Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The post I never thought I'd write.

I never thought I'd get into menu planning.

I used to read blog posts about menu planning and look at pretty pictures of meals written on chalk boards and think 'that's great but it is so not for me.' I used to think that I need to feel inspired in the moment to cook creatively. I used to think I was too disorganised for a list. That my kids would never go for it. That I didn't have a big enough recipe repertoire, or enough time.

BUT in the desperate need to make school weeks easier on everyone I gave it a go.

And I am here to tell you that menu planning is brilliant!!

Every Monday in the late morning me and the farmer boy sit down with a cuppa and lots of cook books and paper and pens and talk food. We talk about what's in season, what we have growing on the farm and in our kitchen garden, what is available locally or from the farmers' market and what we feel like eating.

Then we go through some books and choose recipes and match meals to days. On days when there are lots of after school activities, we choose easy meals and on days when we have more time, we try new to us or more adventurous dinners.

As we write the plan we also write a shopping list to make sure we have the ingredients we need, when we need them.

And you know what? It is making such a difference to our lives. We are more inspired than ever to be creative with our food. We are trying new recipes and experimenting with new flavours. We are preparing parts of meals ahead of time and we are not taking short cuts.

And the girls are getting into it too. Discussing the week's menu, writting it on the board, making suggestions, helping with the cooking and becoming adventurous.

Some of our favourites lately have been:
Spinach and ricotta ravioli.
Fetta and spinach pasties.
Fish and salad.
Felafel and salad and hummous and pita.
Dahl and garlicy flat bread and yoghurt and rice.
Tofu and salad wraps.

To be honest, I probably should have left it a bit longer than three weeks of menu planning to write this post. To make sure we stuck to it and continued with it. But three weeks in and I already cannot imagine not menu planning. I hate the thought of that 4pm 'what's for dinner?' question and that mad scramble and hope that I have the ingredients I need to make something at the last minute.

Somehow menu planning seems to have given us back the pleasure of food preparation and eating.

I love menu planning.
I totally, highly recommend it.
And I absolutely get that you might be reading this thinking 'Huh! That is so not for me!' And all I can say to that is, don't knock it until you try it.

So tell me lovely people, do you menu plan?
What are some of your favourites?
Do you think menu planning is great for others but not for you?
What are you having for dinner tonight?

Later. xx


  1. I dont at the moment only because I keep forgetting to!
    Im so glad you wrote this,

  2. I've been menu planning for as long as I can remember. Tonight we are having left over spag bog, tomorrow Tandoori Lamb Chops (one of my favourites) and then sausage and veg on Thursday. It's definitely a way of making sure I eat way and stay inspired about cooking, and it saves lots of money as we only buy what we need and don't really waste anything. (Except when everything goes pear shaped and the plan goes out the window, but that's a whole other story!)

  3. Oh! and that shot of the raspberries and blossoms could go on my wall.

  4. We've fallen off the menu-planning wagon. Instead we tend to have the same five or so meals on rotation which is easy but boring. We really need to start the menu planning again to get out of this rut. I like the sound of your dedicated menu planning time.

  5. A good friend convinced me of the merits of menu planning and I haven't looked back.
    It's been a god send this year with the kids returning to school and while we follow it loosely it takes the pressure of wondering what to cook.
    We all get involved in planning our menu and try to add one new meal a week..not only does it prevent boredom but adds to my growing repetoire :) I also find it helpful to make some things in bulk to freeze the extra portion.
    Tonight's menu...red thai curry with naan, all homemade.


  6. yes I menu plan of sorts - but unfortunately on my own. Its not set out day by day, but more on what I'll cook for that week and then its juggled around depending busy days and weekends. You've inspired me to involved my husband and daughter more in the process - and get him cooking more.

