Monday, February 6, 2012

Let's Get Organised Wk6 ~ Menu Planning

I have been menu planning for over 15 years now. I am lost without it!

I started menu planning when I was a single mum and Randall was about 9 months old I think. I was on a sole parents pension and was finding it hard to feed us for the fortnight. I'd often resort to cooking something quick for me and a bowl of veg for Randall. I had food in the cupboard but never enough to put together a meal. So I'd go tot he shops for that one or two things to cook it and come home with a bag full. Not a very frugal thing to do on a pension.
I'm not quite sure where I heard about menu planning but I thought I'd give it a go.
I would write down 14 meals (I shop fortnightly) and made a shopping list from that. I didn't plan what nights I'd have certain meals on, but at least this way I knew I had everything I needed for those 14 meals.
It was fantastic. I would look at my list in the morning and decide what we'd have for dinner that night and I'd be organised. Food wasn't getting wasted and I had money left over!!!

I have been menu planning since. It's taken lots of different twists and turns as our life has changed over the years and I'm sure it will continue to do so.

There are many ways that you can menu plan, there really aren't any hard and fast rules. You just need to work out what will work for your family.

Personally I plan my evening meals only. Many plan breakfast and lunch. I don't worry about that. Breakfast is almost always toast and cereal here and I make sure we have enough stuff for lunch. But if you wish to plan your breakfast and lunch then go for it.
I choose to plan what nights our meals are on too. This helps me to make sure we don't have the same meat (usually chicken) too many nights in a row (the big ones complain about that) and to also make sure that I have easily prepared meals on the nights Brian is working so I can tend to The Witching Hour with our lovely cherubs on my own without the hassle of cooking a fancy dinner.
You may also choose to have each night to have a certain theme. Maybe a fish night, pasta night, takeaway night, vegetarian night etc etc.

A good way to prepare to menu plan is to write down a list of all the meal you cook regularly. You may wish to categorise them if you like. Either into themes or like meals like chicken, casseroles, vegetarian etc.

On a piece of paper write down the days of the week. My list starts with thursday as that's the day I go shopping and goes for a fortnight. Do what works for your family.
Make a small note next to each day as to what evening plans you have. Do you work late? Have the kids got after school commitments? etc
For me I write in which nights Brian is working, Wednesday nights Randalls at Army Cadets (so try to have something that can reheat easy for him) and anything else like birthdays or appointments that might affect us.

Then I write a list of meals I'd like to cook for the week. I try to have it balanced so we aren't eating too much of the same sort of thing and I also try to cook a new recipe each fortnight too. I scour my magazine clippings and Pinterest pins for ideas for a new recipe.

The first thing that is slotted in for me is our weekly roast. Usually on a sunday. Even when Brians been working afternoons I try to cook a roast lunch. Then I plan the meals for the nights Brians working. I make it easy on those nights. Often a casserole or slow cooker meal. Or even something easy like eggs on toast.
Then I slot the other meals around that.
I give it a look over and make sure that things look nice and balanced, if they do I then make my shopping list and blog my menu plan.

Think about planning to use up your leftovers one night too. You might have enough casserole leftover to turn it into a pie for dinner another night. Roast chicken leftover to make a pasta bake. Or just plan to have leftovers for a chefs night off!

I have heard many people say that their partner doesn't like to have things planned and likes to cook on a whim. That can be a bit hard to deal with but not impossible. You may like to sit down with them and work out the meal plan together. If you have a list of meals that you can cook for the week you could both make a decision the night before or even in the morning what will be cooked for the next dinner.

If you have older children you may like to get them involved and have them cook a night a week!

My Menu Plan and Shopping List boards

I have found that my boys loved having the menu posted on the fridge. They would go off to school and work knowing what they were having for dinner. If it was something they didn't like they had all day to get used to the idea, and if it was a fave meal they'd have it to look forward to all day. It's also stopped them asking 'What's for Dinner?' a billion times after school. I just point to the menu board instead!

Goodluck creating your menu plans. The first few take a little while but after that it will only take a few minutes and you won't be without them.
Would love to see your menu plans and/or boards if you make one. Link up below.

Take Care


  1. Great post Becci!

    I love the idea of menu planning. I have a lot of obstacles and would appreciate advice to get my family eating more healthy so then I can be more organised about menu planning:
    1) I work full-time and get home around 6:30 3 nights a week. The other week day nights I'm home around 5:30. I often don't feel like cooking.
    2) My husband is extremely unwell (including depression) and therefore doesn't help. If he has to prepare his own food he often just doesn't eat.
    3) My husband and kids are extremely fussy. Hubby and son have AD/HD so that goes with the territory (they have sensitivity issues) and daughter is just 8 and likes to complain about everything. So, I have a very short list of things to prepare for them (I am dieting, so I often just have a healthy microwave meal with some extra frozen vegies on the side.)
    4) The list of foods they eat is short and unhealthy. On the bright side, the kids can cook most of them! You can tell they are fussy and I'm a working mother: spaghetti bolognese, Coles pizza, nuggets, hot dogs, tacos (daughter has to have ham in hers instead of taco meat), wedges, corn chips, toasted ham & cheese sandwiches. Takeaways: Subway (healthy), Domino's Tuesdays, Fish & Chips, occasionally McDonalds or KFC as these are nearby but more expensive.

