As promised this is an update on my attempts at conquering the skill of menu planning. I expressed earlier the difficulties I had had in this area to date and the reasons why I thought getting over these would be a pretty good thing to do. I wrote that a few weeks ago and the comments I got from readers were really interesting and included some fantastic tip.
For example Liz told me when she menu plans she write the meals on her calendar. Brilliant! So simple and also would avoid my usual problem of losing the actual menu after I’ve written it. That’s what I’ve done for the last three weeks. Not only do I write the meals up on the calendar but I also write other things I’m planning to cook like bread, biscuits, cakes, stock and so on. That way I remember to make them and I spread them out over the week. It also helps me make sure I have something ready if I’m expecting guests on a certain day or if I’ll need stock for a risotto or something by a certain day. Finally this methods means that I can work out a sensible sequence so we don’t end up with three pasta meals in a row which used to happen. I always leave one day blank for a take away, freezer meal, dinner out or something small like eggs or sandwiches if we’ve had a big lunch. This is usually a Saturday, but I can easily swap it for the Friday or Sunday when it’s most likely we want or need a meal like this.
Renae used themes each night of the week to help make the meal decision for the week. Things like chicken Tuesday and meat free Mondays. I liked this idea and have used some of her themes and come up with some of my own. I’ve stuck with Meat Free Monday which I’ve been doing for ages anyway (though I’m not 100% strict on the day), I’ve got a pinterest inspiriation or something new day, slow cooker day, freezer/takeaway/easy dinner day, could-cook-with-my-eyes-shut day (you know the meals you’ve done so many times it’s like you cook on auto pilot), kids choice day, Mr Good on duty day and one other that’s not set.
Jenny, who seems to be the queen of menu planning, had so much wisdom on the subject. She checked the specials online while she was writing the following weeks plan and kept all her records in a specific note book. The idea I like most was taking the menu plan itself with you when you shop so if you see a great special or some produce that you just can’t go past you can adjust your plan on the spot. This could possible work well when I start going back to the Farmer’s markets as well. On the reverse side of my shopping list I’ve been writing out my planned meals just in case I want to make a last minute change. I can then adjust the list adding or taking away items as needed.
Skud was also full of lots of good tips, but the best for me was the ‘needs to be used’ category on her white board system. The idea is that you write down anything that needs using – including what’s in the garden and the freezer – and then incorporate them into your meal plan. This I thought was a brilliant way to make sure you used up the half a zucchini and slightly-past-its-best cauliflower haunting the back of the crisper and of course would help make the best use of garden gluts or things that are just about ready to pick (have I mentioned how much I miss my vegie garden?).
I read somewhere that it takes six weeks to form a habit. If that’s true then I’m half way to making menu planning a habit, one that happens more naturally and without quite as much effort. But I am so glad that I am putting the time into it now because it really has made life easier and my days run smoother. I check the calendar each night to see if anything needs to come out of the freezer and then do the prep for dinner at some convenient time during the day – in the morning if it’s a slow cooker meal, but usually around 4.30 (when Play School comes on ABC2). The actual plan I write on a Monday night (I shop on Tuesday morning) after the girls have gone to bed and I can flick through a couple of recipe books, look at my Pinterest board or find ideas from other sites or blogs I like. I’ve been really enjoying the process, I make sure the plan isn’t too complicated or with too many new dishes (which is where I often came unstuck before) but with enough interest to keep me happy and enough predictability to keep everyone else satisfied. The best thing is that it’s made me enjoy cooking like I used to. Adding in some baking or other cooking each week to my plan has worked too. I often choose something that I can cook with the girls and have had so much more patience with them, even allowing them to crack the eggs knowing I’ll have to dig out the bits of shell that end up in the bowl. It gives us another activity to do during the week and they get the reward of licking to bowl when we’re done.
(PS Renae is the writer of a new blog Ren Likes Red, it’s great. Check it out, especially if you’re into super healthy, whole foods and the like)