I’m always eager to learn about how to be more organized in my life – I have to clarify, I don’t mean the OCD-ness kind of organized, but more of being efficient – how can I do things faster, make things easier. Especially in the kitchen, where there are so many things going on, and you have to multitask all the time.
Apart from reading food blogs, I also read organization blogs (I know right?!? they actually do exist!). Many of the bloggers are mums and they often have so many things going on in their lives, but they still enjoy the world in the kitchen. One of the things that they often suggest is menu planning as a step to helping them be more efficient in the kitchen. With that first step done, you would know what to shop for the week, what to defrost before you go to work and save you from wrecking your brain at 5pm when you come home from work (case in point – me!) and ending up spending more money on takeaway, because its just easier that way.
So we decided to try our hand at menu planning to see how well it works. We’ve tried it about 3 weeks now and I have to say, dinner times are less stressful and I think we are saving quite a bit of money getting the things that we need and not eating out as much. So where do you start?
The amount of blogs out there about meal planning are endless – and there are so many ways that you can go about doing it, and I drew my inspiration from Tipnut.com. It’s a FANTASTIC website that gives you tips for the kitchen, garden, craft (and anything home-y) you can think of. If you have the time, you should check it out – there’s where I always end up for any trick and tips for my home. They have a post of 12 Nifty Meal Planners & Organizers to Make (or Print), where they feature other blogs and how they go about doing their menu planning – there are some really creative ones there (like using magnets as menus etc!). Or you can always google “menu planning” to find out how others do it, and choose one that suits you and your family. For the creative ones, you can put on your creative hat and design your own menu plan 🙂 I will be interested in what you come up with!
I wanted something simple, and I don’t really have a design bone in my body – it’s all gone to Sammy. So I chose a simple “free printable”, yes, the Asian in me comes out! I stumbled across this one from ProjectGirl, it was perfect! It had big columns to fill in the meals that you wanted for each day, and it had a shopping list section at the side. Sammy cleverly suggested that she print this out in A3 and laminate it so that we can re-use it, without wasting paper each time. GENIUS! 😛
Set Time Aside
The second thing that we had to do was to agree on a time that we could sit down together to plan. We chose Fridays because that was the day before we do all our shopping for the week, and we could also work out what was on specials in the shops. So having your coupons/catalogues at this point will come in handy.
If you have a recipe folder/box, or list of your favourite recipes – this is the time to take them out. Or if you have a fantastic memory, then scrap the above 🙂 We had so many recipes from cookbooks/magazines/internet that we wanted to try so we brought them altogether into the living room and went through them and tagged all the ones that we thought that we could make for dinner or we just wanted to try. I categorized them into savoury, sweets, snacks/meals – and you can categorize them however you like (breakfast, lunch, dinner etc) – and end up with a whole lot of tags like mine 🙂
Now comes the interesting part – the actual planning of the menu. I would suggest listing down the factors that would affect the timing that you would have for cooking, so first we would list out:
- What our schedules are like for the week? – for example, having small group at 7.30pm would mean that we only have a short time to make our meals
- Whether there is work the next day? – which would mean we need to think of the volume of what we are cooking to make sure there is enough for lunch.
- How many members of the family are there?
- What is left in the fridge that we need to use?
- What recipes do we want to try?
And your factors might be different – so think about which factors influences what menu choices that you make and plan them accordingly.
And then go through your list of recipes and then just write them down in accordance to the factors that you have – Mondays and Wednesdays for us are always quick meals, so it’s usually something that we can cook by heart (without looking at recipes), or even if it’s recipes, something really simple to make. The other days, we choose more complex recipes to try and they are the ones that we end up blogging about. The weekends are the baking days where we have more time and often we bake for breakfast as well (so that saves us money buying muffins etc which costs $1/$2 a pop!).
If you are using recipes, remember to write down the page number or where you found the recipe so that you have a quick reference when it comes to actually cooking the dish
While we go through our recipes, we go through the list of ingredients and write down the ones that we don’t have so that we know what to buy when we go shopping. We often have the staples in our pantry, so we don’t really need a lot of things except some of the specialty items which we try and substitute if we can.
This is the step that we have to keep learning I think – because we often go grocery shopping on a whim, I can forget to write down the things that we need to bring with us. And because I often don’t defrost anything before I leave the house, I have to train myself to look at the plan and then remember to defrost the meat before I leave for work.
I think it is a worthwhile exercise for us, and it doesn’t take too much time to come up with a plan (30 minutes maybe?) and we get to try all the recipes that we always wanted to try. The biggest plus is we don’t need to stand in front of our open fridge and hope that inspiration strikes us about what to have for dinner. For those already doing this, kudos to you! But for those who haven’t, and are struggling like we are – give it a go, and see how it works for you and your family 🙂