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Organising meals

on July 23, 2009
This post is part of the ABCand123 picnic. Sort of. Click here to see how everyone else organises their space.

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My mother, parent of four children all neatly spaced three years apart, was extremely organised. She had a huge diary in a drawer of its own, and any time we wanted to do or plan anything, or had school trips or whatever, we would be instructed to go and put it in her diary. Menus were prepared in advance, shopping was never done without a list, meals were served reliably on time, the house was neat, with a place for everything, and so on. (Did I mention my mum later became a teacher? Unsurprisingly, she’s very good at it.)

Sadly, not much of this has rubbed off on me, although I am told that at 2 years old I was very tidy and had a home for everything. The two things I have retained are the diary, and the menu planning. It saves so much money and stress when you go to the shops armed with a list. It saves time too – leaving more time to teach and/or play with your kids! And it means you’re sure they’re getting a balanced diet. Of course I don’t always stick exactly to the list – if things are on special offer we will buy those too and throw them in the freezer for when they do come up on the menu.

I have two sets of menus, which live in a folder on top of my freezer: 4 weeks of cold-weather menus including items such as cottage pie, lasagna and hot pasta dishes, and 4 weeks (newly drawn-up) of summer menus listing salads, bread-based meals and other things that require minimal cooking. Who wants to slave over a stove in summer?

Each of the folder menus comes with two shopping lists at the bottom of the page – one for Monday and one for Friday. These lists only include things that I don’t always have in, or run out of quickly, like tomatoes. Then we have a “staples” list full of all the stuff that I always have in and replace as soon as I run out even if we have no plan to use it immediately.

The lists work in conjunction with my boards. Here they are:

Hopefully you can see that the left board is mostly like a diary with the week laid out and upcoming dates written at the bottom. The right hand board has a set of my cold-weather menus (minus lists) pinned up behind it – I still have to change those – and a space to write up our to-do lists, one for each of us, and another for items we have just run out of and items we wish to acquire on our next trip to the UK. When I make my Monday shopping list, I use the menu, the staples list, the freezer list – of which more in a minute – and the board, and write it all down in the order that I will find it in the supermarket. (I hate it when they move the shelves around! Fortunately that rarely happens here.)

I do have a real diary for writing in long-term dates too, but the board is so easy to use because it’s just there. It’s just a piece of plastic from a very large picture frame, cut in half (it broke when it fell off the wall, that’s what gave me the idea of doing this), and with the edges covered in black electrical tape so they aren’t sharp. The two pieces are on adjoining cupboard doors above the kitchen counter. They’re only attached at the top so I can get under them, albeit with some difficulty, to change the menus when needed. The whiteboard pen doesn’t wipe off very well , even with cleaning alcohol, because the plastic isn’t really intended for use as a white board, but it wipes off well enough to see what is current and what isn’t. I love having the two layers so I can move things around temporarily with arrows and so on.

The freezer is also very organised:


The numbers at the top refer to which drawer an item is in. Numbers following items refer to either how many bags of something there are (e.g. two packets of mince), or how many portions in the one bag (e.g. lemon chicken to serve three people). Only I know which ones are which! Things get crossed off as they are used, and written up on the board if they need renewing.

My fridge does not benefit from this system, because it is a filing place for all sorts of pictures and coupons and informative papers. My mother, of course, would keep these neatly in her diary, in its special drawer.

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9 responses to “Organising meals

  1. I could really benefit from this! I am so not organized when it comes to meal planning!! Thanks for sharing these ideas.

  2. MaryAnne says:

    Great post, I've never successfully menu planned in advance, although it seems like a great idea. I do organize my shopping list based on where items are in the grocery store, though, it definitely saves time!

  3. Annette W. says:

    I have tried to do the list for the freezer. It didn't work. Maybe I will try it again with the location, too! My ABC and 123 post was on freezer organization…but really just some freezing tips.

  4. Diana says:

    Thanks for sharing your system. I find that planning ahead for meals during the week really helps the week run smoother.

  5. Jenny says:

    Great system. I just can't get into meal planning. I don't know what I want to eat until right when I get hungry!

  6. Bran says:

    I really need to menu plan.

  7. Ticia says:

    I am seriously impressed with your ability to make a 1 month meal plan. I've never been able to get more than a week organized at once. I do want to try that at some point though.

  8. Wow – you are extremely organized. I am totally flying by the seats of my pants in meal planning. I am not really fond of cooking, but at least I am trying to avoid junk food like a plague. Maybe that's why everyone in the house seems to do fine mostly on fruit and sandwiches. However, I always feel that I need to get better organized – maybe some of your formidable system will help.

  9. yoongz says:

    You talk about me being organised!! u are way more organised than i am – esp with the use of your board. i have my calendar & my head that's all 😉

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