How I do menu planning, and what I cook for my freezer

Have you read my post on why you should consider menu planning?

 

I do my menu planning weekly but if you’re more of an all or nothing person, you might want to just plan a month’s worth of meals and get it all over and done with at one time.

Weekly or monthly menu planning for you?

I feel like I’m doing that thing with my kids where I say “cucumber or tomatoes?”

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A couple of ideas on ways to approach menu planning:

  • have a theme for each day: mince on Mondays/ chicken on Tuesdays/ vegetarian on Wednesdays/ fish on Thursday/ easy Friday (pizza/ eggs/ soup)
  • cook a certain number of nights and use freezer dishes for the rest
  • delegate certain nights to your spouse

How I do it

1. Generally, D does supper on Tuesdays and Sundays. The trick when you delegate is you are not allowed to say a single thing except “thank you for the lovely supper”. They will stop if you nag about anything. Tell yourself the kids will be fine without vegetables for 1 – 2 nights. I don’t write anything on my menu plan except “D”.

Sundays is usually toast with peanut butter, cheese, etc. and this is (sadly) the kids’ favourite meal of the week.

2. According to my daughter, we always have rice on a Monday (I checked my menu plans and turns out, she’s right 🙂 I haven’t intentionally planned it like that, but I do like rice/ pasta/ rice/ potatoes/ bread-based within my 5 meals.

3. We very rarely go out for supper because 1) I can whip up a pasta quicker than us getting ourselves sorted and to the nearest place and waiting for our meal 2) we prefer lunches out

4. I cook a lot on the weekends. Not every weekend, but about one or two weekends in a 5-week period. That feels about right to me. I may make 3 meals but I cook double so that’s 6 nights’ suppers sorted.

5. Leftovers. Don’t discount the leftovers. Those meals I cook on the weekends last longer than I anticipate because often we don’t have to have the 5th meal of the week because there is enough leftovers. Sometimes I’ve had supper out, sometimes D only wants half of his supper because he’s home later, and so on.

Meals that freeze well

Some people think potato or pasta doesn’t freeze well. I have done both and the meals are still perfectly fine. I think the trick is to not let it thaw forever out on the counter because your food will get watery (yuck!). I put it in the microwave to defrost it a bit for about 6 minutes (that’s two presses of the quick defrost button on my microwave) and then straight into the oven to crisp up.

  1. Cottage pie
  2. Baked pasta dishes. When you cook one dish to have “fresh” on the night, do another dish for the freezer. Put it in the casserole dish, put some cling wrap (Saran wrap) on the top, and into the freezer.
  3. Rice
  4. Curries
  5. Bolognaise
  6. Chicken a la King
  7. Taco mince
  8. Chilli con carne
  9. Chicken and broccoli casserole
  10. Soup and the rolls 🙂

and so on (share your ideas in the comments please)

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Do you menu plan? Weekly or monthly?

Do you cook freezer meals? Which ones are your favourites?

Why you should menu plan

I was chatting to a friend a few weeks ago and I told her that when things feel like they’re going off track, there’s one thing that I need to do: make a menu plan.

Today, let’s talk about why I do menu planning (I’ve been menu planning for 11 years now), and why you should consider doing so too.

Do you menu plan?

Good reasons to menu plan

  • it saves you daily decision time
  • saves you money when you use up all the food in the freezer and pantry, and stops you buying foods you don’t need
  • no stress about what to cook every night as even if you don’t feel like eating what you put on your menu, you know there’s at least 4 other options to choose from

I play a little game with myself and aim for sticking to the menu plan 4 out of 5 nights. Remember I’m not a perfectionist. Good enough is better than perfect.

How do you start menu planning

Note – please do this before you go to the shops to do your grocery shopping 😉

1. Go to your freezer and cupboards to see what food you have that you need to use up, and make a list.
2. Write out a menu plan for a week (if you do weekly shopping) or longer, using recipes to use up that food. Get creative.
3. Add any items that you need to your weekly shopping list and do your shopping. You may have some pasta and cans of tuna so in order to use them up, you might need a few cans of tomato.
4. Stick the menu plan to your fridge.

