Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Tuesday's Time To ... Rethink Menu Planning

Last Friday I wrote about how important it is to help encourage our daughters to shop wisely, and how part of this involves thinking ahead about what is needed before any purchases are made.  Menu planning is an important element of this.  It's something that I've been doing for a long time now, and over the years I have revised and refined my way of planning menus, to suit the needs of our family.  When the cubs were younger, and we were homeschooling, menu planning needed to take into account my time spent with them, and also, when they were really young, their nutritional needs as well as the timings of our meals.  Nowadays, with the cubs just about to start back at college for their autumn term, I have been thinking once more about how to adjust things and make our menus and meals work more efficiently.

One main reason for this is that, as the cubs don't both have the same timetable at college, and also have some other activities like chaplaincy meetings and dance classes that they also attend, we are finding that sometimes we do need to stagger our meals.  When Papa Bear returns home from a hard day at work (he has a profession that involves a lot of hard physical labour, therefore lots of calories burned up every day) he needs a hearty, nutritious meal to welcome him and replace all the energy he has expended during the day.  He cannot wait until 7 or even later to eat his main meal of the day.  As a family we discussed how best we could address this and we all agreed that the solution would be, that we would continue to stick to our usual evening mealtime and that if there are days when some of the family has to be delayed in eating, then they would have the same meal, but eat it at a later time.  This of course means having to reconsider some of the dishes that I serve, to allow for meals that will taste good whether they are served straight from the oven, or after being kept warm, or re-heated. 

There are lots of ways that we can make this work of course.  For one thing I almost always know which days we will be having staggered mealtimes.  The cubs will get their timetables this week and then I can plan around these, which days we need to have slow-cooker meals for our tea (evening meal) or a casserole or bake that can easily be re-heated.  On the days when we dine together as a family, we can have dishes that perhaps are best served straight from the oven.  Thinking this over, I'm pleased to find that many of our favourite evening meals, especially at this time of year, will easily fit into the first category.  Things like our favourite pot-roast pheasant, spicy Spanish bean stew, slow-cooker chicken enchiladas, Boston baked beans and many more, will all be great to serve for staggered meal times!  I'm so pleased that I've been able to work this out because I would much prefer that our cubs still get proper, nutritious meals each day, instead of just grabbing something out of the freezer or cupboards to fill themselves up with. 
There's another element to my menu planning that I've been rethinking alongside changing what we eat and when.  And that's how I actually write my menu plans.  I've used several different methods over time.  To begin with I just use to scribble down the plan for the week and keep it pinned on the fridge.  Then I got to printing off pretty custom-made menu templates from the internet, and filing them in.  Finally  I used online menu planning tools, which were great when the internet connection was working, but not so good when it was down!  (We live in a part of the world where the internet connection can still be unreliable).  So I went back to writing the menus on bits of paper to pin to the fridge.  However I've recently been thinking about a way of consolidating things a bit more.  The main reason for this is that I have many sources for my recipes.  Over the week, using my cook books, cookery magazines and websites, I get inspiration and ideas for meals we want to eat.  I run my ideas past the rest of the family, and start forming a draft menu for the following week.  As I go I will jot down any ingredients that will be needed.  I keep going during the week, making adjustments as required.   Then at the end of the week I will have finalised what we actually will have, and from this list I will write up the shopping list that we use on Saturday when we do our supermarket shop.  Our new menu starts from Saturday through to the following Friday.

However what I do find, is that as the week goes by, although I know what we will be eating and when, sometimes I can't locate the recipe!  I have lots of cook books, and I also have magazines and internet websites that I use.  Of course I jot down where the recipes are from that I will need during the week, but that can involve using all these different sources, sometimes more than one on a single day.  I thought there must be a more streamlined and efficient way to organise my recipe sources so that they are at my fingertips when I am preparing our meals.  Also, I wanted to be able to make the menu for the week more flexible.  Partly to take into consideration unexpected changes to the timings of our meals, which might then mean shifting a dish that can't be re-heated or kept warm, and also to be able to take into account those days when we don't eat as much as I had expected and fetch up with left-overs, or on days (which seem to be more frequent than the latter) when we eat more than I thought, and don't have any left-overs for the next day!  So I came up with an idea for how to deal with this ... which I shall be sharing in detail in tomorrow's Wednesday's Workbox.

Basically what I am going to be doing now, is using a "bring forward" card system, based on my "Daily Treasures" box, by which I have my recipes written down on separate cards, and organise these in order so that over the week I can simply pull out the recipe plan for that day, and see immediately what I need and where to find it.   Once I have written the recipe out once, it can stay filed in my "Daily Treasures" box and whenever I need it, I will be able to find it.  An added bonus to this is that it no longer means I have to take the laptop into the kitchen when I want to use an online recipe, and I don't have to worry about spoiling my beautiful cook books (Papa Bear has been buying me some gorgeous new cook books recently, and they are far too pretty to put in the kitchen!), which until now has meant having to copy out the recipes on scraps of paper anyway.  This way I can keep all my regular recipes in one place, and they will be easy to copy to make a lovely keepsake for Little Bear when she marries.

I shall show you exactly how I have done this,  how it works, and how easy it is, tomorrow!

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