Each night my lucky family sits down to a healthy homemade meal. As a dietitian, I love to try new recipes, while making sure to include quality proteins and a variety of vegetables in our dinners. As a Mum, dinner needs to be something my daughter will eat without drama, and I also have an eye to my budget. Finally, life is far too busy to be getting all creative in the kitchen every night! The meals I make are the product of a meal planning system I have devised that takes the daily thinking out of shopping, meal preparation and cooking. My system allows me to grocery shop once a week, try new recipes and ingredients - and it saves me both time and money! It works for me and I’m glad to share it with you. My Meal Planning System My prized possession (and my lifeline) is my recipe file. I love creating new recipes, so my downtime often involves writing, trialling and carb-counting recipes, which I print off and file. If recipe creation isn’t your thing, collect other people’s! Tear them out of magazines, download from your favourite websites, or copy your friends’ best recipes. Take a few minutes to carb count a serve before you file. The mums and dads in Family Centre Online Parents Community often share recipes – and the bonus is they’re usually already carb counted! Each Sunday I sit down and think about dinners for the week ahead. First, I look at what we have on, and note nights one of us will be late at work or social commitments, and my daughter’s activities. This way, I know who will be home for dinner and how much time I will have to prepare and cook. On gymnastics and swimming days, I need a slow cooker meal that’s ready to go when we get home or something that can be stir-fried or sautéed quickly. If it’s just my daughter and me, we opt for something fun she can help me prepare. My daughter and husband cannot be left alone in the kitchen without disaster striking, so if I’m out I make sure I’ve made extra of something earlier in the week so they have a freezer meal ready that just needs heating up. I note nights when I have a bit more time, and leave any new recipes for those evenings so I’m not concentrating on something new under time pressure. Then, out comes my recipe file and I decide on the meals I will cook that week. My file is categorised by proteins, so I can easily pull out recipes for two chicken, two beef, two fish and one pork dinner if that’s what we’re having. To save money, I can use two recipes that use one type of protein - beef mince, for example – and get good value out of buying a bulk pack. I place the week’s recipes at the front of the file for easy access, in the order they will be made. Then it’s time to write a shopping list, which is easy when the recipes are right in front of me. I scan the ingredients lists for what I don’t already have on hand, and in less than five minutes I have a detailed shopping list and I'm ready to hit the supermarket. My list saves on time, money and waste. I combine unpacking shopping with getting a head start of meal prep for the week. Before veges hit the fridge, they are sliced, diced and stored in a container near the ingredients for the recipe they are intended for. Come Monday, I can race in the door from swimming lessons and pull out my ‘Monday container’, which has the curry veggies chopped and ready to simmer. I can throw the chicken in the pan along with the veges, zap some pappadums in the microwave and like magic - dinner is ready in less than 20 minutes! I hope that sharing my meal prep system helps you. I find that spending some time on it at the weekend saves me a lot of stress during the week, and helps me keep my family happy and healthy. If my system sounds too hard, don’t worry – through my clinic at the Family Centre, I can provide you with tailored recipe packs and meal plans to suit your family’s dietary needs and preferences. Contact me at the Family Centre on 9446 6446 if you’d like some help with planning meals for your family.