Menu planning miracles

Posted December 5th, 2005 by Penny Wise

My Mum is laughing at me again, but I don't care! I am a domestic goddess. In the last fortnight I have transformed my kitchen into a tidy and organised place where all kinds of delicious aromas waft about and mouthwatering meals miraculously appear with minimum stress and fuss. Even better, they arrive on the table with little or no impact to my bank balance. I can't imagine how much I have saved on our food bill so far this month, and our family is eating better than we have for a long time. Once again the Vault has changed another part of my life for the better! So what is the secret to my newfound love of preparing the daily meal? It's as simple as a piece of paper stuck to my fridge - I have started menu planning!

I never thought I would the kind of person to follow a cooking regime like this, but already the results are so startling that I am a total convert. In case you had forgotten, I hated cooking with a vengeance - there was nothing more boring and annoying in my mind than to stop whatever I was happily doing in order to prepare the hum-drum evening meal. While Noel and Ali happily consume just about anything, my being vegetarian and Liam refusing to eat anything that didn't resemble a chip often resulted in some rather unusual combinations in order to keep everyone happy. It certainly wasn't an economical way to cook! My recipe books had been sitting forlornly for months as I only ever seemed to do enough to get by and never tried anything new any more. I had read quite a bit about menu planning in the Vault, so I decided to give it a go one Sunday afternoon and try to plan our meals for the week ahead.

I dusted off one of my recipe books and straight away couldn't believe how quick and easy it was to fill up my piece of paper. As the family only eats together for our evening meal, I didn't worry about planning breakfast or lunch as some menu planners suggest, but I did add an extra column under the last day for baking. This alone has saved me a small fortune on lunchbox fillers, but I'll get to that! Before I knew it, and without even really trying I had a week full of recipes that I had never even cooked before, yet everything I needed for the week was already in my pantry - I didn't need to buy a thing for the entire week. I found that just going through my recipe book automatically gave me a balanced menu for the week, by the time I had chosen meals from the meat, poultry, fish and vegetable sections. I stuck my piece of paper on the fridge and wrote the page number next to the recipe for each day. I also picked out a cake recipe and biscuit recipe and added them to my baking column.

Since then, life has become so easy! Every morning I look at my planner and go straight to the freezer to take out any meat that needs defrosting and I am organized, because I know exactly what I am doing for dinner and how long it will take. We eat consistently on time because I'm not flapping around trying to think what to cook and throwing any old thing together. I'm enjoying cooking new things and the family is enjoying eating them. Because the meals are balanced, it's much easier to adapt them to suit everyone's preferences and we are all eating far more healthily. My baking tins are full of lunchbox goodies, meaning that I haven't had to buy any commercial fillers for two weeks - the boys have their sandwich, fruit and crackers as usual but now they get home made cookies and cakes as well, instead of the boxes of muesli bars and Roll-Ups I used to buy. They haven't even noticed that they're not there! Not being much of a baker I was always too scared to give baking my own biscuits a go, but the family's positive reaction has given me the confidence to keep going. Imagine never having to buy all that lunchbox junk again! It's only now that I can see what a huge expense it was. I was able to get enough recipes from that one book to see me through to the end of the second week and there are still heaps more to try!

Menu planning is great. I know exactly what food I need from week to week, I don't need to make any mercy dashes to the local shop and it has also helped me to organise my pantry. I have another piece of paper stuck on the inside of my pantry door. Every time I use up the last of something, I write it on the piece of paper, so when I do eventually need to go shopping, I'll know exactly what I need and will only buy things that I will actually use.

While I have Simple Savings to thank for opening my eyes to menu planning, I also have them to thank for telling me of another resource that has slashed my food bill. Sophie Gray, otherwise known as the Destitute Gourmet, is my new best friend, even though she doesn't know it! I had never heard of her until Simple Savings printed some of her recipes a year ago and I have bought all three of her books when I have spotted them through the year. Her 'Stunning Food from Small Change' has been a fantastic way to start my menu planning. The recipes are simple, but taste wonderful. They look as if you have spent ages preparing them but they are so quick! The vast majority of ingredients used are items you already have in the pantry and she proudly uses home brand and generic ingredients. Best of all, her recipes always turn out perfectly, I haven't had a disaster yet! Being a Mum, she knows all about kids' little food quirks and I have been able to overcome quite a few issues with our picky Liam thanks to her. Sophie's recipes are varied enough that her books are all I need. I'll never buy another recipe book, unless it's one of hers! If you've never heard of Destitute Gourmet either, you can learn more by visiting her website or look out for her books, you'll be so glad you did!

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