Do you or don’t you…. Menu Plan

I’m struggling with this one.  The logical side of me knows that if I had a weekly menu plan for evening meals my life (and the rest of the family’s) would be easier.  I know that being able to check the list and then go to an adequately stocked pantry and fridge to whip up the evening meal would be far less stressful than the sudden realisation that I don’t know what I’m going to feed the whingeing pack of wolves my daughters turn into at about 4pm every afternoon.  This realisation is generally closely followed by the discovery that I have no defrosted meat, the crisper is a bleak space containing lonely carrots and a floppy bunch of parsley and the freezer, though full, is stocked only with soup (a meal my four year old flatly refused to allow past her lips, ice cream bribe offered or not!)

I have tried countless times (and I really do mean countless) to conquer this skill – essential to being a proper SAHM it seems – but so far I’ve failed.  I write my menu plans carefully, I write the shopping list and sometimes I even find myself in the supermarket with said shopping list in hand.  What could go wrong?  I really don’t know.  I lose the plan sometimes (the hazard of scrawling things on the back of old envelopes).  I forget we have three meals out that week so the rest of the plan goes out the window and the veggies I bought start the slide into floppiness.  I forget to defrost the meat. I just change my mind suddenly about what I want to cook or eat that week.  Or more likely Miss Four begs and begs for tacos (not on the plan!) of which she then only eats the tortilla and sour cream.

And then I’m back to the aimless wandering of supermarket aisles or making mulitple trips to the shops each week to get stuff for just that night’s meal (good thing I’m not an impulse buyer and the shops were on my way home from work anyway).  And the afternoon stress heads back up the scale.  It’s sad but I’ve just never managed to do the whole menu planning thing successfully at all.

However this last week I cheated.  Wendy wrote my menu plan for me… and because it was online I couldn’t lose it, and because she didn’t do a meal for everyday the night we ate out was easily slotted in….. and it worked!  Don’t get me wrong, she’s not a total miracle worker, she may have wrangled me in, but my finicky eaters still turned there noses up at some of it.  The Veggie Dots were a big fat NOT, though the tomato sauce was eaten.  The slow cooker meal was a winner and the lamb patties (which we had in burger buns and without the cheesy puffs – though they do look great) were hands down the winner of the week.  My favourite was the roast chicken with cous cous.  But the best thing was dinner was always a simple thing to manage, I knew what I had to do, I had everything I needed and I got a real insight into why people menu plan.

Now what I want are your best menu planning tips.  How do I make this thing fool proof, a way that even I can’t stuff up?  For someone who isn’t great at implementing routines can I become a seasoned menu planner?  Is there an app for this, they sometimes work for me…. sometimes they just become a passing fancy.

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16 Responses to Do you or don’t you…. Menu Plan

  1. Liz says:

    I do menu plan from time to time and when I do I write what I am planning on the calendar so I can’t forget. That works really well. so well that you would think I would do it every week but I don’t. Partially for the reasons you mention and partially because I am shopping at the Farmers Market a lot at the moment and I can’t always predict what they will have. The other reason I don’t always do it is that sometimes I can’t think of anything to write in the menu plan. Silly I know.

    • Skud says:

      Liz, my favourite way to come up with ideas to cook is that I keep a *LOT* of recipe bookmarks in Pinboard ( and I tag them by season. Then I can search for eg. “winter” or by an ingredient that I know will be in abundance like “oranges” or “kale” and be reminded of all the delicious-sounding things I’d bookmarked along those lines.

      My standby “can’t think of what to put on the plan” meals, however, are: veg pasta, mexican beans, dal with rice, frittata, fried rice, and soup.

    • Barbara Good says:

      Using the calendar is a good idea Liz, I might try that next week. I was the same as you RE shopping at the farmer’s markets so ate based on what was there. I totally understand not knowing what to put on the plan, especially with kids whose likes and dislikes change every other day.

  2. Andrea says:

    I’ve never been one to menu plan to far ahead, when we lived in Coburg I use to just drop by the market or supermarket each night and buy what we needed. Since we have been living in the country I have learnt to keep a well stocked pantry (easy quick meals with rice, cous cous or pasta )and a weekly shop of fruit/veggies and of course the chickens supply a couple of eggs a day.
    My favourite “what will we have for tea” meals are homemade gnocchi (only takes about 1/2 hour to make) quiche or scrambled eggs.
    PS I think the girls new wardrobe looks great.

