Monday, 4 August 2008

Menu Planning - How I Do It

One of the first things I did when I decided to simplify my life was to menu plan and as fellow blogger, Catz, shared her experience of menu planning with us in a recent post, I thought I'd share my experience with you, too.

Unfortunately, not long after I started it I got ill and it all went kind of west but once I was able I picked it back up again and have been sticking with it since and believe me, it makes a huge difference.

Instead of wondering what to make for dinner every day, rummaging through cupboards and the darkest corners of the freezer, looking to see what I have that can be turned into a half decent meal, I now know exactly what I’ll be cooking, what I need and that it’s already waiting to be prepared. That, dear friends, make life a good deal less stressful.

Not only has it helped me feel less anxious about mealtimes, it’s also made shopping a whole lot easier. No more picking up stuff willy-nilly because I might use this and I might use that. Oh no… once my menu plan’s sorted, I check what I already have, make a list of everything I’ll need and that’s exactly what I buy.

It also helps me use up the stuff that’s in my cupboard. Whereas before I’d have half a dozen packets of rice but only half a pack of pasta, now I keep a running list so that know what I have, what I can use and what I need to top up with.

With a menu plan, life’s easier and it saves a whole lot of money too.

Although I don’t strictly need to eat healthily as my nutrition comes through my TPN and very little of what I eat is absorbed, I still want to have a reasonably balanced diet because that way I’m making a better impression on my daughter. I also want to feed her well as long as she’s living here and my guests, I’m sure, appreciate a decent meal too. There's something psychological about eating well, too.

When I plan my fortnightly menu (some do it weekly but I prefer to shop once a fortnight) I don't decide beforehand which day we'll be having what, I simply write up a list whilst trying to:

  • Incorporate as many different coloured fruits and vegetables as possible so that we’re getting a variety of nutrients. Eat a rainbow, as they say.

  • Use seasonal, locally sourced, preferably organic fruit and vegetables whenever I can.

  • Vary the protein sources between white and red meat, fish, eggs, cheese and legumes (beans, peas, lentils etc) because each type has different nutritional values.

  • Use some wholegrain pastas and brown rice although both LM and I prefer white so we compromise.

  • Add a couple of meals more than I actually need in case I ‘change my mind’. Those that aren’t used roll over to the next fortnight.

  • Vary the meals so that I have some that are very simple to prepare for my low energy days. It's on these days that convenience foods (cans, frozen veg etc) come in handy.

  • Consider what I can cook in batches during the preparation of one meal to use in another meal or freeze for later use - anything to make things easier!

  • Think about how much of a certain item I’ll need to buy and whether or not one meal will be enough to use it all. If not, I’ll incorporate it into a second meal or make a larger potion to freeze, if that’s possible.

  • Consider who I’ll be cooking for during the coming fortnight. When will LM be home for dinner (read: when can I cook the stuff she doesn't like)? Will I be having guests and what don't they eat? Are they vegetarian/vegan? Big eaters or pickers?

  • Try at least one new recipe every week, even if it’s just a new sauce or way to prepare a vegetable.
Menu planning is, I’d say, the most important step I’ve taken in simplifying my life so far. If you’re not already doing it, I’d highly recommend you give it a try. I’ve certainly never looked back!

Sharon J

Other posts that may be of interest:

What’s In The Freezer?
Grocery Shopping - 20 Money Saving Tips
Fruit & Veg Doesn’t Have To Be Fresh
Organic vs. Local vs. Imported vs. Fairtrade


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Chris said...

Hi Sharon! Well done on being so organised! I am sure it helps to have these firm ideas and wonder if more people did it not only would it help them nutritionally it would be much better on the money side for them too! Bring back home economics to our schools asap! I was "lucky" to learn at home too and so could always budget and plan well. Now I don't need to...I just have to ensure I place my orders and all my bottles arrive! That is as exciting as my "menu planning" gets!! Keep up the good work!

Kelly from Almost Frugal said...

Hi Sharon,
I found you via a comment you left on Simple Mom's menu planning post. I love the look of your blog- It's beautiful! I also really liked your comparison of where you were in 2002 and where you are now.
Anyway, I'm contacting you because I noticed that you posted your own menu and approach to food. I'm starting my own food blog, an offshoot of my main blog Almost Frugal, and I was wondering if you would like to contribute a recipe to my Friday recipe exchange 'Friday is for Food'. Here is the food site and you can find the info about the recipe exchange in the nav tabs.
Go ahead and delete this comment after you read it, I couldn't find an easy way of contacting you otherwise!
Thanks in advance,

Catz said...

Hi Sharon! I love to hear how others do a menu plan. I need to start adding more beans and pulses to our menu.

Sharon J said...

Chris. I also think home economics should be brought back into the national curriculum. When did it disappear? And why? I know my girls both had to bake stuff in high school and that wasn't too long ago (they're 19 and 22).

Kelly. I'd be only to pleased to. Thanks for inviting me :)

Catz. Unfortunately LM doesn't like beans and pulses much so I have to sneak them in while she's not looking. She usually picks them out but I'm sure some go down :)

Frugal Trenches said...

Sharon what a wonderful post! I love the saying "eat a rainbow"!

Lu said...

This post and your blog in general is really helpful to me. As a new and (somewhat) younger mom I really don't know how to cook a whole lot. However, I am trying to learn!

I am beginning menu planning (baby steps) so we will see how that works.

And thanks for your comments on my blog, it really made my day!

Sharon J said...

FT - Me too. And I'll be it helps mums get their kids to eat a greater variety of veg.

Lu - Good luck with the menu planning. Let me know how you get on eh?

shabby chic said...

menu planning is a great idea, and does work when making sure you have a meals for each evening, unlike if you shop without one !

Sharon J said...

ShabbyChic. Looking back now, I can hardly believe how much money and food I wasted through lack of planning. Nowadays very little ends up in the bin and I'm financially better off.

Pat said...

I am not very organized about the shopping but now that the prices are going sky high I know I have to start taking stock of things and plan my meals and shopping better. Thanks for the tips. There are a lot of good ideas there.

Sharon J said...

I think more people are trying to be more organised about their shopping (using lists, menu planning, shopping around etc) because of the rising prices, Pat.