Monday, February 1, 2016

Menu Plan Monday and my top tips for meal planning

I'm a huge fan of menu planning and it is one of the key reasons we have been able to stick to our food budget as a family of 5 on a single income. We actually plan and shop fortnightly but we have our weekly menu printed and stuck on the fridge.

Not too many years ago we were regular supermarket shoppers who didn't plan meals and didn't budget for food at all. We ended up at the shops at least three times a week and nearly always got to 5 o'clock without a plan for dinner. Since then we have had 3 children, cleaned up our diet and bought a house, so our shopping habits had to change as well.

It has taken a few years but we now buy our pantry staples like flour, oats, nuts, seeds, oils and dried fruit in bulk through a co-op every quarter, we buy most of our meat in bulk direct from the farm and store it in a chest freezer in the garage, we get our fruit and veg from the markets and just get our basics like dairy, pasta, rice etc from the supermarket.

While we would love to buy only organic it is simply not possible financially but we make the best choices we can. Our meals are all quite simple, made from scratch and family friendly. Now that the kids are back at school I also plan for school lunches and after school snacks and try to spend a few hours on a Sunday baking and prepping for the week to save time. There will nearly always be a broth simmering in the slow cooker, some bread baking in the oven and some treats like biscuits or muffins ready to stash in the freezer.

Our dinners for this week are below but in reality I also plan breakfasts, lunches and snacks as well. I find it is a great way to stay organised but also ensures that you are not eating the same things over and over again.

You can download my FREE blank meal planning template here that you can fill in yourself. If you are new to meal planning it can feel very daunting but having a planner ready to go will help. Before you start planning you can also use the template as a food diary to record what you're eating for a week and then use that information to help you plan. 

My Top Tips for Successful Meal Planning

1. Take your time - set aside an hour to write your meal plan for the first time. Gather up your favourite cookbooks and magazines, set yourself up with a notepad or laptop and make yourself a cup of tea.

2. Personalise - first go through your calendar and mark down any functions you have on that week. It could be working late, after school sport, playdates or anything else that will impact on the time you have available to cook. You probably don't want to plan a roast for those nights if you won't be home until dinner time!

3. Cook once, eat twice - this is a big one! I have learned that buying and cooking in bulk makes a huge difference to how smoothly the week runs. For example, if you want to have spaghetti bolognaise one night always do a double batch and freeze half of the prepared sauce straight after dinner to use another night for spaghetti, lasagna or turn it into savoury mince by adding some extra chopped veg and a teaspoon of curry powder (this is brilliant served on toast for a quick dinner).

4. Sunday afternoon prep - think about what can be prepared ahead of time. I always use Sunday afternoons as prep time for the week. I will get a batch of broth or a stew on to bubble away in the slowcooker, roast a chicken and shred the meat ready for 2 meals like risotto or enchiladas and bake some snacks for school lunches and afternoon teas. You can also chop veggies, marinate meat and make meals specifically for work lunches.

5. Stick with what works - if there are some meals your family is guaranteed to eat make sure you include some of them! Maybe try just 1 new recipe per week and if it's successsful add it into your regular rotation. We often don't plan anything at all for a Friday night and it is marked as DIY on the planner. Everyone chooses their own dinner and it could be leftovers, eggs or something from the freezer.

And one extra tip - don't throw away your completed menu plans! Gather all your completed meal plans in one place to refer to next time you sit down to work out your week's meals. They are great reminders when you are stuck for ideas and if you are really strapped for time you can just repeat the whole week!

Our dinners this week are ... 

Monday - Baked chicken drumsticks with mashed potato and greens

Tuesday - Vegie-loaded Spaghetti Bolognaise

Wednesday - Curried sausages with cauliflower rice

Thursday - Chicken and corn risotto

Friday - Homemade fish and chips with salad

Saturday - BBQ with friends

Sunday - Homemade pizza

Do you meal plan? What's for dinner at your place this week?

Linked up to Menu Plan Monday at

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