Thursday, 31 January 2013

How To Do Menu Planning

If I had to choose one single thing to recommend to someone struggling with organising their home life I would definitely choose menu planning. It's made the biggest difference to our family! Shopping trips are now quicker and easier - not to mention cheaper. There's no last-minute scramble to find something to cobble together for tea, and either my husband and I can cook without having to have the same old, "You decide!" "No, you decide!" arguments. It's all there in easy black and white! Plus, we almost never throw away food now. Meals are planned so that we use all the ingredients, even if it's over a few days. We even double cook things like chilli, bolognese, soups, and pasta, etc. to freeze and either send with the kids to nursery or use on a lazy day.

I promise you that if you decide to do weekly menu planning for your family it will be one of the best decisions you've made! Let me tell you about how I do it and then you can decide. :)

Okay, so I got myself an A5 hardback notebook, which I keep just for doing my menu planning. I figured that sometimes I struggle with deciding on what to eat this week, so if I keep all my previous menu plans in this book I will have weeks and weeks of inspiration to look back on! You could make yours cute if you wanted to. I might do... eventually...

So, I always use the right-hand page and begin by folding it in half. The left-hand column I use for the actual menu plan and the right-hand side is for my shopping list. You can't see it here, because I didn't happen to do it this week, but I use the back of last week's menu plan on the left-hand page to rough out the meals. I do this because I like to try to eat meals with fresh ingredients or those with a short shelf life at the beginning of the week. Then the end of the week is more for things out of the freezer or meals where the ingredients will last until the end of the week before being used. If I jot down my meal ideas on the left page as they pop into my head I can then decide which order they need to go in before committing them to days.

It helps if you use the contents of your fridge, freezer, and cupboards to help you plan. Before I was converted to the magic of the menu plan we used to try to pluck meal ideas out of the sky - usually at the last minute! It sounds obvious, but we never used to do it this way, so I'm guessing we weren't alone... Or maybe we were. Maybe no one else is as useless as we were!!

Anyway, I check the freezer for meat to use and the fridge for veg to use up, etc. Then I check the cupboards for and sauces and packets of rice and things. I do bulk buy now and again, especially on meat. There is probably a loads cheaper way to do it, but I haven't got the time to get up at the crack of dawn to go round all the separate shops n town so I just get the Tesco 4 meats for £12 every few weeks. If I see something on special offer I will buy it, but this is why it's good to check your cupboards when you're doing your meal planning. I used to buy things on special offer and then they would languish at the back of the cupboard for months until finally going out of date!

Once your meals have been allocated a day. Or your days have been allocated a meal. Whatever! Then you can use your menu plan to compile your shopping list. I look at each meal and check the cupboards to see if we have everything that's required to make it. All ingredients found lacking go on the list along with all the usual supermarket staples like milk, bread, fruit, etc. Also, because my better half knows where the shopping list will be, he can jot down anything he thinks of that he wants when it crosses his mind so it's on the list, ready.

I think this part is quite clever, even if I do say so myself - Then I use the fold I made in the page to tear the shopping list away, leaving the menu plan in the book. List can be taken shopping. Menu plans can be retained for future reference and inspiration.

Shopping with a shopping list helps to reduce your food bills considerably too. I used to go to Tesco, buy a trolley full of stuff and spend a fortune. Then when I looked closely there were barely enough things to make a couple of meals, never mind a week's worth! Taking a list - and more importantly - sticking to that list saves loads of money!

The list in the photo isn't long at all, but usually, I end up going over onto the back of the list. Just remember if you do that to write on the correct half of the page so you don't leave half your list behind. I've done that before!

When everything is finalised I get out my chalk and copy the menu plan onto the chalkboard. I could just leave it in the book, but I like that this is on show so it constantly reminds me that I need to take the meat out of the freezer, or that today's meal needs me to start prepping it early or whatever. If I don't have a constant visual reminder I just forget.

Sometimes I plan lunches as well as main meals and sometimes I don't bother. My husband works shifts so my board either has "Mornings" or "Afternoons" written at the top. We alternate when we have our family meal according to his working patterns so that he always eats the main meal with us. Sometimes it's at lunch time, sometimes it's at tea time. I also don't usually plan for the weekend - I'm just not that hardcore! :) Things are likely to change at a moment's notice on a weekend so I just don't bother. Keeps us free to eat out on a whim or whatever.