  3. I don’t menu plan either. We keep 2 large freezers well stocked with meat and veg (we live rurally and far out of town, so it just makes sense for us). It’s easy to dig through and find something for dinner. And in a pinch I can use the microwave to defrost.

  4. Skud says:

    Yup, I menu plan, albeit in a kind of non-traditional way.

    I live in a share house with two other people, and we cook communally. I’m home most of the time (I work from the kitchen table) while my two housemates work outside the home and have much busier social lives. We do a sort of informal menu-planning via whiteboard.

    Our whiteboard’s broken into a few areas:

    I maintain this section, which contains notes on things we really ought to use, eg. that half a cabbage in the crisper, or the bag of oranges, or the pesto in the freezer, or the rainbow chard that’s taking over the garden, just so it’s all visible and we’re reminded. This feeds into…

    We each write down what we’d like to cook in the next week or so, which usually comes to about 4 meals a week (the other nights we eat out or eat leftovers or something easy like toast). I always try to prioritise meal ideas for things that “need using” and encourage my housemates to do likewise. Right now the list says: sorrel soup (or frittata), calzones, char kway teow, salad. Sometimes we note down a particular day of the week if one of us has a tight schedule, but otherwise we sort of wing it, with lots of “are you cooking tonight?” texts. As I’m home during the day, I’m usually the one to do things like pre-soaking beans or baking bread, and I’m pretty organised, so we don’t have to worry much about not having our ducks in a row. We have lots of pantry staples and stuff like frozen stock, so there’s always basics on hand anyway.

    MARKET/SUPERMARKET (2 columns, but should probably just be merged):
    Shopping list of things we need to pick up. We write down anything we need for the meals we’re planning, and note any pantry or household supplies that are running out. I nag my housemates to make sure this is up to date by Thursday each week, because I usually do the shopping on a Friday. Right now the board reads: rye flour 5kg, baking soda 1kg, tasty cheese, mushrooms, sleepytime tea, chickpeas, paper towel, dishwashing liquid. By Thursday it’ll likely gain a few more fresh veg items. When I go to actually do the shopping, I rewrite it in a little notebook, breaking it into sections for fresh fruit/veg, deli/dairy/etc, drygoods, and supermarket, those being the different places I go to (usually at Preston Market and then our local IGA). We keep a fairly tight budget so there’s not usually much left over, but if there is I tend to buy extra cheese, avocados, or fruit — basically stuff we might enjoy snacking on.

    As you can see it’s not a hugely detailed plan, but it mostly works for us. We have a fair degree of flexibility, a variety of meals, and the groceries come out pretty cheap and we don’t seem to waste too much food (except sourdough, which we need to learn to calibrate a bit better, I think, as we have more bread than we know what to do with at present).

  5. Renae smith says:

    Rather than specific meals I still generally follow theme nights:
    Meat free Monday, chickeny Tuesday, winter Warmer Wednesday, (slow cooker meal or spag bol or some sort of comforting pasta dish) tuna Thursday, Friday favourites (eg fried rice, pita pizzas, sometimes good old takeaway fish n’ chips) sizzley Saturday – usually sausages or steak/chops etc) and simple Sunday (which can often be something like a family omelette/frittata)
    It still leaves the meals themselves really open to anything but gives me a core ingredient to work around when I’m doing the shopping. I just always have a stock of pantry basics like rice, rice noodles, pasta etc… and staple veggies that could go with/in anything. And I don’t necessarily stick to the nights – sometimes I don’t have time or can’t be bothered cooking “a winter warmer” for eg so we’ll have fried rice and use the mince another night etc… And I also always have a bag of frozen peas/corn/carrots on hand to throw in any dish for the nights when I can’t even be bothered chopping vegetables. My kids find them surprisingly appealing and I feel like I’ve at least added some colour 😉

    • Barbara Good says:

      The theme ideas are great Renae, I might see if I can work out some that would work for us. And I do already have a pantry pretty well stocked with staples. I always have frozen peas and corn (separate because Miss Four periodically goes off one or the other…. or both), nice easy way to add some veg at the last minute and with no work.

