Person cooking spaghetti bolognese

A beginner's guide to meal planning

23 Feb 24 5 minutes

Meal planning isn’t just about organising dinners; it’s your ticket to saving time, money and stress while reducing food waste and supporting the planet.

Figuring out what to eat every day can sometimes feel overwhelming-just another task to add to your to-do list. After a hectic day, it's all too easy to reach for your favourite takeaway menu, leaving the food you'd planned to cook to spoil.  

However, setting aside some time in your weekly routine to prepare a meal plan will help you save your hard-earned cash, minimise food waste, save time and reduce stress. In this guide, we'll show you a simple and flexible step-by-step process for meal planning for beginners.

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What is meal planning?

Meal planning is simply organising and preparing your meals in advance. The main aim is to reduce food waste, and save you time and money. 

What are the benefits of meal planning?

It reduces waste

1.3 billion tonnes of food are wasted globally every year, rroughly one third of all food that is produced for human consumption. This accounts for 4.74 million tonnes of C02e. Through meal planning we can all make a difference.

It saves you time

Buying and preparing dinner can feel like a never-ending task. By blocking out some time to plan ahead you’ll save time on busy weekday nights and reduce the stress of deciding what to have for dinner every night.

It saves you money

On average, food waste costs Scottish households £470 a year. By reducing your food waste, you can save cash and reduce your environmental impact.

How to meal plan effectively

Once you get going, meal planning really is a piece of cake. Here are some simple and effective ways to help you get started.

Building your meal plan

Forward thinking 

If you're expecting a hectic week, plan for low-effort meals, or cook in advance to save time and reduce stress. 

Shop smart 

Check your cupboards and fridge before heading to the supermarket. This prevents overbuying, saves money, and also minimises food waste. 

Multi-task menu 

Plan meals that share ingredients to save money and limit food waste.

Making your shopping list

Keep it old school 

Keep a pad and pen in the kitchen. Then throughout the week, add whatever you need to your list. 

Get snap happy 

If you’re short of time and don’t have time to write a shopping list, take a photo of your fridge and cupboards before you leave the house. 

Food for thought 

Think about foods that can be used in more than one meal throughout the week. This will help you use up all your fresh food before it goes off.

Brown paper bags filled with groceries

Shopping for groceries 

Eat before you go 

Food shopping when you’re hungry makes you more likely to impulse buy, and end up with things you won’t use. 

Resist the urge 

Be sale savvy, don't take up multi-buy offers on perishable items you're not likely to eat in a week. 

Size matters 

Take only a basket or as small a trolley as you can - this will prevent you from feeling the need to fill the space.

Refrigerator shelves stocked with fresh produce

Storing your food 

Shelf shuffle 

When you get home from the shop, put your newly bought food at the back of the shelf and ensure your older food is brought to the front. 

Fresh thinking 

Make your fruit last up to 2 weeks longer by simply storing it in the fridge in the pack that it came in. Be sure to check the packaging for guidance for which fruits to put in the fridge and which to store in the fruit bowl.

Store galore 

Storing foods like cheese and cooked meats in the fridge? Keep them fresher for longer by storing in an airtight container or wrapping it in beeswax. If you do remove food from its original packaging, make sure you put a label on it noting the use-by date clearly so you don't forget. i

Making the most out of your meals 

Use the use-by 

Pay attention to use-by dates. Plan meals with or freeze items with shorter expiry dates. 

Portion plans 

You can help reduce food waste by simply planning your portions. Cooking the right amount of food will save you money too, and it can help you and your family eat more healthily. 

Buffet’s best 

Serve food buffet style and let family or guests dish out their own portions. This helps make sure no one gets more than they can manage, which limits waste, and leaves leftovers looking more appetising in their containers. 

Recycle what’s left 

Even the most effective meal planning will leave some unavoidable waste. Ensuring that unavoidable waste doesn't end up in landfill is one of the most effective things you can do to reduce your personal enviormental impact. Did you know that 80% of households in Scotland have a separate food waste collection, but only 55% make use of this service? 

Recycling your food waste is easier than you may think, all you need is a food waste caddy to dispose of any food waste that can’t be prevented, in a responsible way. Your local council should be able to provide you with one if you ask.

Recycling icon

Did you know that only 55% of households eligible for food waste collection in Scotland make use of this service?

Two people cooking a Valentines Day meal

Visit Love Food Hate Waste - Scotland for the latest meal prep and storage advice to prevent food waste.