meal planning for beginners

How many times have you heard "what's for dinner"? either from your nagging kids or your inner voice reminding you that you have to sort dinner out! If I told you that there was a way to make that stupid question go away would you believe me?  Well actually there is and it's called meal planning. I initially started meal planning when the kids were little, Pete and I both working full time. It made such a huge difference to our week and to this day, even though the kids have grown and flown, we still meal plan. Meal planning is really simple, easy, it saves heaps of time and your week feels a lot less crazy. And as a bonus it will actually save you money. It's a great way to manage the food budget. In this post I take you through all the steps to make this easy for you. I also have FREE printable for you and some great tips to get you on your way.

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Meal Planning is actually very easy, just plan in advance what meals you are going to cook each night over a week, fortnight or month. Easy eh!!!! For me I follow these simple steps;

  • Decide the planning cycle

  • Check my planner for upcoming activities & events

  • Choose my meals to cook

  • Shop

  • Cook

The first step you want to do, is to work out how often you want to meal plan, I call this the planning cycle.

WOrk out your Planning Cycle

From my experience the best way to work this out is to line it up with your shopping routine. I plan our meals from Monday to Sunday as we shop on Sundays. When we shopped fortnightly, I planned fortnightly.

Just a quick tip, I find weekly planning  a lot easier, as you normally know what you will be doing during that week and able to plan the meals around that. However another week out there are likely to be things that come up that you have not planned for. So you do need to have flexibility in planning the longer your cycle is.

Check your upcoming events and activities

The first thing I do is to check  my planner, checking for what's on that week, evening activities and so on. I note which nights we can cook and which nights we will be really busy. Therefore planning out the best options for dinner to fit around our activities.

Let's take this weeks meal planning. This week we have extra visitors at the end of the week and I am travelling in the early part of the week. So for us this week, I know that for Friday night we will have more people to cook for and Saturday night we are hosting our party, so we need a quick gab dinner. Sunday will be late so we will have to do something quick and easy. 

So this week we need a variety of quick and easy meals and some pre made meals, like slow cooker meals.  

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Now that you have sorted what the week looks like and which nights you need to plan the meals for then, it's just a matter of choosing the meals.

Choosing the meals to cook

For me the meals need to be quick, easy, healthy and budget friendly. I also have to balance our different food tastes. Pete likes meaty, spicy and really hot food, more spicy hot Asian style, where as I like less spice and chillies and more vegetarian. The biggest challenge for meal planning is finding inspiration for meal ideas.

So how do I find meal ideas? 

There are great online food bloggers and pretty much any food genre you want. I would suggest using Pinterest for this, just set up your own recipe board, search for meal ideas and pin the recipes to your board. As you can see I have done that on my Pinterest page. Also check out some of your favourite chiefs and they are likely to have a website, sign up for their weekly newsletter and you can get meal inspiration to your inbox every week.

Also local supermarkets have great websites with food and meal inspiration and your can have the added bonus of shopping online.  Countdown is a good example and there is a great app that you can use as well. I also have one favourite cookbook on the go which I will refer to as well. Tip,  just as an idea you could have a monthly cookbook theme.

My favourite cookbook when the kids where at home and we were pressed for time was Jamie Olivers 15 min meals. I would go through his book every week and pick out yummy meals.

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It does make it easier and quicker if you have a good stock of recipes or meal ideas that you can refer to when planning them out. A good tip is to make up your own home recipe folder

Another tip, try and have meals that use seasonal ingredients as they are cheaper and fresher, like a cabbage and carrots in winter for slaw versus a lettuce variety salad. Also try to share ingredients across meals - mince 1kg - split in half over two meals.  Veges, like spinach, half bag for one meal, half for another. This really helps to reduce your food waste and is a cheaper way to shop.

Prepare your shopping list 

Once I have decided which meals to cook for the week , I then work out which ingredients we will need to buy. On my meal planning page I note beside the meal what I need to buy then just transfer that onto my catch all shopping list. The other thing that is really handy is that I note the reference, i.e where the recipe is from. E.g if it's from the cookbook I would just have the page number as the reference. As I have variety of sources of meal ideas this referencing is really helpful.