Now you don’t have to rack your brain every night wondering what to cook because you have a plan.

Another tip that will save you lots of time is to cook something on a Sunday afternoon. This meal is not for eating that day, but for freezing. I heard a podcast recently (I don’t know how she does it – an Aussie podcast) where the lady said she makes all the lunches for the week on a Sunday afternoon and while she’s doing that, she bakes muffins or bread. Brilliant!

When you have a busy day it’s easy to just defrost the meal and have a healthy supper on the table in minutes.

We went through a stage where we didn’t buy any meat for two months while we finished everything in the freezer and started on the cupboards. You see, we all get into a habit of buying the same groceries every week without checking if we really need it.

If you’re not already menu planning, I’d like to encourage you to at least start. Do so for at least a month, give it a good go and see if it doesn’t save you time and money.

And if you already do menu planning, then your challenge for this week is to only buy perishables and eat from your freezer and cupboards.

Are you menu planning?

Is there anything you’d like to change about your process? Do you have any special tips?

PS Look out on Thursday for how I do my menu planning and some freezer meal ideas

When life throws you curveballs

A reader recently sent me a question asking what my suggestions were for her and for other readers who get thrown from their usual routines by life’s curveballs.

I think this is a great question because she’s right – we all have things that throw us off track:

  • busy time periods at work (month-end/ year-end/ closing out a project/ going live with other projects, etc.)
  • busy periods in our kids’ lives (concert week, recitals or plays)
  • any illness (usually means kids or parents not sleeping)
  • going on holiday (lovely to be away but re-entry can be tough)
  • any out-of-the-ordinary happening that messes with your routine

I’ll share with you my top 3 ways to get back on track:

  1. Lower my expectations

That seems counter-intuitive but it makes complete sense for any of us control freaks.

I know after returning from a holiday that it’s going to take about a week for things to return to our normal. There’s no sense in getting stressed every day because there are piles of undone laundry, no food in the fridge and kids who can’t wake up for school because they’re too tired.

This one step is the biggest creator of peace of mind in the home.

  1. Get back to my basics as quickly as possible

For me, that’s making a menu plan and making sure we have enough fruit and vegetables in the house. I can almost always cobble meals together from the freezer or pantry; it’s when there aren’t enough apples or carrots that I start to twitch. Food is important to me and the family, so this is one of my priorities.

In essence, start putting your routines in order. When we get back from a holiday, I start unpacking immediately because I can’t stand things laying around on the floors and I’ve trained the kids to do the same. They’ve unpacked their own suitcases for the last 3 years.

  1. How can I restore order in the quickest, painless way?

I could take one day, generally the Sunday afterwards, and do laundry non-stop, and while that would be quick, it is not painless for me! I choose to do a daily load until we’re caught up instead as we generally only do the laundry about 3 – 4 times a week. It ends up being just a day or two longer, but knowing that there’s a plan in place helps a lot to keep me at peace!

If doing laundry isn’t painful for you, you might as well get it done quickly.

I read a blog once where the mom used to go to a laundromat, use 6 machines and just get all the laundry done if they had a curveball or two thrown at them. She said she’d take a book, relax for two hours and leave with everything up to date. That actually sounds splendid.

To summarise, I’d give myself two weeks to get back to my routines. Decide what is most important to you, and start doing that thing immediately (as you saw above, unpacking and food for me!).

Then build on those initial steps until your routine – and peace of mind – is restored once again.

What are your basics?

Do you have a strategy for life’s curveballs?

My year of happy

While I was thinking about my year ahead, I decided to re-read some of my favourite books this year.

One of those is Better than Before by Gretchen Rubin, especially because she’s releasing a new book just on The Four Tendencies (I can’t wait!) later this year.

