When I was preparing a talk on sustainable ethical eating I asked in the Zero Waste Ireland Facebook group if anyone had any particular issues they’d like to hear about. I really surprised that menu planning was number 3 on the list. I didn’t think that menu planning was a thing in Ireland. I only really started doing it when I had kids and that was really just to make life easier and simpler. I was also unsure if I had enough content on this issue to write a full article. Well turns out I had information for three articles, of which this is the first.
This article really focuses on dinner planning, partly to keep the article length reasonable but also because lunch in our house is a hugely dependant on leftovers and what needs to be eaten up in. I will be following up this article with one on sustainable ethical sources of food and ways to minimise food and energy waste when cooking.
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I remember fondly the days when I used to decide what to eat on the day, ah the freedom. Now it’s pretty much all planned out on a Sunday evening and follows a predictable pattern. This might sound boring and it is certainly less spontaneous that deciding on the way home from work but it 1) frees my brain up from daily decision-making and 2) prevents a lot of food waste.
How to Plan Meals to Reduce Food Waste
This is how I go about planning my family’s meals on a Sunday evening.
Check the Calendar
In my experience most food waste is down to not planning for upcoming schedules. There is no point doing a big stew the day you’re out till late, unless you’ve got a slow cooker. There’s also no point planning to have a salad for lunch when you know you’re going to be eating dinner late.
Start with the Main Event
For me, this is the main source of carbohydrate for you it might be the main source of protein or the style of dish. Whatever floats your boat. My plan can look like this
- Monday – potatoes
- Tuesday – couscous or quinoa or another grain
- Wednesday – homemade pizza
- Thursday – rice
- Friday – pasta/ noodles
- Saturday – potatoes
- Sunday – whatever we fancy
I prefer to eat potatoes more regularly than other carbohydrates because I know they come to the greengrocer in paper bags and are often grown in Ireland.
Select Your Protein Source
In Ireland typically meat is the main source of protein , and it’s the same in my house because at least one family members dislike beans, pulses and eggs. We were doing well on increasing the amount of plant based protein in the house until I developed IBS. Not that I have this under control I’m hoping to get back to 2 or 3 vegetarian/vegan dishes a week. We used to eat fish but the sustainability of fish is so hard to establish we just gave it up.
- Monday – potatoes & chicken
- Tuesday – couscous or quinoa & spanish style meatballs
- Wednesday – homemade pizza & pepperoni
- Thursday – rice & veg (curry or risotto)
- Friday – potatoes & meat substitute
- Saturday – pasta & chicken
- Sunday – whatever we fancy
Every so often I’ll plan a leftover day, just to finish off anything that was put into the freezer.
Selecting a Recipe
It’d be way too time consuming to search for new recipes every week so we have our favourite recipes bookmarked, which I refer to for inspiration. I’ve organised them by carbohydrate type and have about 5 recipes that I can mix or match to suit each type. Take Monday for example we could have boiled potatoes with inside out chicken kiev, or piri piri chicken or summer in winter chicken or sweet chilli chicken or chicken saltimbocca. Similarly we’ve a selection of dishes that we often have on a rice day including Thai Green Curry, Sweet and Hot Pineapple curry, Chicken Tikka Masala, or Chicken and Chorizo One Pot.
Anytime I come across a new recipe I bookmark that new recipe in a designated folder, which I refer to when I’m looking to try something new.
Tweaking a Recipe to Reduce Food Waste
I generally never cook something exactly as the recipe states. I’ll always have to adjust a recipe to suit what we can afford and get package-free or locally-grown.
I also have to avoid the never-ending list of ingredients that at least one family member dislikes. Currently the list includes; beans, peas, carrots, lentils, mushrooms, onions, egg, butternut squash/ pumpkin, cabbage, cauliflower, courgette, aubergine, cooked peppers, raw tomatoes, any sort non-melted cheese or cheese sauce, mayonnaise, cream, deli meats.
I’m an experienced enough cook to know what I can leave out without spoiling a recipe or what will work as an alternative but when I’m stumped I just Google ‘alternative to …….. ‘
Our favourite family recipes are fairly standard, although I’ve tweaked our favourite recipes to involve less cooking, ingredients and time!
Here’s a list of our favourite recipes along with links to the original recipes, where I could find them;
- Homemade Fajitas with beef or chicken
- Chicken Enchiladas
- Spaghetti Bolognese
- Homemade Chips & Burgers
- Potatoes with Pan Fried Fish
- Inside-out Chicken Kiev,
- Piri Piri Chicken
- Summer in Winter Chicken
- Sweet Chilli Chicken
- Chicken Saltimbocca
- Fried Rice
- Thai Green Curry
- Sweet and Hot Pineapple Curry,
- Chicken Tikka Masala,
- Chicken & Chorizo Rice Pot
- Chicken & Chorizo Bake
- Chicken & Sausage Bake
- Chicken & Broccoli Gratin
- Toad in the Hole
- Sticky Chicken & Orange Stir Fry
- Lemon Pork balls
- Sweet & Sour Pork Balls
- Mustard and Rosemary Pork Chops
- Sweet & Sour chicken
- Curry in a Hurry
- Fish Pie
- Beef and Black Bean Stir fry
- Pasta with Tomato Vodka Sauce
- Salmon & Pasta in Tomato Cream Sauce
- Steak & Guinness Stew or Pie
- Chicken & Ham Pie
- Roast Chicken, veg and gravy
- Katsu Chicken
- Beef Goulash
- Chicken Catalina
- Chicken Korma
- Spaghetti Carbonara
- Asian Crispy Beef
- Chicken & Tarragon Pasta
- Pork Teriyaki
- Shepherds Pie
- Pistou Linguine
- Bacon & Veg Strata
Schedule your Shopping to Reduce Food Waste
Once I’ve made the final decision on what to have for dinner I’ll schedule my shopping to suit. If I’m making a salad I like to buy the ingredients on the day, similarly with a whole chicken. If I don’t think I’ll be able to get to the farmer’s market or butchers on the appropriate day I’ll amend the menu plan to suit.