When I'm cooking and planning solely for myself, I really suck at it. I never take lists, never plan meals and I find myself going to the shops practically every day, which no-one really wants to do, do they? The worst thing is working in a supermarket, I always end up picking up a few bits and pieces after work each shift. And yeah, sometimes I get amazing bargains I'll admit (like half a kilo of monkfish for £4!), but I didn't really need those flat nectarines that although were reduced, weren't that cheap, really.
So I thought I would give you a few of my tips that I've picked up over the last year and a bit...
GET THE CALENDAR OUT; Me and mum will get the calendar and look at what nights everyone will eat together, etc, then plan meals accordingly. This way, if I'm working late or might be home late, I won't have to think about what to cook. If you're cooking for a family, try and figure out if there are nights when not everyone will be there and plan to what people like.
DECIDE ON MEALS; Look at what you've eaten recently, and space out certain dishes throughout the week. In my family, we tend to get bit bored if we eat similar things too often, though this doesn't bother me as much as my mum. The same goes for lunches. If you don't mind eating the same salad three days in a row, stock up on the same thing. If you know you get bored, change it up each day. We eat a lot of chicken and beef mince in our house, so try and space it out so you don't get bored. I also like to try and have a vegetarian meal a few times a week.
THE INTERNET IS YOUR FRIEND; If you are at a loss of what to cook, like I was one day last week when all I had was a sweet potato in the fridge and a bag of salad, I just started inputting things into google and came out with a meal. There are so many healthy eating blogs and websites out there, you don't need to be good at thinking up interesting meals because someone has done that for you. Also, get out your recipe book! I stick loads of recipes I get from Waitrose Kitchen, their weekend paper, from supermarket recipe cards in there, then forget about them, so I need to work on this one myself!
WASTE LESS, SHOP SMARTER; Cut down on food waste and stop buying extra that you're tempted to eat. When we've decided what to cook for each night, we make another list next to each meal and make a note of what we need to buy or what we already have in. If you need rice, check you've enough. If you need meat or poultry, make a note of the date, so when you're in the supermarket, you know it will last until when you need it.
BEWARE THE BARGAINS; Stay away from the reduced stock at supermarkets. Like I said above - sometimes you can find really good bargains. However, I always find these throw a spanner in the works. Suddenly you have to shift things around to make the space for this bargain and the healthy meal you planned gets pushed back or never cooked.
MAKE EXTRA FOOD; This is something I did a lot more when I lived on my own, but I would often make big batches of things like chilli or soup and either freeze it, or store it in containers in the fridge for lunches. It helps if there are back-up options if you don't feel like making anything, and stops you reaching for junk food or the telephone...
GET CREATIVE WITH LEFTOVERS; This sort of ties into the above rule, but sometimes if you make extra of something like spaghetti bolognese, you can use the meat and sauce for a chilli the next day for dinner. Add some kidney beans and make a little rice and it's pretty easy.
PREPARE LUNCHES: When I was at uni I'd nearly always take leftover dinner for lunch the next day, and it takes the guesswork out of your lunch. Prepping your lunch the night before is one of the best thing I learnt to do at university. After tidying up from cooking, I put whatever leftovers or food I was planning on having into a container and it's ready for the next morning. Now I'm working I've become a giant fan of Marks & Spencer's' healthy ready meals for when I want hot food - they're nearly always on offer, high in protein and low in carbs, and taste really good.
TAKE YOUR LIST WITH YOU!; Lastly - don't forget your list when you go shopping! When you've written your list, snap a picture on your phone. I pretty much never leave my phone at home, but nearly always forget my list it seems, so that way all your careful planning hasn't gone to waste.
All that said, there is obviously nothing wrong with just getting a takeaway in or going out for dinner; some fitness blogs and make it sound like one pizza is going to ruin all your progress. Really, it doesn't. I mean, eating it two or three times a week won't help, but really, what is one night in a month, or six months?
I know it's pretty easy for me to sit here and say this, but I've been doing all this and I've lost a lot of weight! It was a lot easier when I worked part-time, but I'm still managing now I'm working 39 hours a week. Hopefully a few of my tips can help - let me know if you have any other ideas that I might not know or might not have included.