Menu planning

I thought i’d share with you a system I use that really has been such a time saver when it comes to doing our weekly shopping and meal planning. I won’t lie it takes some setting up BUT once done it will save you so much time.

I have 12 weekly menus. 6 for winter months and 6 for the summer. Each menu has on it 7 evening meal’s, 1 soup (for lunches) and 1 tray bake (for after school snacks). On the back of each menu is a shopping list for that week. I have a seperate list for items we buy weekly milk, bread, cereal, lunch box items etc.

Sitting down in one go and planning 84 different meals is quite a task. You may prefer to do one a week for 6 weeks and file them away MUCH less laborious!

Here are some hints and tips that might help your planning.

  • Consider regular weekly activities that mean you don’t have much time to cook (e.g after school clubs or days you work late). Plan to use a slow cooker on these days or put jacket potatoes in the oven on a timer.
  • Theme your days. I find this helps me come up with ideas better. For example meat free Mondays, jacket potatoes on Wednesday’s, world food Saturdays, freezer Friday’s.
  • Cook in big batches and save either for later in the week or in the freezer for another week. I like to do this with bolognaise and chilli using the slow cooker.
  • Have a frugal week up your sleeve. There’s always times when you have an unexpected cost (the car breaks down or a household appliances breaks) and you need to tighten your belt for a while. To have a menu you can wip out with a super cheap shopping list ready prepared can ease the stress just a bit.
  • It’s old fashioned but cooking a roast dinner on sunday and planning to use left overs throughout the week really is an efficient and frugal way to feed a family.
  • Some meals are quite time consuming to prepare. Lasagne for example but here is how I do it. I make a double batch of bolognaise in the slow cooker on Saturday. We have spag bol for tea and I put half the bolognaise in the fridge. On Monday I make cauliflower cheese and make double the amount of cheese sauce I need. With my left over bolognaise and extra cheese sauce I assemble my lasagne. Pop it in the fridge (it’s better made a day in advance some how) and on Tuesday I have a ready made lasagne that just needs baking.

If you need some inspiration for your menus here are some if my favourite sources of inspiration.

  • BBC good food – such a treasure trove of great recipes. I have a note on my phone with links to some of our favourite recipe’s for quick access.
  • I picked up some great modern recipe books at my local library.
  • If your a fan of slow cooking i can’t recommend this book enough. Slow cooker favourites by BBC good food.
  • Nigella express was one of the books I picked up at the local.library and have since bought a copy.
  • If you really get stuck suggest an recipe swop with a friend. You give her one of your family favourites and they give you one of theirs – everyone is a winner.

Now all I have to do it sit back and enjoy the fruits of my hard work. I am enjoying cooking our new menu’s and feeling excited to try some new recipes each week instead of the same things over and over and the hard work of planning our meals and writting a shopping list is done.

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Natural insect repellent

It’s certainly been a hot summer. I’m not complaining I love the sun but with sunshine comes insects. My eldest daughter and I seem to be particularly tasty to mosquitoes and so I wanted to create a natural insect repellent and bite soother. Both have been incredibly effective and smell delicious! It feels so good to not be covering our skin in nasty incectisides.

I feel it’s important to say I am not a qualified aromatherapist but a keen amateur who uses essential oils daily on my whole family but I do my own research first and it’s important you do the same.

Cooling insect repellant

  • Coloured glass spray bottle
  • Witch hazel
  • Essential oils

Firstly think about what insects are a particular problem to you and about the ages of those you want to use the spray on. I found the following chart extremely helpful.

We chose citronella for mosquitoes and lavender for house flies and a little peppermint . I used 80ml bottles and filled them with witch hazel. Essential oils are extremely concentrated and therefore powerful and must always be diluted before putting them on your skin. In this instance I used a 2% dilution – a drops dilution chart is extremely useful.

From the chart above you’ll see 2% dilution means adding 6 drops of essential oil per 10ml. So for 80ml you would add 48 drops.

We used 20 drops of lavender essential oil, 20 of citronella and 8 drops of peppermint in our spray. Add the oils and replace the spray top. Either shake or gently roll your bottle to blend.

Now remember I said you need to do your own research here is a good example of this. Peppermint is a powerful oil (and it tends to dominate the smell profile of a blend) but it should not be used in dilutions over 1% and you’ll see here u have used less than 1% in our blend. I recommend the following book if you’d like to start using essential oils at home.

This spray has not only kept the bugs at bay it’s very cooling too and lovely to use. Store out of direct sunlight.

For those times when you do get bites or nettle sting this soother is brilliant. I got the recipe from this great website called using essential oils safely

I used whitch hazel as my carrier again as I didn’t have anything else but sunflower oil or grapesead oil would be great too. I bought 10ml aromatherapy roller bottles on e-bay – they are so handy to have. I keep this in the fridge so it’s always handy and extra soothing.

I had my doubts about weather this recipe would be enough to calm bug bites and nettle stings but it’s worked better than anything else I’ve tried.

Those who know me or have been following my blog for a while will know what a fan of natural remedies I am. In January I joined Neal’s Yard Remedies Organic as a consultant and rekindled my love of essential oils – which I have dabbled in since my teenage years. In June I was fortunate enough to attend an introduction to aromatherapy course at Neals Yard Covent garden. Neal’s Yard are the first UK supplier of organic essential oils and i’ve loved learning more about this super ethical company. Do beware of cheap essential oils they are likely to be synthetic and not the real deal. If you would like to order oils through me or discuss the opprtunity Neal’s Yard offers please do get in touch this further. I’m also up for general chat about essential oils and what you love too so do please leave a comment.