An Easier Way to Menu Plan

It’s my pleasure to present another guest post by Tracey Warren from Professional Organising Solutions.  This time Tracey gives us the low-down on her simple meal planning method.

There are lots of menu planning guides around, but I haven’t found any that include the crucial technique that makes my system easy to use.  Which technique is that?  It is simply having a go-to list of meals that my family enjoy.

Being well organised and planning our meals makes it easy for me to provide a healthy, enjoyable diet for my family at a reasonable cost.  I am mum to four sporty teenage boys, so I buy a lot of groceries.  Despite this, my weekly shop comes in at about $170-$220.

For our family, the benefits of menu planning include:

  • Saving money by only buying what we need.
  • Very little food is wasted.
  • I don’t stress about what to make for dinner each day; it is already in the plan, and I have all the ingredients I need.
  • Avoiding the expense of takeaway meals. We don’t eat out very often; a drive through takeaway costs us about $50, and a café/pub meal costs about $120-$150, so eating out is an expensive treat for us.
  • Quick and easy grocery shopping – I have a list of items to buy, so I don’t waste time procrastinating or searching for inspiration. I am in and out of the supermarket in well under 45 minutes, even though I am buying so much stuff that I often need more than one trolley.
  • I don’t need to make too many trips to the supermarket. I buy everything I need for the week, then I drop in once or twice to buy fresh bread and fruit as we need it.
  • I can select meals based on the amount of preparation time I have available. This is really helpful for those evenings when you only have half an hour to prepare a meal, or there is no preparation time available at all.  When I have one of those evenings coming up, I know that I will need to have something prepared in advance, and if I know that I have plenty of prep time available I can plan a more time-consuming meal.  One of my favourite time saving tips is to prepare a double-size meal that can be served over two evenings.
  • The time when you are planning meals for the week is an excellent opportunity to encourage other family members to get involved with cooking. I often ask my children to select a meal that they would like to prepare for the family, thus allowing them to take ownership of that responsibility.  They do make a mess in the kitchen, but learning to cook is a very useful life skill, and it removes some of the burden of always having to cook from parents.
  • Planning our meals allows me to serve a varied selection of meals. This is especially useful if you are trying to alter your diet, for example increasing the amount of fish you consume, or reducing the amount of red meat you eat.

 

Be prepared:

  • Having a well organised pantry, fridge and freezer is a great help. This allows you to see and access ingredients easily.  You can also tell if you have ingredients that need to be used up soon.
  • Make a list of all the meals you already know how to make successfully. These should all be dishes you have made that your family like.  Include even simple, obvious things such as BBQ’s and roasts.  You can see a selection of our family’s favourites at the end of this article.
  • Keep a file of interesting recipes you would like to try. Most weeks I experiment with something new.  We have the occasional disaster, but we frequently pick a winner that can be added to our repertoire of meals we like.  I first started menu planning about 12 years ago when I barely knew how to cook at all.  I have slowly learnt to cook by trying new recipes, and now I feel quite confident in the kitchen.

 

Simple two-step menu planning process:

  1. Consider your schedule for the next week. Make a list of the days when you will need to prepare meals, and think about how much time you will have available. Here is what one of my lists looks like:

Monday:  Chicken schnitzel with mushroom sauce and veggies

Tuesday:  Lamb casserole

Wednesday:  Lamb casserole

Thursday:  Tuna pilaf

Friday:  BBQ

Saturday:  Dinner at friend’s house – bring dessert:  Marsala cake

Sunday:  Roast chicken & veggies

School lunches:  Sausage rolls, tuna salad

Recess:  Banana bread, chocolate cherry muffins

So, Monday night is pretty standard – I’ve got about an hour to prepare dinner.  I’m getting home early on Tuesday, so I’m making the lamb casserole.  It cooks slowly, so it takes about three hours between starting the prep and serving.  On Wednesday night I have a meeting, so I don’t have time to cook, but we can all heat and serve the left over lamb casserole from Tuesday night.  I am going to watch my son play basketball on Thursday night, so I have chosen the tuna pilaf because it is quick and easy.  Friday night is a great time to relax and let the kids cook a BBQ – I can even serve it with some bought salads.  The marsala cake is something I often take when I’m asked to bring a dessert.  It is very easy to make, and chocolate, cream and alcohol is a winning combination!  And a roast on Sundays is something our family always enjoys.

My kids don’t like taking sandwiches to school very often, so I try to prepare more interesting foods for school lunches.  Each of these recipes makes enough for two days, so that takes care of four days each week.  On the fifth day, I give them money to buy lunch at school.

Please don’t feel that your menu plan isn’t flexible and you can’t change it.  Sometimes things come up, and you have to abandon your planned meal for the day.  When this happens, you will have already purchased the ingredients, so just include that meal in your plan for the following week – it’s no big deal.

  1. Now that you have your meals planned for the week, you are ready to create your shopping list. I start by writing down the standard things I need to buy: toiletries, cleaning products, and foods that we need to stock up on in the pantry, fridge and freezer.  Then I add the ingredients I need to make the meals on my plan.  That’s it, the shopping list is done!

If you would like more information about the recipes Tracey’s family like – it’s a long list! – please send an email to: tracey@professionalorganisingsolutions.com.au.  Tracey says: “I would love to share them with you and make it easier to feed your family, too.”

Thanks Tracey!

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