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10 Things you need to know when drawing up a menu plan

I have been ‘meal-planning’ on and off for about 6 months, but only in the last 3 months have I been doing it properly.

In that time, our food bill, with the help of online shopping, is down about 15%. The other bonus seems to be my nemesis, the ever shrinking waist bands of my skirts! I noticed this week that certain skirts which have previously been a little um ……. snug, suddenly close easier and allow me to actually take a breath. So I took a deep breath and got on the scale and I was down 4 kg. (Happy dance done here)

I am not on any kind of diet at all, I don’t really calorie count, my maths sucks!

I am more aware of what I eat, yet there is a box of biscuits in my drawer at work but they will last the whole month.

How does this menu plan thing work?  I follow a blog called Lose Weight While Eating by Audrey Johns, because, well I need to lose weight and I like to eat.  What she suggested was planning your meals and calorie counting. Okay she also suggested detoxing and other things I am not about to do, like drink plain water. URGH.

Her meal plan idea, while not easy has made life a lot smoother on the home front.

What are the 10 things you need to know?


  1. What do you have in the cupboard? Taking an inventory and “shopping” in your cupboard prevents you wasting food and also allows you to spend less. If you know what you have, you can plan your meals around the inventory                                                                                                    .shopping cart
  2. How many meals do you need? Are you planning for all 3 meals a day or just one? I started with school lunches – this saves time if you prepare your lunches early in the morning.  Also, if you make the lunches the night before, you aren’t usually hungry as you’ve already had supper. The downside of this is that, after you have eaten, you struggle to think of interesting lunches to make!
  3. What does your family like? Ask your family for input. What are their favourite meals? For us it was pasta, mince, soups, chicken, meat and tuna. Make at least one or two new recipes per month and get everyone to vote if you should make it again or throw the recipe away. voting
  4. Who is doing the cooking? In my house it is me, except for lunch. For the after school lunches I choose things that need assembling or adding water, but don’t require actual cooking, e.g. cream style sweetcorn on toast, baked beans on toast, tin or packet soup and toasted sandwiches. My domestic used to do all the cooking. The food was edible but we always had leftover’s which no one  would eat, or she made too much and the leftover’s would sit in the fridge and grow mould and we would waste food. I changed jobs in March from 12 hour shifts where I would leave at 6:30 am and get home at 7:30pm. On my days off I would be too tired to do anything. My new job is 8:30 to when the last patient leaves, I am never home later than 6 pm and on those days I make the quickest meals I know. So, with these new working hours I took over the cooking. Since that night we have barely had leftovers and if there are they are eaten the next day. I am a pretty good cook, mostly because I enjoy cooking and also I have the luck to have a family that will eat almost anything (P.S. mom, everybody eats mushrooms now!), also I make a lot less food and nobody starves and there is usually enough for seconds. Money saved! Keep the chef in mind when menu planning.                                                           apron
  5. Will there be time to cook? What are your children’s extra murals like? Tuesday is the one night where everybody has something on and all at the same time, in different parts of Joburg. Then on a Wednesday night I teach a beading class. On those two days I make quick meals. Last night was Wednesday so my menu was, soup (from a tin) and Nussbaum’s chicken Vienna sausages. I like to leave myself a minimum of an hour for making supper as this allows for distractions, because somebody is bound to need you when you are cooking. With a plan, if you are doing the cooking, you can get your domestic to be sous chef and do the dicing and slicing and even the peeling earlier in the day, then you put the meal together. If you have a busy afternoon and making supper is going to be rushed and stressful, then your slow cooker is your best friend, throw everything in the pot before work and turn it on low, in 6-8 hours your supper is ready. I have posted some good slow cooker meals in the recipe section of the blog. There are also very easy quick 20 minute recipes. Also you can par cook your food in the microwave and finish it off in the oven or on the stove as needed. (Saves time and money)                                         egg timer
  6. Keep a record of recipes. Keep a record of the recipes that your family like, so that you can refer back to them. Also keep a list of the books and pages the recipes you have tried out in various cookbooks page are from. I have about 100 books and sometimes I will want a recipe I remember that everyone enjoyed, If I haven’t made a note, I have to pull out and search, sometimes in vain.                                                                               recipe folder
  7. Get a calendar get yourself year planner, calendar or diary. Plan your menu’s on this.  If you’re not the one cooking, sit down with the chef and plan together. I plan for the month and write it in my notebook but only write up one week’s worth of meals on the kitchen menu. Looking at a calendar, you are able to see what you have made and how often. You need to avoid too many repeats. My kids love mince, so every  week I make a different recipe with mince, e.g. Sloppy Joes, spaghetti bolognaise, meatballs  cottage pie, tacos,  chilli con carne  without the chilli  etc. On the calendar you can then also mark what recipes the family liked and which they didn’t. You can make something more than once a month especially if you have fussy eaters and you find something they like.         calendar
  8. Shopping.  This is why I do a monthly plan. Once I have decided what to make, I do my shopping list. One list for non- perishables and freezer goods and one list for the fresh ingredients (this will be either a weekly or 2 weekly shop).  With your shopping list, shop in your cupboard first and everything on your list that is in your cupboard, cross off. Money and time saved.                                                                                                shopping list
  9. Now to lose weight with a menu plan you can plan your diet if you are dieting Meal planning is one of the things that makes weight watchers and similar weight loss plans so successful. You can work out your menu according to calories. Going out for lunch, no problem. Just plan a low calorie supper to compensate.                     loose weight
  10. Enjoy.  You’ve worked hard, you have your recipes saved, you can use your previous weeks or month recipes. Therefore, next month is easier. The recipes the family liked most get put in first on the plan for next month, then add your 2 new recipes for that month. If something is popular with family, make it more often.

I have to admit to struggling to keep track of my inventory during the month but I don’t worry too much. Keeping your shopping list will give you an idea of what you have, and what you didn’t use during the month, so these ingredients should still be in your cupboard.  It is your starting inventory that is the most important!

Do you do menu planning?  If you start menu planning, let me know what is working for you and what isn’t. I really love to get your feedback

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