Dinner for one: My menu plan for week starting 19 February

So this is the beginning of my series where I try to bring menu planning to life by showing how each week I work through each of the steps and follow up with a post on how the menu plan turned out.

The purpose of doing this weekly is to show the variety of different menu planning styles that can be used. I tend to chop and change the approach I used based on what is happening in the week.

Hopefully it serves as a source of inspiration if you are trying menu planning was one of your New Year's resolutions or if you know what to do, but are trying to be more disciplined about actually doing it.

How I approach menu planning varies according to how I'm feeling, or what is happening in my week. So by following the series, hopefully you will see a style that clicks for you, or get ideas how to match different styles of menu planning with what's happening in your week.  Ideally this means that you find it flexible enough to find a process that works for you, no matter what your circumstances. This was if your week is a bit chaotic or your normal process is interrupted you don't need to abandon menu planning and all the great benefits it brings - you just adapt how you do it, to match what's going on in your life.

This week I use  what I call 'Options-based' menu planning which I will write about in a future blog post.

1. Fridge, freezer and pantry audit

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What my audit of what I had on hand showed was:

Proteins:  A mix of frozen steak, chicken thighs, eggs and canned tuna meant I had enough proteins to make 5 or so meals during the week

Fruit and vegetables: Spinach and cabbage that needed using up pretty fast and that I had no where near enough to satisfy my ideal of 5 serves of vegetables each day

Fillers and carbs: Along with seeing that I had quinoa and pasta in the cupboard I was delighted to find I had a good mix of pre-cooked 'fillers' such as pasta, lentils, quinoa and cauliflower rice

Pre-made meals: Hurray! The best thing in my fridge was the containers of batch cooked chicken and vegetable soup and broccoli soup I made on the weekend.

Aromatics, sauces and flavourings:  Lemon, garlic, and ginger and a leftover tub of hommous

Nuts, seeds etc. Lots of good things on hand!

2. Review 'Drivers' and Calendar for the week

In this step I look at my calendar to see how many meals I will need to eat at home and how much time I will have for cooking. Looking at 'Drivers' means what are the fundamental elements driving my food choices this week.

For me this was:

Calendar: 7 meals at home, e.g. I would be home for dinner every night of the week

Drivers: economical, easy, quick, healthy, kick-start my health kick, minimising sugar and carbs

After the festive season I'm really trying to cut back on expenses and also shed a few extra kilos that seemed to attach themselves to my body. Plus I'm launching a new course and generally have a lot on, so food this week is really about 'fuel' e.g. keeping me healthy and energised, so it's a fairly 'bare bones' menu plan.

3. Work out what meals to include in the menu plan based on review of steps 1 & 2

e.g. what food you have on hand that needs to be used up, what food is perishable or near it's use by date and your drivers - e.g. don't put an elaborate beef stroganoff on the menu plan when you know your drivers are for low calorie, quick meals.

I decided I wanted to do as little work in the kitchen as possible, so I was happy to repeat meals, use up the pre-cooked soups and so I didn't have to think, repeat a couple of the meals I cooked last week. 

Since budget was a big driver this week I would forgo my usual emphasis on 5 serves of vegetables at each meal and work with what I had and buy minimal amount extra. I also had little desire to do a big supermarket shop.  It has been incredibly hot in Sydney and the thought of lugging big bags of shopping home from the supermarket was very unappealing.

4. Meal plan

This week I used what I call the 'Options  based' approach to menu planning. This means listing a number of different meals I could make so I don't have to think 'what can I cook and do I have the ingredients on hand' - I know what my options are, but I don't lock them into a day of the week, I just generally know what is available to me and construct a shopping list to make sure all options are covered. 

This week's options mainly consist of one pan 'make up' meals that I've cooked before.  Not shown is an option for Chinese Omelette which I've not made before but I thought would be a good option to try with the ingredients I had to hand.

  • Chicken, vegetable & butter bean soup  (at least 6 serves available)
  • Broccoli soup (at least 5 serves available)
  • Smoked salmon with avocado, steamed broccoli & hommous (2 serves available.)
    • all ingredients would need to be added to the shopping list
  • Chicken thighs stir fried with onion, garlic, ginger, lemon & turmeric along with cabbage, frozen peas & carrot, served with cauliflower rice
    •  Base recipe that can be used with either tuna, salmon or chicken can be found here
  • Canned tuna stirfried with the same ingredients as above
    • Both the stirfried chicken thighs and canned tuna would be a good way of using up the vegetables that were close to perishing
    • Inspiration and variations for this meal can be found here, here
  • Steak stir fried with carrot, peas, cabbage, garlic, ginger & hoisin sauce
  • Chinese omelette with peas & cabbage

5. Make a shopping list

6. Do any pre-prep

This week I didn't really do any pre-prep, I had lots of meals and cooked fillers on hand.

Also I deliberately chose to have the smoked salmon dinner again as it is tasty, filling and requires very little effort. I can see myself cooking this until I am fed up with it!

Kick starting my Health kick - better snacks and breakfast

Whilst I didn't do a lot of prep for meals during the week, I did sort out food for breakfast and snacks.  I have been wanting to add nuts and seeds to my breakfast and try out iced turmeric lattes (!) as a snack for ages. But kept finding it too hard. I've had the ingredients sitting there but not done anything with them.

To make it easy I decided to create a special place on my kitchen shelves for my 'new snacks' and to make it easy and appealing to use them.

I  found and cleaned out some old jars and containers and set up a special place where I could grab all the ingredients for breakfast or snacks in one go.

Because the ingredients were all so pretty, bright yellows and pinks, I deliberately chose glass jars so they would look appealing and hopefully encourage me to try them.

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See here if you want to see how this plan turned out?

Over to you!

What about you, based on the ingredients I had to hand, what other meals would you add to the list of options?

Notes

Inspiration for the week

Ironically this week I was trying not too get too inspired!

Since my main focus was no fuss, quick and budget I was trying to stick to recipes I was familiar with and using up what I had on hand.  However a blog I just love at the moment and used for the Iced Turmeric Latte recipe and want to try a lot more from in the future is a local nutritionist called Stephanie Malouf.

If you are looking for inspiration for recipes that look great and are simple, tasty and nutritious, I would definitely check out Stephanie's site.