plan for a specified period. That could be a week, fortnight or even a month.
If your menu includes meals with lots of fresh ingredients, it makes sense to shop more often, for maximum freshness and minimum waste. If that’s not practical, plan meals that use up perishable ingredients and can be put in the freezer. By planning meals that use seasonally available ingredients and can be frozen you can still take advantage of bulk buys when produce is at its cheapest, without worrying about waste.
Meal planning will save you time and effort too. Most of us waste time dithering about what to have for supper when faced with a refrigerator full of incompatible ingredients. That’s when you’ll be tempted to reach for the phone for a take-out – not the most economical option. Smart planning means there’s always something good and fresh to eat.
The time you put into meal planning will pay you dividends. With a bit of practice it becomes second nature. You’ll know intuitively whether you need six eggs or a dozen. Meal planning means a smart shopping list, which also means you won’t find out halfway through a meal that you’re missing the vital ingredient.
Planning your meals also means you may never have to deal with those vegetables that you meant to use but that are actually rotting in your refrigerator. With the gains of fresher food, less daily hassle and extra money in your pocket, meal planning is something we should all be thinking of.