Menu planning can be a blessing for a busy family. It is a way to save time and reduce stress in the kitchen at the end of the day. A menu plan provides certainty and structure to a crazy time of day that can be overwhelming for the person responsible for feeding a hungry, tired family. Creation of a plan requires some thought and time the first few times you do it and then it becomes easier each time.
A small amount of pre-work and thought each week, or each month (depending on how often you choose to plan), will allow you to reap the benefits each night at meal time.
A menu plan may be created for a week, a fortnight, a month or more – it is up to you to determine which duration is the most suited to your lifestyle.
If you are new to menu planning I suggest you begin by planning a week. Work your way up from there. Creating a plan for a month requires additional thought, time, pantry preparation and space.
Our family menu planning is based around a mixture of two approaches – in my book I have named them as “Seasonal Garden Based” and “Family Preference” Meal Planning.
Seasonal Garden Based planning is my primary method of meal planning. I plan a maximum of one weeks meals as it allows me to work out what is currently in the vegetable garden ready to harvest and what will be ready during the following days. I plan the meals we we eat based around these things. This is a particularly useful method to use in summer when our vegetable garden is at it’s most productive. It allows me to deal with the inevitable glut of the “usual suspects” such as zucchini, cucumber and tomato without the stress that can accompany an overflowing bench filled with zucchini and protests from the family at the meal table when it is served yet again.
Seasonal Garden Based planning allows me to schedule time to preserve or process excess produce to avoid wastage. This type of menu planning encourages you to be creative. Your family will not want to eat exactly the same meal, made with the same ingredients, for six nights in a row. With some thought you can modify the ingredients to create numerous family meals. There are examples of meal plans in my book to assist.
In the Seasonal Garden Based approach to meal planning I review the ingredients ready to harvest from the garden along with the meat we have on hand (ordered in bulk from a local farm) and pantry ingredients. We eat a vegetarian based meal at least once per week. If there is nothing that can be created from what is on hand, I think of a meal and add any extra ingredients needed to the shopping list. I often create new recipes and experiment with the ingredients from our garden. This means my children are regularly exposed to new flavours and there is little repetition in our meals. My boys are 5 and 8 years old, the 5 year old tends to be a little fussy and both boys have their family favourite meals they regularly request. To keep everyone happy I try to add these Family Preference meals that the boys request to the meal plan so that the whole family has the opportunity to enjoy their favourite meals.
Family Preference meal planning is particularly useful if you have one or more fussy eaters in your home. It allows for family input to meals and for the use of accepted flavours, again there is more detail on how to do this in my book. No complaints at dinner time = no stress for the person in charge of meal preparation.
I asked the community on my Facebook page yesterday what influences their meal planning decisions. Two of the responses struck a chord with me and made me think hard about my own approach and if in fact I have missed some considerations when I was writing my book.
One of my community responded “cravings” and one mentioned seasonal food types such as salads in summer influence what they plan to eat. There was also mention of food types such as phase of Thai cooking, or Italian flavours being the primary influence on meals.
Each of these things also influence my menu planning however, I believe that the categories of Seasonal Garden Based and Family Preference can still be applied. Seasonal Garden Based planning could be applied to seasonal food cravings or preference for foods such as salads in summer. I would assume that salad greens would be growing in summer vegetable garden and would be available to harvest and use in your meals at the time of year they are most appealing. A style of cooking and cravings for certain food types and flavour combinations that are common in Thai, Italian or Indian may be categorised as Family Preference. I am certain my planning categories can be applied in most circumstances.
Overall, a menu plan – or whichever variety is most suited to your family circumstances can be utilised to provide the following benefits:
- A comprehensive shopping list resulting in fewer trips to the store
- Budget control
- Reduction in whim based shopping choices
- Utilisation of home grown ingredients
- Reduced waste
- Reduced stress associated with meal choices
- Ability to plan around family commitments – eg: sport and after school activities
- Meal variety
- Family input/involvement in meal choices
- Healthy food choices
- Flexibility – it is easy to switch a meal you’d planned for later in the week to earlier
I would love to hear if and how you plan your family meals? Please tell me in the comments below.
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