I started listening on Monday, my first day back to work this year, and it’s been (dare I say?) even better listening the second time around.

Maybe it’s because I’m a super big fan of the podcast which started after I first listened to the book?

Anyway, in the book, she mentions The Happiness Project and how she focussed on 12 different projects over that year.

And that’s when I had my bright idea.

 

I’m going to do my own version of a Happiness Project. My Year of Happy!

Basically, I’m going to focus on 10 different areas in my life, 1 for the months February – November. January is for thinking it all through and December is for relaxing and wrapping up the year 🙂

My areas are health, finances, holidays, friends, kids, husband, house projects – decor,  house projects – decluttering, faith/ God and fun – reading, photos, crafts. I probably have 2 – 3 things I want to do for each area and that’s plenty.

Also, when I get x and y done, they’re done! Which is so satisfying to me, especially because for many years I’ve had ongoing goals on my list so 3 of this per month, or 2 of that per month, or doing project x every month. I think I’ll have a mix of recurring goals and once-off.

Does a happiness project sound like fun to you?

If yes, great stuff. We can post pics of our little projects on Instagram 🙂 and if you’re an Upholder like me, you’ll have no trouble at all planning out your year and making your year happy as you do your projects. If you’re a Rebel, you’ll do a project only if you want, and on your terms.

But for the Obligers and the Questioners, those that need a bit more accountability, let me know if you want some coaching for your Year of Happy.

How it will work

You decide on your own 10 projects – one for each month Feb to Nov – or fewer if you want to repeat some categories. It’s your life; you choose. You know what your life is like so you can choose easy things in your busier months so that this is not something stressful.

Your projects will be different to the next person’s. There is no one size fits all.

Logistics

We will use Skype audio or IMO (if the video doesn’t have too much lag) and chat once a month for 30 minutes.

You’ll give me feedback and set your intentions for the month ahead. I’ll coach you on any obstacles or where you feel stuck.

At the mid-point of each month, I will have some “open office time” for a 5-minute call. This is specifically so if you want to chat/ brainstorm.

In between you work on your stuff by yourself.

Then we wrap the 2017 year of happy on 30 November, rejoicing in a year well-intentioned and well-spent.

The best thing about all of this is you remain in the comfort of your own home, in your pyjamas, make-up free, while getting the support and encouragement to go make yourself happy.

How much

Only $50 per month or R700 at today’s exchange rate. If this is something that you really want but that amount doesn’t work for you, then let me know what you can pay and we’ll make a plan. It’s my year of give and you get to benefit 🙂

There’s no commitment to stay for the full year – stop whenever you want.

Are you interested? Email me and we’ll take it from there.

What kind of food planning do you need?

I figured something out ages ago.

When life feels too busy, the one way I can restore some order quickly is to menu plan.

I’ve been menu planning about 9 years now and it’s the best! It saves time because you’re not thinking about what to cook every night, and money because you buy exactly what you need.

Grocery prices in South Africa (and I’m sure over the world too) have skyrocketed, so if you can save money, that’s always a bonus.

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I usually only plan menus a week at a time, but I really want to get all the “old food” cooked and eaten, so this weekend past, I menu planned for two weeks.

My menu planner hangs on the side of our microwave, and is one I get from CNA. I buy whichever ones are in stock at the time, but I really love the current one I’m using because it has notes down the right, so I can note down which meals are in the freezer, or which I have to cook from scratch. I also use that section to plan my lunches for the week.

I’ve said this before but it’s worth repeating – as long as you have your 5 meals “ready” on the list, you can mix them up. If you don’t feel like pasta but it’s on the plan for Monday, do the meal for Wednesday instead.

Menu planning helps you use up food too and I can tell you my kids are so glad the broccoli is all used up now because we had that twice this week 😉

IMG_0930 Do you menu plan?

If yes, do you plan weekly, two weeks at a time or a month at a time?

