Friday, May 6, 2011

Meal Planning

I am fairly new to the wonderful world of regularly cooking and preparing nutritious and yummy meals for my husband and myself. I'm not sure why it has taken til my early 30's to get into the rhythm of planning and cooking meals on a daily basis. I guess initially, it was due to the recent change in our finances and needing to cut back on our eating budget. We are expecting our first baby in about 8 weeks, and I haven't been working for most of the pregnancy. This was partly because my work is very physical, and partly because we have only just moved to the Gold Coast and I am yet to build up my client base (in professional organising) here.

So we have been living on one income, and this forced me to re-evaluate our spending and eating habits. I discovered it is much cheaper, and healthier, to cook at home every day. It took me a while to get used to this as Shane and I were accustomed to eating out regularly. He is a chef and while he is passionate about cooking, he rarely feels up to it in his down time. Fair enough too! Mind you he cooks me spectacular meals for a special treat now and then :-)

My biggest challenge with being the main cook in our home was coming up with new and exciting meals to make, and once I had, realising that I just didn't have the right ingredients in the pantry to actually make the meal then and there. So I decided to start meal planning. This was something I had read about in many organising blogs, and I was curious to try it.

This was a process I've learnt slowly and it is still evolving. I began by assembling all of my favourite recipes into a new recipe binder. I am lucky to have a vast library of amazing cookbooks thanks to my husband's passion, and I started reading through some that didn't seem as intimidating as others. (i.e. have you seen the book on current best restaurant in the world called Noma, in Denmark? I don't even recognise most of that as being food! Its more like art). A few non-chef-people-friendly books of my husbands that I love, are-

Neil Perry's 'Good Food'; Gordon Ramsay 'Makes it Easy'; the beautiful Maggie Beer's 'Maggie's Harvest'; and Matthew Evan's 'the Real Food Companion'.
I photocopy my favourite recipes from these and others, and compile them in my recipe binder. I also use magazines such as Woman's weekly, handed down to me by my mum, for recipe inspiration; and websites such as

Back to the meal planning. Every fortnight I sit down sometimes with my husband and sometimes on my own, and flip through my recipe binder. I usually like to plan around 10 - 12 meals for the fortnight. I find planning and shopping for a fortnight rather than for a week, much more time-efficient. When I cook, I try to make enough for the meal and also for another meal or two the following day. Sometimes I make a large meal such as spaghetti bolognaise and freeze portions which will last a long time. Good tupperware is essential for storing left-overs so we don't have to use too much gladwrap. (More on storing and organising your tupperware, a common complaint of my clients, in another blog another day!).

I make a list of groceries I need to create the 10 or so meals. I then organise the list into separate lists named by where we will purchase the ingredients. For example, we buy our meat and cheese and some dry goods such as organic tomato paste, from Aldi. Aldi have excellent quality Australian produced (very important!) meats such as Free range chicken, at excellent prices. A lot of people don't realise this, and I think a common mis-conception is that Aldi has mostly foreign produce. In fact, most of the produce especially the meat, fruit and veg, is Aussie. There are a few items that we have to buy from Woolworths much to our dislike. We buy A2 milk from Woolworths and also special cat food for our fussy little Princess (yes, that is actually her name!) and a few other things when we cant find them at Aldi. My biggest peeve with Aldi is the inconsistency, one week there'll be something fantastic and the next time you go, its no longer in stock. This doesn't happen very often luckily. They have a great range of organic items like spaghetti, tinned tomatoes and yoghurt.

We buy our fruit and veg from local markets. I highly recommend you try this, if you haven't already. I find the produce is not only cheaper, but stays fresher in the fridge much, much longer. This would be due to the fact that the stall holders buy the produce locally and sell it almost immediately, as opposed to the major supermarkets storing and freezing their produce for alarmingly long amounts of time.

So usually, I have one list for Aldi, one list for Woolworths and one list for the markets. Occasionally we will buy meat in bulk at a big meat supplier such as Patton's meats, as well.

