Menu Planning 101

{Image: Rose & Crown}

Planning meals  for enjoyment, nutrition and ease

I’ve mentioned previously that meal ‘planning’ is a big deal in our household (or at least for me, it is!) My weekly routine looks a little like this:

  • take stock of what ingredients are already in the fridge/freezer/pantry
  • find inspiration for recipes – flick through an old cookbook, make use of new or old magazines, look online. Sometimes i’ll even come up with a particular ‘theme’ to fit in with the season or some special event. If i’m having a blank moment i’ll ask Pascal for any special requests (having another point of view can sometimes help to get you out of a cooking rut).
  • aim for a combination of a chicken based dish, a fish or seafood, a lamb or pork dish, perhaps an additional beef (or mince based), a pasta style dish, a vegetarian (possibly egg based), an evening for take out/restaurant meal and one meal of leftovers from the freezer. The basic idea is to incorporate as much variety as possible.
  • put the main meals together according to what is appropriate for the particular week’s schedule (i.e. perhaps a freezer meal for a hectic week night when everyone is home late; a more complicated, special occasion recipe for a relaxed weekend meal together when kids can get looked after during the prep phase…you get the idea!)
  • fill in a rough idea of lunches, breakfasts and snacks
  • go through systematically and work out what ingredients are still needed, adding them to a categorised shopping list (fruit/veg, meat, dairy, grocery, specialty)

I find that making the effort to stick to this process actually saves time and a lot of last minute stress wondering, ‘what’s for dinner’? It prevents waste and makes shopping quicker. It’s also a fabulous way of ensuring that you and your family are getting the widest possible nutritional variety across each week. (But as with all well intended processes, don’t beat yourself up if you miss a week here or there as life inevitably gets in the way, and sometimes you just need to go with the flow unintentionally or even intentionally as I outline below).

Tools to help the planning process

I realise these are readily available in printed notepad style or online, but I couldn’t resist coming up with our own Fitness for Foodies style weekly menu planner (pictured below) that you can download and print off here.

For some added inspiration, I have also provided an example spring menu. This is just to demonstrate what’s possible, so don’t worry – I rarely fill it in to the level of detail you will find here! There are links to a few online recipes (see below) and I have included some of my own. It’s based on our nutritional way of thinking (plenty of variety, good quality meat, little or no processed foods, plenty of fruit, veg, grains and legumes and home baked, wholesome treats). Naturally, it doesn’t take in to account your own particular food sensitivities or requirements and is designed purely as an inspirational tool. I would add though, that if you can start to eat along these lines at least 80% of the time, you and your family will definitely feel the benefits!

Do let me know if you have any questions about the example planner – recipes, ingredients etc. I’d love to hear from you!

When you start to get good at menu planning, I find it’s sometimes nice to get out of your comfort zone and just ‘wing it’ – go to somewhere like a weekend farmer’s market (I like Mt Claremont or Subiaco on a Saturday morning) and just be totally inspired by what you find that looks good and seasonal.

  • Perhaps some Spencer’s Brook Farm chorizo, free range eggs and Over the Moon Organic Feta with some roasted sweet potato and fresh spinach leaves to create a delicious Fritatta.
  • In summer, you may find some quality fresh pasta and combine it with lovely heirloom assorted tomatoes marinated with a dash of balsamic, fresh basil, wild rocket leaves and grated fresh parmesan for a really simple meal.

You probably won’t be able to create an entire week’s worth of meals like this, but it’s certainly a fun, challenging and creative exercise!

Links in the Spring Menu Plan:

Bircher Muesli

Potato, Fennel & Lemon Thyme Tart (use Careme Puff Pastry or Butter Puff only)

Salmon & Sweet Potato Patties

Shaved Fennel Salad

Homemade Muesli Bars

Homemade Hummus

Sorj Wraps

Frittata of Rice, Baby Zucchini & Feta (I am yet to try the ‘Fennel Pollen’, but am intrigued – can be purchased online from Herbies)

Egg Salad

Delicious Magazine – September 2011 Edition

Cobs Organic Popcorn

Chicken Tagine with Preserved Lemon and Creamy Polenta

Strawberry, Rhubarb & Lavender Crisp

Oat Pancakes

Passion Pasta

3 Responses to “Menu Planning 101”

  • Rebecca:

    Your menu planning process sounds exactly like mine! Some people think it is a chore but I really enjoy finding inspiration for the coming weeks menu, and as you say it ends up saving a lot of time. I think it actually saves you money as well, as you only buy what you need and don’t tend to waste much. Your menu sounds amazing! My mouth is watering already!

  • Lauren:

    I’m definitely a firm advocate for menu planning. I begin the same way – taking stock of what we’ve already got. Then I check out what’s in season. I also try and choose at least one fish, chicken, pork, beef and vegetarian meal per week. I use the ‘online bookshelf’ ‘www.eatyourbooks.com’ to do a quick search for favourites or new recipes based on a main ingredient or theme. I also try and put particular meals on particular nights – for example, pasta the evening before a hockey game, or no fish on the evening my husband is preparing the meal (he doesn’t like handling raw fish!). I’ll record the recipe along with the book or magazine and page number.
    I find menu planning helps you explore new dishes, take advantage of seasonal produce and feel prepared for (and look forward to) the evening rush.
    I love your plan above, am adding a few of those dishes to the list! Thanks.

  • Nicole:

    Thanks Rebecca and Lauren. Sounds like you both have your meal planning sorted and are strong believers in the benefits…nice to know that I have kindred spirits out there!

    By the way, I also feel very honoured to have such creative and talented commenters on my little blog – thanks for your support ladies!