Planning meals during the coronavirus lockdown has plenty of benefits

Planning meals during the coronavirus lockdown need not be complicated. Picture: Penny Bird

Planning meals during the coronavirus lockdown need not be complicated. Picture: Penny Bird - Credit: Archant

Harpenden teacher and home cooking champion Claire Gillies, the creator of Facebook and Instagram site @deliciousandreal, offers some advice on planning meals during the coronavirus lockdown.

You can eat healthier if you plan your meals. Picture: Penny Bird

You can eat healthier if you plan your meals. Picture: Penny Bird - Credit: Archant

Meal-planning is the simple act of taking some time to plan for your weekly meals - and yes, this can include going out for dinner or ordering a takeaway!

While it sounds like one more job to add to your to-do list, it really is worth the time and effort as it comes with a whole host of benefits:

* Encourages healthier choices - We tend to make our unhealthiest choices when we have no idea what to cook: this is when we are most likely to opt for prepackaged foods or grab a takeaway. By planning, you can really think about your nutritional needs and ensure that they are met over the course of a week – you will gain control of your diet and ultimately improve your health.

Food that is cooked from scratch is usually more nutrient dense especially when you consider how easy it is to add a little more goodness – a handful of spinach, a cup of red lentils, a sprinkling of oats, some chopped peppers or a couple of tablespoons of flax seeds: easy additions to home-cooked meals.

By cooking your own meals you can also easily control (and ultimately reduce) the amount of saturated fat, sugar and salt in your diet.

* Helps portion control - If you only buy what you need for each meal, you won’t have enough for oversized portions! You will be more mindful about what you are eating and because you know, for example, that you are using some Sunday’s roast chicken for Monday’ risotto or that the leftovers from tonight’s dinner are destined for tomorrow’s lunch, you will be more conscious of your how much you put on your plate. * Allows for variety - Planning means that you have the time to think about what you are going to be eating. It makes you more aware of your choices.

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When you look at your current week’s meals, you may find that they are repetitive and that one particular ingredient appears a lot. Taking the time to sit down and plan enables you to think about dinner options that you may have forgotten about; how about creating something delicious from that much loved ingredient that you haven’t cooked with for ages? Or how about digging out that dusty cookbook and finding something new to make?

Perhaps you could get the family involved: everyone could chose a meal that they would like to see on next week’s plan - maybe they could also be in charge of cooking it! * Reduces food waste - When planning, I start by looking at what food I already have in the house as this needs using before I purchase anything new: plan a meal using that half bag of risotto rice or the leftover cheese from last weekend’s dinner party. We usually have more in our cupboards and freezers than we realise – now is a good time for clear out!

Once you have planned your weekly meals, you can easily create a shopping list: you only need to buy what you are going to eat. This means that you won’t end up with a fridge full of food that is past its best and destined for the food waste bin.

The planning process definitely makes you more mindful of food waste and gives you the time to consider how you will use all of each fresh ingredient: for example, you may need to include two meals that use spinach in order to get through a whole bag. * Saves money - Cooking from scratch is cheaper than buying prepared foods or eating out. You will be shopping with purpose and will only buy what you need... no impulse purchases!

Planning also means that you will no longer be wasting money by throwing out uneaten food: the most expensive food is the food that we don’t eat. * Saves time and reduces stress resulting in a happier you! - First off, meal-planning reduces the amount of trips that you need to make to the supermarket – this is even more important during the current pandemic. Once you are inside, your shopping time will be significantly reduced as you know exactly what you need to buy.

Back at home, knowing what you are eating each day and that you have the correct ingredients to hand, means that there is no last minute panic about what to eat. This not only reduces stress, but makes you less likely to make unhealthy choices.

And remember, when you create your weekly plan, have your diary to hand: take account of which days are your busiest and therefore need the quickest and simplest meals.