    Any suggestions gratefully received.

    1. Hiya Sapphyre
      I don't blame you for not wanting to cook!
      Do you have a slow cooker? If not I'd seriously suggest investing in one.
      You could prepare the next days meal the night before and pop in the fridge, then in the morning you can take it out for a while to help warm up and then pop in the slow cooker to cook all day.
      Another idea would be to spend some time cooking on weekend (last thing you feel like doing right?) and freeze the meals to be easily reheated during the week.
      Fussiness is hard to deal with. Unfortunately there are really only two ways to deal with it. Put up with it or don't. Not easy I know especially when you throw ADHD in the mix (my nearly 16yo has ADHD too).
      I would suggest trying to mix up their faves along with some more healthy meals as much as possible.
      Personally I wouldn't put up with the complaining. Again not easy with everything else you are dealing with, seems so much easier to give in right? but in the end it's not. In this house she'd be told to suck it up Princess and if she didn't like it then that was ok but there is nothing else. Tough I know but they do eventually get the message. My nearly 16yo now eats everything that is handed to him and know there is no point in complaining.
      Not sure if that's any help for you, I hope it does to some extent :)

    2. Thanks Becci, it does help, especially as I'd forgotten (briefly) you had ADHD in your family too.

      I have a slow cooker and used to use it regularly to make meals for hubby and I; unfortunately the things I was eating weren't good for my waistline. I think what I need is a transition plan to get the kids and hubby eating a wider variety of foods. Maybe a dietician can help me with that.

  2. this is a super easy idea

  3. Hi Becci, thanks for the great post! I'm not naturally organised. At all! After years of trying, I've only just started to meal plan successfully.

    I use 'Fiona's Life Planner' from the Simple Savings $21 Challenge Book as a template It works brilliantly for me as every day is broken into categories: Activity (as you mentioned), Food and Preparation (which has been THE key contributing success factor). Every meal is also planned: Breakfast, morning tea, Lunch, afternoon tea, and Dinner, which I do need!!!

    This has literally changed my life! I never forget to put on a loaf of bread, or cook ingredients needed for meals in advance, or defrost food etc (always my downfall) I buy less, our diet is more varied and interesting, and I have MUCH less whinging from my boys about food!! (I also love just being able to point at the menu plan!)and I've saved heaps of time, as I never have to wonder what's for dinner! I need EVERYTHING spelled out for me unfortunately, and this has been my savior!!

    I stick to the old favourites for the moment - this helps to keep the shopping list easy to make, as I know the ingredients without having to check each recipe, but I do break them into categories as you do, based on main ingredients: rice, legume, pasta, pizza (fridays!!) so we don't have similar meals 2 nights in a row.

    I've drawn my meal planner onto A3 paper, and keep it on the fridge. I pencil in the meals + prep, so I can easily change things if needed. Regular meals are typed into WORD, or scanned and I have printed off a copy of each which I keep in a a4 folder. I then slip the recipes needed for that week into a display book - so no searching for recipes, and my cook books stay cleaner!!

    I've really enjoyed your series!! My keyboard broke and I have only just got a new one so this is the first time I've been able to comment!!

    Trina (TreenB on the DTE Forum :)

  4. Sapphyre,
    I am disorganised and cooking does not come naturally to me! In the January holidays I excitedly baked three recipes (milo scrolls, bulk cookie recipe and Coles zucchini slice)and three did not work. I am going to give them another go. They were so easy they just have to work second time around. Anyway, I find when it's all a bit much that just trying one new approach/recipe/food is the way to go. You try it. It works (fingers crossed). You feel good. You try something else. This week I'm going to try milo scrolls again!!!

  5. I have also been meal planning since the day i left home 15 years ago. My mum did it and i just naturally followed. We are also on a fortnightly rotation and follow much the same system as you. My husband and i are currently trying to watch our eating habits so we are cooking 2 dinners - one for the kids and one for us. Although the kids stuff isn't bad it's just our meals have things like chilli, beans etc. that the kids don't like.

    A suggestion for sapphyre. To make things easier for us i'll make something like meatballs and rice for the kids. I'll make a big batch of meatballs and freeze them so the next time all i have to do is chuck them in the oven and boil some rice. I also try to chuck in some veggies like finely grated carrot or zucchini (this idea also works well with sausage rolls). If they have nuggets i bake them in the oven and serve them with pasta mixed with some vegies like peas & corn.