  6. Jenny Pearson says:

    Hi Barbara,

    Well this is when I am at my most organised – yes I do menu plan, I’m a huge fan of this as over the years it has saved my sanity, not to mention money, many times. I first started when my son was first diagnosed with coeliac disease, was working in a rather labour intensive industry and couldn’t buy the normal take-away on offer near his employment; at the time we were and in fact still are, living on a limited income, and the small supermarket in my town at the time did not stock anything suitable (except fresh meat and fruit and vegetables) for my son. So a trip to the big smoke was in order on a regular basis, and look out if I forgot something, or not enough of something, disaster!! So a friend of min working in the hospitality turned me on to menu planning and what a bonus. I plan for a fortnight, main meals only, usually enough for lunch next day or to put a serve or two in the freezer for another time. We now have the big two supermarkets in our town, however I prefer to travel for fresh meat at a proper butchers and fresh fruit and vegetables from a proper fruiterer, deli supplies, dried fruit and nuts etc. (my day out with lovely coffee!!) I write my menu down in a small notebook, together with any references to location of the recipes I am using, appointments during the week, or any visitors (always have a roast in the freezer for said visitors!!), all this is done after checking contents of the freezer, my store cupboard of staples, how well the chooks are laying, time of the year, vegie garden during the summer months etc. I love it because I can swap the recipes around during the week if I want to, knowing full well I have all the ingredients for them no matter what, and taking the notebook with me, together with my shopping list means if I come across a special, I can scan what I am cooking and change to suit the bargain, or I know I will have a bit extra to maybe purchase the special and incorporate it in my next menu plan. I also check on-line on Monday evening the supermarket specials for the week I am shopping and adjust my shopping accordingly to take advantage of any staples I may need. In my so-called off week, I just top up at a small local outlet essential fruit and vegies that won’t last the fortnight – soft fruits etc. and find that I hardly buy anything at all – may be only milk some weeks. Sorry about the detailed answer, hope this helps and remember I did say I was a bit quirky!!! By the way, love the colour of the shelving, children just love the bright colours, it seems to fire their imagination, well done to both of you on your project.

    • Barbara Good says:

      Oh my, Jenny that is quite an impressive system. Are you naturally organised, does this kind of thing come easily? I can see you had to start being like this to cater for your sons dietary needs, but I would have so much trouble sticking to something like this. Organisation is not my strong suit. I like that you even check the specials online before you shop and take your plan with you to adjust at the last minute.

      I’ve been shopping at our local Maxi Supermarket which is my new closest and I’ve been really impressed with it. And a friend gave me a good tip for a cheap green grocer – very cheap and so far the quality has been very good too. We have two butchers just at the end of our street which are both good in terms of quality and value. So besides visiting and bakery twice a week for bread (we eat a lot of it, I really should start baking it again) and the IGA for milk mid week, I’ve managed not to make any additional supermarket trips so far. That’s a big step for me, so perhaps there is hope that I can get somewhat organised, at least in the menu department.

  7. Yvonne says:

    Since the purchase of the Thermomix (a big investment from the price tag), I seem never ran out of ideas of cooking. I can always whip up something very simple and quick from the raw ingredients in the pantry/freezer. I make my own sourdough (twice/week), vegie stocks, butter, jams, cleaning product, ice-cream, buying meat in bulk and a weekly vegie swaps with the locals.

    • Barbara Good says:

      Yes, I’ve read amazing things about the thermomix, and given that I’ve seen it pump out soup from raw vegetables in just a few minutes, I imagine the whole getting to 4pm and madly working out the dinner options wouldn’t really be a problem.

      Having said that, I’m not sure I’m sold on the whole idea of the thermomix just yet. I enjoy the process of cooking generally and that seems to be taken away by this appliance. I also can’t possibly justify the price tag yet, especially being on one income. The ability to make sourdough easily is VERY appealing though I must say. And although I do make everything on your list (except butter), either by hand or with other appliances like the slow cooker, I imagine it would be 100x faster in a thermomix.

  8. Pingback: A Menu Planning Plan | The New Good Life

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