2016-07-08

Tips for realistic menu planning for feeding the family

Look around online and you will find plenty of posts and websites about how to feed your family on a budget. They are everywhere and range from the “frozen food and packet food is fantastic” to “we must have 15 portions of fruit and veg a day or we will die” type posts. They range in budget and quality but also in the number of people in the family. 

If you are like me, you are a single mum. Your family, like mine, may not fit into the preconceived happily married, 2.4 children box, and be something different. My family meal times fluctuate between me on my own, myself and Nathan – who is now 10 and can shovel food away like he’s in an episode of Man Vs Food – and sometimes there maybe another one, to four people here, depending on what’s happening in the world and who happens to be passing.  We have an open house and I will feed anyone who stops by. 

Now, I do attempt to menu plan, don’t get me wrong, I am all for knowing what is going on during the week food wise, but I make all the meals adaptable. This is something which I have mastered over the last year or so and makes meal prep times so much easier too. 

Recently I saw an article on a well known foodie website “feed your family for the week for £30”. Interesting! A good budget, an interesting challenge and if it’s for more than 2 people, ezta portions are freezable. 

First thing to note, the £30 budget only covered 5 days. Where were the other 2 day’s? Weekends more food gets consumed in our house than any other time, I am sure that is similar the world over.

Secondly, the menu planning did not include lunches or breakfast, which most people also need. For people actually on a low income, this was not starting out very well.

Now, we are not fussy people in this household. We like home cooked meals and enjoy trying new things. Nathan is very open to trying new foods but the suggestions on the list for the 5 days were, to me anyway, questionable meal choices. We would have only eaten one of the 5 as a family and on my own I would have maybe had 3, at a push.

For a real family meal plan it has to cover the tastes of everyone in the household or you end up someone who cooks 7 different meals on an evening before you sit down to eat cold fish fingers and a lukewarm glass of white wine, as the whole thing is way too stressful. Obviously consider allergies and food intolerance, but there are always ways to make one meal per night for the whole family and if you find yourself making multiple meals for no reason -please, for your own sanity, STOP!

Here are some of my tips for realistic menu planning

Consider when everyone will be home, if someone is working late, portion their meal up to reheat later if you can. 

If you have unexpected guests, always have a mince beef meal on hand which can be padue out with extra veg, lentils or even tinned tomatoes. Meals like chili con carne, spaghetti bolognase, cottage pie, can easily be extended for unexpected guests. 

When menu planning consider breakfast and lunches too, especially at the weekend. 

Plan for festivities, like birthday parties or even football matches. These will effect where, when and how people want to eat. 

If you are the main chef of the house, plan for a night off once in a while. Be it easy to heat up left overs, going out for dinner or even a take away – it will take the monotony out of the daily job of cooking.

Set tasks for the family to help you in and around the kitchen and also with choosing the meals. We love sitting down and finding new ideas on pinterest or in out cookbooks. 

Take ideas from other people but be real, are you kids and family really going to enjoy spicy lamb and chickpea koftas, or a wild mushroom with ricotta and rocket tart – they both sound lovely and I would eat them both in a nice resturanunt, but I know Nathan would not. 

Be realistic with the ingredients within your budget. The two ideas above were both from the £30 budget for a set of weekly meals. Lamb is an expensive cut of meat if you are working to a budget, as are things like wild mushrooms and ricotta.

Shop around. Do not be afraid to venture to new places. There is a fantastic eastern European supermarket near me which is the size of a mini supermarket. It has a butcher counter, fish counter, bakery and more. It is so cheap I had to ask if it was the correct price. 250g of orzo pasta for 28p, cream cheese for 34p and freshly baked bread for 60p. I visit places like this and bargains shops like Home Bargains to stock up the store cupboard.

Make extra and portion up for the freezer. Your own version of ready meals, and much nicer. 

Life is busy and hectic, if you need to cheat, cheat. Buy diced carrots, buy mash potato already made, buy a rotisserie chicken and make a roast dinner. It’s there for that reason. You should never feel bad about that. 

Do not ever think that you are doing a bad job because you have not had 27 portions of fruit and veg, drank 10 glasses of water and got the correct number of hours sleep. Life does not work that way, and nor do we.

Over the summer holiday, Nathan and I will be doing a real £30 budget challenge where we will be planning our whole weeks worth of meals and seeing how well we do. We will be vlogging our challenge so check back soon to see how we do!

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