Hello Dear Reader,
There are many ways to menu plan for your family. The starting point is making the plan together. It's easy for Dearly Beloved and myself as we know our cooking capabilities and what we like. Any family can decide what they like and what they don't like and you can work on compromises as a family. Once you have decided on that, then you need to know your budget. Our catering budget varies week to week but averages over the month at £50 a week (I know! Prices have shot up!) and that's for all our food, fresh fruit and veg which we buy weekly, a big meat shop once a month, a big shop once every few months for tea and coffee, a big shop every few months for cleaning products and dishwasher tablets (we buy in bulk from Trago) and a big shop once every few months for tinned, dry goods, UHT milk, pet food and toiletries. In all, our 'grocery' budget is £200 a month. It's high in comparison to some and low to others. We also add to our stores by using Approved Food a couple of times a year and I usually buy a year's worth of pasta, dried pulses, cous cous or rice from them for a tiny price.(e.g 10 500g bags of pasta shapes for £1)
When I menu plan, the first thing I always do is stock take everything we have to eat in the house. I write everything down and start to formulate a plan of what we are going to eat. I create a spreadsheet so I can refer back to the previous week and check we are not eating the same things over and over. I try to make my plan as varied as possible, even when I have bags and bags of minced beef, or masses of packs of pasta to use up. We tend to eat the same things for breakfast of either cereal or toast and we eat one main meal in the evening and one light meal as well. Lunch is often leftovers from the night before, or a boiled egg in a sandwich or salad. I always have fruit in the freezer and family sized pots of natural yoghurt so there's always 'pudding' if we want it. We rarely snack between meals and we rarely snack after our evening meal so there's no cheese and crackers lurking and definitely no bought in snacks such as nuts or crisps. Not snacking means we can keep our grocery bill as low as we can. We don't snack because we fill up of lots of veggies with all our meals so we don't get hungry until our next meal. Occasionally, I relent and make biscuits or cakes but portion them to last as long as possible.
I have a stock of cookery books, I also use BBC Food, Yummly, allrecipes.co.uk and other recipe websites. I'll often try recipes from other frugal food bloggers too. I like to try new ideas and will look at my ingredients and then use Google to search for recipes to make from those ingredients. I like to plan from pay day to pay day, so I know we've got enough food for the month and other than fresh fruit and veg, that I don't need to buy anything else. You could find your own way of planning and it might be weekly to start with, moving onto fortnightly and eventually monthly. I have a friend who pins her planning to her fridge to remind her what to prepare, or to take out of the freezer or to defrost if she had made one earlier. Anyone can find their own way. Another friend of mine has a write on - wipe off board on her kitchen wall and writes her planning on that, with a shopping list next to it. You can find your own way.
Of course, I'm not suggesting anyone should plan, it's just personally something that we do. Our plan isn't set in stone either. I could cook anything from the plan on any of the days as I've got most of the ingredients in the house as we always have veggies and salad here. I cross off the 'meal' once we've had it, as that helps with my stock taking at the end of the month.
Here's my plan for the coming month.
You will notice that we eat the same main meal on Sunday and Monday and that's because we give ourselves the night off cooking on a Monday and have 'Ding Cuisine'. We'll often eat soup for lunch two days running as I will have made a large pot one day and we eat it over the next few days for lunch with bread. I like to keep a good store of frozen foods and dry goods so there is always food in the house and I like to keep a good table. We might be frugal but I always do my best to make sure we eat well.
I hope I've given you a few ideas about menu planning and now it's your turn to chip in. Who menu plans? Who has a set budget for food and sticks to it. Who thinks they have a set budget but actually pops down the local Co-op for a bit of this and that? Who else bulk buys and keeps a store? Who batch cooks so you can have days off cooking?
As ever, I look forward to hearing from you.
p.s A second house viewing on Friday by a couple who have now sold their house, so cross your fingers for me.