If no, what’s stopping you? Why don’t you give it a bash, just for a week?

PS Friday evening/ Saturday morning is when I menu plan for the following week because Dion goes shopping on Saturdays. I have strict rules for myself – we never just “pop” out to the shops; we make do if we don’t have what we wanted. As I always say, no-one’s going hungry; it’s just that your first preference might not be available 😉

Organising | kids’ school lunches

My kids have always been good eaters – part of this is that they like food, and the other part is that I do things in a particular way which has had good results.

  1. When I try a new meal, I ask for a helper in the kitchen (one twin only). This makes the other twin super curious about what’s going on and while I’m cooking, I make a lot of oooh and aaah sounds, and we taste. We then invite the other twin to taste too, so by the time supper rolls around, everyone wants to eat.
  2. We don’t snack on carbs in between meals (we’ve relaxed this a bit but that’s usually in winter when everyone is hungrier) so they are genuinely hungry when it’s meal time.
  3. I don’t make a big deal about eating or not eating. I also don’t always feel like eating, so eat/ don’t eat – whatever! But… there are no alternative meals 🙂
Kids' school lunches | www.OrganisingQueen.com

wholewheat bread with peanut butter, apples with lemon juice

So they still eat very well at lunch time, but I have a few rules after trying all sorts of combinations the first couple of weeks of “big school”.

  1. there has to be a sandwich and fruit/ veg (my one twin could be vegetarian so often asks for carrots or tomatoes instead of fruit)
  2. we only allow tuckshop money on Fridays, and not every Friday
  3. I only pack snacks (nice things aside from the fruit and sandwich) on a Friday. I generally pack shareable items because I’m encouraging sharing (mini packs of gummy sweets/ superC/ raisins/ peanuts and raisins/ mini cheddars)
  4. if they don’t eat their lunch and only have the snacks, then that becomes the lunch when they get home from school. I don’t ever throw food away.
Kids' school lunches | www.OrganisingQueen.com

I think there were prunes in the container, and she wanted her ham next to her roll… #thisissix

Sandwich fillings are usually ham (I like the Woolworths beech smoked ham), cheese, or peanut butter and jam. My kids don’t like Melrose (cheese spread) and we have never bought Marmite (Dion and I don’t like it). They do eat fish paste but like me, they prefer it at home on hot, buttered toast.

When I try to introduce new things, they tell me they like their same old fillings and it’s not boring for them.

I also think about the mess factor with lunches – while things like tuna mayo and egg mayo spreads are delicious, I wouldn’t want them messing about with that at school. As Kendra told me once, “we want food we can eat quickly so we have time to play”. Got it!

Kids' school lunches | www.OrganisingQueen.com

tiny bit of leftover pasta salad, carrots, ham on French loaf

Kids' school lunches | www.OrganisingQueen.com

same story with more carrots

Kids' school lunches | www.OrganisingQueen.com

Rolls with ham, banana, container with either raisins/ peanuts and raisins

All the pics were taken with my phone at night which is why they’re less-than-stellar.

I’m always asked about this topic so I hope this helps at least one mom. Let me know if this helps/ amuses you!

Tell me your lunchbox tips, and feel free to ask questions.

Weekly planning – setting yourself up for success

Okay, let’s talk about preparing for the week ahead.

I’ll share what I do and hopefully, that sparks one or two ideas for you too.

My weekly prep actually happens in 3 parts:

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1. Decide on personal and business goals for the week ahead.

This step happens on Thursday evenings when Beth and I have our accountability chats.

I started a new step to this process about 3 – 4 weeks ago where I actually write those individual tasks in my notebook so I know when I’m supposed to do them over the course of the week.

This sounds terribly obvious but sadly, it wasn’t… and I’d always realise I had outstanding things too late to do much about them.

(30 mins with Beth, and 5 minutes to write the tasks spread over the week)

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2. Weekly menu planning and grocery list

I usually do this section on a Friday night/ Saturday morning so that Dion can do the shopping sometime on Saturday.

