Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Menu Planning Maze

When I think of Menu Planning, I think of my friend's mother. She had it down pat. She had settled on seven evening meals, one for each day of the week. She simply made those meals, week-in, week-out. I can't remember the rotation now (I used to!) , but I do remember Irish Stew on a Tuesday, 52 weeks a year!
Whilst I love food and cooking too much to ever countenance such an approach to menu planning, I do understand the drive to keep the task of feeding the family simple.
One of my basic, ongoing goals to make all our meals at home from scratch. As anyone who has this goal would know, menu planning is a big part of that. Menu planning for me though is a juggle of timetables, ingredients, time, nutrition considerations, balance and personal preferences. Here's what I mean:

Timetables:  The number one consideration for me in planning our meals is our family timetable, because this affects the timeframe I have available to cook, and therefore what I can cook. This week the timetable looks like this:
Monday - out of the house from 3.30pm for swimming training, back 5.30pm, one hour window before son needs to go to soccer.
Tuesday - out of house between 3.30pm and 6.00pm from training - everyone starving.
Wednesday- leave house by 5.15pm for soccer with son, back 8.00pm.
I won't go on and on but you get the picture. Every night and every week is different

Ingredients: What's in the fridge that needs to be used up? What's in the garden? What can I cook with whatever is at hand?

Balance: I try to have a balance of meals over a week. We're not vegetarians, but I've been trying to reduce our meat intake. I try to plan for two vegetarian meals a week, and these are normally nights I'll make a dessert, because the meat eaters (ie. the men) reckon the veggo meals don't fill them up...With the other five evening meals, I'll aim for three red meat meals, 1-2 fish, and maybe a chicken meal. Of course, all this is not hard-and-fast.

Stove availability - one constraint I have in my kitchen is that I only have two working stove elements  (it's a long story!) , which in practical terms often means one, as I mostly cannot use both elements simultaneously because of the size of my saucepans/frypans. So I have to plan to use the electric frypan, rice cooker, the oven etc. to get around this.

Having taken all these factors into consideration, this week the  evening menu plan has looked like this:

Sunday - Roast Shoulder of Lamb, Roast Potatoes and Sweet Potato, Brussels Sprouts.
Monday - Tuna Pasta, Coleslaw, Apple Crumble -  this meal can be cooked in less than half an hour! Apple crumble prepared in the afternoon, eaten after soccer.
Tuesday - Beef and Tofu Stir Fry, Brown Rice
Wednesday - Lamb Pie (using leftover roast lamb), Steamed Broccoli - prepared in the afternoon, finished off in the oven while I'm out with daughter in charge, eat when we get back frozen from soccer.
Thursday - Chicken ?? I have chicken thigh fillets ready to go after we return from netball training at 6.30pm. I'll decide later today what I'm going to do with it..Maybe a tagine in the pressure cooker??
Friday - Corn and Potato Chowder, cheese scones - ready to eat by 5.30 before swimming club at 6.00pm.
Saturday - not sure yet! Maybe fish if Action Man goes fishing - quite possible. If not, watch this space. I might get the children to do this one.Probably pasta. Dessert too.

Phew! That's one week taken care of. Looking forward to school holidays as this means the sporting commitments stop for a while, and there will be more scope to cook meals that take a bit longer..

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