Eco-hacks – Episode 4: Meal Planning

Meal planning saves money and resources.

You well may ask, how is meal planning an eco-hack? Meal planning reduces your global environmental footprint AND saves you money because if you do it properly, it will reduce food waste.

If food waste was a country it would be the third biggest emitter after the US and China.

FAO 2013

It is an oft-quoted stat that Australian families waste approximately 20% of the food they buy. Put another way, one in every five bags of groceries you lug into the house could end up in the bin!

It’s not just a waste of money (the average family wastes $1036 p.a!!!)  but also a waste of valuable resources. Apart from the food itself, there is wasted energy in materials in the growing, processing (even lightly processed foods), transportation through the various stages. Next, you have to get to the shops and back,  cart the food home, store it and cook it.

The BIG issue apart from the economic waste, is the contribution that rotting food adds to greenhouse emissions. Unless you live in a place where you can compost ALL your food scraps, or are lucky enough to live in a council area that does FOGO, it’s likely your food waste will end up fermenting away underground in a landfill site. This anaerobic fermentation leads to the production of methane gas which is right up there in terms of greenhouse gases. You can calculate how many kilograms of methane gas you are contributing from food waste at this site.

It makes good economic and ecological sense to reduce food waste.

This graphic from the Sustainable Table gives some facts about food waste. Lack of planning is the most significant cause of food waste.

Why I plan my meals.

Meal planning is one of my happy places! Sad, I know, but apart from the joy I get from being organised and being able to draw up lovely lists, it genuinely makes my life easier. I like cooking, I love trying complicated recipes, and I am very committed to eating a healthy, mostly plant-based diet.

While I have always planned my meals in some shape or form, I have upped my game considerably over the last two or three years.  The fact that it contributes to reducing waste is a bonus.

I  was originally spurred on to be more proactive about meal planning for four reasons:

  1. To reduce decision fatigue. What to cook for dinner is a vexed question even in a household of one! Coming home after a day of work and thinking what the f$%# to cook for dinner was a drag, despite my love of cooking! It also makes shopping easier. More on this later.
  2. To ensure I eat properly. After my divorce, there was a time when I survived on potato wedges and wine. (Oh and BBQ sauce!) I couldn’t be bothered cooking, and my nutrition was suffering. Meal planning helped drag me out of that hole by giving me something concrete to concentrate on. That, and the blood test result that showed my liver was starting to revolt!
  3. To save money. By planning my meals, I only buy what I need and don’t have mystery ingredients in the fridge getting slimier and slimier! I make sure I use up what I have before I buy more and I use a shopping list.
  4. To save time. These days I only cook a couple of days a week and make sure I cook at least four servings each time. One for the current meal, one to take for lunch the next day and two for the freezer. I use the frozen meals for the remainder of the week. I usually try and put a week between the time I cook it and when I eat it, so I am not eating the same thing every day. This meant that I have had to buy some more freezable food containers, but these have come from the op shop. (BTW flatter, skinnier containers freeze quicker and allow you to play better freezer-Tetrus)

How I plan my meals.

Now that I am on a money-saving kick, I have changed my planning a little. In the past, I planned the meals and then went shopping. Now, I do it the other way around. I go to the fruit market and look at what is in season and cheap and buy that. I’ll then build the week’s plan around these foods.

For instance this week, pumpkin, parsnips and beetroot were super cheap, so I bought those as well as the usual staples of tomatoes, onions, leafy greens etc. Then, I come home and use either the recipes I have stored in my head or sites like Delicious, Yummly and others to come up with recipes.

This week, the beetroot got turned into beetroot risotto and a warm beetroot and lentil salad. The parsnips will get turned into parsnip mash, some of which will be frozen and some parsnip chips and the pumpkin was turned into pumpkin bread, pumpkin muffins and three meals worth of pumpkin gnocchi.

Spreadsheets, of course!

You will not be surprised to know that I have some meal planning spreadsheets! Several! Feel free to copy and adapt as you like.

  1. A general weekly guideline: this is the blueprint or skeleton from which I start. I don’t stick to it rigidly, in that I will only eat lentils on Tuesdays but rather that within the week I make sure I have at least one lentil-based meal. This is a static document. Screen Shot 2020-07-16 at 08.56.33
  2. A weekly meal plan overview: On this sheet, I consider things like
    1. what’s already in the freezer,
    2. what food I need to use up  (Priority ingredients)
    3. if I have any social/work things on where I will be eating out.Screen Shot 2020-07-16 at 08.55.55
  3. A blank weekly plan: The final level. Here, I write the actual meals I have decided on and what recipes I’ll be using. If there is a web-based recipe, I copy the URL and add it to a note on Google Keep, so it’s easy to re-find. Screen Shot 2020-07-16 at 08.55.41
  4. I use an app called My Shopping List on my phone. I am sure there are plenty of others, but this one works for me.

It takes me about half an hour to plan out the meals, and I think it’s 30 minutes well spent with a cup of tea and my iPad!

From a logistics point of view, I think a larger freezer is a must for successful meal planning and reducing food waste. However, be careful it does not become a morgue full of forgotten food! Label your items with the contents and date.

Thankfully, my Council has just announced that it is introducing FOGO from November. Even with a concerted effort not to waste food I still generate more peelings etc than my worm farm can cope with.

My contribution to reducing climate crisis may not be much, but every little bit counts!

 

 

 

 

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