I find this method of creating very specific lists and really sticking to them, very helpful and enables us to keep to our budget. It also creates a lot less wastage, as I know exactly what to do with what I have in the fridge! No more wondering "now what will I do with that half a cabbage" and then throwing it out the following week when its gone off.

It sounds like a lot of work, but believe me, it actually saves me time and stressful headaches caused by not knowing what to make for dinner. Its also much healthier as we can plan well balanced meals and create them quickly with ease, having all the right ingredients there. This prevents the "I'm hungry and want to eat now, so lets get take way" syndrome.

Also, just another point, I always try to make enough at the time for lunch or dinner the following day. Shane takes his left-overs to work with him, which saves us alot of money on bought lunches. I try to cook as much as I can at the one time, using the same boiling water for several vegies for eg, to also save on power. The oven and stove top can add considerably to your power bill, so its great to do things like steaming one type of veg over a pot of another veg cooking. Efficient, healthy and enviro-friendly cooking!

I hope this has given you some inspiration to try meal planning. I was a slow-starter but now that I'm there, there's no going back for me!


  1. I often look to websites such as these for super healthy receipes:

    (amongst many others!)

    I find looking at other blogs really gives you a full picture of how the recipe was created, how it was enjoyed by their friends and family and why you should try it or make your own version of it : )

  2. Thanks little nite owl! ;-) I will check out those links, and please keep them coming! Its so great to get new recipe references, it keeps life in the kitchen interesting to mix thngs up. Thanks for the comments, keep 'em coming! X

  3. I love to menu plan. I have been MP since my youngest was a baby, so about 15 years. I am completely lost without it.
    I also shop fortnightly as that's how we get paid and it works sooo well.
    I too have a few list for where we need to shop.
    I do the bulk of my shopping at Coles (it's cheaper here than Woolies and we don't have an Aldis :((()
    Then I get a few things that Coles don't stock or that are on special at woolies. Fruit and Veg form the local green grocer (they get suppplied from the Adelaide Central Markets).
    We buy meat in bulk every few months from Goolwa Cattle Co in Adelaide.
    Then a couple of times a year we will go to a discounted grocery store in Adelaide (Rite Price) and stock up on tinned fruits, beans, then pastas, etc anything that we would normally use that they have.
    Saves so much money

  4. Hello again,
    I have been menu planning for some time. I have a few posts on my blog about it from probably last year about this time. I used to menu plan for a month of dinners and just have standard stuff and leftovers for breakfasts and lunches. Since we started a new diet in January, I went back to planning only a week at a time since breakfasts and lunches had to be carefully planned out and were much more involved than before.
    I like that you mention your inspirations; half of the difficulty menu planning is simply coming up with interesting ideas! I love having the meals planned out so what we need is purchased and ready to go! It's so much easier to save money this way: eating out regularly is so expensive!

  5. I wanted to start meal planning but my husband soesn't like the idea of having to plan ahead our meals, he says he won't know what he is going to feel like eating for dinner a couple of days away, he wants to decide that night which makes it difficult to know what to take out of the freezer to defrost in the morning so we end up going to the supermarket & spending even more money on things we don't need!!! So frustrating!

  6. Well, if it's links to sites with good recipes you want, Smitten Kitchen is the one for you ( - I discovered that blog just over a year ago and am completely in love with it. Particularly because of the recipes I have tried almost every one has turned out really well (and the one that didn't was one I'd tinkered with while feeling tired and grumpy when I should have known to just not try baking at all).