  7. I try to, I really do.. I even have a little chalkboard on my kitchen wall for the menu, but I suck majorly at it. With a wee more effort I would be good. I do sort of know what we're having for the week (based on our organic F&V box)... but you have inspird me to do better. We're having roast chicken tonight with a peach stuffing (yep, them peaches!) and a tofu curry sometime this week, and either a coriander and carrot pesto or a basil pesto pasta. maybe both.... then prob homemade pizza with the leftover pesto. see, I have a sort of plan ;)

  8. I like the idea of menu planning but my partenr doesn't. He loves cooking and being spontaneous about it. We always make sure we have plenty of seasonal vegetables, basic cooking ingredients and a varity of meat. On his way home from work he picks up any extras.
    The only planning we do is when we discuss when I might get a chance to cook a meal and Monday evening's meal, when his daughter cooks for us.

  9. your food looks so amazing!!
    i really need to branch out (can anyone say, "rut"?!!)
    the pic of the berries with the teal paint is pure delight, lovely capture.


  10. sometimes I do and sometimes I don't. I love it when I do. Thanks for the reminder! I tend to have 7 meals planned for the week and make sure I have all of the ingredients for and then choose on the day which one we'll have. organised, yet flexible - the way i like it. Your photos are just gorgeous. I see your youngest has a smile she likes to use for photos - so cute!

  11. I do, because our lives are madness and I'm the one who cooks x

  12. I started menu planning once I stopped working. No more could I just pick up things in the City before heading home from work and I wanted to be organised with a baby on the way. I haven't looked back. It saves us so much money and time, and saves us from wasting food too.

    Some of my favourites are Singapore Noodles, fried rice, chicken and salad wraps, home made pizza, baked potatoes stuffed with butter, cheese and bacon, Cesar salad, and handmade cold prawn spring rolls with bean sprouts and mint. I make enough food on work nights for Dave to have a helping for lunch at work the next day. We try to add at least one new meal each week like Tammi, so things don't get boring and I keep learning.

    My other task of late has been making double batches when I bake or cook and freezing half. This did not work the first time I did it with biscuits... the defrosted choc chip cookie dough did not make it into the over... :)

  13. wow! I love this! I have often thought "menu planning looks great when other people do it, but it wouldn't work for us" - but I really want to try now, and I love how it is a "whole family" thing too ... (tonight, we are having our "emergency tomatoey pasta" - so called because we make it when we're out of energy or ideas, which is how things are today... but it will have yummy basil from our garden!)

  14. I opened your blog with my heart in my mouth! I had this horrible thought that, going by the title, you were giving up blogging, I was going to cry and scream NoOOOOOOOOOOOO lol, I am so relieved!!!!!
    Now I can go and actually read your post lol. I really need to get back into menu planning, my dinner planning at the moment is driving me nuts!
    OK I'm a happy girl now. So glad I was wrong!

  15. I am very resistant to menu planning. But I think you may have swayed me.

  16. Yep. Menu planners over here. I think we always have been? For a few years I was doing fortnightly plans but we're back to weekly now. It's a lot more manageable (just means we're at the shops more).

  17. I like to menu plan, the 4 o'clock panic is really a little too much for me. Especially when it's Huckle's witching hour.
    I also like to make double batches of things that I can freeze. This comes in handy on the days when everything goes pear shaped.
    Some of our favourites include Scarecrow Pie (like shepherds pie, but with lentils), Ratatouille & Soft Polenta, Homemade Pizza, Spinach & Fetta Quiche & Roast Veg & Couscous Salad.
    Tonight we had Braised Puy Lentils with veg. Also fresh bread with hommous, dukkah & labne on the side.
    Lists are good I say. (obsessive compulsive list writer talking here!)
    Keep up the awesome cooking. You're inspiring us all to eat better.

  18. I love menu planning too, for so many reasons, including much less food waste, less expenditure on random groceries and, most importantly, much less brain space taken up each day thinking 'what the hell am I going to make tonight'. Tonight we had lentil moussaka and steamed veggies. I live the look of all of your meals. Did you happen to see tat Fi at Inner Pickle had a menu links party last Monday? It got me going again :-)

  19. I menu plan, but forgot tonight that I was one person down for dinner and needed to change my plan. I had the ingredients for spaghetti carbonara without having to use ingredients I have bought for other meals, so it won - with a few home grown leeks thrown in for good measure.

