Meal Planning

I’m close to three months into doing my meal planning monthly instead of on a week-by-week basis, and I’m loving it. I used to enjoy my weekly meal planning, but found that I was repeating a lot of meals and kept getting stuck in a rut. It’s also a lot easier to opt for take away on lazy days when you don’t already have something planned in advance (not a good thing). I’m trying to work a couple of new recipes in each month in the hope that my regular “routine” of recipes will expand over time. Here’s a general idea of how I go through and plan my meals for the month, based on the days of the week. I try to sit down for about half an hour at the end of each month and set up the plan for the following month all in one go. Of course it is flexible, as life can sometimes get in the way, but I find having a whole month’s plan in place has really saved me time and energy. Oh, and keep in mind that as well as these general rules I also pencil in one night a month for us to go out for dinner, and one for us to have takeaway –

Monday: I try to make this meal something nice and light, usually fish or chicken.
Tuesday: Tuesday night is Mexican night! We usually have something like beef or chicken tacos/burritos. Nice and easy and fast to prepare.
Wednesday: Wednesday night is RED MEAT night. Sebastian is a huge red meat eater, so this night is usually catered for him. Steak or lamb is usually on the bill.
Thursday: I try to make a kind of chicken dish on a Thursday night, chicken is easy to use in so many different recipes that this is one of the easiest nights to pick a recipe for.
Friday: I’m usually exhausted on a Friday night, so if we have something fun planned (like dinner from our favourite Thai restaurant), I’ll try and plan it for Friday so I don’t have to worry too much about cooking.
Saturday: I usually have more time to spend preparing and cooking, so I’ll usually try to pick a new recipe or something a bit more time consuming for Saturday nights.
Sunday: Sunday night is usually a heartier sort of meal, and always something that we will have leftovers remaining for Monday’s lunch.

Planning A Weekend Away – Checklist

Nothing refreshes the mind like a weekend away, especially one spent out in the middle of nowhere. It’s so much easier for me to relax if I take myself away from all of the things that need doing around the house (15 piles of laundry, anyone?), it’s almost like forced relaxation but I’ll take it in any way I can get it. I thought I’d write a little checklist of the steps I take when planning a weekend away, because nothing takes the stress away from organizing something like a good ol’ checklist.

Start by brainstorming/researching the area you want to visit – I live in Western Australia, and there are a number of country towns that can be explored in our south west region. We tend to stick to the main towns (Dunsborough, Margaret River, etc), but I like to do a bit of research on the area I want to visit to make sure it fits the bill for what I want out of the getaway. If we’re in the mood to do wine tours and eat a whole lot of fancy food, I’ll opt for somewhere like Margaret River. If we want to cut off from civilization and spend time in nature, Pemberton is a great way to go.

Check trip adviser for accommodation suggestions – God bless the internet, because I have no idea what people did to book accommodation before the glory of Trip Adviser. Having said that, be sure to read reviews as well as look at ratings, as ratings can go down if there is too much time between reviews. I try to look out for all of the important things – a comfortable bed, privacy, cleanliness etc.

Write a list of places you want to visit and things you want to see and do – A general internet search of ‘things to do in X’ should give you a general idea of the things there are to do in the town you’re visiting, but there are always some gems tucked away in a more in-depth google search. I don’t like having a set in stone plan of things to do on a trip like this, but having a general idea of what you can do and see around the area you’re staying is always a good idea.

Cover all your bases – You may be staying somewhere with no internet connection or TV satellite, especially if you’ve picked somewhere deep in the country away from the hustle and bustle. I always make sure to pack a deck of cards or board game to make sure we have something to do for entertainment if all else fails.

Plan your meals and write a food shopping list – If you’ve opted for a more relaxing getaway, you may need to think about what you’re going to make for lunches and dinners. As someone who needs to know where her next meal is coming from, I highly recommended thinking about the meals you’ll be having while you’re away, and making sure anything you need to make at your accommodation is covered.

