Ahhhhhh…what shall we have for dinner tonight? Ever have that last-minute rummage through the fridge hoping for inspiration?
I am so over not knowing what to cook for dinner, and have found that with 4 children under 6 I have had to become even more super-organised than usual. Now don’t get me wrong, I still have days where I just can’t be bothered or things just don’t go to plan and we end up with takeaways, but due to being so organised that is becoming a rare occasion.
We are saving money on takeaways and groceries, eating better than ever, and freeing up time and money for more exciting things.
The first step is getting all your recipes organised. I have done this in a folder system:
The ‘My Recipes’ folder was a gift from my sister from Kikki-K.
It has sections for: Entree/Finger Food, Soup, Vegetarian, Fish, Chicken, Meat, Pasta and Dessert/Cakes. At the start of each section is a page titled “Recipes I Love” where I list all the relevant recipes from cookbooks, the book they are in, and the page number. Then I type, handwrite, scribble recipes and put them in the folder, or rip pages out of magazines and hole-punch them. This folder contains my main meal recipes and is key to the success of meal-planning easily for me.
The gorgeous floral folder was a gift from a friend, it is a Kath Kidston design.
I have re-named the sections in here so I don’t have any double-ups across my two folders. They are now labelled: Brunch, Sauces/Marinades, Salads, Pickles/Chutneys/Preserves, Side Dishes, Baking, Drinks, and LunchBox Ideas. This one came with paper to write recipes on and there is a pocket in each section to put recipe cards in. I use this very regularly also, including when writing up my grocery list for the month.
If you haven’t got into meal planning yet I highly recommend it!I find planning the meals gets easier and easier each month, and once I have my 30-odd meals planned for the month it is easy to write them up on the whiteboard in the kitchen each week and ensure we have a good healthy variety of meat, chicken, fish, and the odd vegetarian dinner.
(the whiteboard in the kitchen may soon be replaced with one of these organisation walls – LOVE! I saved all the corks from the wine served at our wedding 9 years ago to make one of those little corkboards in the middle too – still on the to-do list!)
Start by looking at what you have in fridge, freezer, pantry and garden to use this week. How many meals can you put together. Write them down. Then use your folders to write down a some more dinners, and anything you can double and freeze you can write on the menu twice (as long as you don’t mind having two dinners the same in a month). At this stage I don’t worry about what date we are going to eat each meal, just ensure that I have enough dinners for the month planned. As I go I write a grocery list out the side of ingredients I will need to complete each meal.
To plan and shop monthly you will need a reasonable amount of freezer space, and a good number of freezer containers. As we make our own bread I usually just buy one or two loaves each month to keep in the freezer for emergencies. We are also a household of soy milk drinkers so I am able to buy this in bulk on special and store in the cupboard. Take into account any events planned over the month – guests for dinner, birthdays, nights out etc. Write them into your monthly plan.
For special dinners try planning a menu around what you can get on special, rather than looking through cookbooks to decide and then shopping to a list. I buy us one really lovely treat in each monthly shop on special (last month it was a yummy scrummy lamb roast half price) and then add a couple of ingredients to go with it (spinach and feta!). I don’t come up with 31 different dinners each month, there are always a handful of things we have twice, usually things that are easy to cook a double batch of and freeze.
It is important to plan more than just the ingredients for main meals, include breakfasts, snacks, lunchbox items, etc. As the months have gone on I have refined our base monthly list that I have saved on the Countdown website so it covers all the basics in the right quantities now, and I just add all the extras for our dinner meals.
Templates I love: see 20 free menu template printables here
The Monthly Shop
Each month I do a monthly online shop from Countdown and get it delivered. By doing a monthly shop it brings the cost of delivery down (it is tiered) and I often have coupons for a free delivery anyway. I top up with fresh fruit and veges each week, often just from local Four Square, which is surprisingly good value for fruit and veges. Meat, chicken etc I sometimes by from the butcher for the month, their price and quality is often the best, but other times I just include it in the monthly online shop. There are usually a couple of things left to get from Pak n Save.
It took a couple of months to get the quantities right for things like flour (we make all our own bread), rolled oats for muesli and porridge etc. Once we have done our big shop we try to stick to just fruit and veges and absolute essentials for the rest of the month, improvising for anything else we run out of. The key is to stick to the budget amount set.
Cooking up a storm
Once the groceries arrive I try to cook as many dinners for the freezer as I can in the first 3 days. This month that included things such as a big batch of chilli con carne (to be used with nachos, on rice, or in bread roll ‘bricks’), devilled sausages, cowboy casserole, meatloaf (I freeze this uncooked, then I can defrost and cook on the day of use), chicken and chilli bean enchilada mix (just defrost, roll in enchiladas, top with grated cheese and bake), chicken and vege fajita mix (packed full of loads of veges, simply defrost and serve with tortillas, yoghurt, and an avocado and red onion salsa), tomato soup, pumpkin soup, carrot and red lentil soup – all in double batches. Getting organised with these meals at the start of the month makes each week easier as there are always a few nights a week that you don’t have to cook from scratch. It is also much easier not to resort to takeaways when there are prepared meals in the freezer. We went away for a couple of nights this week and had cooking facilities in our unit so all we had to do was grab a couple of dinners out of the freezer to take with us.
I also make a big batch of muesli each month and use some of this to make into muesli bars for lunch boxes.
Let me know any other tips you have!