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The Ultimate Effort in Meal Planning

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Bigger, better, faster, more.  We seem to be taking everything to the extreme these day.  But when it comes to meal planning, have I gone a step too far?

I’m sure you’re familiar with the idea of meal planning, and perhaps you do it already.  Me too… except I don’t just plan one week ahead at a time.  I don’t even plan month ahead. Pick a date this year and I can tell you what we’re most likely to be having for dinner!  I say “most likely” because I may seem organised, but I’m not completely inflexible!

So why bother organising so far ahead?  Well, I don’t see it as me being mega-organised.  The truth is it came about in an attempt to avoid being stuck in a meal plan loop and have more variety at meal time caused by my laziness when it came to thinking about what to cook and eat!

I started “ordinary” week-to-week meal planning when my first child was very young and we began eating more “family meals”. I got into the habit of doing a big weekly shop, rather than the more spontaneous as-needs shopping and reliance on whatever happened to be in the cupboards that we’d been used to previously when eating as a couple.  That wasn’t going to work anymore, and besides I hated the daily “what shall we eat tonight?” dilemma. I wanted to make the most of that one big shop by stocking up for the week and also try to introduce more variety across the weeks by planning ahead.

This worked well for a long time.  Shopping day would come around, I’d have a think and note in my diary the meals for the next week, write my list and off we’d go. But after a while I noticed two things happening: 1. The variety was still limited as I began to rotate around the same few recipes every couple of weeks and 2. The  “what shall we eat tonight?” pressure had been replaced by the  “what shall we eat this week?” pressure because I inevitably left the planning to the last minute (child no. 2 had come along and child no. 1 was at pre-school so our weeks had much more structure and the weekly shop now had an allotted time in which it had to be completed!).  The result of this was that it became a chore and my decisions became very much influenced by how I was feeling about food at the time of planning and not what I might fancy cooking and eating in two or three days time (thus resulting in point 1).

I also had several books and lots of cards full of lovely recipes that were sitting collecting dust. I decided that I should create a list of recipes to choose from to re-inject the variety back into the meal-planning (I’m not trying to make any sort of point about cooking things from scratch, that’s just the way I like to prepare my meals.)

By the time I’d fired up my computer to record and print this new list (because unlike several good friends who rely on good old pen and paper for tasks like this, I, by default, turn to technology) I’d decided that I could assign dates to the list and could then copy and paste it over and over until I got to the end of the year (good job I was using the computer then!) and I’d never again (or for a year at least) have to worry about what we would eat on any given day or be influenced by my whims when it came to the decision-making.  Genius!

And so it was that my yearly meal plan was born.  That was a long time ago. These days online shopping means I don’t physically go anywhere near the supermarket to do my big weekly shop, there are 3 children in the family now, and no. 1 child is almost 13. And so, as our shopping and eating habits have changed over time, the meal plan has evolved and been refined; new meals have been added, others removed.

As I said at the beginning it’s not completely inflexible because sometimes the suggested item for any given day turns out to not be suitable for one reason or another. Perhaps we have a play date and on those days I like to stick to the simple things that I know a visiting child is likely to eat and enjoy There’s nothing worse than explaining to a collecting parent that their child barely ate anything, and then imagining said child telling their parents about the awful concoction (in their eyes) that was placed in front of them parading as tea, so sausages or pizza it is! Or perhaps we have something unusual going on that means we have less time than required for the suggested meal. But for the most part it has taken the pain out of planning and shopping for the week’s food and we eat a wide variety of different meals.  If there’s something that one family member doesn’t like as much they know that it will be while before it makes an appearance on the table again.  And now the children have taken to asking when a favourite meal will next make an appearance – though I have pointed out to them that I haven’t memorised every single day on the plan!

I don’t know if it makes make me seem even more geeky to also admit to that after all the years of refinement the list now lives in an spreadsheet (I know there are apps available these days, but I like being a bit bespoke) and I now have themes for our days… Roast Sunday, Try Something New Monday (this is where new meals are tried and tested and if they pass then they will be promoted to being a regular on the meal plan), Pasta Tuesday, Chicken Wednesday and Pot Luck Thursday (often stews and casseroles and anything else that’s not pasta or chicken!).  Friday varies depending on what’s going on but tends to be something quick and easy, and not always cooked from scratch (sharp intake of breath!) You can put your heart and soul into cooking a lovely meal each night and only ever please 2 out of the 3 children (if you’re lucky), but they all thank you when chicken nuggets are on the plate – gutting! And Saturday is my night off from cooking so we leave the job to our favourite local Indian takeaway.  But beyond that I still rely on the good old copy & paste method to fill up my year-long plan – there really is nothing more scientific to it than that!

1st of January has been and gone so my planning for the year ahead is done.  Now I can sit back and relax… until dinner time!

About the author

Alison is our tech guru at Mum's guide to Ltd. We knew she was organised but we never knew to what extent! Now we understand how she fits everything into her busy life schedule and so we're all going to try and keep up! We're also looking forward to her blogs on how we get the washing done, the house cleaned and the children to be so obedient (her 3 children are the most polite, funny, interesting children you could hope to meet). (And we'll try and get our hands on the Food Menu spreadsheet...which of course we'll share with you, if you keep it a secret!)

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