  20. I've been menu planning for sometime now and it does work. I plan our meals on a weekly basis and like you I write my shopping list at the same time. I always try to include one or two new recipes and try to cook exact portions, if there's any leftovers they are stored in food containers in the fridge and once a week we'll have a meal that's made up of leftovers. I know some people turn their noses at leftovers and prefer to throw them away but it's such a waste and many dishes actually taste better the following day, like curry for instance.

  21. I do not menu plan - I fly by the seat of my pants & hope that the date decides to cook! xxx

  22. SNAP!! http://www.innerpickle.com.au/2012/02/monday-menu.html
    We had fresh salmon, avocado and rocket salad with orange vinaigrette tonight. YU-UM!!!

  23. I can totally relate! I also thought menu planning was something only super-organised people did... but with a new year's resolution to simplify and streamline my too often chaotic life this year, I decided to give menu planning a go. And I love it! Like you I've found that I'm trying more new recipes and I'm certainly not missing the 4pm stress of deciding what to cook tonight!

  24. I'm not a lover of cooking, it's always been a chore. So, after our first was born, hubby who adores cooking, made us a menu plan &it was the best thing he ever did! I discovered its not that I don't like to cook, it's the thinking of what to cook! This takes all the thinking out. & is so organised I love it! Though tonight was a bit out if wack, we had vegi burgers.. X

  25. I remember staying with friends in London years ago and I smirked at their menu planning and pedantic shopping list making. I thought it was so 'organised'. But that was pre-kids, obviously. I've been thinking lately that I need to get into it (and was a bit inspired too by a chalkboard menu on a blog somewhere). You've just convinced me to give it a go. Your ravioli looks amazing!

  26. I love to cook and I love to menu plan - it's the only way I can ensure we have a great (okay, good) meal every night! One shop a week and it always gives us good things to look forward to on the menu. Great post!

  27. I don't menu plan but I really wish I did. You may have inspired me to give it a go, my youngest is really interested in cooking and loves watching Jamie Oliver with me so I might get her involved. I find if she has watched an episode of 30 minute meals she often says can we cook that and then it means she will eat it.

  28. I've been doing this since I got married! So much easier - and makes sure there's less waste in our house!

  29. Your photos look amazing......now I feel hungry!
    We are new to meal planning, but are having a ball. The kids and I decide over dinner on Wednesday night what the following weeks menu should be (thursday is shop day!). It's a win win. The kids get their input and I know where my week is headed. For us though, it boringly gets written in our 'meal book' and not on a lovely chalk board.
    Am going to add a homemade bread to our list too.....yours looks divine :)

  30. Ha! That's so funny. Before dinner tonight my husband and I chatted and listed some ideas. We nutted out favourites, easy ones that he is happy to make, possible new recipes etc. We've been having this conversation on and off for a few weeks with the change from a CSA type box to a food co-op type situation. And was again inspired by McKenzie over at Oliver and Abrahams (http://www.oliverandabrahams.com/2012/02/meal-planning-and-cinnamon-rose.html), and now again by you!! It must be the season for menu planning!! :-D

  31. This comment has been removed by the author.

  32. Hi Kate, I've been menu planning for a while now, and it's the only way we can function as a family to make sure that all our busy lives don't affect the quality of our meals. If we didn't menu plan there would definitely be some bad choice spontaneous buys - so me and my other half sit down at the end of every week and work out the plan for the next week and all those busy days where we need something quick are planned for so that we can cook something homemade at the weekend in readiness - so we never have to do the panic ready meals! Since we've been menu planning we cook more together, get the kids more involved and have tried lots more recipes than we would ever have done before .... menu planning is the way forward especially as the children get older!! I am converted!
    Fleur xx
    (Sorry made a mess of my first post so deleted it!)

  33. Hey, that's great. So lovely when there's a revelation in family life. Cooking when the family is interested is sooo cool - happy days.

  34. Oh yes we meal plan :) We tend to do it on Sunday at tea time so we can all have a chat about what we want to eat the following week. It works really well for us and takes away the 'ahhhhh it's teatime and I have no idea what to cook' drama! We are having pancakes tonight, traditional Cornish pasties tomorrow night, takeout/meal out on Thursday (in-laws are visiting) and something with mince on Friday night. It wastes a lot less food too which is always a bonus!

