Thursday, 22 March 2012

Meal Planning

by Amanda of Amanda Brooke

Around 10 years ago whilst working in pharmacy, a work friend introduced me to meal planning. Every Friday she would come to work with a handful of recipe books and food magazines. She would sit with her books, a notebook and pen on her meal breaks and write out the menu for the following week, along with a shopping list for anything ingredients she might need. I found this weekly event quite interesting and inspiring and I attempted myself to do the same, but I only did it on and off and for a couple of weeks at a time. At the time I thought she was very organised, a dedicated cook and someone that liked to try new things all the time. I didn't think much more of it than that. But now I see the bigger I understand just how much this simple tool can change your life!

I have started meal planning again and these are my thoughts on it now:
  • I can see it will save us money
  • I can see it will save food from being wasted
  • I can see it will assist in using ingredients that we already have in the freezer or pantry
  • I can see it will inspire us to try new foods
  • I can see it will encourage me to 'stretch' ingredients and be resourceful with leftovers
  • I can see it will save me time
  • I can see it will stop the "What on earth am I making for tea tonight" experience that overwhelms me every now and then
  • I can see it will encourage more involvement from our family as to what we are eating and what we can make together as a family
  • I can see it will encourage me to use ALL of my cookbooks
  • I can see it forming a major part of my 'job' as a homemaker to plan and be organised

What I can't see is that I will stop this time. I am excited about meal that a little weird? I love having my little 'weekly menu' up for our family to see with references to cook books and pages so I know where to find the recipe for each day. I love knowing that I can balance our meals out for the week in advance and I love the feeling of being in control and organising this important part of our lives.

Tuesday's meal of homemade ricotta gnocchi with a tomato, mushroom and baby spinach sauce

Do you meal plan? How has it worked for you?

Amanda x


Aydan said...

I try to sit down each week and plan one or two recipes to make for dinner, so I only have to go to the grocery store once that week. My problem is that I usually plan to make too much (and some recipes define "serving" differently so it's hard to know how much I'll eat), so I often have ingredients or leftovers going bad.

Tracey said...

I've been doing this for many years, for all the wonderful reasons Amanda gives. It is quite possibly the most effective time and money management tool in my arsenal.

To people like Aydan just starting with this method, I would say, give it a longer trial - it takes some practice to know how much each recipe makes and to develop strategies for leftovers - freezer, lunch the next day, but you'll get better with experience.

One extremely important thing to do is develop a repertoire of recipes that you know and enjoy. Picking completely unfamiliar recipes out of a book is setting yourself up for stress and/or failure unless you are a very confident cook. We trial new recipes or ingredients on the weekend, when we have the time and energy to focus.

By planning ahead you can avoid waste or leftovers (if you don't eat them) by integrating things eg. Make roasted pumpkin risotto on Monday night and pumpkin soup on Wednesday or Thursday night with the rest of the pumpkin. You can roast all the pumpkin at once to save time, too.

Often people say they're too busy (which is crazy because this will save much more time than it will take up!) when they really mean "I'm not confident about shopping/cooking/using leftovers."
be kind to yourself, it takes practice, you'll get there, and cooking will seem a lot less like a chore.

TechChik said...

In a perfect world, I like to have one "kitchen day" every two weeks. There are only two of us, so if I can make three freezer-friendly meals of six servings each (total of 18 meals) then divide them into 9 small Pyrex dishes, label and freeze them, then I have something to reheat and eat as soon as I get home from work when I'm hungry, tired and don't want to think about cooking.

This saves a lot of time and money, and I rotate between several groups of three suppers. They can always be served with fresh vegetables and other quick sides.

Treasures Evermore said...

Great post...and those photos made me hungry LOL. Yes, I do meal plan to some degree....not like I should. You've just inspired me to do better.


ainead said...

I love meal planning!

I plan even breakfasts, lunches and snacks for myself throughout the week.

