Developing a Menu Plan

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If you are anything like us, it gets to the end of a long day and we look at each other and say “what do you want for tea?” This sort of last minute decision making leads you to pre-prepared meals, quick fixes like sausage sandwiches or  worse yet take-away! Not good choices for nutrition, sustainability or making the best use of your resources. So what is the answer? A meal plan!

The advantages of planning your weeks’ (or whatever time you pick) meals are –

• You can make sure you have all the ingredients in stock so that there is no need for a last minute trip to the shops wasting time and fuel, or last minute changes of plan.
• It saves the dreaded “what are we going to cook?” at the end of the day and the resultant hassle; we find it much less stressful if it is all planned out.
• It enables you to make the best use of your home grown veggies or other produce by planning around what is on in the garden at the moment.
• If you buy to make up the meals you have planned, impulse buys are reduced and so is the resulting wastage of ingredients and money. (“curried quail eggs, why on earth did I buy that?”)

As with many facets of our lives, a bit of planning can make things easier all round.  Although a bit of discipline is required to keep it up, here is a process that works for us and while we only use it for the main meal of the day in the evening, you can if you choose plan all of your meals out the same way.


Before you start your planning process it helps to agree on any guidelines around how you want to eat – do you want to incorporate less meat and more veggies or reduce your fat intake, perhaps spend less time in the kitchen or even do more “cooking from scratch”. I say guidelines rather than “rules” because this process needs to be flexible so if you don’t stick to your guidelines every week there is no need to feel guilty.

The guidelines that Linda and I agreed were –
• One vegetarian meal per week
• One double meal per week to allow a no-prepare meal
• One “new” meal per week (ie, a recipe we had not tried before)
• One tofu meal per week

And they work for us. The main thing is to agree with your family what the guidelines are before you start the planning process so that you can incorporate where you want to go with your eating habits, in our case to cut down on meat and incorporate tofu in our diet on a regular basis.
This process can also help you to make the best use of your own home produce if you bring along a list of what you are currently producing when you are working out your menu plan, thus reducing costs and food miles (food feet?) and getting the maximum from your hard won home produce.

The Process

As with all things affecting something as critical as family eating, consulting your family during this process is a good idea. While the idea may sound a bit contrived and cheesy, having a family meeting once a week to get everyone around the table to work out the following weeks’ menu can save endless whinges and complaints at a later stage. You may not please everyone but at least there won’t be any nasty surprises on the night.

Get some paper and draw up a matrix with the days of the week down the left hand side and the types of meals you will be planning for across the top (breakfast, lunch, tea etc.). It may be handy at this point to have some cookbooks handy for reference so that you don’t get trapped into the same old things and can extend your menu as much as you want.

Some of our cook books

The trick now is to simply discuss each meal to be planned and decide on what you want to cook, giving everyone a chance to put their two-bob’s worth in. Once a decision is made write it in the matrix, then compare the matrix once it is completed with your guidelines and see if you want to make any amendments. During discussions you may come up with more meals than can be cooked in the week so keep a record of those as well and they can form a basis for next week’s list.

Shopping Time

Once you have your meal list, go through your pantry, fridge, veggie patch and freezer and make sure you have all the ingredients (or perhaps substitutes) to make all of the meals on your list. When you identify something you need but haven’t got, put it on your shopping list. Once the shopping list is complete you can head off secure in the knowledge that you know exactly what you need to buy and can avoid all those wasteful impulse buys (in theory anyway).

Review and Replan

At the end of your week of meals, sit down with your family and discuss how it all worked. Discuss if there were any problems. Then put your next plan together and restart the process again so you can look forward to saving time, money and be more sustainable as well!

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