Monday, May 28, 2012

Planning a menu...how to, when to, whether to....


My approach to menu planning has changed considerably in the last several years.

I never used to menu plan at all. I'd just randomly buy stuff and then find it limp and sad or iced over in the fridge or freezer several weeks later. I'd bin it, and start over.

Then I started making a list of meals from the fancy schmancy cookbooks I had, listing all the ingredients I already had (few) and the ones I needed (many) and patted myself on the back for being so organised.

Then I joined Simple Savings and realised I'd had it wrong the whole time. You menu plan on what you've already got, only purchasing extras for the gaps in your menu.

Wowser...talk about major life epiphany. I've never looked back!

These days there are only three of us and the dog at home, AND we're gluten free, so the menu has changed considerably, compared to when DS21 was still at home and eating us into a second mortgage. Quite often I find I only need to spend a minimal amount on the fresh fruit and veg and dairy items, with everything else well planned and catered for. Meat makes a twice or thrice weekly appearance on the menu, as does chicken and/or fish, with GF pasta and veg making up the balance of the weekly meals, including breakfast and lunch.

We've learned to not let our gluten sensitivity get in the way of a good hearty meal too. Pasta, bread and baking used to be our comfort food, and still is to a small extent. More often those items have been replaced by vegetable bakes, fresh fruit, baked whole pears or apples, some home made gnocchi and lots of lots of salad.

We eat salad all year round and there are few vegetables we don't eat...except for artichokes...what the heck does one do with those anyway. Sorry..don't answer that. I sort of know. But they hold no appeal for these happy campers!

The other thing is, I now sort of menu plan in reverse. I have a few standard go-to meals that make a regular appearance, but mostly I strive to have the bare 'bones' of many of our faves, in the fridge prepped and ready to go so that we can change our minds on a whim without it impacting on our budget.

So steamed baby potatoes can be eaten as is, turned into potato salad, hash browns, rosti, gnocchi, pan fried, tossed with flavoured butter and herbs, turned into a gratin, a frittata, a slice with marscapone and thyme and bacon, patatas bravas, and so on.

In fact, if there wasn't much else but baby potatoes and the contents of my pantry, I reckon we could eat well for the whole week!

That said, most of those recipes could be adapted for pumpkin as well. You've just got to think outside the square.

Our menu is also influenced by what seasonal bargains might be available. A whole pumpkin for $3 or a huge cabbage for $2 can change our whole eating plan for the week. I can use the pumpkin as a substitute in any of those potato dishes, and cabbage leaves make a great replacement for pasta sheets in lasagna, or for tortillas or burritos in mexican meals. You can shred it for salad, stir fry it, turn it into a warm coleslaw by tossing it in a hot pan with pine nuts for a few minutes or roll it around mince and slow cook it.

Get the idea?

I'll be writing more on this as we go along but for now, challenge yourself to think outside the square when you shop this week. I bet you can surprise yourself.

~Mama Guardian~

4 comments:

  1. I'm not one for menu planning but grab something from the freezer and just invent on the spot. I am getting pretty good at knocking up a feed at the drop of a hat and nothing ever gets wasted either. The bearded wonder never knows what he's going to come home to. Life is full of surprises.

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  2. That's what I need to learn, how to invent on the spot and come up with all these different ways of using the basic ingredients. Is it just experience and it comes off the top of your head, or do you have a list to refer to? I find the old brain needs dusting off before use these days...

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  3. OMG, I never thought to use cabbage leaves as cannelloni or burritos etc, we just use tortillas mostly. What does the cabbage leaves taste like once cooked like a cannelloni?

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  4. Hi Vanessa! Apologies for my slow response. The Winter ills have us in their grip at this end. Well, the cabbage tastes 'green' if you know what I mean. We are all gluten sensitive/intolerant here, so this is a fresher, lighter flavour that is kinder to our tums. We love cabbage though so I guess that's a prerequisite! But even if you don't love cabbage, the other flavours permeate the leaves really well, and it certainly makes cabbage more palatable! Thanks for your comment and question and I hope this is helpful :)

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