The key here is to first check the freezer and pantry to see if you can make anything with what’s there, and then to decide what you want to eat, and add the missing ingredients to your shopping list.

I advocate loose menu planning where you have five meals with ingredients ready… but feel free to have Monday’s meal on Wednesday and bring Thursday’s one closer, as you feel led 🙂 I will say I feel particularly satisfied when a week goes by and I actually stick to the menu plan and cook all 5 meals! Go me!

Once every 4 – 6 weeks, I like to completely clear out the freezer (not of incidentals, but of main meal food). This is good for three reasons: you save money and you get to exercise your creativity in the kitchen. Some of our kids’ favourite meals happened as a result of me getting creative (pasta with chicken sausage and sweetcorn).

(10 minutes)

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3. Physical getting ready

I check the schedule to see if anything out of the ordinary might be happening, like events at school, socials, and so on.

I had 5 tops left for work after I used the Konmari method. This weekend I bought two more tops, so YAY – seven! Colleagues will now see me in the same top only one in 8 workdays as Fridays are casual. Based on the weather, I like to have a rough idea of what I will wear on which day.

I prep cereals for the week (actual measuring out of cereals) and two lunchboxes with bread. And then I pack my lunchbox with everything imaginable, and on Sundays I also pack a clean water bottle to use for the week ahead.

(15 minutes)

That’s it – 1 hour a week (and I don’t think I should count the full 30 minutes with Beth in here but let’s be conservative) – and my life runs smoothly.

Do you do weekly planning?

How long do you estimate it takes you?

(I have just started to think about next year’s Let’s Do This workshops. Make a quality decision now to join me for one of those, and we’ll talk more about weekly planning then)

Let’s talk about menu-planning – part 2

We’ve spoken about menu planning before; this time let’s talk about the how.

I like to keep things reaaaaaally simple.

So we have a very easy plan.

Menu planning | www.OrganisingQueen.com

1. Use a printable or meal planner pad and keep it visible

For years I used the printable in the Household Organising Kit (part of the Organise your Home printables). These days I buy a menu planner pad from CNA and stick it to the side of the microwave so it’s visible to me, D (if he’s interested) and our nanny.

2. Mark off challenging days

On Wednesdays I go to Spanish dancing so supper is always a freezer-ready meal. I start cooking the pasta and Dion finishes it so that he and the kids can eat. I eat once I’m home just after 8.

If you have after-work activities, those are the nights to keep things easy. No-one died from having a sandwich and salad/ soup for supper.

When one of us has a work or other function where we’re going to be eating, that’s the night to eat the meal the other isn’t wild about 🙂 When I’m at home with the kids, we’ll have leftovers.

3. Have loose themes

Some people like to have Meatless Mondays, Beef on a Tuesday, Chicken on a Wed, etc. I like pasta on Mondays and Wednesdays, rice on Tuesdays and Thursdays, potatoes on a Wed and easy meals on Fridays. I almost never plan the weekend meals as we eat whatever I feel like doing…

Decide on your themes and write them down.

Menu planning | www.OrganisingQueen.com

4. Add meals from your freezer or pantry

I decide what we feel like eating from the freezer and what we (I) feel like cooking. If you don’t look in your freezer regularly, you’ll forget what’s in there. Which reminds me, I have some waffles we need to eat 🙂

5. Get creative

I aim for once a month but in truth it probably only happens once every 6 weeks. That’s the week I get creative and use up any odd bits of meals/ veg/ pantry items to create meals.

That’s how my sausage chicken and sweetcorn pasta originated… which is now a regular occurrence.

Sometimes the combinations are a bit strange so I’ll need an ingredient to create a decent meal, and that’s fine.

The point is to use up things you’re mostly likely to ignore.

Annnnnd that’s it. That’s how I do my menu planning.

How do you do your menu planning?