Other reasons I meal plan as well as the excellent ones Amanda listed are:
- My meal planning for each day includes a section about things that need to be done that morning or overnight for the next day's meal (such as defrosting meat, soaking beans overnight etc.) This means I don't get caught out with all the ingredients but not enough prep done.

-I also find that with meal planning I can see if I'm getting enough of each food group.

-Knowing what I'm going to cook any given evening means I don't spend ages pawing through cookbooks trying to find something that I feel like cooking that matches the ingredients I have.

Murra Mumma said...

I have only just started into meal planning for our family of six, and began primarily to try and cut down on our excessive grocery bill. I can't bring myself to write down what I am going to have each day for the next couple of weeks, so I write a big list of potential meals I can choose from over the fortnight after consulting the pantry, veggie garden,and cook books, and stick it on the fridge. I try to include one new recipe, a slow cooker meal if we are going to be home late and some 'slack' meals for Fri or Sat nights when we are trying to avoid takeaway. It has worked an absolute treat, with our takeaway down from once a week to once a month or more, and shopping fortnightly has seen an average decrease of $75-100 per week on groceries! Meal Planning rocks!

Mairi Stones said...

I too meal plan, though not always on a strict day by day basis, it's a flexible thing. I know what I have and what I could make and what needs used up and then see what I can make when depending on time etc. I think it's a great way to go and definitely saves time and money. If I ask my husband to do the shopping too with the list made after planning then he only get's what's on the list. Often i also find that we actually already have lots to do things with and we don't need much shopping at all! X

Greg Foyster said...

I've always been a forager. For years I lived in a filthy share house (see here for hideous pics of dirty dishes: and, to be honest, I took great joy in NOT planning meals. The challenge was to make whatever I could out of the ingredients at hand. It was like Masterchef, except the special ingredients would be moldy bread and leftover tofu patties.

Now I'm starting to see the sense in menu planning, but I still like the surprise of making something out of leftovers. How do you fit that serendipity into the menu planning process?

Tracey said...

Hey Greg,
Working with what's at hand instead of planning what to buy is in some ways a more advanced skill! It requires confidence and excellent basic cooking skills (and a strong stomach going by your ingredient list!).

To eat that way is my ultimate goal - to have enough space to garden/farm as if there is no market/supermarket, letting the garden dictate the menu.

Linda Woodrow said...

I have a well stocked larder of non-perishable unprocessed basics - flours, rice, barley, oats, lentils, beans,polenta, besan, seeds and nuts. With that and what is in the garden, I can nearly always russle up a meal, or a week's worth of meals. I'm an opportunist cook - something in the garden that is harvesting, something in season that is cheap and luscious, something in the larder that is down to the last few serves and needs using is always the inspiration. Then if I need anything else, I shop for just enough, fresh, that day. I love reading recipe books but I rarely actually follow recipes - too many of them combine ingredients that are not in season here together, and I find myself paying $3 each for limes from another continent because I've set my mind on a recipe that needs them.

Stitchingmum said...

I absolutely understand your new-found love and excitement for meal planning, I'm in the same boat!! It was one of my goals for 2012, to implement this in my life, and whilst it's been a bit hit and miss so far (I'm still getting my act together....), I absolutely agree with every point on your list as to the benefits. So no, you're not silly at all!!!

amanda brooke said...

Some great ideas and feedback here. I think the most interesting point is that you can customise meal planning to suit your own personal needs and lifestyle! Greg I don't regimently stick to my plan...for example last week I had leftovers for tea twice. I made a slow cooked stew and we had that the next night in wraps which I grilled. I then froze some meat that I could see I wasn't going to eat that week as a result of eating leftovers and nothing went to waste. I like a bit of serendipity too, but I am finding this is saving us money as I haven't thrown anything out as yet.

Hopewell said...

That meal looks delicious! We couldn't stay afloat financially if we ate out or wasted money on so-called convenience food. I've been meal planning since my first apartment and don't regret it. It also gives my kids a framework for the week too. I post the meals and they like knowing what to expect....well except my son when it's beans!