Spurred on by Suchitra of 'MomLife' and her quest to break the seal on planning weekly meals, I have been brainstorming ways of shortening my shopping list. I'm a big fan of the list in all it's forms but writing the list usually consists of: \tWhat do I fancy for dinner? \tWhat do I want for lunch tomorrow? \tTotal mind block about tomorrow's dinner... Lets have a browse on Pinterest for a recipe... The trouble with this method is you will end up with a very long list. This means: \tIt gets expensive... really expensive; \tYou will spend far too long in the shop going back and forth, trying to find all the silly ingredients you've added to your list from Pinterest; \tYou are guaranteed to miss something, even though you wrote a list; \tA lot of food will be wasted - Money down the drain, guilt over starving people and global warming. So... is there a better way? I think so. Mind Map Before List Do write a list, I'm not suggesting otherwise, but it's very difficult to write a good one straight off the top of your head. When you go through teacher training (as I did a few years ago), you are told all about different types of learners and how they best absorb information and skills. Edited from fundersandfounders.com Like 65% of the population, I am a visual learner, and therefore a list is not very useful for my brain if I am hoping to purge and make my shopping for the week more efficient. I need something that is going to help me think things through that visually works like my brain does... well maybe a little more organized than my actual brain. How to Build a Meal Planner Mind Map \tStart with that something you fancy for dinner. It's not going to leave your head, you want it. So have it and put it on the list Mind Map by putting the dish name in the centre bubble and each ingredient branched out from it. Tonight, I really fancy Spaghetti Bolognese. I haven't had it in a while and it's totally going to hit the spot. The trouble with Bolognese is that is has quite a few ingredients, so my list is already half way down my scrap of paper and I've only done one dinner. What we need to do use some of these ingredients in other dishes... \tCarrots, celery and onion pop out at me... that's the basis for a stock or soup. I love carrot and coriander soup, easy to make and perfect for lunch. Add it to the mind map and link to the repeated ingredients. \tYou can't have carrot and coriander soup without a sprinkle of fresh cilantro (that's coriander leaves if you're British). But fresh herbs can be expensive and I don't want the rest of it to go to waste so what can I use it for? Immediately I think of tacos... slow cooked pork, lime pickled onions and plenty of fresh cilantro. Yum, put in on the mind map... \tThis process continues, using ingredients already on the mind map to spark ideas for other meals. Veg Chilli was an easy choice and then I spotted the bell peppers and parmesan. 'I bet there's a good recipe for those two' I thought... Now I can Pinterest search or Google these ingredients and find something new. I always like one new recipe a week. \tThe mushrooms and parsley sounded like a yummy omelette, and I can also make a frittata with any leftovers that are hanging around the fridge. \tAlthough the chicken recipe is a pasta dish, I'm feeling quite carbed up already so opt for some green veg that can double up for our Sunday roast (meat dependent on what looks good while shopping). So there you have it... I'm pretty much done for the week. I may have only mapped five meals, but I purposely plan meals that can be made to allow for leftovers. This cuts back on the cooking, reduces waste and obviously cost. I've planned my meal week from Wednesday, because I want fresh meat for Sunday and it's unlikely to last for six days. The recipes are linked - I particularly recommend the Marcella Hazan Bolognese... make it immediately. Wednesday Lunch: Mushroom Parsley Omelette Dinner: Chicken Cacciatore with Green Beans Thursday Lunch: Chicken Cacciatore with Pasta Dinner: Pork Tacos Friday Lunch: Pork Tacos Dinner: Veg Chilli with Rice Saturday Lunch: *Eat Out* (whenever I plan for Saturday it doesn't get eaten!) Dinner: Veg Chilli Nachos Sunday Lunch: Carrot and Coriander Soup Dinner: Roast meat (to be determined) with potatoes, garlic, carrots and green beans. Monday Lunch: Roast leftovers frittata Dinner: Spaghetti Bolognese Tuesday: Lunch: Carrot and Coriander Soup Dinner: Spaghetti Bolognese The Cost Before I give you the total I need to be fair and explain a few things: \tAll meat, milk, eggs and most vegetables I buy organic. Not everything, but nearly everything is organic on my list. Therefore if you shop budget produce it will be cheaper. \tI haven't included spices for the recipes I use because we have a big stash already at the house. \tI haven't included breakfast in my mind map. Therefore I added berries, bananas, apples, cereal, yogurt and bread to the list. \tI haven't included my daughter's lunch box. She sometimes eats in-house food at school and sometimes not... it's complicated so I've excluded it for now. I am aware that lunchboxes can get expensive so it's on my radar for improving my planning. \tI have skipped a meal on Saturday because we are never in and end up eating out. So... how much did my weekly shop cost? Food for a week, for a family of five (all be it three of them are littles) came to $168, a great budget for us because we are big food spenders. Last week we spent $244 on groceries but because we weren't organised we ended up eating $73 of fast food and takeout on top of our usual Saturday lunch out. That's a whopping $317. If we can stick to the meal plan we will save $149 on last week's spend... amazing! The only trouble is, I've just realised I've got to wait until Monday for my Bolognese... ugh.