To make this easier for you I have a created a FREE weekly meal planner printable for you to use.  As you plan out your meals just note down the side what you need from the supermarket. It's really handy to have on you when doing the shopping. To receive this FREE weekly meal planner download just sign up below;

FREE Meal planner

Free meal planner printable pic
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Display your Meal Menu

This may seem a bit strange to display your meals for the week, but trust me it's worth it!. Firstly everyone can see the meals, so no need to ask what's for tea...."it's on the board" secondly if someone else has to cook they know which meal to make. And lastly it makes you accountable to actually cook the meals!  Once you have written them down and got them up for all to see if does commit you to making them. As in the end meal planning will not really be of any use if you just end up not cooking and getting takeaways instead!! (tempting as that may be sometimes)

My menu display board is just a photo frame with a piece of card stock behind and I use a whiteboard maker. I just wipe it down each week and write up the new menu....easy as that. 

Hints and Tips to help with meal planning

  • Try and maintain a pantry with the staple items, so all you need to do is to buy the meat and vegetables.

  • Collect recipes from magazines, cooking shows, subscribe to food blogs.

  • Use your family's favourites meals, when our kids were younger Shepherds Pie, Lasagne, Bolognase, Sausage Casserole and Homemade burgers were our high rotate.

Summary of steps

I hope this post has given you some useful information to help you get started with meal planning. Meal planning is such a simple and easy thing to do and does make such a difference to your life. Remember the 5 simple steps;

  1. Choose your planning cycle

  2. Check my planner for upcoming activities & events

  3. Choose my meals to cook

  4. Shop

  5. Cook

Get inspiration on a weekly basis on my facebook page, 7nightsaweek , it's dedicated to my weekly meal planning and so each week I share my meal plans, provide links to recipes and share any meal ideas and tips that I have come across.

Happy meal planning my friends!

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Decorating our sunroom | our journey


Apparently we have been in our house four years! It's hard to believe it has been that long as we are still working on making it our home. We purchased it knowing that it was in need of a lot of work, especially the external aspect of the house. This has taken most of our time and attention and money. We have finished most of the big jobs and repairs, like new cedar cladding, new decks, painting and staining. So we can now start to have some fun decorating the inside. 

Sunroom

Tip #1 - with house renovation always take care of the exterior first, fix all leaks and rotten materials. It is so important to weather proof a house before making it all beautiful on the inside.

Our sunroom, being the room we spend a lot of time in, is really our favourite room in the house. Poor thing has been in a state of neglect for a while. So we bit the bullet and set to the mission of redecorating it.

It is not a big room which from a decorating  perspective is good, however it is very sunny and full of windows. We needed to think through the challenges that brings with decorating, like paint colour fabric fading etc. First things first, what do we want it to look like. This is where Pinterest is soooooo fantastic.

Ideas Board

I set up a Sunroom board in my Pinterest account. (here is my Pinterest account). This really helped Pete and I to quickly narrow down the style we wanted and get some great decor ideas. In fact Pinterest is really helpful when working with your partners that struggle with concepts and visualising. You can just simply show them in Pinterest and they are like "ohh yeah that is so cool, I love that!"

From here we worked through tone and colours and decided on a very neutral, linen look. The colour will come through in the greenery that will be in the plants, cushions and rug.

To help decide on the actual paint colours we got some test pots from Resene .

Tip #2 - number the colours on the sample cards and on the surface next to the sample colour so you always match them back up.

Also test them on different parts of the room to see how they are in different lights and against an existing colour, if it will remain.

Paint samples

 

The Resene colours we chose were Cloud for the walls and Half Cloud for the ceiling

We used a low sheen as it is a bright room and we wanted to reduce the glare and reflection.  We used an existing  semi- gloss white for the sills, that we had left over from a previous paint job.

Tip# 3 - if you don't use all your paint, store the cans upside down to help prevent the paint drying out.

The flooring option was easy as wanted to have a floating laminate floor. We had installed this option in my office about 6 months ago and just love it, perfect colour and look. We used Hanwood Laminate flooring in Bleached Oak , which we got from Bunnings  This also helped with the connection of rooms throughout the house.

There is black cedar in the Sunroom so these colours really pop against the black.

