Meet the Meal Planner – Caroline Makes

Meet the Meal Planner is a new feature on At Home With Mrs M, designed to introduce everyone to the people who get involved with Meal Planning Monday each week.  This is each meal planners chance to tell us who they are, why and how they meal plan. I hope you enjoy this new item and feel free to leave a comment for the meal planner below!

Hi there and welcome to Meet the Meal Planner! It’s great to have you here. Lets start by introducing yourself. Please tell us a little more about who you are and all about your blog. (If you have one!)

My name is Caroline and my blog Caroline Makes is mainly baking but also crafts – basically anything I make – and I have recently branched out into restaurant reviews as well since I eat out quite often. I live in Surrey with my boyfriend and my cat, and work in the City in the communications department of a large bank. So I write for a living but blogging is my creative outlet!

Lets get down to business. I’d like to know you have been meal planning for and what inspired you to start?

For years now (pre-blog) I’ve made a list of what I was planning to cook each week, as it makes sure I only buy food that I will need, and that I use things up – for instance, I plan two recipes using the same ingredient. I also love to cook proper recipes rather than just bung something in the oven, so unless I work out what I’m doing in advance, I won’t have the right ingredients! I started really planning my menus in detail, and sharing them on my blog, when I joined Slimming World as it helped me see if I was eating the right things on the diet plan.

It’s time to start writing your meal plan for the week. What do you do first? Talk us through your planning.

I begin by checking my diary and seeing which evenings I’m going to be out or if we have plans that week. Then I list each day and just pretty much go through one at a time writing down whatever comes to mind.

Where do you find your meal-planning inspiration? Do you have a list of go-to meals or do you like to get creative and mix it up?

As I like to blog about recipes that I make, I try to always make different things. I have never liked eating the same thing more than once every few weeks either, as I like a lot of variety, which I think my boyfriend took a bit of getting used to when he moved in with me, as he was used to having the same things on rotation week in and week out! He is a very fussy eater so it’s hard for me to sometimes come up with meals he likes and at least a couple of times a week I cook us different things so he can have one of his favourites and I can try something different. I love to go through recipe books- I have over 100 – to choose recipes, but I don’t always have time. In those cases, I will think about what I have in the freezer, or a type of meat or fish I haven’t had in a while, and either plan a meal using a recipe I already know, or Google it and see what comes up.

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What cookbooks do you use the most? Is there a website resource you would recommend to other meal-planners?

I have so many cook books that there isn’t really one I go to more than others, though my Slimming World books get used a lot these days. I use Google for inspiration a lot and will search on an ingredient or type of meal that I fancy, and see what comes up, whether it’s from the BBC Good Food website or another blogger.

So you’ve got your meal plan ready…do you ever go off-plan or do you always stick to it rigidly?

I stick to it as best I can because I generally have only bought the ingredients for those meals, but often I will be home later than expected and not have the time or inclination to cook what I’ve planned, or my boyfriend will want takeaway, or we will go to have dinner at his mum’s (who lives nearby) so whatever I was going to cook goes into the freezer. I really like having the structure of a meal plan but I think it’s important not to stick to it rigidly and to have the flexibility to deal with working late, or just not fancying what you’ve put on the plan for that day.

What benefits have you seen from meal planning? Do you find it helps you to cut waste? Save money?

I think it does save money because you only buy what you know you are going to use. Also, if I have to buy a special ingredient for one recipe, I will make sure I cook something different using that same ingredient later in the week. I don’t find that it makes any difference in terms of leftovers; in fact if there are leftovers then I ignore what I had on the meal plan for the next day and have that instead! My main benefit has been trying to follow the Slimming World diet, planning helps me to make sure I am ‘food optimizing’ (as they call it) and counting my ‘syns’ (points based on calorie and fat content).

Any top tips for meal planning?

Starting with a blank sheet of paper or web page can be daunting so break down your page into days, and if you want into breakfast, lunch and dinner as well. Then go through and write down any meals where you will be eating out, or home late and know you will just want a ready meal. Then take each meal at a time – so rather than worry ‘what on earth am I going to cook all week’, think ‘right, what shall I make for dinner on Monday’?

And finally, purely because I am nosey, what kitchen utensil/gadget could you just not live without? 

It sounds shameful as I want to mention some fancy gadget but I would have to say my microwave – not that I eat a lot of ready meals (hardly any at all) but it’s a godsend for those who work full time and have a long commute. I’m not home until 7pm and usually have forgotten to defrost something, or want to reheat leftovers, or want a baked potato and haven’t got an hour. And did you know that if you are desperate, you can even bake a cake in the microwave in a matter of minutes?!

Why not pop over to Caroline’s blog and see what she has planned for this week? She’s also got a great review of the Cake and Bake Show 2014 which I now really wish I had gone to!

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