The kids are at nursery some days too, so with this and changing shift patterns doing a menu plan really helps you to think ahead and factor these things in without the panic or forgetting. I won't lie, it did take a bit of time to become a habit. I struggled with remembering to take the time to plan instead of just rushing out to the shop. But, the positives of doing it were so pronounced and immediate that it didn't take long for me to make the time and it soon became a habit.

Well, I hope that this has helped you to understand how great menu planning can be! Do you think you might try it? Do you already menu plan? What do you do differently?

Thanks for stopping by! :)

I have linked to...

Making The World Cuter
Nifty Thrifty Tuesday at Coastal Charm
BecolorfulThis Silly Girl's Life

Funky Junk's Sat Nite Special

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Toy Organisation / Playroom Love

Okay dokay, so I said I've been busy and I mean it! I have been none stop doing since the new year and it feels amazing! There are a ton of things I want to share with you, but I actually got to take some photos of the toy storage situation today before the kids wrecked it all again. :) It doesn't stay tidy for long!

This space is the toy room slash playroom. Usually, the kids drag out their toys to play in the living room, which is fine by me. I just think it's wonderful having a room where all their toys can be tidied and hidden away. I am certain this room will evolve as they grow up, but for now, it has everything they need.

There are some ah-mazing playrooms out there in the blogosphere and on Pinterest and I will admit I feel envious at how much space some people have in their homes to allocate to a play area. There are also some truly innovative and clever little design features, which I would love to incorporate somewhere, but my kids are a bit young yet I think, and we don't have room. 

Anyway, one of my invaluable Expedit shelving units lives in this playroom. It used to house all of my crafting gear, but that has since been relegated to the big unit in the living room. I cannot praise these ingeniously simple pieces of furniture enough! I just love them! The cubby holes are a great size for storing toys as they're wide enough to sit things on and big enough to store the kids' books - why are they sometimes so massive?! The Skubb boxes corral all of the bitty bits...
  • Cars and track
  • Larger cars and trucks
  • Figures
  • Baby dolls
  • Baby doll accessories
  • Food and crockery for play kitchen
  • Instruments
  • Miscellaneous

On top is where I stash the things I don't want emptying all over and jumbling up - jigsaws and games mainly. If they were within reach there would be a puzzle soup to sort out every day, several times a day. :: shudder ::

Oh, and my printer is on top there too. Nowhere else to put that thing!

That's the kid's guitar on the wall. It only has three strings, but the way they hammer it I am wary of adding any more right now! I found it in a charity shop for £5 so it was a real bargain! My husband's guitars used to reside here before they were usurped in favour of morekidsthings. Story of our lives eh! :)

Can I also just say that i LOVE this play kitchen from Ikea. I know, I know I am all about Ikea again, but it's just awesome! Sooooo many play kitchens are bright pink, which is not ideal if you have children of both genders (although my son does have a lot of pink in his life). And some are just gaudy and nasty looking. This is perfect! It's simple and more like the real thing, which is of course what kids want - to be just like mummy and daddy.

While I'm banging on about how I have organised the toys I'll show you the two baby Expedits in their rooms. My daughters are top and my sons are on the bottom. Couldn't be without them!

My daughter's room is actually a good size, so she has the space to keep additional things, like her dressing table and her dolls' house. My son's room is the third boxroom bedroom, so it's pretty small. Once he gets big enough we will get him some sort of cabin bed type of solution.

Last but not least, here's the toy box. It currently holds all the millions of teddies they have accumulated, but I am considering bringing it downstairs and using it to keep their dressing up clothes in. I'm undecided.

I hope you've enjoyed being nosy at my toy organising solutions. I have, as always, enjoyed sharing these ideas with you. I know these solutions are not as design-savvy or as clever as some of the things I have seen on the interwebz, but they work for us and they work well. At least for now anyway. You know how it is with organising - it's an ongoing process!

(You might have noticed you got a sneaky of dearest daughter's new bedroom. I've got a few finishing touches to do before I am ready to show you in yet, but I am excited! I love this room!)
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