It's all well and good to say - Have a menu plan! But what do you put in one? Plans written by others invariably have to be modified to allow for food preferences so if you're like me, you end up practically rewriting the entire week by the time you've finished.
Most people generally cook fewer than a dozen different meals over the course of a month, and far from getting bored about the sameness, this is what they prefer. Instead of worrying about creating 30 different and exciting meals every month, narrow that list down to about 10 and just repeat them throughout the month.
So step 1 is to sit down and make a list of all the food dishes that you and your family most like to eat.
This list will form the backbone of your weekly menu plan. These are your fall - back options. Trust me, neither you nor your kids will care if you have meatloaf every Wednesday.
Put in the occasional new dish if you want, but try not to do that to yourself more than once a week. And whatever you do, don't decide you are going to try out a brand new dish when company comes round for dinner! Try it out on more forgiving family members first.
This is my list:
- Spaghetti bolognese
- Fried chicken
- Roast dinner (lamb, beef, chicken, or pork)
- Shepherd's pie, cottage pie, or a savoury pie covered in puff pastry, made using leftover roast
- Fried pork chops
- Bangers and mash with baked beans
- Soup or stew made from leftover roast
Look at your family's schedule. Don't set yourself up for failure by planning a meal that takes ages to cook, like a bolognese sauce for spaghetti, on a day when you are going to be out all day and will only have 30 minutes to cook.
Plan for days when you will be rushed for time, or when you know that you will be worn out after a long day. Allow for some flexibility as well.
If you have a slow cooker, use it for making soups and for cooking up tougher cuts of meat that are also generally cheaper.
Make your plan and stick to it as much as possible. But don't let it become a concrete block around your neck. Allow for little bit of flexibility.
If you have the ingredients for tonight's dinner and tomorrow's available and realise it would work better to swap those meals, then do it.
Make a shopping list.
That's right, as you are making your menu plan make a note of what ingredients you will need.
I don't have loads of fridge or freezer space, so tend to buy meat and fresh vegetables 3 times a week. Everything else, the non-perishable items, I buy once a week or less often.
However, I put everything down in my shopping list when I create my plan. This way, I know what to look out for - for instance, if I am having chicken later in the week on the Thursday and notice that it's on special on the Monday I will go ahead and pick up a chicken and put it in the freezer until Wednesday evening. It can then go into the fridge to thaw for 24 hours.
Keep a supply of non-perishable bits in the cupboard for last minute meal changes. These include things like pasta sauces, dried pasta, tinned soups, tinned beans.
Because things happen, and sometimes you get home and instead of having an hour to get food sorted, you've got 30 minutes. Sometimes, for whatever reason you aren't able to to to the grocery store, or you forget to pull that chicken out of the freezer the night before. That's when you need something to fall back on.
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