HOW TO CREATE A MENU PLAN IN 5 SIMPLE STEPS

menu1

When making the change to additive free food, creating a menu plan can be a very useful part of the preparations.  Why?  Planning ahead can help stop that last minute reliance on additive laden takeaway food when you need a quick meal.  It can help you build up a stash of the right foods in your fridge or freezer for snack and lunchbox ideas.  Menu planning can also help you save money because you having a set shopping list.  I really could go on about the benefits of menu planning, but today’s blog is all about how to create one, so let’s get cracking!

You can create a meal plan for your family in 5 simple steps, but before you get started, here are the top five things you need to consider.

TOP 5 TIPS FOR MENU PLANNING menu2

1.  Know your level of commitment

Are you making a menu plan for every meal?  Or are you just starting to go additive free and want to take baby steps?  It helps to have a clear start point, as this will determine how much of your meal plan you create.  Decide if you are going to start with additive free dinners, only snacks and lunches or plan for every meal.  Click here for some tips on how to choose the right start point for your family.

2.  Know your budget

Decide on a budget that suits your family.  How much can you afford to spend on food and drinks for the week or fortnight?  If you are not sure, check out previous grocery bills and remember this usually includes cleaning and toiletries too, so allow a little less for your food and drinks budget.  If you want to break this down into cost per meal, keep in mind you have breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack food and drinks to include here, and it’s surprising how quickly these meals add up.  For example, at the risk of sounding like Rainman, if you have a family of 4, each having 2 snacks and 3 meals a day, that’s 56 snacks, 84 breakfast, 84 lunch and 84 dinner serves a week!

Sticking to a budget when deciding to go additive free can be a great concern to many, and may even be the reason some choose not to make the change.  But it doesn’t have to be that hard!  Keep an eye out for a future blog post on time and money saving tips where I will help you find easy ways to make things more affordable and take less effort.

menu3

3.  Know what to consider when choosing meals

When deciding on meals to include in your menu plan, there are several other things to consider.  You can choose meals according to:

  • your family favourites (e.g.: everybody gets a dinner choice based on their tastes/preferences)
  • certain ingredients (e.g.: plan meals based on whatever is in your fridge or garden at the moment or if zucchinis are cheap at the moment choose some recipes using this product)
  • nutrition (e.g.: one day is fish, one day is beef, chicken, vegetarian, etc),
  • seasonal foods available (e.g.: it’s summer so salad veges are easy to find and cheaper to buy)
  • your budget (as mentioned above)

To help with your menu planning preparations, consider all of these factors beforehand, and remember, sit down and have a chat with your family to help you out.  Menu planning is a great time to get the kids involved.  If they’ve helped choose the meals in a plan, they’re more likely to eat them.  Plus, it’s the perfect way to start educating them about healthy food choices.

4.  Know your timetable or schedule for the week

Do you have days where you’re wishing you had a clone to be able to take the kids to three different places in the same afternoon?  Probably not your best day for cooking a gourmet two hour meal…  So before doing your menu plan, create a timetable of your week to see the busy days and work out meals according to how much time you have to spend preparing and cooking.  This is usually another eye opener when you start calculating how much time you spend in the kitchen!  Having an idea of your weekly schedule also helps you plan the best days to make those extra snacks for the freezer or when you’ll have time to do a few batches of spaghetti sauce to stock the freezer.

Also, if you’re planning on introducing a few new recipes to your repertoire, keep it to a maximum of one or two new meals per week as it can be time consuming trying new meals and mess with your planning.

5.  Remember to include leftovers and outings/entertainment

Don’t forget to plan for leftovers!  For example, having a roast dinner with a few extra veges can easily make a quick meal option for the next night.  Or some leftover quiche from last night’s dinner is an easy lunchbox filler the next day.  Plan meals that will save you time the following day and remember to make a double batch for dinner when you have the time so you can stock your freezer with leftovers.

