Getting organised to plan your meals for the week ahead can be daunting at first, but once you have a system that works for your household, food shopping, cooking and dining at home can be more enjoyable. Whether it's breakfast, lunch or dinner, planning ahead can save time and allow you to introduce more creativity into your cooking.

NZ Real Health

Practice planning

Meal planning doesn't have to be complicated. Most households have a range of 'standard' meals that they rotate through on a regular basis. This is often due to foods you and your family like to eat, and what is easy to make.  On a piece of paper, draw up four columns for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks, and list as many meal options as you can think of under each column - preferably meals that are tried and trusted.  

Also think about including backup 'emergency' meals that you can make at the last minute if you've forgotten to defrost your meat or you have run out of time to cook a planned meal.

Sit down with this list and plan out your week's meals from it, then use the plan to create your shopping list. If you have a weekly food budget, try to stick as close to this as possible but set aside part of your budget for emergency purchases or to replenish fresh produce later in the week.

Beyond your first week of meal planning

If you hold on to several of your weekly meal plans after you've used them, you can reuse the same plans again in the future to save time and effort making a new plan every week.

As you discover new recipes over time, you can add to your key meal list which is great for preventing boredom in the kitchen. A good way to add to your recipe repertoire is to have one set day every week to try out a new recipe - preferably a day that you can take your time doing the cooking.

Theme your days of the week

If you find it difficult to come up with dinner meal ideas each week, having themes can help take much of the guesswork out of meal planning. There is no set way to do this as every family is different, so do what works for you. Here is an example:

Mondays - Stir fry or rice meal
Tuesdays - Slow cooker soup, stew or casserole
Wednesdays - Pasta or noodles
Thursdays - Vegetarian or eggs (quiche, frittatas or omelettes)
Fridays - Home made pizza
Saturdays - Mexican
Sundays - Roast

Having general themes like this rather than set dishes for each day also makes it easier to plan variety into your weekly meals.

Shop smarter; cook smarter

Get better value out of your shopping by purchasing in-season produce, products that are on sale (especially meat), and bulk quantities if it's something you eat frequently and can store easily.

When creating your food plan and grocery list, think about buying fresh produce that can be used across multiple meals throughout your week to avoid food waste.

When possible, challenge yourself to use what you already have at home in your cupboards; you will be surprised at how much you can make from the existing contents of your pantry and fridge.

If you cook larger quantities for dinners, leftovers can make great lunches or emergency meals for later.

NZ Real Health is an online magazine where you can find practical information and advice on health, wellbeing and fitness. For more articles like this, visit www.nzrealhealth.co.nz.