Write a packing list – I will never be someone who can just throw everything into a bag and walk out the door. I will, however, always be the person who has a bandaid/tissue/spare pair of socks if you happen to have forgotten something. I guess that’s a good thing? I like to write out a packing list because it takes the thinking out of packing, and means I can get it done in 10 minutes and I always know I have what I need. Having said that, I like to pack as light as I can.

Confirm your reservation – A simple, but necessary step. You don’t want to drive 5 hours to your accommodation only to discover your booking has been lost in cyberspace. I’ve heard some horror stories like this, so I always double check the day before we leave.

Have I missed a step? Let me know in the comments below!

Meal Planning

Meal planning is an important part of keeping a household running smoothly, and I’ve found a way to streamline the process and make it easier for me each week (oh, by the way, I’ve switched back to weekly meal planning as monthly planning wasn’t working for us for financial reasons). I now go to the grocery store once a week, but it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make in order to save us a little bit of money each week. I used to struggle with coming up with a variety of meals from week to week, that kept everyone satisfied. I would often ask Sebastian for meal suggestions but he would always draw a blank on what he wanted. With this new method in place, it makes it so much easier for him to have a quick glance at the options and tell me what he wants for the week.

I typed up a list of meals that we frequently eat (if you’re creatures of habit like we are, then this should work well for you too), for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. I simply hand Sebastian this list when I need him to give me some suggestions for the week, he writes them down, and I go from there. He’ll often give me red meat suggestions, and I try to work in some chicken and fish options into the week alongside these. I’ll then go ahead and plan our lunches taking into consideration what we’ll have leftover throughout the week. Breakfast is pretty straightforward, but I like to mix it up to keep things interesting. I also make sure to check my day planner to see if we have any events coming up that might tie into meal times. From there, I plan out the week.

I fill out my weekly meal planner (this one is from kikki k, but there are a million free options available online), making sure we have a nice variety of meals throughout the week. Because these are all things I make over and over again, it’s really easy for me to then go through the ‘essentials’ list I typed up to highlight everything we’ll need for the week. I set out the essentials list in order of areas I move through while grocery shopping. That way I don’t look down at the list and see something I should have picked up 3 aisles ago, I can easily move through the store and pick up items as I go. I highlight items in pink that I know we definitely need, green is for the things I need to check the cupboard for before I head to the store. So that’s how I meal plan! The last few times I’ve used this method we’ve saved about $40-$50 in “incidental” purchases as I move through the store. So it’s working well for me, and I hope it works well for you!

Planning An Overseas Holiday Pt 2.

I’ve been spending a little bit of time planning our US trip (for the end of the year) lately, and I thought I’d share with you what I’ve been up to. The first thing I did after my first ‘broad scale’ planning session, was to write a step by step to-do list of all of the things I would need to plan. And here it is –

Finalize Travel Dates
Research Flight Costs
Solidify Budget
Research Accommodation
Select exact dates per city and research travel between cities
Write to-do list per city
Research to-do list items (cost etc.)
Check Visa requirements etc.
Research weather during travel times
Write packing list (general)
Organise housesitter etc.

So our travel dates have been mapped out, and we have a rough idea of how much our flights are going to cost. At this stage we’re tossing up between two airlines (mostly because Sebastian didn’t have a great experience with one of our options on his recent trip overseas), and once that’s been decided we can start looking at booking things officially. I solidified my own budget, and have a savings plan in place. I’m now at the stage where I’m researching accommodation. Did you know accommodation in New York City is ridiculously expensive? Well it is. I haven’t started looking at Washington DC just yet, but I’ve been told that it will be on-par with New York as far as accommodation and food pricing goes. At this stage, it’s looking like Distrikt Hotel will be the go for us in New York. We can get a 20% discount if we book early, BUT it’s a non-refundable booking, which is a huge downfall. Decisions, decisions.

