Making Parenting Easier #6: Jenny’s Brilliant and Amazing Six-Week Menu [Guest]


14 March 2013 by thaliakr

Homemade pasta sauce from our friends at The Cook’s Sponge.

Don’t you find it annoying when you’re watching one of those beautifully filmed, artistically arranged cooking shows on the telly and the really, really ridiculously good-looking presenter offers to whip up something for dinner in less than 20 minutes out of a few staple ingredients from the pantry?

Actually, I wouldn’t find that annoying, I would be thrilled and grabbing pen and paper! However, more often than not the ‘staples’ they pull off the shelves bear fancy names like ‘miso’, ‘pancetta’ or ‘smoked sea salt’ and the finished product (that I’m sure I too could make in 20 minutes if I had a minion prepping all my ingredients beforehand!) frequently requires a splash of sherry vinegar (it’s the new balsamic, don’t you know!) and some freshly shaved parmesan to complete the Michelin star dish.

As mouth-watering as these dishes may be, for me, they are simply unreasonable because a) I have two young boys who turn their noses up at button mushrooms, let alone porcini, and b) these ingredients are expensive! My limited time, budget and family lifestyle require simple, thrifty meals that don’t leave me feeling hungry when I’ve finished.

Do you, too, find all these fancy ingredients a bit daunting, or do you relish cooking with a jazzy relish? What’s the poshest nosh in your pantry? Are you a traditional meat and three vege family or people who take on all the new foody fads? And whilst I’m asking questions, who does the cooking in your house?

Now, whilst my arm needs no twisting whatsoever to bust out the mixer and bake up scrummy un-treatwise baked delights, it’s a different story for me when it comes to cooking. I find it a chore, stressful (especially where guests are concerned – honestly, it’s my nightmare!) and because I can’t afford to splurge on the interesting stuff, it can be boring.

I feel my blood pressure rising at about 4.30pm when I realise I have no idea what to make for tea and I turn into a bit of a witch. Not a great way to live one’s life, and definitely not fair to those who live with me, so to alleviate this I sat down one day (probably more like two days) with all my recipe books around me and came up with a six-week menu plan of tried and true family meals.

Oh my word! Why did I not do this years ago? I cannot tell you how this has benefitted my life! Now my biggest concern is remembering to get the meat out of the freezer before I go to work. Most dishes can be made in about half an hour and the fanciest ingredient is probably pesto, which, let’s face it, is hardly cutting edge these days. It hasn’t been all plain sailing – for example, I originally had lamb chops on the list, as they are yummy, but then I realised I could never afford to buy them, so they were replaced with dhal… :)

I also had grand plans of cooking up multiple batches of chicken korma in a weekend and freezing portions for later use. Several months into my plan and I have yet to do this. In fact, I’ve only cooked the korma once. Also, I’m not sure why week six is so chicken heavy, but there you go.

On the whole, the planner is a fantastic success. Michael can come home and know what’s on the menu tonight, and the boys are (usually) satisfied with what is served up. Family favourites make a couple of appearances, such as homemade pizza and nachos, and Thursday night (our Friday night here in the UAE) is homemade fish and chip night – keeping up the good ol’ Kiwi tradition!

Homemade panko-crumbed fish and chips from our friends at The Cook’s Sponge.

I’ve only planned weekday meals as weekends tend to be more flexible with meals out or quick and easy macaroni cheese type dishes. To go with the meal planner I also created a shopping list. There are six versions of the same list and each has the ingredients required for the week pre-highlighted. I print off a few copies to last me a while, then stick the relevant list up on the whiteboard in the kitchen. As I run out of stuff I just highlight it then and there and come shopping day I only have to make a quick sweep of the fridge and cupboards to check for any other necessary purchases and hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s off to Carrefour (insert Pak n Save/New World/Tesco…) I go – with my reusable shopping bags of course!

I’m guessing it would be a tad rude for me to end this with a cheery ta-ra, and not include the aforementioned lifesaving plans for your perusal. So, thanks to Thalia’s promptings, here they are. Feel free to use them, adapt them, laugh at them, perhaps even marvel at them, or do nothing with them at all. The meals may not be what you and yours would eat, and to be honest, I feel a little nervous putting my nutritional information out there for the world to see, but they keep me and mine happy and healthy and for this mum, that’s good enough.

Below I’ve included the full menu plan as it appears in my house. I’ve also given Thalia the shopping list file, but it’s hard to reproduce on the blog, so if you would like to see what it looks like or actually use it, please just drop her a line or ask for it in a comment and she’ll pass it on.

Do you have your own meal planners or shopping lists that save you time and worry? How would you feel about sharing them? If you take inspiration from me, I’d love for you to share how it’s going for you. You will notice I have started to add another couple of week’s worth of menus to my list but I’m stumped on some tasty dishes for a few of the nights. Any new recipes to add to my list would be gratefully received!







Chicken Parmesan
Mashed potato w gravy



Falafal pita pockets w/ hummus and salad, cheese Ginger Beef stir-fry w/ vege


Bean and cheese savoury
Fish n chips




Potato salad

Beef stroganoff



Pizza Nachos Fish n chips



Oaty balls


Ragu sauce


Lemon chicken
Cooked rice


Red lentil loaf


Chicken pasta salad Fish n chips




Pizza Sweet and sour pork
Nachos Fried rice Fish n chips



Tuna pasta Dhal


Potato gratin



Fish n chips



Chicken korma


Spaghetti & meat balls

Ragu sauce


Pesto chicken


Chicken pizza Fish n chips




Jacket potatoes


Fish n chips




Fish Pie Chicken and broccoli bake



Fish n chips



Jenny is a Kiwi living in the United Arab Emirates, and was our first ever guest poster with this beautiful reflection on growing boys. She’s also, clearly, a domestic goddess whose mention of a six-week menu excited great interest on our thread of tips to Make Parenting Easier, which you can see here.