Let’s talk about menu-planning – part 1


Menu planning | www.OrganisingQueen.com

I always get a lot of questions about how I do meal planning, my thoughts, preferences and so on.

That’s not a surprise since I’m also a very curious person and if I were sitting down with you, I’d ask you for your details too!

I meal plan because it saves me TONS of time, I don’t like to wait for food when I’m hungry (and it seems my kids are the same) and it saves us money too since we “eat from the freezer and pantry” once a month.

1. Main meal

I like to cook the main part of the meal and have that portion in the freezer. This includes things like bolognaise sauce, chicken and broccoli, chicken a la King, kidney bean and tomato sauce, curries, etc.

How do I decide which meals to cook for the freezer?

I have a list of our family favourites so I can always refer to a list. But I do have it on my goals list to try 2 – 3 new recipes every month. My Pinterest board has to count for something. My only rule is that it has to be a quick meal. I can’t abide meals with too many steps or ingredients – I get tired before I’ve begun!

2. The carbs

Mine is a carb-eating home. If you’re on a different diet, ignore this point.

I generally cook carbs on the night, but we do freeze any leftovers in the correct portion sizes so that it’s easier on a leftovers night. We eat pasta, rice and potatoes. Sometimes we also have wraps – I used to buy them but I discovered these wraps and I’ve been hooked ever since.

3. Veggies

We cook veggies on the night only. I do keep some frozen vegetables like peas, corn and pumpkin (South Africans, I love the McCain pumpkin chunks) but most are cooked “fresh”.

Menu planning | www.OrganisingQueen.com

4. Pizzas

We make our own pizza bases from a super easy recipe I picked up somewhere years ago. I also mix in spinach and now the kids only know spinach bases as pizza 🙂

I always have a couple of bases ready in the freezer so we can whip up a healthy, homemade pizza whenever we want.

5. Friday night easy meals

On Fridays we like easy meals. I know this is traditionally a take-away night in many households but I’m … fussy and I honestly prefer to whip up something quickly than to drive somewhere and get it.

We have pizza, burgers, omelettes, etc. and in winter, soup and a toasted sandwich.

6. Leftovers

I never throw leftovers away. Ever.

Even if there’s just one portion, I save it. That could be a lunch for me or if a bit more substantial, we could add a big salad and garlic rolls to make it another meal.

That’s my system.

What are the components of your menu planning system?

PS even if you think you don’t have a system, you probably do 🙂

{Mission} Top 20 recipes

Late last year I went through my recipe flipfiles which, by the way, have greatly reduced over the years.

You can have the most organised recipes but if you’re not using them, they’re clutter.

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I was even more brutal than I normally am (must be able to cook within 30 minutes) and tossed out LOTS that I am even more certain I’ll never make due to vast amounts of fat or sugar, or ingredients I’m probably not going to get, just for a recipe.

Some of my “rules”:

  1. I won’t cook anything that calls for more than a cup of sugar. If the measurement is close (1 and a third, or 1 and a half), I’ll just do 1.
  2. I never cook anything with more than half a cup of butter.
  3. quick for weeknight suppers

I now have a nicely organised flipfile of our family’s current favourite 20 or so recipes. Some of them are even in my virtual recipe book. Some of the recipes have had to be tossed because there’s really no point in making things the kids don’t eat. I have fantastic eaters so if someone really doesn’t enjoy fruit in their food, it’s not a big deal (pineapple chicken, apricot chicken, etc.) 🙂

Of course, all that organising triggered some forgotten memories so I checked the pantry and freezer, and then added some things to the shopping list (one meal every week because I’m actually trying to keep to the grocery budget) and so we’ve had some nice “new” meals too.

Do you keep a recipe file or do you know your family’s favourites so well you never need a reminder?

This weekend, I’d like to challenge you to go through your recipes and try and toss the ones you know you’re never going to make.

Bonus points if you go through your Pinterest recipes too 🙂

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