15 October 2011

A time to plan... Menues!

'What's for dinner Mom?"  You'll hear this question thousands of times during your years as mother!  It can also cause you stress, if you don't know the answer and have to quickly think of something.  Sometimes I just say: "Food!" :-)

Menu Planning is a huge subject and your menu-style will change many times over the years, but let's make a start by answering these questions:

When do I plan to go shopping? Weekly, monthly or bi-weekly?
If you choose Weekly, then you would plan your menu for 1 week, to last you until the next shopping day.  The same applies for monthly, etc.

Can I include vegetarian meals in my plan?
If your husband or children have never eaten a main meal without meat before, start with 1 vegetarian meal a week.  This is the most cost-effective and eco-friendly way to eat, not to mention the health aspects!

Do I want to plan my menu based on a repeating pattern or theme?
Some find it simplest to plan Mondays - pasta, Tuesdays - lentils, Wednesday - sausage, etc.
Some families like to know that they get the same dish once a week.  Personally, I prefer to experiment and try out different recipes all the time.  This can have its negatives too - sometimes Dad will ask for a certain dish again and I can't remember what recipe he's talking about :-)  When I get a new recipe book, I sometimes use it as my theme for menu-planning.  That way I get to try out the new recipes and test them on my family.  Good ones get 3 XXX written next to them, recipes that are so-so get 2 XX and ones that I'll never make again get 1 X.  I've found this system works well over the years as I can now pick up any of my recipes books and quickly find a recipe that I know everyone loves.  If most of the recipes in the book get 2 or 1 X, then I pass the book on to someone else or donate it back to the charity shop! 
Having different themes can make meal-planning fun.  Some themes you could try are Countries (Italian, French, etc.), Celebrity Chefs (Jamie Oliver, etc), Vegetable in Season (Tomatoes, pumpkins, etc) and so on.  Be Creative!

What kind of meat/fish/poultry will we eat, and how often?
From a health point-of-view, most dieticians recommend that you eat meat no more than 3-4 times a week.  We do that over weekends. Fridays - fish, Saturdays - meat, Sundays - chicken.  With the high price of meat products, it makes sense to limit the number of times we eat it.  Sometimes you'll find a certain meat at a special price.  At that time it'd be a good idea to buy extra and then plan your menues around it.  For example, chicken might be cheaper than usual, so you could buy more and freeze it.

What are my husband's favourite meals?
This is important, especially if you're newly wed, to find out and (if possible) learn to cook it the way his mother did!  Yes, it may mean eating humble pie, but you'll gain so much respect from both of them just for trying!  Try to include 1 of his favourite meals in your menu.

Do I know when we'll be eating out?
It's good to have a family calendar, visible to all, where events are recorded, so that when you're planning your menu, you can see when you'll be going out and won't need to cook.  As the children get older, their school and extra-mural activities sometimes interfere with family mealtimes, so it will be essential to have them written up where you can see it.  Or perhaps you can afford to eat out once a week or get take-aways (not recommended).  If so, you need to put that on your menu too.

What will we have for breakfast every day?
I don't plan breakfasts, but make sure that I always have cereal, meusli or oats, fruit, nuts, milk and yoghurt available.  When the children are old enough, they can see to their own breakfasts.  I have a standard shopping list, and just tick off the items I need.  I also have a note pad on the fridge to jot down items that are running low, and the family knows to add items they have used the last of.

What will we have for lunch?
If you and your hubby work away from home during the week, and children are at school, it'll help to save money if you pack lunch instead of buying it every day.  You can have a standard list of items for this too like provitas, rice cakes, ryvita, bread, butter, cheese, cold meat (not polony!), veggies like cherry tomatoes, baby carrots, baby lettuce leaves, fruit, nuts & raisins.  A bottle of water or juice is a must.  Try to buy real juice (100%) and rather dilute it with water to make it stretch.  Of course you'll need lunch boxes, juice bottles (re-use 500ml water bottles) and a lunch bag to pack it all in.  You can mix and match each day's lunch with what you have available.  If you and the children are at home for lunch like we are, then we mostly have left-overs. 
On weekends you might want to switch things around and make lunch your main meal and supper a light one of sandwiches, salads or soup. 

What about Desserts?
How often will you serve desserts to your family?  In winter we look forward to that 'something nice' after supper, but usually we only make dessert on Sundays.  Add this to your menu plan. 

Do I plan to bake something?
If your house is like ours, then you'll want to be prepared for visitors at all times.  We have a baking day - Fridays - when Sarah will bake muffins or cookies for the weekend.  If you don't have time to bake, plan to have a packet or 2 of biscuits or rusks on hand, for those unexpected guests.

Now that you have a better idea of what you'll be eating, let's put it all together shall we?

For the past few months, I have been using this free planner.


You can add your own meals by clicking on the tabs at the bottom and adding them first, so that you can select them on the first page.  Then print it out and stick it up somewhere for all to see!  No more asking 'what's for dinner?' !  Before I stick it up on the fridge, I use my standard shopping list and tick off all the ingredients I need to prepare the meals on my plan.  I also check the notepad on the fridge for any items we need. The shopping list goes in my bag, ready for shopping day.

This might seem like a really long process to go through, but believe me it'll save you lots of time and sanity!  Once you have a basic plan, it will take you less than 30 minutes a week to tweak it for next time.

Try it out and let me know how it goes.  And if you have any tips to share, please tell us about it in your comments!

Have a wonderful week!

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