Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Wednesday's Workbox - Creating Your Flexible Menu Planner

Creating a simple, flexible menu planner is really easy!  You don't need much equipment to create it, and the best thing is that you can use it pretty much immediately - and keep adding to it as you go.

To make one you will need just a few things.

You'll need an index box like this which is from Amazon ...

Or something similar - you could indeed make one, using the cardboard container that packaged cereal comes in, for example, and in fact you can read how I made my own index box - my "daily treasures box", in another Wednesday's Workbox post (click on the Wednesday's Workbox label in the side bar to view it).   Of course, you can actually buy custom index boxes especially for recipes, but they are a lot more expensive than a plain index box - and if you use this instead of a recipe box, you can design it exactly how you want - and use it, as I do, to file more than just your menu plans in.   If you do decide to buy an index box like the one pictured above the size I would recommend is the 6 x 4 inch size, as this fits most recipe card templates better than the smaller size - and it will still cost you less than £5, even with the cards.

Most index boxes do come with the card inside them - but I like to print my own recipe cards.  If you want to do this rather than just write your recipes straight onto the cards that came with the index box, then there are many websites that will offer them for free.  Graphic Garden offers some really lovely free recipe card templates - click here to see the full range.  There are seasonal cards - including 4 bear cards for each season which are what I am using (an added bonus of using seasonal designs is that it makes it really easy to find when filed, at a glance, recipes that are good for particular seasons and holidays).  They are really beautiful.  Helena, the incredibly talented designer of all the Graphic Garden images, provides instructions for how to print the cards, which come both lined, and plain, and they are just the right size for a 6 x 4 index box.

How I have printed my cards is to have 2 per page of A4 paper (they fit easily with plenty of space).  I print 7 pages of cards for a week's worth of evening meals, and extra for the rest of the week's meals that I need recipes for (some days I don't need recipes for our breakfast or midday meals as they are usually much plainer than our evening meal dishes).   For each recipe I use 2 cards, stuck blank side to blank side so that I have 2 sides to write on.  Of course, some recipe card templates can be typed onto - but I prefer to handwrite mine.  Sticking 2 cards together like this also makes them more durable.  I am thinking about laminating them or covering them with clear film, but that may work out to be a bit more costly than I'd like for something like this, so I have not done this yet. 

Having picked out the recipe cards you want to use and printed enough for one week's worth of meals, you can then start to work out which dishes you are planning to serve to your family for the week ahead.  As I have described previously, I tend to plan for a week at a time and I do this beginning on the Monday of the week beforehand, planning and adjusting right up until the Friday of that same week.  Then we start the new menu on the Saturday, for that is when we do our food shop.  During the week as I plan my menu for the following week, I can write out the recipes I want to use on the recipe cards I have printed.  It may sound quite time consuming to do this - but it doesn't take very long, and I have always written out lots of my recipes, because I do not like to actually take my pretty recipe books into the kitchen while I am cooking in case they get splashed.  I can sit down and write out my whole week's menus in half a morning - and it's fun!  I have really enjoyed working on them this week, and hope to share with you some pictures of what I have done, once I have a couple more week's worth of menus to put in my box. 

You don't need to write more than one week's worth of recipes out for your menu planner at a time unless you usually plan more than a week ahead at once.  Even if you do, you don't necessarily need the recipes written out, as once you start using the "bring forward" system that is at the heart of this menu planner, you'll only be using one day at a time anyways.  And in fact once you have written the recipe out once, you'll never need to write it out again - it is right there ready for next time you are going to use it.  Each week as you write out seven days' worth of recipes, you'll be adding to your collection, and you will soon find that you have most of the recipes you use regularly, and only need to add new ones that you plan to use as they come up. 

Once you have your first week's worth of recipes written out, you can start using your menu planning system.  It's so simple!  All you do is put them in order of the days that you intend to use them, at the front of your index box (or in the section where you have your meals and menus - I also have my master shopping list here, and in my "daily treasures box" this section is behind my "to do" section).  Each day, pull out the recipes for that day's meals (or do it the night before, as I do).  You can check ahead of time if there is preparation that needs to be done beforehand, but all you need to do is keep those recipes at the front of your menu planning section.  As you use them, they can go to the back of the section, or back into the recipe section of the box until you want to use them again.  You will find that you start with lots of recipes at the beginning of the week and by the end of the week you will have only one day's worth of recipes left.

Of course, as you carry on using this system you may find that you fetch up with too many recipes to keep in your index box, especially if you use it for planning the rest of your chores and commitments - as I do.  If this is the case, simply get another index box to store the recipes in when you aren't using them.   Or even more than one!  As you store them, it is worth planning how you will file them.  You could either use categories according to the type of meal the recipes are for - breakfasts, lunches, snacks, main meals, desserts and so forth.  Or you could file them by season (which is how I shall do this) with subcategories within each season for the types of meal they are for - and then the type of dish.  It's really up to you how easy or complicated you make this element of your filing.  Use little tab cards as dividers (you can buy these separately from your index box for a couple of pounds) or make your own using stiff card.  Or use envelopes to keep each section of recipe cards in.  The choice is entirely up to you - and it's a chance to get really creative!  You can decorate your box to suit your tastes, and you can organise your recipe cards in a way that suits you.

The real beauty of this system is that everything is right at your fingertips, and you can adjust it as you want.  Having your recipes written on cards has many advantages.  They are portable, you can even take them with you to the supermarket if you need to.  It won't matter if your internet connection isn't working or if you don't have access to a computer when you need one.  And it doesn't matter if you don't have many recipe books either - you can copy recipes out onto your cards from all kinds of sources.  In addition the index box doesn't take up a whole lot of room, and it's easy to keep it up to date too!  If you find there are recipes you don't use much you can just ditch them, and you can add to it gradually without having to have lots of weeks' worth of recipes before you get started.   You can add comments, timings, adjustments and other instructions onto the cards as you go.  And on special occasions, you can have extra recipes just for that one day's meal, all in one place, at your fingertips where they will be easily accessed - a bonus when you are really busy preparing for a large meal. 

I'll post again with some updates about my new menu planning system, after I've been using it a few weeks!  Watch this space ...

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