"Menu planning? Huh. Tie me to the kitchen sink while you're at it, why don't you?" was my initial reaction when I read about the concept of menu planning. It sounded like a domestic trap, something out of the 50s. Meanwhile, I would get to 4.15pm on a regular basis and not have a clue what I was going to cook for tea.
Meal preparation and cooking is a demanding task, because it is such a balancing act. The challenge of striking the right balance between fast food and three hours slaving over the stove, between cordon bleu and cordon bleugghgh (at least as far as the children are concerned), all the while having to stick to a budget, a time constraint, my family's general suspicion of any new dish I concoct, and the fact that there's a only a tin of pears in syrup and a box of Maltesers in the cupboard, does nothing to increase my enthusiasm for culinary duties.
For me, the worst thing about any household task is the decision-making. Having to come up with new, healthy and appealing options for Prima, Secundus and the King on a daily basis by 5.30pm was a task I put off til the last minute because I found it too stressful. I needed someone to tell me what to do. I did, in fact, need a menu plan.
When I researched the menu planning concept on the internet as I am wont to do about all topics, ranging from humanism to homoeopathy, I found that many mums do it this way: write down all the recipes you know that your family enjoys and allocate them to different days of the week. Rotate the menu every two weeks or month, depending on how extensive your repertoire is, so that there isn't too much repetition.
That didn't work for me. Yes, it gave great structure and direction to have specific recipes allocated for each day of the month, but for me, it was too prescriptive. Plus, I don't KNOW a fortnight's worth of different recipes that I can put together, which my family will actually eat. I didn't want to be referring to cookery books every day of the week.
Above is the solution I came up with. I found the free menu planner here, and it makes me happy because it is so cool. Every week is the same. Each day has at least one option for me to choose from. They are very open-ended and can be as complex or as simple as I want, and as store cupboards allow. For example, on Tuesdays, If I feel like doing something from scratch, like home-made Cornish pasties, I will. If I don't, I might just put some jacket potatoes in the oven.
To make your menu planning easier, try using the Menus On A Dime e-books, which include lots of menus and recipes already prepared for you. Not only does this take the stress of decision-making away from me on a daily basis, it even makes shopping easier. Prima and Secundus (mostly) eat whatever I put in front of them and I can try new recipes when I am feeling adventurous or fall back on old favourites when I don't. Finally, an answer to the everlasting question: "What's for tea, mum?"