Meal Planning: The 'Menu' Method
I have begun my meal planning journey, and after some research and creativity, I have come up with a quirky, yet effective, method of eating well, prevent waste, and save yourself some cash along the way!
I began the new year with some ambitious goals, set by myself to improve various parts of my life, ready for the lockdown to end and be released back into the world like a spring. The list consists of such classics as exercise more often, meditate, practice yoga, etc. However, my new year’s resolutions list has seen a new addition for the first time: begin meal planning.
I have been oblivious to this concept of planning and preparing your meals for the coming days. I have been very used to eating whenever I needed, no matter what it is and what time I ate. Some days, this did not cause any problems. However, on certain days I would find myself with a fridge filled with items that do not go together to construct a full meal; overeating at times of the night that one should definitely not eat or find myself in a position where I cannot decide what to eat and order in food instead. The waste I was creating, alongside the considerable spending on takeaways, was unreal. Something had to change, and meal planning was the answer.
I searched the web far and wide, seeking information on how to attempt this lifestyle change. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I saw hundreds of people making basic, almost bland-looking meals and boxing them for the next couple of weeks. I see its purpose as the costs per serving of these meals were tiny and efficient. Do not get me wrong; some cooks created phenomenal dishes that have inspired me to better myself in the culinary arts. However, some take the budgeting a little close to heart and forget the aspect that makes cooking great, creativity. The creativity turns this process of saving food and preparing meals from a choir into a fun and exciting time of the day. Well, I think I have found a solution: The Meal Planning Menu Method!
What is the Menu Method?
If you are an avid visitor to a restaurant, this method is perfect for you. You find a restaurant menu template; Microsoft word has some basic templates and creates your weekly meal plan in the menu style, including breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This is a perfect starting point for anyone who wishes to better their cooking skills as the fresher your ingredients, the more options you have to cook with from raw ingredients.
You begin by creating your most wanted breakfast and noting all the items you will require to make the dish. Name out the ingredients, so it resembles a fine dining restaurant experience. Once you have your breakfast, you move onto your favourite lunch and repeat the process. As you move along the dishes, be mindful of what ingredients you will have from your previous dishes and reuse them in multiple dishes. If it is a long-life ingredient, this can be ignored. This will prevent any waste from occurring, and be mindful of what portions you would like with each meal, for example, two strawberries with yoghurt.
Once you have your menu, you should also have your made shopping list. If it is too large, you need to return to your menu and alter it to a size that you are happy with. I tend to bulk buy for a month and then know that the ingredients have to be separated evenly for each week, but you are bound to find your way of balancing the number of items you get depending on their shelf life. As I go to the shops every other day rather than weekly, as I get things when I need them or run out, I tend to save a lot of cash by looking at my menu and deciding what the following menu will be.
What you are left with is a Sunday for leftovers. The cheat day that we all need so that we don’t get bored of the written schedule. It is also the day you see what ingredients are left in your fridge and make sure they are used in next week's menu. You also should see a significant decrease in the ingredients needed from the shop as you should be focusing on what is in your home. Only get things to top up your dishes.
It also helps to have a monthly meat shop. Living in the city, it is easy to stick to supermarket store meats and buy single packets that go off quickly. I order a monthly supply of meat from a butcher company that deliver straight to my door. The quality is incredible; it supports local businesses and provides you with your meat for the coming weeks or months, depending on how much you stock up.
My First Menu
I thought that you might want to see what my first menu looks like. Here are my three choices of breakfasts for the week:
My breakfast choices are a nice balance of long and short life foods. My granola and breakfast bars can last a long time, meaning they can be used in various weeks’ breakfasts, while my fruit is bought weekly and adds variety to my mornings. I note all my fruit choices so that I know what I am to buy from the store. I do not buy a lot of each fruit but rather multi-packs, deals, and promotions. For example, I buy a berry multipack for £3, including the blueberries, strawberries and raspberries in one packet. The Fry-up is the third breakfast that begins to use ingredients found in lunch and dinner. I like to make sure that I have one ‘less healthy’ option as a treat for myself.
My lunch choices are inspired by the ingredients used in breakfast. The three dishes are:
The salad can be altered in so many ways depending on what is in the house; however, the basics have to be there. Sometimes I may throw a little meat or a boiled egg into the mix. The simple tapas is a board of the meat and fruit I have. I also like to go and get fresh bread, either from the supermarket or a baker. London has some fantastic bakers and mine are very local to my house. The freshness cannot be beaten. I hope you are starting to see that meal planning is not about buying everything at once but buying what you need for your plan, which should be tailored to how much you want to spend. The quality is up to you, and sometimes the best quality is not that much more expensive and only requires a little effort. Believe me, it makes such a difference. Finally, the toastie, just like the salad, is a meal that can use any ingredient available depending on what you have. These types of meals altogether remove waste from occurring. If you buy too much, alter your shopping list and save some cash. The closer you get to using the perfect amount of ingredients in your menu, the more control you have of your spending.
Finally, my dinner dishes are the largest of the three and will require more complex ingredients. However, you will see that I try and use previous ingredients so that nothing goes to waste.
I always like to have a minced meat dish in my week. As I get my meat delivered, I sometimes mince some chicken or order a large amount of beef mince to create various dishes. There are endless possibilities with good quality mince. I also do not mention staple ingredients, like salt, pepper, spices, herbs etc. Unless they are living, fresh herbs and not dried, I make sure to add them to a separate spice shop. I like to keep my spice cupboard stocked, not to be limited to what I want to cook. There is also a dish that we want to try making either through experimenting or a recipe we have found. The firecracker chicken is something my partner wants to attempt, and I cannot wait to try. Finally, the roast chicken on a bed of vegetables is a classic. The salad/toastie of the dinner dishes, the classic roast, can take on any vegetables that are suited for oven roasting, as well as any meat that releases juices or does not dry out too quickly.
I hope you have found the menu meal planning method inspiring and encouraging you to try it yourself. I am finding my menu extremely useful, and it has presented me with gaps where I can find cheaper products of better quality. I have various techniques for saving money in the city, but I shall save those for a future post. The city may be expensive, but there is always a way to save a couple of coins here and there.