  7. Menu planning has saved my sanity (and grocery bill!) so much over the years. When we only had 3 children, my hubby was only in casual work and so we really had to knuckle down. I found menu planning helped so much in this.
    Now we buy our fruit and veg from a local guy who brings them fresh from the market at a cheap rate because we are in a co-op and the costs are shared.
    I menu plan according to what we have gotten in the f+v box (what is seasonal) which helps to cut expense. I go through my menu planner each week and see which recipes fit. Then I write the menu on our Weekly Menu Record which you can view here (i uploaded it to Google Docs):

    I write it on the Menu Record and keep it in our menu planner just so I don't forget what has worked in the past. It takes the mental strain out of thinking up meals from week to week and reminds me of ones we enjoyed a while back that need to be tried again ;)

    I then write the menu up on our white board in our kitchen so both hubby and I can see what is to come and what needs to be thawed out etc rather than having to go through the menu planner folder and find the right menu. Just makes it a little easier.

    I then just go through our shopping list (i have mine in word, organised by item and aisle order as I go through my local supermarket - takes out so much of the leg work racing back and forth through aisles) and print it off.

    Here's our shopping list (again visible in Google docs):

    Thanks for sharing your tips!
    Lusi x

  8. I'm an on/off menu planner, with no real explanation, except that I'm fickle and lazy! However I fully agree with all of the benefits that you have highlighted. It is so useful when you have a young family to work around too as you will find out in the next few years Sarndra. My girls are 9 and 6, they swim 2-3 times per week, have a swimming club one evening every fortnight, go to private piano lessons after school and one has a private viola lesson too. So even though I am home full time (studying) I still have a few commitments (to them!) on several weekdays, and I have one night out at orchestra each week. My husband gets home at a very typical time, but due to my girls' activities I often don't get home until he does. Since children all seem to need dinner between 5 and 6pm, we can't afford to be faffing around at 5pm just *thinking* about what we'll have for dinner. We freeze most of our meat too so we HAVE to organised if we're going to use any of that. It is much easier for me to write a menu plan that considers the time available to me to make a meal on a given day, and allocate something appropriate. On my night out, which coincides with the piano lessons, I have a small window of opportunity and I either need a meal ready BEFORE going to piano lessons, or I need to schedule a 'freezer meal' (frozen left-over portion) for us all that night. We nearly always have one portion left from our dinners, and my husband often gets to take one to work the next day, but the freezer is always chockers with them too.

    For a Mum with school-aged children, planning around my 'free' afternoons, my 'lates' etc REALLY helps me to make the best use of the time available, in addition to the usual benefits of allocating every half a cabbage to a specified meal, and only buying what is accounted for during the next week. Furthermore, if I've written it all down, and in some cases written page numbers for recipes books, it's easy for my husband to look it up when he gets home - if he's beaten us - and make a start chopping veg etc so that no time is lost :-D

  9. Hi Freckles,
    I sympathise with you here. I dont always 'feel like' what I have planned, so its good to keep the Menu Plan flexible- to a certain degree. Maybe get ask your man to sit down with you and write down a few favourites- my husband's would be - taco's, lasagne, spaghetti bol, roast lamb, stir-fry, etc. Then you can just surprise him with one of his favourites every now and then- he cant complain about that :-) I know its hard to have a complete Menu plan but maybe just try to plan out one or 2 meals a week, every little bit helps :-) Look forward to hearing from u again

  10. Thanks Moonwaves and Lusi-
    its sooo wonderful to get new links for recipes- I do like to mix up the old menu plan with new ones now and then.
    I appreciate your suggestions

  11. Hi Deborah,
    You sure do have a busy household- how wonderful you are to keep all that organised! I admire you. Thanks for sharing, all the best Xxo

  12. When my children were little and we were on one income menu planning was a must. We still do it years later although not as strictly as back then. It's quite a thing to sit down and plan meals for a family for a week that are in budget, reasonably interesting, are balance and healthy and cater to all tastes. It sooo worth while when on a limited income.

  13. Hi Sandra,
    I have a week of from my very busy work life so I am finally going to start meal planning, after talking about it for ever. I an also organizing my house and trying to get everything in order before I go back to work and all the busy times.. I'm loving your tips and ideas :)

    :) Hiari

  14. Hi Hiari! Hope your week off is going well, glad to hear ur Aldi shop was a success, we love it! Looking forward to seeing u and Shel soon. Xxox