How I do menu planning - Part 1 Dinner
I do menu planning almost every week. There are a few reasons for this:
- I'm not a good cook. There are some complicated things that I can do easily, but cooking is not one of those. I can't make cooking 'just happen'. I need to give it conscious, specific attention. For many years Dear Husband did practically all of the cooking. Dinner magically appeared in the evening as far as I was concerned. I realised this when Dear now-Husband was away with work. I would be sitting on the couch at 9:30pm trying to work out what this strange hunger feeling was.
- It saves time and money, and cuts down on waste.
- It means that usually, we avoid dinner time chaos.
- It almost eliminates emergency runs to the supermarket for a missing ingredient. That said, I cook very simple meals and many of the ingredients are interchangable. This is partly laziness and partly planning.
- Some days I think I'm superwoman if can defrost something.
- It makes it easier to use planned leftovers for other meals.
I used to plan once a week, but I'm now planning fortnightly. Here's the process. It sounds quite long but I don't go through the whole thing each time.
Love your freezer.
We have no room for a chest freezer. We still have one - it's in the living room. I would recommend a freezer as useful baby equipment ahead of a cot. That's how much I love it. Freezer cooking is a whole other section, but for us it's a crucial part of meal planning.
Know your routine
After conscious experimenting, we have a routine that generally works.
Sunday night: plan meas for week/ fortnight. Blog it (see bwlow)
Monday: Grocery shopping in the day, freezer cooking and weekly prep in the evening after bedtime.
Tuesday: A work day for me, so often we aren't home until about 5:30 and there's hunger and crankiness. Then there's the toddler. Needs to be a very easy meal, almost always a freezer one.
Wednesday and Thursday: I'm home these days. I still want easy meals that are quick for me, but I can do something like crumbed chicken and roast veggies where I prep or cook it all earlier in the day and then toss in in the oven (now that we have one). I often need to take a plate to playgroup on Thursday, so I will try to have an oven meal on Wednesday if I'm making cupcakes or something so the oven only needs to be on once.
A menu plan is a tool for you; you are not a slave to it
I do try to stick to the plan, but if it's not working or we do something else then I don't worry at all. The whole point of the plan is SUPPOSED to be a reduction in stress, not an increase.
Know your meals
As I said above, I'm not a good cook. I'm someone who needs to practise a simple meal many times before I can do it reliably enough to be edible. Generally, I do meals that I'm familiar with. When we introduce a new meal I try it out a few times when it's a day when Dear Husband can chase Chubs wo I can concentrate, I do it in small quantities to see if we like it and how it freezes etc. Generally after four or five days I'll know how the meal 'works' and where it will fit best into routines.
I like to pair meals together - eg we will have chicken noodle soup the day after a takeaway hot chook. A roast is followed by a salad with meat or another 'post roast' meal.
A meal with salad is best at the start of the week before it gets wilted, and the potatoes and carrots are relegated to the tail end of the week.
We plan for meals out, leftovers, or 'scavenge' nights. I freeze leftovers if they are unexpected, so I plan to use then every now and again.
The actual process:
This, like everything on this blog, is what we do which works for our family at this time. It's certainly not a MUST DO list, but a What We Do list.
On Sunday night:
1. I see what we have. What freezer meals, meat in the freezer, veggies to be used up, things in the pantry. What needs to be used up in a few days? In a week? If needed?
2. I look at what we have on for the next fortnight. Some things (like work, playgroup) are the same every week. We live fairly boring predictable lives so it doesn't change much - generally Tuesdays are freezer Bolognese and Fridays are a takeaway hot chook. Still, sometimes there's a family dinner, a parent teacher night or something else to consider so these get popped in. I'm old school so I write these on a piece of paper - I have a booklet of weekly planning sheets that I was given - but I hear there are lots of apps and fancyschmancy things.
3. I actually plan the meals for the next fortnight and write them in. I like lots of wiggle room, so I rarely plan to use up everything. I go into 'siege' mentality sometimes...
This is the point where I try to match meals up , plan leftovers for the next meal and so on.
4. Make shopping list
I list how many of each thing I need to make the meals for the next fortnight for dinner. It's not an inclusive list - it's pretty much just dinner and anything else which can't be forgotten. I don' include things like cows' milk and eggs which we buy all the time. If there's something like bread which we usually buy but don't need that week, then I write a note saying not to buy it.
I also write a small shopping list for the next Monday when we will do a little shop with anything fresh that we will need.
5. Blog it. I do a recap of the previous week and then write my plan for the next fortnight. I link to orgjunkie.com along with literally hundreds of others. Many people list special diet plans and are great for ideas. I do find when I don't blog I get slack with the planning.
6. Do shopping
We shop on Mondays and somedays it goes wonderfully well. Some days - not so much. I do ind having a list helps with not forgetting things, since my brain does not work well when Chubs is screaming in it. It took me a while to work out that cranky baby almost always needed to eat food. MOTY there...
7. Do freezer cooking
Monday night after Chubs is in bed is my prep night. I will usually cut and crumb chicken and make a triple batch of Bolognese or chilli con carne. I also do sandwiches for lunches, cut up fruit etc. For our family it works well to invest Monday night doing this for the benefits of having everything ready later in the week.
Throughout the week:
8. Change as needed. We rarely stick to the plan as you can see - actually I don't think we've ever done it! I scribble over the sheet on the fridge as we go (which also makes blogging the next week easier.)
Next Sunday night
9. Look at the plan for the following week. Change as needed (and it's always needed). Update mini shopping list. Blog.
10. Do a little shop, and then any freezer cooking, sandwiches etc that night.
This is by no means a perfect system. We don't always go shopping every Monday, sometimes we don't need to. I still go to the shops during the week for more cows' milk and fruit. As I said above, we rarely stick to the plan totally. We still have scavenge nights. We still have breakfast for dinner occasionally - sometimes planned, sometimes not. I much prefer to spend my energy planning in the evening when I want to, when it's calm and before things go pear shaped than I spending energy at 5 o'clock with a screaming toddler clawing at me. Either way meal planning is going to take time and energy - I prefer to do it on my terms.
There's plenty of wiggle room built in and I do like to have quite a stash so I rotate long storage food. We still have the occasional 'what about a pizza?' nights, and Chubs still loves the prepackaged baby food pouches (six months + still counts at 24, right?)
Do you meal plan? What your approach?
Coming soon - breakfast and lunch meal planning.