Look at these overflowing cupboards… I have nothing to wear/eat, I tell you, absolutely nothing!

I really hate menu planning and eating on said plan. I can see the benefits, but I have never been a fan.

When I was younger, and on the weight watchers points system I never used their weekly menus (although I liked some of their recipes), preferring to stick with my natural “what do I feel like” system instead.

When I was working a high pressure job that had me in the office for 50 or more hours each week, I still didn’t plan my meals or prepare food ahead of time.

I don’t meal prep during my or my husband’s stints of body building either.

I hate it. I find it tedious and frustrating to do and I don’t stick to the plan anyway, so why bother?

These days, as someone with limited energy I can’t know if I’ll have the energy to cook, let alone cook some of my elaborate favourites. I could spend 1 day/week cooking meals to freeze, but I actually prefer my veges raw or only lightly cooked, which means this isn’t such an energy saver after all. So I prefer to decide on the day, with my husband, who will cook and what we will eat, based on what we have, what we feel like, and our individual cooking abilities.

The downsides of this are:

  1. We end up eating a lot of low nutritional quality meals when I’m sick, just because we struggle to think of better options.
  2. Our grocery shop can be a bit haphazard because we don’t have a plan.
  3. Our freezer and pantry are full if mismatched or forgotten ingredients.

So today I did a freezer stocktake. I have a reasonable idea if the pantry and fridge contents, but the freezer is where things go to be forgotten.

I found a lot of sandwich meats that we bought from a factory shop over 18 months ago… that’ll have to be thrown away, and enough other meat and seafood to make over 21 meals for both of us.

I knew we didn’t really need any dinner foods this week (our grocery order was all cat food, fruit and veges, and other non-meaty perishables with a couple of snacky items and a breakfast cereal I wantto try), but how to make sure we utilize what we have instead of carrying on hoarding bacon because it seemed like a good idea at the time?

I looked at our list of meat and other proteins (falafel and eggs being our main vegetarian protein options) and thought about how we might use them. I started planning a menu for the week, but realised that it was pointless to try to guess whether me or Ryan would feel more like cooking before band, or whether we’d get a spontaneous dinner invitation from his parents on Friday. I also had so many options in front of me, I knew the plan would likely go out the window immediately.

I thought about making up wee recipe packs with all of the ingredients together so we just had to make it… but then we run into the problem of frozen+fridge+pantry ingredients together… Maybe I put the pantry things in a bag in the fridge with a card for each freezer item? No, yay would be too bulky and not all of the recipes include a fridge item etc…

Cue my new, incredibly high tech menu selection tool!

Menu pool – recipes we like but need to shop for
Menu options – based on the food we have on hand.

Index cards! Write the recipe titles and main ingredients on them and allocate each of the ingredients I know I have in stock (my pantry always has 3 cans each of chilli beans and pasta sauce, plus a coconut milk, and a few tins of tomatoes for example).

I worked my way through the list and came up with 20 meals planned out and written on cards. Some are repeats (we can have spag bol twice and beef nachos twice) and some will do more than 1 day (roast chicken or a casserole could do a few days). Each has a rough guess as to how long they take to cook, and serving suggestions if an accompanying dish is needed.

I also wrote out another 10 cards of things we don’t have the ingredients for just yet.

So how do I plan to use this newfangled system for improved health, financial gain, and world domination?

  1. Each night, Ryan and I (or whoever is cooking) will select our meal from the pile of current options – less brain required as the ideas are right there and we know we have the ingredients needed to make them. We can take the card with us to help remind us what goes in it, or skip directly to the next step.
  2. Move the card from the available menu options pile into the menu pool.
  3. Come shopping day/list making day, we go through the pile of available options and decide if we’re happy with those or if we need to add something else back in from the pool (if I’m unwell, we may need more of Ryan’s cooking options, or more super easy meals. If we’re going to be very busy we may need some faster options). We then check the fresh fruit and veges to make sure we have enough of our standard purchases (we usually always have at least onions, spring onions, carrots, 1/2 cabbage, garlic, spuds, kumara, lettuce or salad greens, capsicum, and cherry tomatoes on hand, which covers most of the recipes in our recipe pool, give or take a few seasonal bits), then add in any seasonal or frozen veges as needed.
  4. If we get to the supermarket and see a special that inspires us to make something different, or if we see something on tv that we want to try cooking, it can be written on a new card and added to the available options. Theoretically, we won’t need to buy very much food for the next couple of weeks unless a lot of the meat is freezer burned.

Hopefully this removes some of the ingredient blindness problems, inspiration problems, and general lack of variety. We can’t do much about my energy levels, but hopefully eating better will help that.

I have no idea if well last more than 3 days doing this. We’ll see.

Does anyone have any suggestions for how to use 300g of turkey mince?

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