Due to popular demand after my post earlier in the week, I thought I’d share with you how “we” (I mean “I” of course) meal plan at Casa Be Loverly. Well, err, one (very cool!) person said they were interested and hey, I’m nothing if not eager to please. 🙂
First up a little background though. When the Mr and I first moved in together about 12 years ago I wasn’t exactly what you’d call an accomplished cook. We both liked to eat nice food but the Mr was definitely the better cook of the two of us. Despite growing up in a restaurant-y family meal times were most often things to “fill our empty bellies” as kids except when we had a fancy gathering and Mum pulled out all the stops. The Mr and I were keen to try all manner of new things and expand our repertoire so we decided that each week we’d cook a new recipe. We still have this tradition actually. I literally had no idea how to put meals together from things in the fridge and pantry so I went to recipe books and made my shopping lists based on what I found.
The natural progression to this was that we then knew what we’d be eating for dinner each week and I loved this idea. It took all the guess work out of it and I’d seen my Mum staring at the fridge for inspiration one too many times to think that was a good thing.
I’m now a much more confident cook – I do make up my own recipes based on years of slaving over a hot stove and oven and I know they’ll taste good about 95% of the time. The only thing I’m not great at winging is Asian style sauces as I get the ratios wrong all the time so I go back to trusty cookbooks for those.
So, what do I actually do to meal plan?
Once a fortnight, either on Thursday or Friday I sit down with the seasonal editions of Donna Hay magazine past and present, and some of my favourite cookbooks (Jamie Oliver, Bill Granger and Nigella Lawson in particular) as well as some of my fave websites (Liss‘, Cathie’s, taste, lifestyle,) and literally make a list of what we’ll be cooking.
I literally write on one piece of paper what the item is, where I got the recipe from and on another piece of paper I start making a shopping list. I separate the shopping list in to supermarket and fruit & veg/deli. We have a great local fruit & veg shop which is also a continental deli so we buy loads from there.
In the beginning this took forever but I can now do it within about 15 minutes. The Mr loves to do this job too but honestly, he drives me a bit batty by poring over every option and takes hours so I tend to do it when he’s not home. Besides, as head cook around here I reckon I should get to say what I’ll be cooking.
As much as possible, I try to make the food seasonal and use some of the same ingredients. For instance, this week I’ve used fresh ginger in 3 separate meals, red capsicum in two etc. and I even table the sweet treats we’ll be indulging in so that I don’t get tempted to bake every day (I really would!).
I use the Tupperware fridge containers as I have found they expand the life of my fruit and veg vastly.
I don’t go so far as to say what will be cooked each night cos I don’t want to lock myself in to things that far but if a recipe calls for ricotta, baby spinach or bok choy I will usually do that one first.
We always have some pantry items like pasta, polenta, tuna, beans and chickpeas, lots of tinned tomatoes, tomato puree/sugo and fridge items like eggs, cream and cheese but we try not to go overboard with lots of stuff as we don’t have the room to store it.
Generally, I try and freeze at least one meal a week so that I don’t have to cook on the days I go to work. I also must admit that we don’t eat together as a family very often. The Bebito has his dinner well before the Mr comes home so there are always loads of extra meals in the freezer for him. As much as possible, I try to give him what we’re eating for dinner, even if it’s for lunch the next day. He’s surprised me with what he likes (olives!) and doesn’t (tomato based sauces) and is mostly happy to give things a try.
I’ve found that what works best for us is for me to jump in the kitchen directly after the Bebito has his breakfast and he happily sits drawing whilst I prepare dinner. Obviously, this doesn’t work for every meal, nor on every day of the week but I like that he sees me cooking and understands that food involves a process (or several). I explain to him what I’m making or doing and he thinks he’s “helping” me cook which is sweet.
I love having a meal plan – it keeps our food budget to a manageable size (we spend around $110 a week on everything except nappies), there’s minimal wastage and I never have to ask myself the dreaded, “what’s for dinner?” question. It also means that I make sure we’re eating a balanced diet with at least one vegetarian meal a week, one fish and then a mix of everything else in between.
As the Bebito gets older I will actually start planning out lunch meals too as I must admit that I’m a bit slack with what I eat during the day and I don’t want him developing the bad habits I have.
Not everything we cook is fancy or involves heaps of work. In fact, I keep it as simple as possible these days and we have started some mini traditions – we usually have pizza or burgers on a Friday night and I mix up a big batch of pizza dough or burger mix and freeze them. It also helps because the Bebito and I get out and about on Fridays.
I must admit that there’s still room for improvement in the way I do things. I discard my list after it’s done – together with the shopping list and I end up reinventing the wheel. I’m going to move to electronic lists in the near future that I can then email to the Mr (who does most of the grocery shopping) and he can use his phone to access the list.
So, how’s that, clear as mud? Do you menu plan too? Got any burningly fab tips you’d care to share? If you don’t menu plan does it sound all too much hard work?
Interestingly, the fabulous Liss is over at Kidspot talking about the same thing today. She has some great (and different!) tips so pop on over if you’re keen.