  35. Your menu is inspiring. I used to menu plan, but somehow fell out of the habit. I NEED to get back to it, it made everyday SO much easier. No idea what we're eating tonight, but pancakes for pud is definite.

  36. I'm with you menu planning rocks and it gives me something to look forward to in the day..... also it cuts back on the mad evening prep.... cutting veges after brekky.... making pizza dough at lunch..... chopping toppings in the processor at arvo snack..... so much easier than spending frantic "arsenic hour" time in the kitchen with over stimulated hungry kids! well done on your menu planning and this gorgeous post!

  37. I'm a menu planner and I don't think I could do without it anymore. We are a very busy family in the afternoons with sports and I love to know and prepare our food in advance.

  38. well done Kate, when my monkeys were little we menu planned,and
    it really was wonderful..highly recommend it..now they are young adults,still living at home and the numbers for dinner vary on a nightly basis (does my head in),i have kinda lost the plot !! LOVE your list..you KNOW you are going to have to put recipes up now ,don't u??? (Esp the spinach & Ricotta ravioli ..yuuum)
    Keep peddling :)

  39. I too just started menu planning a few weeks ago when school started. I plan our dinners and the school lunches (my kids don't like sandwiches, so I usually make them something from the leftovers from dinner the night before). We now all enjoy going though cookbooks and each choosing something new that looks interesting as well as consulting our list of tried and true dishes. I too thought I was too free thinking to be constrained by menu planning, but not only has it made life so much easier - it has made me more creative and inspired with food. Diana

  40. I have always had a fear of menu planning. I was worried it would stifle my creativity and turn me into someone I just didn't want to be. You make it look super creative and joyful, so I will give it a go.

  41. I started menu planning at the end of 2010 & it really helped me to add variety to our weekly meals. Rather than having the same thing every Monday for example, I was able to mix it up. It also enables me to plan buy some different ingredients to ensure I can cook meals that vary from our stock standard few. I too also thought meal planning was not for me & that I could manage it all in my head. I did stop planning meals for a few months at the start of 2011, but found that we went back to the same old boring things, with no variety from week to week. But now I am a convert! I admit sometimes I have very little time to spend thinking about our weekly menu, and it looks a bit dull, but it just makes me more determined to spend more time thinking about it for the next week. Now I just need to try to introduce some new and different meals that I am dying to try, that my children will eat. Good Luck with the meal planning & I hope you continue with it.

  42. At 5pm when I have my head in the fridge wondering how to make something out of nothing, I WISH that I menu planned.
    Good on you!
    Might have to give it a go.

  43. A couple of times I have tried to be a bit organised, and find it especially beneficial when we have WWOOFers, but never really got into like you have here. Maybe it's about time we did, because I totally get that it works. That afternoon 'What's for dinner?' just about does me in on occasion.

  44. Hi Kate, I totally agree. For me, menu planning makes cooking FAR more creative and enjoyable than flying by the seat of my pants. And those trusty staples don't get so worn out. Love your photos and your meals sound and look delish! Sam x

  45. Love the pic of the berries on that beautiful aqua. Tonight we are having a chicken and leek lasagne. My little two are so dam boring with their meals but thankfully EVERYONE likes this one. Best of luck with your menu planning.

  46. menu planning is great! I usually plan five meals for the week and then have two nights of 'whatever' food.
    I find it helps when I do the shopping as I dont buy anything extra that i dont actually need! :)

  47. I'm totally with you here! I have tried in the past but this time I made sure I had all the ingredients, tore out a heap of recipes and wrote it on the chalkboard - worked perfectly and feels so much better to not have to decide just like you said!