Also, when choosing meals for your menu plan, don’t forget to include the snacks and meals for planned dinner parties, outings to visit grandparents, the swimming carnival or a trip to the movies, etc.  As this can be a rather large topic of concern, stay tuned for an upcoming blog where I will give tips on how to plan for eating additive free food outside the home.

Once you’ve considered these top 5 tips, it’s time to start designing your family menu plan…

5 STEPS TO CREATE A MENU PLANmenu planning recipe reading

1.  Print out a blank menu plan template for two weeks.  Click here for a template to help you get started.

2.  List all your family favourite recipes into different categories, starting with the meal you have chosen to plan for first.  For example, if you’re going additive free with just your dinners to start, write all your favourite dinnerrecipes into categories such as seafood, beef, chicken, vegetarian, homemade takeaway, etc.  As you are listing them, work out a code for each recipe based on budget, family preferences and seasonal foods.  For example, if it’s dad’s favourite meal, it has a D next to the recipe.  If it’s a winter meal, put a W next to the recipe.  If it’s an inexpensive meal, put a single $ next to the recipe, but if it’s expensive to make, put three $$$.

Then decide how you’re going to break up your menu plan.  Is it by family choices, so each day is someone’s favourite meal?  Or is it by ingredient type, so each day is a different meat, seafood or vegetable?  You could even have a combination of these and have Monday is Dads choice and Beef, Tuesday is Mums choice and Seafood, Wednesday is Kids choice and Chicken, etc.

Now write your chosen categories into your menu plan template where it says “Type”.  For example on Monday, next to Type, write “D” (for Dad’s choice ) and “Beef”.

3.  Knowing your weekly schedule, consider how much time you have to cook or prepare food each day.  For example:

  • I need a healthy quick replacement for when we normally get a takeaway meal on Friday night
  • I can cook a more involved meal when it’s Sunday night and have more time
  • I need a quick easy meal on Wednesday because I’m driving kids to sport all afternoon

Jot down notes on your menu plan next to where it says “Time” and “Type” so you know what sort of meal is best for each night.  For example, if Friday night’s dinner has to be a quick healthy replacement for a takeaway, next to “Time” write “Quick”, and next to “Type” write “homemade takeaway”.  This will also help you work out if you have time to make a dessert for that night too.

4.  Now check out your list of recipes and write your chosen recipe ideas into the menu template based on Time and Type specifications.  For example, if the Thursday night slot has vegetarian and quick easy meal in the “Type” and “Time” sections, then you may choose from your list a quick omelette and write the recipe in for that day.  If you are on a tight budget, make sure almost all the recipes you pick have only one $ as the code for cost.

5. Once you have completed all the meals in your plan, make a list of ingredients from all the recipes and voila!, you have a shopping list! :-)  Remember, when you hit the shops, to be sure the products you buy are additive free, check out my list of Common Foods Containing Additives and highlight these ingredients on your shopping list.  You can also check out my Database page for product suggestions by clicking here and keep an eye out for the launch of The Food Werewolf Database which will make your menu planning and shopping even easier.

Want to go the whole hog and plan for all your meals to be additive free?  To do a full menu plan for all meals you basically repeat these five steps for breakfast, lunch, snacks and dessert.  Instead of the categories mentioned above (seafood, beef, etc), have nutrition or taste-based categories such as dairy, fruit, savoury snack, sweet treat, savoury treat.  Then, create a ‘rule’ for each day (eg: have 2 savoury/vegetable portions, 2 x dairy snacks), and transfer these rules into your meal plan next to “Type” for each meal slot.  You can get far more detailed information about how to menu plan for lunches and snacks in my free mini ebook The Silver Bullet Lunchbox.  To receive your free ebook, all you have to do is sign up to my monthly newsletter by clicking here.

So there you have it.  All the tips and steps you need to make your own family menu plan.  It’s that easy! What’s your menu planning experience?  Have you tried it before?  I’d love to hear your tips!  Click here to hop onto Facebook and share your stories, or click on the comment button below.

Happy menu planning!

Loren x