Meal Planning/Grocery Shopping

Buckle up guys, because this is going to be a long one. I decided that 2015 would be the year of monthly meal planning. I have always planned our meals, but last year I did mostly weekly planning which did work fine for me, but I want to give monthly planning a try to see how it went. The benefit for me when it comes to monthly meal planning is mostly that I can bulk-order groceries from Coles and actually have the delivery fee be worthwhile. Last year we resorted to going in-store because we couldn’t justify the $11 Woolworths delivery fee each week for the small amount of groceries we were ordering. To be honest, I don’t mind grocery shopping, but having to try and fit it in on a Saturday morning just doesn’t work for me. I usually write up a plan the week before the new month, so on January 27th I will be planning for February’s meals. Here is a step-by-step run down of how I do it.

Step 1 – Set up the monthly plan: I keep my meal plan in an email format, and at the end of each month I write in the dates for each day for the following month. I’m sure there is a more convenient way of doing this, but this works for me because I can work on the plan during any free moments that I get at work. Once I’ve written in the dates, I go through and add in the ‘staple’ meals that we have every week/month. For example, we have steak and salad (or vegetables) once a week. Sebastian is a huge fan of steak, so I like to include this meal weekly because I know it’s something he enjoys. We have a roast every second Sunday, so that goes straight into the planner without any further thought.

Step 2 – Check the specials: I shop at Coles (I was a Woolworths girl for many years but the quality, price, and service that I’ve received from Coles lately was enough to convince me to make the change), so the week of my meal-planning I’ll hop onto their website and take a look through the current specials catalogue. I find this is a great way to save money, and can also be a prompt for meal ideas if you’re feeling stuck. For example, in the current catalogue soft taco kits have been reduced by $3.13 each. If I work soft tacos into our meal plan, say once a week, I can save $12.52 for the month. Which in the long run could work out to be a saving of $150 a year. If I can get a saving like this for 4 kinds of meals for the month, I can reduce my monthly food bill by $50. It all adds up, and I try to get as many items on sale as I can. For the most part we eat a lot of basic meals without too many processed additions, but if we’re going to have things like pasta or these kind of pre-made meals, I’m definitely going to get them on sale.

Step 3 – Fill in the blanks: As I notice things that are on sale that we could work into our weekly meals, I start to add them into the meal plan. As a general rule, I plan two full weeks of meals and just repeat them all again for the following fortnight. If you’re feeding fussy eaters, this will work out pretty well because you’ll have less options to choose from, and are probably used to repeating meals from week to week. I like to mix it up every month to keep things “interesting”. Here is an example of two weeks worth of meals for us –

Monday 2nd February – Steak & Veggies/Salad
Tuesday 3rd February – Chicken Enchiladas
Wednesday 4th February – Southern Fried Chicken & Salad
Thursday 5th February – Lamb Steaks & Cous Cous Salad
Friday 6th February – Oven Baked Fish, Chips & Salad
Saturday 7th February – Pulled Pork Rolls
Sunday 8th February – Beef Roast w. Veggies

Monday 9th February – Steak & Veggies/Salad
Tuesday 10th February – Burritos
Wednesday 11th February – Portuguese Chicken Bowls w. spanish rice
Thursday 12th February – Greek Lamb Wraps
Friday 13th February – Take Away!
Saturday 14th February – Chilli Con Carne
Sunday 15th February – Homemade Burgers

