The Benefits Of Menu Planning
Menu planning is an important skill to have. I hate cooking. I hate messing up my kitchen after I’ve gone to all the effort of tidying it. Unfortunately, we all need to eat. And I’d like it if I managed to eat something at least partially healthy.
There are so many reasons to menu plan:
- You know what’s for dinner, every single night.
- It saves you money.
- You waste less food.
- You buy less food.
- It allows you to eat healthily, which helps if you’re trying to lose or maintain your weight.
- You stress less. Just trust me on this.
- You buy less takeaway.
There are probably a dozen more reasons why menu planning is important, but what I find is most important to me is that I can be healthy and not stressed out about food.
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Start With Your Favourites
The best thing to do when you first start menu planning, is to write out a list of everything you know how to cook without a recipe. These are usually your most frequently cooked meals, like spaghetti bolognese, or even just meat and three veg.
Then write down any favourite meals you have that still require the use of a recipe. Add in anything that is frequently requested by your family. Even if their most frequent request is pizza. Add it all to the list.
Begin With What You Have
The first place to look when you start your menu plan each week is the freezer. What do you have in there that you could use up. Maybe you froze some leftover meat last week, or maybe you have a bread stick that could be used to make garlic bread one night.
Take note of what you have that could be used as a base for one of your meals.
Next, we’ll check the fridge. Is there anything in there that needs to be used up? Maybe some vegies that could be steamed to accompany a nice chop. Maybe you have the makings of a good salad in there.
Then it’s time to check the pantry. Do you have anything in there that you can use. You might have a meal kit, like tacos. It’s worth making sure that you keep your pantry stocked with some staples, like flour, sugar, rice, pasta, herbs and spices. If it’s not well stocked right now, don’t worry. You can add to it gradually.
Choose Wisely, Young Padawan
Now, make yourself a cup of tea and sit down. We’re starting on our menu planning caper.
Based on what you found (or didn’t find) in your freezer, fridge and pantry, think of some meals you can make. For example, if you found sausages in the freezer and vegies in the fridge, you could have sausages and vegies one night.
Aim to make as many meals as you can from what you already have.
Then you need to fill out the rest of your menu plan. Choose one meal where you need a recipe and match it up with a night when you’re not busy doing other stuff.
For the rest of your week, fill in the blanks with meals that you already know how to cook. The idea is to make it as easy as possible to make dinner every night. Feel free to split nights between family members, too. Maybe your partner knows how to make awesome lamb shanks.
Do what you can to make it easy.
If you don’t know enough recipes by heart to fill out an entire week, don’t despair. You can definitely use recipes as much as you like, but maybe aim for simple recipes, instead of those fancy ones with twenty ingredients. And the more often you make something, the sooner you’ll learn it by heart. It’s all okay.
Breakfast And Lunch Are Also Important
But what about the most important meal of the day, and lunch? They are super important, but the weird thing about breakfast and lunch is that most people are happy to eat the same thing over and over again.
Make life easy for yourself, and make the same thing for the whole week. I like to make a whole lot of pasta and divide it into containers and freeze it. Then at lunchtime, I just grab a container out of the freezer and microwave it, et voila! Hot lunch!
The same goes for breakfast. We have a choice of toast, eggs and bacon, or porridge for breakfast. Sometimes I even make muffins! It’s pretty simple. On the days where I can’t be bothered with making anything, I just have toast, and when I’m feeling more motivated, I can make eggs and bacon. By limiting our choices, it takes a lot of guesswork out of our mornings.
Hit The Shops
Once you have your menu plan set out for the week, it’s time to make your shopping list. Go through your plan and write down anything you need to buy to make everything on your menu plan.
Try to group like ingredients together on your list. For example, put all meat products together, all dairy products together, all fruit and vegetables together, etc. It will make your shopping trip so much easier.
When you have perfected your shopping list (just kidding, it doesn’t need to be perfect), have something to eat. Wait, what? Seriously, don’t go shopping when you’re hungry. You are guaranteed to buy too much food if you’re hungry when you shop.
Once you’ve had something to eat, head to the shops. Try to stick to your list. If some of the things on your list aren’t in stock, feel free to substitute on the fly, but focus strongly on your list.
Don’t forget the milk…
Stock Up That Freezer
As you set up your menu plan every week, you may notice that some of the meals you make are okay to freeze. Curries, stews, soups and pasta bakes are all excellent meals to freeze.
Consider double batching these meals. Cooking twice as much takes about the same amount of time, and you can freeze half for use later on. This is especially handy for busy evenings and when you’re just feeling lazy.
Another thing that is worth doing is stocking up on things when they’re on sale. If meat or bread is going at a good price, consider buying extra and freezing it. This will help you cut down on your grocery bill.
What To Do When You Get Off Track
As with anything, the more you practise menu planning, the more naturally it will come to you. But there will still be times when you’re knocked off track. Maybe you get sick, or you have surprise guests. Sometimes you just have a bad week.
This is normal.
It’s times like these when having a few meals stored in the freezer will come in handy.
The other thing you can do, which is perfectly acceptable, is to look at ready-made food at the shops. They sell lasagnes and pizzas and pies in the freezer section. Another quick and easy meal is ravioli and a jar of sauce.
Don’t be afraid to make things easier for yourself. The main thing is that you and your family are fed, and sometimes that means it’s okay to cheat a little bit. Do not beat yourself up over this.
Keep It Up
The key to success in any area of your life is consistency. Menu planning may come naturally to you, or you might struggle with it. It doesn’t matter, so long as you give it a go. At least try it for a month. And then hopefully it will just become part of your normal routine.
Your life will be so much easier when you know that your food for the week is taken care of. Your family will be healthier, and a little bit wealthier to boot! Not to mention that you’ll be in a position to answer the age-old question of “what’s for dinner?”