5 thoughts on “Making Parenting Easier #6: Jenny’s Brilliant and Amazing Six-Week Menu [Guest]

  1. Jenny, thanks so much for this! You make it seem totally doable.

    I’m brand new to menu planning, but have been making baby steps this year. I was really surprised a few months ago when I sat down and just wrote titles/descriptions of meals I regularly, comfortably make, to see how many there were. It sometimes feels like I only know how to cook three things :)

    But this is the list I came up with, divided into two halves – first are dishes that freeze and can be made in large batches, then come one-offs. I’m bothering to write all this out because a) I bet we all have this kind of list in our heads or recipe books, and as Jenny says, if we just sat down and made a menu, it would come together pretty easily and b) I found it really interesting and helpful to see Jenny’s list.

    I’d love to see other people’s lists, too, for inspiration.

    Also, if you like this sort of thing, check out the sister site to The Cook’s Sponge, a dinner-meal-idea-sharing website called Last Night:

    African Beans
    Dhal Makhani
    Kumara barley risotto
    Meatballs in tomato sauce
    Vege tagine
    Red wine casserole
    Lamb tagine
    Pumpkin curry
    Lou’s one-pot chilli and rice
    Aubergine lentil bake
    Lemon leek chicken casserole
    Homemade baked beans

    Leek, salmon, corn and greens
    Roast veges
    Roast veges, quinoa and sundried tomatoes
    Ginger soy tofu
    Falafel in tomato sauce or pitas
    Gurt lush salads
    Merguez chickpeas and roast pumpkin and onions
    steak and onions, kumara chips
    Turkish roast aubergine, kumara bake
    Baked potatoes
    Mustard chicken or tofu
    Fresh fish and something
    Salmon steaks and salad
    Corn/zucchini fritters

  2. Alex says:

    Gosh, thanks for sharing this Jenny. I am impressed both by how little repetition there is in your menu, and how many “spiced” dishes you are able to include. We’re still working on encouraging our two to eat spicy food – clearly we erred too far on the side of bland during the weaning process! Very impressed by your list too, Thalia.
    I’m lucky enough to have a local farmshop who do weekly veg boxes, which I’ve been having more or less regularly for the last year or so. That’s what inspired me to start menu planning – in an effort to make best use what was in our box (and thereby – in theory at least – eat a bit more seasonally). I struggle a bit with seasonal eating, though, because I have a real weakness for aubergines, peppers and other things that just don’t grow brilliantly in the UK. Because our box comes weekly on a Friday, that’s when I tend to do my planning. I only plan a week at a time, and that’s all I’ve got space for on my kitchen blackboard, but I’m sure if I wrote out 6 weeks’ worth of my 1 week menus there would be a lot of repetition! The farmshop have recently started a partnership with a local butchers, which means I can now get a regular meat pack too. Which is great for convenience, but probably encourages my tendencies towards the repetitive.
    I’m also lucky to not be at work at the moment, so have a little bit more time for cooking. In theory, at least.
    Anyway, glancing at my blackboard I can tell you that this week we have had:
    Saturday – sausages and jacket potatoes, carrots and green beans
    Sunday – roast chicken, potatoes, parsnips, carrots, brussel sprouts
    Monday – cold chicken risotto with tomatoes, peas, carrots (we do eat rather a lot of carrots!)
    Tuesday – pork stirfry with spring onions, mange tout (at least, that’s what my husband and I ate – I made the children pork pieces in a tomato sauce and pasta; they probably had carrots with that too!)
    Wednesday – lentils and pasta with salad (for the children – I turned the rest of the lentil mix into a lasagne for my husband and I to eat when he got home from work, because he’s not such a fan of plain lentils and pasta, and I had a lot of milk that needed using up)
    Today – will be chicken stew with peppers, courgettes and rice
    Tomorrow – was supposed to be fish, but I forgot to buy any, so the children will probably have fish fingers and mashed potato and sweetcorn, and I’ll concoct a ‘left-over-veg’ (cauliflower and potato, by the looks of things!) curry for my husband and I
    Saturday – will be spaghetti bolognaise, before we all jump into the car and off on our hols. And then I get to spend a whole week being cooked for by my parents and won’t have to give menu planning a second thought for a while – heaven!

    • Hi Alex,

      when it comes to spicy in my cooking less is definitely more! I’m not a big fan of spicy, and neither are the boys so any currys or chilli type dishes are very mild. Team it with nacho chips and what child can refuse! :)

  3. andrew says:

    Well done. It’s great to get a good variety of food for the family, and menu planning is definitely a good way of ensuring you only have the vegetables you’ll actually use rather than them becoming a science experiment in the crisper drawer.

    we’ve gone one step further and developed a database that we can menu plan from 100+ dinner recipes that we’d actually use, although we might cycle through a smaller set of that on a regular basis. more effort than most would probably bother with, but it works well for us. allows accurate shopping at the supermarket while not feeling like we don’t have variety. Have never eaten as well, or with as much variety knowing we’ve got the strange stuff some recipes require.

    a few recipes that we’ve found invaluable are:
    spaghetti amatriciana (four ingredients – super tasty)
    mushroom ristotto (balsamic vinegar just raises the flavour on this wonderfully)
    apricot chicken (an old and basic staple)

    if you want either a copy of the database or any of the recipes, flick Thalia an email. She’s got my details.

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