Step 4 – Grocery lists: Writing a grocery list for me (with this meal plan in place) is a breeze. I buy all of our meat and other basic grocery items from Coles online, and do a weekly shop at our local market for fruit and vegetables. With the meat that I order (mainly because we have a small freezer space available, and also I don’t like keeping meat frozen for too long), I only order 2 weeks worth. I will either pick up the remaining meat from the local market at the end of the second week of the month, or I’ll pop into Coles and do a very quick meat-only shop. (This is a lot less hassle than having to do a full grocery shop every week, let me tell you!) I start out by writing in any of the essentials that we’re run out on (we keep track of these on a running list on the side of the fridge) – which I will buy on sale wherever possible. I then go through and add in the food that we get for Breakfast/Lunch/Snacks. We’re creatures of habit, so these remain the same for the most part and I don’t have to think about them at all (eg: Milk, wholemeal saladas, soy yogurt tubs etc). I then go through the meal plan for the month and write down what’s required for our dinners for the month. Eg: Beef Steak x 2, Chicken x 3, Lamb Steaks x 2, Burrito Kit x 2. I write two separate lists – one for Coles, and one for the market (I do this part one week at a time).

Step 5 – Shopping (the fun bit): There is always a way to make money by spending money. If you regularly shop at a large supermarket chain and haven’t opted in for the available extras, now is the time. I have both an Everyday Rewards card (which is linked to my Qantas frequent flyer account), and a Flybuys card. I always log in to FlyBuys before placing a grocery order to activate any offers that are available. EG: right now I can get double points for any order that I place online, OR I could opt-in for free delivery if I place an order over $100 (plus $2000 bonus points). Which I will do, as I am placing a month’s worth of groceries (more proof that shopping monthly is a better option). These kind of points systems come in handy, if you’re really keeping an eye on your budget. Right now I have enough points to earn 2 free movie tickets. Movie tickets are $20 each, and getting two for free would impact our entertainment budget for the month. Making money by spending money. I highly recommend it. The act of online shopping for the groceries is pretty straight forward. I make my way down my list, and add things to the cart as I go. For any items that I wasn’t able to spot in the specials catalogue, I’ll search for them – sort by price, and choose the cheapest/most appropriate option available.

How I reduced my grocery bill: The first thing that made a major difference for me was of course having this meal plan in place. Having a set menu is great because it means you’re not ducking to the shop every few days to buy ingredients (which can lead to spending extra money on yummy things you spot in-store), and you can make the most of the ingredients you do have by not buying an excess of various condiments/sauces/seasonings etc that never get finished up. Having a plan in place also means that you resort to take away/going out for food FAR less often (at least in my experience). Another thing that’s made a big impact on how much I’m spending is buying items on sale where possible. It takes a little bit more time and effort, but it’s well worth it in the long run. I also buy home-branded products where possible, but this is an ongoing experiment with what can/can’t be skimped on (word of warning: do NOT buy homebrand minced garlic). Having a clearly organised and well-stocked fridge/freezer/pantry makes a huge difference. Knowing what you already have is a great way to stop yourself buying more than what you actually need. I’ve also found that eating smaller portions has made a bit of a difference. Because we’ve reduced how much food we’re eating at dinner time, there are nearly always leftovers available for lunch the following day. This has stopped me spending money buying my lunch on the way to work. Sounds silly, but it’s made a big difference. Also, eating less processed foods. The majority of what we eat will be meat/vegetable based dishes. Cutting back on “extras” = cutting back on $. The most expensive items in any grocery shop for me used to be cleaning/personal products. I now buy these in bulk every year (household cleaning) or every few months (personal products). I buy all of our personal kinds of products (soap/deodorant/toothpaste etc) from Chemist Warehouse, because everything is always on sale. If you spend over $99 delivery is free, which is why buy in “bulk” every few months. Household cleaning products (washing powder/pine-o-clean etc) are purchased in Catch of the Day sales once a year or so (I’m now at the point where I have a nice little stash in the laundry, and will re-fill what is needed when I place my annual order this year). Honestly, the biggest and best tip I can offer is to be as organised as you can. It comes naturally to be on top of stuff like this, purely because it makes my life a lot easier and less stressful when I know it’s all under control -but I know that isn’t the same for everyone.

I hope this has been of some use to some of you out there. I love stuff like this, but I know it’s not for everyone. I’d love to hear how you all plan your weekly/fortnightly/monthly meals and if you have any tips for me on saving even MORE money than I already am!