Laminate flooring

Collect items

As we were undertaking the planning and organising of  the Sunroom, I was also keeping an eye out for special little treasures that would fit into the new room decor. Pete and I are keen recyclers and we love to hunt through all the secondhand, thrift shops to find the perfect piece. For this room we picked up the two cane chairs for $25 each, the hanging baskets for 50cents each, the planter basket for $6 and the cushion for $4.

I have also been growing the plants from little babies. See my blog where I talk about growing house plants. I still have a lot to grow and buy, top of list is a Fiddle Leaf fig and Boston Fern

Tip # 4 - focus on use, fit and style when secondhand and thrift shopping. It's only a treasure if it's going work well with your tastes and functionality.

I always try and source secondhand first, so much better to reuse if you can. And there is the added bonus of it being very budget friendly.

Indoor Plants

Prep work

This is probably my least liked part, sanding and painting, I am sure Pete would agree too. However preparation is the key to a job well done. It always take longer than you plan for, even with time saving tools, you have to take your time to do it right.

I think I got off lightly in this job as while Pete did all the sanding and painting I recovered the furniture. I will do a more detailed post about this as I used builders drop cloth to recover everything. It was the perfect material (heavy duty calico) for a sunroom and cost next to nothing to do, $88 for everything.

We did lay the flooring together as it is really a two person job. As we have already laid a floating floor it did not take too long. When you do a floating floor for the first time, I would recommend watching a few online tutorials before tackling the job. The first couple of rows take a wee while but after that you are away.

Tip # 5 - plan plenty of time to do the preparation, you will need it.

Deck it out

The fun part, making your ideas board come alive. As we reused all our furniture we only really needed to accessorise. This was not a big job as only had to source cushions, window dressing and a rug (the right one still to be sourced) 

Since finishing it we are now back in our beloved room, spending most of the weekend sitting in the sun. A bit like a cat really!!

How to create a home folder

I am sure that we are like most families, with household and family information all over the place, in drawers, in piles of stuff on the desk, in files, it goes on....you get the picture!

One way we have found to remove this mess is to have one place to hold all, so for us it's a "Home Folder". It's sort of the one stop shop for key information about your home and family. So today I thought I`d take you through ours, and how I created it. Hopefully, you may find this helpful.

 

Decide on what information you need

The first step is to make a list of the types of information that's important for your home and family. Think about what you often look for, what's always lying around, what does everyone need to have access to and so on.

This can include calendars, weekly plans, to do lists, shopping lists, projects list, meal planning, cleaning plan, important contacts, school information, info for babysitter, maintenance schedules for house, cars and garden.

A helpful way to decide on these topics is to have a look at the free printables available on line. There is a lot of great information available on blogs as well as You Tube on this topic. I found a couple a really good sites with a lot of free printables, these are justagirlandherblog and scatteredsquirrel

What was useful for us, was to have all the "home" information together, especially for Pete.  I keep personal contacts and other important family information in my planner. It's totally personal how you do this, every family and home is different so you will need to work out what information is right for you.

So we decided on the following topics,

  • Calendar and Weekly Planner
  • Goals and Projects
  • Maintenance and Cleaning
  • Important Information
  • Local Information

Chose your folder

This folder I sourced from a folder from the local stationery shop, Whitcoulls . I know there are lots of different sizes and designs of folders/binders, again go with what you like and what will work for you.

I use plastic shelves to hold the printables/papers as it's easy to take in and out as information changes. What I also find helpful for the "Important Information" is to use business card inserts, rather than writing or typing the information in. Again, this is really handy when changing the information.

Divide the topics and Label

For each topic or subject I used "L" shaped pockets as the dividers and just punched holes in them for the folder. The L shaped pockets are great to insert information, like the latest menu from your favourite local restaurant. I created a tab on each of the pockets and labelled them. As an aside, a label maker at home is an essential tool, I use the P-touch Brother, it's great.

I also got an A5 zip wallet and did the same, as above. In this I hold a small amount of cash. It's great for those times when you need small change for kids school, donation, bus......coffeeeeee!

I found most of these items at Warehouse Stationery, again any stationery supplier will have these.

And, all importantly, make sure that you have the folder out in a central place so everyone can have access to it.

I hope this was useful to you, enjoy creating your folder!

Big hugs and smiles

Tania