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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 If you found this post helpful ….check out my other featured posts below


 

Valentines Dinner meal planning on a budget

Pete and I always make sure that we take the time to do something nice on our Wedding Anniversary, and because it falls in February we have our very own Valentine celebration. Every year we make sure that we celebrate in style. The last two years, we have had lovely holidays away to celebrate. So, this year it was going to be at home. None the less, it was still going to be special. I love having a genuine experience with the person who rocks my world.  So this year we decided that we would indulge in a big feast.

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We both love to cook together, however we don`t get much quality time during the normal weekly madness to do this.  So to have an excuse to stop and enjoy was perfect. It also helped that eating at home was going to be cheaper as we have some financial goals this year and need to stay on budget.

First things first, decide on the menu, which had to be three courses...because we were going all out. We got all our recipes from a beautiful cook book given to us by our dear friends (you know who you are) called "Feast, Our Food out east". It's filled with delicious recipes from eateries and local people from Gisbourne and the East coast.  I just love the illustrations of the magic that is the East coast and their bounty of cuisine.

After a bit of discussion (like any good marriage)  we came up with the following menu:

The Menu

Entree - Mussel and Bacon soup

Main - The Grill Room's Beef Fillet with Parsnip Puree and Mushroom Dressing

Dessert- Home made Passionfruit Ice Cream and Donuts East Coast style

 

The planning

Now that the menu was sorted, it was just a matter of working out what we needed to buy and when. The fresher the better, so we shopped for most of the fresh produce on the day. We shopped at our local food market, Simply Fresh, it's an excellent local community hub and has fabulous variety of fresh produce from vegetables, fruit to meat, poultry and almost everything in between......and if you spend over $40 you get a free coffee (and the coffees good). 

The rest of the planning was just ensuring that we had everything sorted in the kitchen and pantry all ready to go for the big cooking session. Also, just working through how long it would take to make each course.......you don`t want to still be cooking at 2am !

We actually prepared a couple of dishes, Ice cream and donuts before the evening. Its good to make as much as you can beforehand to reduce the amount of work to do on the night.

The Table Setting

I love decorating the table and making a lovely setting. It took all of my will power to resist going out and buying up a storm on lovely new dinning accessories, glassware, cutlery and so on. The rule was to shop the house. Confession time, I did however manage to find two beautiful big soup bowls from Nest and two gorgeous dark blue dinner plates at our local thrift shop for $2 each. However everything else from the home. 

I layered up the plates so we had a clean plate already for each course and the same for the glasses. The best part was that I got to use my beautiful antique cutlery service (Wedding gift from my Nana). Oh a hint: it's the 'outside in' if you were wondering!  When I was setting them up I realised that I really need to use these a lot more as it seems a shame just to keep such beautiful objects housed away for the occasional use.....I think I have found another goal for the year.! Like I need another one.

As I am not really a fan of Valentine themed decor...., I used the exisiting table runners and placemats as I really like them and the colours went well together.  I was really happy with the end look, not over the top, functional, cheap and my style ...hmm feeling good. 

A bit of splurging was done on some nice flowers from the local florist, she made up a bunch for me for $34. The bunch was a mix of me and Petes favourites.

 

The cooking

This is the part that Pete and I love, sharing the cooking experience, and then sitting down together to enjoy what you have just made together. 

We work to our strengths, Pete's good on the actual cooking part, especially the meat and I am good at getting the all ingredients chopped and ready and making salads. So if you are venturing into the kitchen to cook together it's helpful to work out what each of you will do, best to do what you are good at.......and if you both good at the same thing......well your stuffed!!!! My advise here would be just try not to argue too much and get in each others way.

 

The soup was first up and it was sooo yummy. It was very easy to cook, and the dish meant that we could cook it a bit early and eat it when we were ready, which we did.

And so it continued for each course, taking it slow to allow time to digest, enjoy and cook. I have to say we did consume a bit of wine. It's amazing how much you get through while cooking as well as eating...be warned!!!

Is was about 11pm when we finished up with the dessert and coffee and the homemade Ice cream which was to die for!

Okay, so what about the dishes? We actually cleaned and cleared as we cooked, so there was not a lot left at the end of he night. So it wasn't an issue....and there was no way either of us could face a big mess of dishes at the end of the night. 

It was a fabulous night, lots of fun and it only cost $83, pretty cheap I think for a great night! 

So if you are looking for a low key, romantic and cheap Valentines night I would totally recommend this. 

Enjoy my little love bird!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to create a great recipe folder


Family recipe folder

I don't know about you, but my storage of recipes was a bit of a mess. Somehow I have managed to collect several different folders and notebooks over the years.  I would come across a recipe in a magazine, tear it out and just shove it into the folder. So now the recipes literally fall out when I open the folder. A few of the recipes are in a bad way from becoming part of the cooking process.

Recipes

It's time to sort this mess out, enough is enough! I decided to tidy this mess up. I wanted all the recipes in one place. It needed to be a way for me to have easy access and be usable...and it has to look nice ....always about the aesthetic.

So I thought I would share with you how I did this. I know that this would be helpful for those that do meal planning, check out my meal planning blog

Decluttter

So the first thing I had to do was to sort the mess that was the various folders and notebooks, and actually cull it.

I found it fairly easy to do  as I just got rid of the recipes that I never referred to or were far too complex.  Just don't have the time for long and complex recipes, it has to be quick,simple and tasty every time.

I also did the same with my Recipe book collection, we all have them. I was surprised how many I actually got rid of.  Some I didn't ever realise we had, never even used them. We just kept our favourites and gave the rest to the local hospice

I ended with a pile of recipes that now need a home in one big folder, but it had to be user friendly and kitchen friendly.

Choose the Folder

Hmmm flash or simple,

There all sorts of folders available for recipes in most stationery shops. However I find that they are not actually very user friendly and often require you to write out the recipe ...like who has the time for that. My folder needed to be something that is easy for me to add to and change and use in the kitchen without too much problem. Oh and I must be able to personalise it...

I just sourced one that I have already had at home so did`t need to purchase anything else, it's good to "shop the home" first and recycle as much as possible. It's a simple white A4 folder.  Any stationery shop should have one, I think this was from Whitcoulls. It has a plastic cover so it's easy to clean off any cooking mess . This is the same folder I used for creating our home folder. If you want to see how I created this then check out my blog here.

I created a nice front cover for it to personalise it. This matches with our other folders which I like.

Recipe folder

To house the recipes I just used plastic sleeves, again I had these at home so was able to use them. You can also easily get these from your local Stationery shop

These sleeves are perfect for protecting the recipes and also create an easy way to add or remove recipes. I do like to rip some from magazines so this works really well for me.

And it's easy to keep clean too.

Tabs/Dividers

The next mission was to work out how I wanted to categorise or group my recipes for easy reference. I know that when I am looking for meals ideas and recipes I tend to look for types or by protein.  I looked at the recipes I had and they fell into these groups.

  • Soups and starters
  • Fish
  • Chicken
  • Beef
  • Pork
  • Lamb
  • Vegetarian
  • Sweet things
  • Sauces and stuff

I  created a title page for each group and placed a tab using Post-it tabs. I  labelled the tabs so they are easily seen.

Recipe folder tabs

For the finishing touch I placed my meal planning print out on the inside cover . This is really useful to have when meal planning. You can get this free printable from my meal planning blog here.

Recipe folder

The great thing about this folder is that I can easily change the recipes and groupings as our family tastes and meals change. Also it's easy to clean with a quick wipe down.

I hope this has been helpful and given you some ideas to create your own beautiful folder.

Happy Cooking!

Hugs and Smiles

Tania