Meal Planning for the Busy

In a perfect world, we’d all like to have a handy meal plan every week, ideally with shopping list, of seven quick, easy, affordable and delicious meals. I have to tell you: in my imperfect world that doesn’t happen. My tip: Don’t overthink it.

Photo by  Brooke Lark  on  Unsplash

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

Start with your protein

For a healthy, filling meal, you’ll need a source of protein. Protein keeps you fuller for longer and blood sugar levels on an even keel. If you aren’t sure why that matters, click here.  

Protein foods are meat, fish, seafood, eggs, dairy (cheese, yoghurt, etc.). Every plant contains a certain amount of protein, too, some more, some less, but the best sources of plant protein are pulses. That’s beans, peas, and chickpeas and products made from them such as tofu, tempeh and hummus. Nuts, too, contain good amounts of protein.  

Rule of thumb: your protein source should cover ¼ of your plate.

Next: Vegetables 

Cover at least half your plate with vegetables, ideally of the kind that grows above ground: broccoli, tenderstem, pak choi, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, mushrooms, peppers, tomatoes, leeks, butternut squash, courgettes, cucumber, cauliflower, kale, watercress, rocket, spinach, lettuce, aubergines … you get the idea.

Cover all the colours of the rainbow (not necessarily on the same plate, but great if you can!) and vary your veg frequently. It’s not just pleasing to the eye, but the different colours come from different valuable plant nutrients, and you’ll want those. Also, the more diverse your plant intake, the more diverse your good bacteria. So, go all out, try something different every day. Oh, you don’t like veg? Tough. Grown-ups eat veg. Man up.

Hold back on root vegetables a bit, particularly potatoes, but also sweet potatoes, parsnips, carrots, beetroot, swede, turnip, and celeriac. They vary greatly in the amount of starch they contain – white potatoes top the list here – and you should confine them to the last remaining quarter of your plate.

Minute amounts of starchy carbs

If the last quarter of your plate is not yet covered in root veg, you have a little room there for tiny amounts of starchy carbohydrates. That would be things like bread (and yes, building a bread tower on your quarter plate is cheating), pasta, rice, chips, mash etc. Anything beige.

There is no need to eat those. You won’t starve or wither away without them. Your other carbs provide enough for what you need and your body can always make the glucose you need from other stuff (proteins or fats), so don’t worry about it.

How does that look in practice?

The simplest:

Protein (steak, chicken, fish, boiled eggs, halloumi) and salad with a homemade dressing

Protein (steak, chicken breast, baked cod, lamb chops) and steamed veg topped with butter

If you stopped there, the possibilities are endless already.

If you’re starting super-simple just with your protein and tons of steamed veg, but you’re finding it a bit dry, just top it with butter, maybe even herb or garlic butter for extra flavour. “WHAT?”, I hear you exclaim and see you blanch a little. “BUTTER?” Yes, butter. Fat doesn’t make you fat (check here) – just so long as you don’t pair it with starch and/or sugar (think doughnut, chips, croissant, a certain popular hazelnut chocolate spread …).

Slightly more elaborate:

Teriyaki salmon with steam-fried tenderstem or purple-sprouting broccoli and pak choi

Sausages on swede mash with crispy oven-toasted kale

Griddled chicken breast with cauliflower cheese and spinach

Halloumi skewers with courgette, onion, peppers

Roasted beetroot on a bed of spinach, with walnuts and Stilton – add a handful of cooked lentils, if you like

Thai tempeh stir-fry with cashew nuts


Soups and Stews

If your plate is not a tidy ½ + ¼ + ¼ - like in a soup or stew scenario, that’s fine. You’ll still apply the same principle, it doesn’t matter what it looks like exactly. Pick 2-4 different veg, pick your base (beef, chicken, fish, vegetable stock), and do not forget your protein. Fine if you forget the noodles, that doesn’t matter so much.

For some tips on how to give your food an Italian, Middle Eastern, Mexican, Chinese or Indian twist, click here.

Here links to some previous blog posts that might interest you:

No time to cook from scratch?

How to “just cook something”

Let’s make some time!

Whizz up a soup

For more, type “cooking” into the Search bar.