So what with being a new mum and now also a “stay at home housewife”, lately I’ve found that I’ve been at home more often than I used to be. Obviously I love to spend time in the kitchen, so I decided that that was how I would spend my hours as bub began to (thank goodness finally!) sleep (a little bit) during the day. Organisation is another of my loves/ hobbies, and so I decided to get organised. After re-arranging the pantry several times, re-organising the life out my “plastic containers drawer” and taking to my poor kitchen with my label making machine, I figured probably that there were more important things to do.
I wanted to start “meal planning”.
Not having ever done this before, I began googling in an effort to get ideas as to how to go about it. I was bombarded with blogs written by all these fabulously (almost) professional (seeming) housewives, who all had wonderful (OCD like) systems in place. It seemed *very* overly organised, and *like* such a “Mum” thing to do. But then realising of course, that here I am, a Mum now, blogging about meal planning…I took a deep breath, put my judgemental tail between my legs and pressed on. And I learnt a few things in my travels:
1. It can save you money. Plan your meals at the start of each week, and in doing so use the supermarket specials to save money. Initially I thought that I needed to start reading junk mail to do this, and I’m not a fan of that, BUT I found that the other alternative is to check out the online shopping webpages for the supermarkets – all the specials are there too. There are a few days on my plan where I have written “…and meat” and I guess this will be an opportunity for using the discounts to my advantage. I imagine buying in bulk would be another way to save money, but I haven’t jumped on that band wagon yet.
I found this free template from theprojectgirl.com and use it for my weekly/fortnightly shopping. It helps me see what I have in the cupboard, and what needs to be bought.
2. The freezer is your friend. Some recipes will freeze happily (pumpkin soup for example), and you should make double – making next week/month’s plan easier OR allowing easy meals to be ready/ prepared on the nights when the “wheels fall off”, as they say. I have started freezing “everything” (more on this later, when I’ll blog about my new found love of all things frozen…) I am sick of how much food we are wasting by allowing it to spoil and have to throw it out. Instead, I have started thinking ahead and if I don’t think it will be used soon, I freeze it. A good example is this week I opened a can of coconut cream and used half of it in a curry. Usually I would, in dead-set-denial, put it in the fridge and it would sit there for much longer than I am going to admit to you, slowly migrating towards the back of the fridge. This week instead I poured the other unused half straight away into a ziplock bag, labeled it and threw it in the freezer. I will use it when that curry comes along again on a plan soon, and it will be there waiting for me, instead of disappointedly being furry in the back of the fridge and having to open another can, only to start the gross and wasteful cycle again.
3. Prepare dinner during the day. At some point in the day when I have some spare minutes I chop everything up for dinner and put it in containers in the fridge. This means that come dinner time it is faster for whomever is cooking to get it all done. One tip here is: Use containers that go in the dishwasher, otherwise you are just creating more work with washing up. Also, group foods together that will be cooked together – onion and garlic for example.
Since taking this photo I have acquired a divided plastic container, which allows for easier division of the foods, again making the process at dinner time more streamlined, especially if you have a wonderful husband like mine, who is now used to coming home to an open recipe book, and the meal prepped, divided and sitting in the fridge ready for HIM (quite often) to cook it. :) I’m a lucky girl, I know.
4. Use cookbooks. They are sitting there, and if you are anything like me, you use them much less than you wish you did. For this first month of meal planning I have set myself the (crazy) goal of cooking out of cookbooks 4-5 nights a week. It’s a bit excessive, but it won’t always be like this. Right now I have the time, so I’m trying it out. If nothing else it is helping me with the stuff out that is of my comfort zone, like fish and balancing flavours.
5. Share ingredients. After the first two weeks, I realised I could have been more organised about my plan in regards to fresh produce. Have a look at the recipes and see if any share fresh ingredients you don’t use for any other reason. Celery is a good example here for me. We cook with it, but despite all good intentions, we will not eat it as a snack. We just won’t. So I realise now, if I buy it and can work a risotto AND minestrone soup into the same week, then it is less likely to be used up, and not go to waste.
For the first month I used a month calendar planner and sat going through cookbooks one night, just filling in each night with the meals, books and page numbers.
I think it is a great start, and it is working for me. I’m going to stick with it for another month, and then see if I’ll shift to a weekly, or fortnightly system instead. Anyways, there are plenty more ideas and tips I’m sure. But this is what I have learnt so far (only being two weeks into the project.) Please feel free to comment with your tips too so that we can all benefit! :) Happy meal planning, peeps. :)
Edit 14/2/14: Yeap, I’m going to switch to a 2 week system. At the end of the second week of trying this, there is too much food still in the fridge that needs to be used. So the third week I am about to re-plan, aiming to use up what we have already. I also read somewhere recently the suggestion too to clean out the pantry and plan based on all those things in there that “seem” to last forever, but actually need to be used. You know, all those basics and staples and “just in cases”. You can buy fresh ones, after you have planned, cooked and eaten these ones. I shall keep you posted on how this goes. :)