Saturday, April 6, 2013

Do You Meal Plan?

In the past I only really used to meal plan sporadically, so supermarket trips were waayyy too frequent, stressful, ineffective and expensive. I would ALWAYS forget to take meat out of the freezer and then meals became a snatch and grab affair, and not particularly nutritionally balanced.

So last year, while taking part in The Organised Housewife's 20 Day Challenge to Clean & Organise Your (my!) Home, I got totally bitten by the meal plannning bug.

Here's why it makes sense to me:
  • One weekly visit to the supermarket
  • Less impulse buying. I have a list and I generally do stick to it
  • Much more time on my hands because I am not at the shops every other day
  • I only need to think about meals once, instead of constantly stressing, every day, about what we are going to have that night.
  • I am far more likely to be adventurous in the kitchen when I have time to think and plan. This makes cooking much more exciting for me.
  • But the biggest reason really is no more flying from work to the supermarket, or worse from school pick up to the supermarket with TIRED HUNGRY kids. Arrrgghh!
Here are the steps that I have found work for me. 

Step 1 - Relax

Take your time. I like to do my meal planning at breakfast time on a Saturday or Sunday. I sit with my coffee and toast and paw through recipe books, magazines, apps or wherever the inspiration hits me.

Step 2 - Get Input

Ask the family what they would like to see on the menu. Why should I have to come up with all the ideas, right?
The kids have also taken an interest in cooking recently. My 9yo son bought himself the Australian Junior Masterchef Series 2 Cookbook. Since then, the kids have been choosing one meal per week from this book to cook themselves. I say "themselves" but I think we all know that means me, and they watch! Not really, I feel I am doing the world (and their future partners) a favour by teaching them some skills in the kitchen.
Be warned though, these particular recipes are not quick and easy, so if you decide to try them, be sure to do it on a day when you have an hour or two to spend in the kitchen with the kids.

Step 3 - Shop the Specials

I do my regular shop at Woolworths (because the store is less than 1km from our house). They also happen to have a pretty fab App that shows me what foods are on special that week. I can browse the aisles for the best deals in my pyjamas at the kitchen table. Pretty neat right? I'm sure other major supermarkets I base the core of the weeks' menu on what MEATS are affordable that week.

Step 4 - Check the Supplies

I like to have a look in the fridge, freezer and pantry to see what is leftover and still fresh enough to use. I might have some leftover rice and a few veges I can turn into Nasi Goreng with a few fresh ingredients. Leftover mashed potato can become Salmon Fish Cakes. You get the idea.

It's also a good opportunity at this point to purge any manky old stuff, to make room for the fresh goods I am about to purchase.

Step 5 - Being Kind to Myself

I like to plan our meals around our family schedule. Our family was particularly busy this past summer, being our first cricket season, for example:

MONDAY: Princess 7 - Tennis 4:00-5:00pm
TUESDAY: Mr 9 - Cricket Training 5:00-6:00, Mummy - Choir Practice 7:00pm-9:00pm
WEDNESDAY: 5:00-6:00 Piano Lessons
THURSDAY: Breathe!
FRIDAY: Yay it's Friday!
SATURDAY: 8:30-12:00 Cricket
SUNDAY: Grocery Shopping

Bearing in mind, I drop the kids at school and head straight into work. I leave work in time to collect the kids from school and we are getting in the door at around 3:15. That leaves a pretty tight window for snacks, homework, chores (theirs and mine), getting changed into sports gear etc.

So, Monday to Wednesday needed to be super quick and easy meals, and not a childrens' cooking day.Later in the week I can think about more creatively satisfying meals.

Step 6 - Decision Time

So now I make the decision on the 7 meals for the week. I like to have at least one fish/seafood, and a variety of chicken, beef and even vegetarian dishes. I try to make sure that the meals are not ALL indulgent and that we have a good serving of vegetables, salad etc with each.

Step 7 - Lists, Lists, Lists

I am a list person, and a computer person. I usually have the laptop at the table while I am meal planning and I like to type up my shopping list as I go. So just reading through the recipes and adding what ingredients I need.

The picture above is my little template I devised. It lists the items in departments within the supermarket. I find this helps to streamline the process once actually in the store with less risk of things being forgotten.

I like to write down how much of an item is required for a particular recipe, this way I don't over buy and in so doing it reduces waste.

I know the Woolies App organises the shopping list very well too, but it is difficult enter specific amounts of items (in particular fresh produce). So for now I take a paper list.

And now the Meal Plan List. If I am using a few different recipe books or sources, I will note down the book and page number on the meal planner. This just saves a bit of time and brain power come dinner time. I keep this inside the pantry door, and it helps to remind me that I may need to take something out of the freezer that morning while I am scratching around for breakfast.

This is also where I keep my running shopping list. You know, for things we run low on, or out of during the week (toothpaste, sugar, cleaning products etc). These items get added to the typed list that I take to the supermarket.

{Please note: The fonts I have used for these templates are specialty downloaded fonts from Kevin & Amanda. These fonts are not recognised by my Google Drive so they have been converted to a plain font. Feel free to personalise these templates by adding your own fonts.}

Step 8 - Don't Forget the Lunchbox

I often have to remind myself to include items on the shopping list for lunchboxes. These include fruit, sandwich fillings, fresh bread and any ingredients for the baking that I plan to do.I try to get ahead by making sandwiches and baking on the weekend and freezing for the week to come.

Step 9 - Hit The Shops

Right, so now I have a meal plan for the week and a comprehensive shopping list. Time to hit the supermarket. We (I say we, I mean hubby!) have come up with a family plan to HALVE the shopping time. We go to the supermarket as a family. Madness you might say but the kids are 9 & 7 now, so old enough to help, and we literally tear the list down the middle. Hubby takes one half and one child, and I take the other. We call it Divide & Conquer. It becomes a bit of a competition to see who can get to the checkout first. Done and dusted in half the time. Clever hubby <3


So there we have it. Planned prepped and ready for the week ahead. If you are a busy mum (or dad, or wife or single person for that matter) and you don't meal plan, I highly would recommend it. It has reduced my stress levels and made cooking and meal times far more enjoyable for the whole family.


Anonymous said...

How awesome is meal planning? Before I started I was a bit... hesitant and didn't really think it would be worth it. But it has made the biggest difference to how organised our house is. I shared how we meal plan here -

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