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

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 😉

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 🙂

You ask, I’ll answer – easy menu planning

Nta asks…

I would love to menu plan but haven’t had much success with my current method.

Can you suggest a structure that’s easy so that I can maintain it long term?

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Self-portrait while on holiday in Ballito

I believe in very loose menu planning.

What that means is that I plan to have meals for about 5 days but I move the days around as things take my fancy or according to the weather.

I do aim to cook 1 – 2 new recipes (from my Pinterest boards) every month but for the most part, my family has about 15 – 20 meals we all LOVE and we rotate these every month or so.

I might have these 5 meals planned:

  • M – chicken stir fry
  • T – pasta bolognaise
  • W – tuna rice bake
  • T – sausage and tomato casserole
  • F – lentil and vegetable soup with garlic rolls

If Tuesday is particularly cold, I may do the soup then instead of on Friday.  If I’ve had to work late on Monday, instead of all the chopping that stir-frying involves, I may do the pasta instead.

The point is to have the freedom within a bit of structure.

This might or might not work for you.

I also like the following idea in theory. I say in theory because I get bored with food very quickly so I need lots of flexibility.

However, you could have a system like this where every week you have a dish from a category:

  • M – chicken (plan any of your repertoire of chicken dishes)
  • T – fish
  • W – vegetarian, maybe with kidney beans/ lentils, etc
  • T – pasta
  • F – pizza

Readers, do you have any tips or tricks to help Nta?

Have you made your menu plan for this week yet? It’s not too late!

{31 days of easy organising solutions} – shop with a list

Today’s tip goes hand in hand with menu planning.

I’d like to suggest that every menu planning family does things in this order to save some money:

  1. check the pantry and freezer to see what you need/ want to use up, which foods are approaching sell-by dates
  2. make your menu for the week ahead using a lot of those ingredients
  3. then add to your grocery shopping list

 

We often get into the habit of buying things on a weekly basis without first checking if we actually need all those items.

I don’t do things as diligently as this suggests every week but at least once a month, I have a week where I force myself to get creative and use up everything. There is nothing that thrills me like an empty fridge and freezer.

It just so happens that this is that week.

Let’s see – we’ve had leftovers from a friend, other leftovers from hosting friends (I made fresh sides), a meatless pasta dish to use up lentils and tomatoes, etc. It’s huge fun to stretch your creativity!

Do you have a creative food week too? How do you make sure you get through all the food in your house?

Have you checked out my book, Live Organised, yet?

 

{31 days of easy organising solutions} – menu planning

Menu planning is undoubtedly one of the quickest and easiest ways to save time and money in your home.

If you don’t already do this, I want to encourage you to just try for a week  and see if you don’t love it.

One of the things a lot of people say is that menu planning prevents spontaneity.

I overcome that by doing my menu plan for the work week (M – F) and then on the weekends we finish everything else in the fridge 🙂

I also swop the days around if I don’t particularly feel like the Tuesday meal on a Tuesday.

The point is knowing that you have the ingredients for 5 meals and not having to waste time and energy making decisions.

Do you menu plan? How has it worked (or not worked) for you?

My book, Live Organised, will help you to find your organising style so you can put systems in place to get more organised.

 

Menu planning saves you time and money

Do you menu plan?

Menu planning is probably the one thing I do that saves me the MOST time every week.

It’s also going to save you money when you start using up all the food in the freezer and in the back of the cupboards.

Just a week ago, I was organising my little bags of cook-in sauces, soups, etc. When I organise, I take the opportunity to clean at the same time.

As I was cleaning it all out, I found a bag of Thai curry sauce. That week I put beef on the list and made the meal. I love clearing out old food; don’t you?

Note – you should always plan your menu before you go to the shops to do your grocery shopping 😉

30-minute rolls from My Pinterest Projects board

Here’s the process I like to follow:

1. Go to your freezer and cupboards to see what food you have that you need to use up and make a list.
2. Do you have all the ingredients to make meals? If yes, great – add the meals to your menu plan. If not, put the balance of the ingredients on your shopping list.
3. Write out a menu plan for a week (if you do weekly shopping) or longer, using recipes to use up that food.
4. You may need to get creative. I love cooking when I have to use up odds and ends because it forces me to get creative and be resourceful. The other day I made a pasta dish with one chicken breast and some veggies… to use it all up so it didn’t waste.
5. Add any items that you need additionally to your weekly shopping list and do your shopping.
6. Stick the menu plan to your fridge.
7. You don’t necessarily have to cook the Monday meal on Monday. Swop them all around if you must (and I do!). The point is to know which meals you can make that particular week.

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

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.

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.

THIS WEEK’S COACHING CHALLENGE

1. If you’re not already menu planning, I’d like to encourage you to at least start. Do so for at least a week or two and let me know how you like it.

2. If you already do menu planning, then your challenge for this week is to only buy perishables and eat from your freezer and cupboards as much as possible.

3. If you need help or support, contact me for a once-off coaching session to help get you unstuck or book a free get-acquainted chat with me to see if we’re a good fit for a monthly coaching relationship.

Do you menu plan? How has that saved you time and money?

PS My friend, Laura, does a weekly round up of menu planners. I don’t participate anymore but I did for a good few years when I first started. Join in if you want some accountability. But PLEASE set a timer before you start browsing recipes – this is meant to save you time 🙂

Feature Friday – menu planning

Feature Friday is an occasional highlight of something that works in my home/ life.

I love menu planning.

It saves me such a lot of time and helps us all to eat healthier and shop better for groceries.

Here is my favourite little magnetic menu planning board (South Africans, I got it for R30 at Mega Mica about 3 years ago and it’s not actually intended for menu planning – I think it’s for kids’ homework).

I start off by cleaning the whole thing.

I then check my freezer and see if there’s anything I want to use up or if there are freezer meals that need eating.

Add those to the board.

Then I make sure we don’t eat any one carb two nights in a row (I like to switch things every night).

I only plan for Mon – Fri and on Saturdays and Sundays we fly by the seat of our pants.

Not really, I just felt like saying that.

We usually use up any leftovers or I’ll do the quickest thing which is a pasta.

Notice our meals are on top and the babies’ meals are on the bottom of the squares.

The babies eat what we had for supper the previous night since they eat at 5 pm and I’m not even home from work then. Except when we have spicy meals like curries.

And that’s it.

Easy-peasy menu planning.

 

I don’t consult a lot of recipe books except when I’m uninspired which is fairly rare because I do love food.

I have set myself a little goal this year though; I’m to try two new meals every month. Of course, all these new things are always cooked on the weekends which is the only time I have more than 30 minutes to spend in the kitchen.

Do you menu plan?

Do you cook the same things or do you like trying new recipes?

P.S. Are you joining me for Spring into Organising?

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