The three most dreaded words at the end of a long and busy day – "What’s for dinner"?
In our house, the answer is ‘go look on the fridge’. Not in the fridge, but on the fridge. Why on the fridge? Because if you want to know what we are eating for dinner, it will be written on the weekly meal planner that is stuck on the fridge door.
I am so often amused by the reaction of friends and family who see my meal planning as a curiosity, something unachievable for them or funnily enough, who make a bee line for the fridge when visiting, just to see what we are eating that week.
I have meal planned for well over a decade and long before becoming a parent. My meal planning is simple – I plan for dinners only, plus note down any special events/meals for the week ahead. Some people though, plan all meals and snacks for the week or even plan two weeks at a time.
The planner I use is pretty simple too. It has the days of the week on the left and then two other columns – one for the meal and one for notes (recipe page number or if the meal is in the freezer – more on that later). It’s also laminated, which means I can use a whiteboard marker and rub off and start again each week.
I love meal planning, not just because I can be that little bit more organised and it helps save money, but because it gives me a justifiable reason to sit down with a cup of tea at least once a week. And that is how I do it. Usually a Sunday afternoon (as I shop for groceries on a Monday) with my planner, shopping list, calendar and a cup of tea.
We have standing orders in our house – Friday night is pizza night, Sunday night is egg and beans. And I rely heavily on favourites like spaghetti bolognese. This makes the planning easier, as I am not trying to come up with new culinary creations each week.
Then it is just a matter of systematically doing one day at a time, choosing a meal, checking for ingredients already in the house and adding needed items to my shopping list. Planning with my calendar also allows me to see the nights that we are out, or will be home late and to plan for something easy on those nights.
The other handy thing we have on the fridge is a shopping list where items are added as they are used. Getting into the habit of writing down an item as you use the last of it, or just before it runs out means that (in theory) your pantry should always be well stocked.
My dear husband calls this the ‘just in case the creek comes up’ syndrome - a hangover from growing up in the country, where quite literally the creek could come up and you would be cut off for weeks.
I also tend to apply my country style to cooking and seem incapable of cooking for less than ten people at a time. But that too has its advantages. Cook once and feed many times over! Not as leftovers (which really doesn’t sound all that appealing anyway) but as pre-prepared meals.
That is where the freezer bit I mentioned before comes in. I cook a lot of meals in large quantities and freeze for the coming weeks, keeping an inventory of what I have to save rummaging around in the freezer searching for food and getting frostbite.
So, the next time those three words are spoken, will you begin madly scrambling through the pantry or calmly refer to your meal plan and know that dinner is on its way?