Meal times have become something of a nightmare in my house of late. Because of some health issues, I’m currently on the low-FODMAP diet, which rules out a whole lot of staples I used to rely on to get through meal times – especially at the last minute.
Add to that, a fussy three-year-old, a five-year-old that doesn’t like green foods, and an 11-year-old that is starting to become quite health and body conscious, and we are a just a carnival of dinnertime fun. At least my husband will gratefully eat pretty much anything I put in front of him!
But I’ve discovered the key to meal time success is organisation, so Sunday has become my meal planning day. (It used to be my day to stroll to a café for brunch, hang at arthouse cinemas and go for afternoon beers with other kid-free friends. But let’s not dwell on that.)
And now with the help of Microsoft Office 365, I have reached the organisation level of a Master Meal Planner.
Here’s how we do it now
I’ve started a few digital notebooks in OneNote so I can plan our meals. One is full of kids’ lunchbox ideas, another is for low-FODMAP recipes, and yet another is listing family meal ideas.
Next, I’ve done a Bing search for low-FODMAP meal ideas, and have come up with a whole bunch of fresh ideas that should (hopefully) tempt even the fussiest of fusspots in my house.
One great recipe I found was this gluten-free chicken pie from Taste.com.au, so I added it to my notebook to add to my regular roster of family meals. I just right click on the content in Internet Explorer and it brings up a menu. I choose “Send to OneNote” and it allows me to choose which OneNote page to save it into. The recipe is then automatically dropped into my OneNote. Simple!
Sharing the fun
After I’ve finished all my research, I then want to share it with my husband, because I like to pretend he’s just as excited about meal planning as me. Also, he doesn’t know it yet, but I intend on getting him involved at the shopping and cooking stages of this game.
I can share the OneNote files easily by going to the File menu and clicking “Share”, then simply typing in his email address. Husband then receives a link to my OneNote, and he can access and edit the content. If I give him permission, that is: I’m still deciding whether he can be trusted to not change all mentions of “salad” to “beer and chips”.
Next is the shopping leg of the exercise. It’s a good thing this is simple, otherwise Husband would be impossible to rope in. But all he has to do is download the OneNote app onto his phone, connect to my account, and then open it in the supermarket.
“A tiny personal assistant in your computer”
The element that makes me the most excited, though, is using Microsoft Office 365’s Excel meal plan. There are loads of templates you can access through Word and Excel, so you don’t need to create a fresh one of your own. I searched Excel for meal plan templates and came up with this one. All I had to do was create a new workbook, and choose “Search for online templates” at the top of the page. There are thousands of templates that can help you organise any aspect of your life. It’s like having a tiny little personal assistant right there in your computer!
I can also share this template with Husband, so he receives a link to the meal plan via email, and he can then open the file from his computer or his phone.
Outlook to the rescue
And because thinking about meal planning every week can start to feel like Groundhog Day after a while, I’ve set meals in my Outlook Calendar (which syncs with my phone via the Outlook app). So now when I plan a meal, I enter it into my calendar and set it to recur every four weeks. I also send a meeting request to Husband so it’s in his calendar too.
Once this is set up, meal planning has never been easier. I have loads of meal ideas that I know everyone loves, and there is never a night I’m left wondering what to cook, or what I need from the shops. I’ve never felt so organised!
Now if only Microsoft Office 365 could find a way to take care of my laundry…