  48. No, I don't. But your words and beautiful images have convinced me that I indeed should! I too struggle with lists and the fear of being restricted. But I think this afternoon I might just sit down and do that very thing (might take advantage of that during-school-hours made soup that is bubbling on the stove). Thanks for sharing :)

  49. I can totally say Meh! its not for me, BUT the sound of not getting the 4pm whats for dinner tickled my fancy. I think Sunday may be my time to sit and have my first try at menu planning.....Wish me luck...lol

  50. I am soon to join you. I've been working up to it. It just seems so sane and organised that I didn't think I'd be any good at it... x

  51. I am crappy at planning dinner - and I so wish I wasn't because I actually like to cook.
    I might just have to follow you on this planning journey .... maybe!

  52. Could you please post some more of your meals you have in the last three weeks . They all look so good. The stuff you do is wonderful. xxx

  53. I love menu planning - I find we don't waste food and that we never really get sick of the same meals. I have a magnetic menu plan which is on the fridge and every sunday afternoon we sit and discuss what meals we would like that week and throw in a couple of cookbook recipes. Would love to see some of your recipes

  54. Am a big lover of menu planning - I have my good friend Nic (Planning with Kids) to thank for getting me on to it. I'm not the best at adhering to it every week I must admit - but on the weeks that I do I wonder why I forget the rest of the time!!
    BTW- I love that cheesy grin kiddo of yours - too cute!!

  55. This looks wonderful. I am spoiled, being married to a professional cook... He does most of the cooking and I've never had better food than his food. :D. me on the other hand is a crap cook... Menu planning would probably be a good idea to sharpen up my skills and widen my repertoire... What I liked most about this post is that you and him do this together. That you all are involved and do this together. Sounds like paradise to me. After all being together is the only thing that counts. I am inspired to do the same. To involve myself more in my mans big passion and do this together instead of just being served or feel that cooking is a boring stressful must to fill grumpy guts before they totally loose their minds. Keep up the good work. Those raviolis looks amazing. :D And what a fun thing to do - together!

  56. We've been doing a little bit more meal planning too, and it really is great! We've had some really yummy meals lately AND I think we've wasted less food than usual. I'm terribly disorganised and slack when it comes to cooking, but I'm working on it!

    Katie x

  57. I'm a menu planner from way back. When I don't plan, my meals are way too icky; full of bad food choices and convenience options. I've just taken to planning brekkies, lunches and kid treats as well. I've managed to shave about $60 from our food bill, increase the quality of our meals and help us be healthier. I'm loving it.

    On another topic - can you help with finding garlic seed bulbs? We'd like to plant some garlic this autumn but can't seem to find a good supplier. Our local produce store only has seed bulbs from China, which rather defeats the purpose don't you think??

  58. I do try to menu plan (I live in a household for one - so you'd think I'd be better at it, really) - but I always find myself un-planning my plans! Maybe I'll get better at it one day!

  59. I did menu planning for over 20 years. I am the only cook and vegie grower in this family. Late last year, I stopped. Initially because there was no housekeeping income for several weeks. I keep a very good pantry and have a food garden, so it wasn't a terrible hardship. However, this made me realise I wasn't making good use of my pantry, or of my garden sometimes, with the menu system. The menu writing had become a chore as well. The on-again/off-again income will probably become a fixture so growing food and frugality will remain, menu writing not so. What do I do instead? I know what's in the freezer, in the pantry (actually several cupboards and shelves) and in the garden. I think about what I might make over the coming days and prepare accordingly. If I take something out of the freezer or pantry I note it on a list to be replaced. This way I only shop (apart from other F&V) about once a month. This has been liberating.
    I will add, however, that menu planning is excellent when you have babies and small children. You can plan weeks of simple and easy meals. If you know what you're making you can do preparation in the morning or cook double or triple quantities and freeze. Worked splendidly with the older three and saved my skin when twins came along.

  60. This post is inspiring. I have been both a menu planner and a non-planner and I always find that when i take the time to make a menu plan ahead of time, I am more inspired and I am much more likely to stay within budget. I also try to leave space in there for a night of leftovers, and will forgive myself if everything fails and we end up ordering thai food one night. Thank you for this post...you have rekindled my menu planning motivation!

    1. I ended up making a meal plan for the week right after reading this, and sharing it in my blog. I hope you don't mind but i mentioned you as my motivation and linked back here.

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