Meal planning for busy households


As households contemplate their calendars in getting back to school, I thought I would share how I manage our meals in our house.  It’s not really that special or unique (in fact it’s a derivative of Sophie Gray’s method.   You can read more of hers, and see a sample menu planner here:  I find it creates much less stress for shopping, and less stress at meal preparation time too.

I have a planner diary, and it has blank pages divided with horizontal lines into seven days.  It’s a binder system, so I can pull out a double sided page, and file it away again when I’m finished.  It also has a notes section, and in there I number the top of each page, and write in it any recipes I want to keep and refer back to.  As it’s a binder, it can also accommodate photocopied recipes from others, and it has a flap in the front where I store ripped out magazine recipes etc.

One of these double sided pages provides a fortnight of meal planning.  I sit and write down fourteen meals.  Family members can each submit their 1-2 meal choices, or you can just choose whatever suits you.  I like to store the past menu plans in the front of my binder as they provide easy inspiration when I’m struggling for ideas.  The reason that I number the pages with my frequently-used recipes on them is that I can circle the page number beside the recipe for easy reference.

I like to always include a couple of very easy meals – things I know are already ready-to-go in the freezer (periodically I do a big batch of freezer meals – I will blog on this sometime!) or things I know are very quickly thrown together.  I also try to always include a few vegetarian meals.  You may like to consider what is growing in the garden and base your meals around what will be ready that fortnight, so you reduce waste and cost.  Do a quick stocktake of your fridge, freezer and pantry, and try to use up any ingredients that should/could be used in your meal plan – especially any perishables that will be wasted otherwise.  Occasionally you might like to plan a takeaway meal or meal out.  Every now and again I try to add in a few new recipes by looking at websites, cook books or magazines.

The flexibility of this system is important to me – I want what I feel like on that day, not just what might be written beside that day on the page.  So I am not fussed on which of the 14 meals gets cooked on any one day, however, it is useful to make note of the meals that use your perishables to ensure that they get made within a timeframe that means they are not wasted.  I simply cross the meal off after it’s been made, then I can see at a glance what the options are for the next day, make a choice and defrost anything necessary.

This system works particularly well with online shopping.  To the right of your list of meals, you can jot down any ingredients you need to buy to complete the meal.  Then you have the whole fortnight’s list of main meal ingredients that you can sit down and type into the online grocery shopping catalogue.  You can see if any one meal won’t fit your budget, and can change it if necessary.  You can also save lists of your regular shops, which can make it easy to add in your breakfast and lunch ingredients.

14 days may be too much for you to cope with at once – of course it can work in smaller increments.  I just find it easier to plan for 14 – I have more variety to choose from and need to do my major shopping only once a fortnight (I will often go to the fruit and vegetable store in between).

Periodically, when I have a build-up of food, I do something akin to the $21 Challenge.  This is a good money saver if something unexpected comes up and you’re on a tight budget.  There are also some great additional ideas for managing the household food budget here.

Here is one of my regular recipes:

MP900432944Rich Chickpea Ragout

(easily doubled or tripled, this roughly serves 3 with rice)

1 large onion

1 Tbsp olive oil

2 tsp garlic

2 tsp cumin

2 tsp oregano (fresh or dried)

1 cup red wine (a couple of days old or cask is ok!)

1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1 can Watties Indian Flavoured Tomatoes (I find this gives the best flavour – other canned tomatoes are also ok)

1 cup diced mushrooms

2 diced carrots

1 tsp powdered chicken stock dissolved in 1/4 cup boiling water (or vege stock for a vegetarian meal)

½ tsp salt

1 tsp black pepper


In a wok or high-sided frypan, soften the onion in the oil, add garlic, cumin and oregano (if dried – if using fresh, add at the end).  Add all other ingredients, stir to combine and keep uncovered on a low-heat simmer for approximately 30 minutes – or until the liquid has reduced by at least half.  Serve over rice.

Sally Mangai

Sally is the Community Manager here at Kiwi Families. She fills her time with her handsome, busy boys and her handsome, busy husband; trying out new recipes and researching and writing about family life in Aotearoa.

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Categorised: Grown Ups
Please note that this article represents the views of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Kiwi Family Media Ltd.

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