Menu Planning – 13 tips for planning your family menu

I’ve been researching healthy menu planning and this post (and printable) are of my findings when doing this research.  This printable is on the first page of my recipe file.  Feel free to share it with whomever you wish, but please will you always reference the source (

The .PDF can found here: Menu planning checklist and 13 Tips of when Menu Planning (printable)

During my research, I have realized that the most important aspect of planning a menu is to always keep in mind the nutritional value of the meal.  You can read my blog post about the basics of good nutrition if you haven’t done so already.

If you haven’t considered the health benefits of the food you are serving your family then what is the point of menu planning?  You might as well go and eat at your favorite fast food restaurant every day of the week.  Why do we eat at home?  I know that I do because it is better for my health.

So, keeping in mind the health benefits of the meal, what are the basics that we need every day?  I also mentioned this in my Good Nutrition Basics post, but I’m going to mention it again because it is so important.

  • Cereals: I’m not talking about the sugar coated breakfast cereals that you get in the shops.  Those are useless because there is way too much sugar in them.  Instead you must make sure you have one serving of Oats, Mealiemeal, Sorghum, Wheat or any unrefined cereal each day (preferably organic).  Also make sure you have one serving of wholewheat bread (that is 1 slice).  Cereals not only contain carbohydrates and fats, but also Vitamins, Minerals and Roughage. Carbohydrates provide heat and energy and Vitamins, Minerals and Roughage keep the body healthy.
  • Protein: These include Meat, Fish, Poultry, Beans, Lentils, Nuts, Cheese and Eggs.  Proteins are the body builders in the food groups.  They help your body repair itself.  You should get 1 serving of Meat, Fish or Poultry and 1-2 servings of Beans, Lentils, Nuts, Cheese and Eggs.
  • Vegetables:  Potatoes and Sweet Potatoes give you Carbohydrates, which provide your body with heat and energy.  Try to get 1 serving of potatoes or sweet potatoes per day. Also try to get 2 servings of cooked vegetables and 1 serving of raw vegetables.
  • Fruits:  Oranges, Guavas and Tomatoes give you Vitamin C.  Try to eat one of these fruits each day.  Also try to eat one serving of any other type of fruit.  Fruits provide your body with vitamins, minerals and roughage.
  • Sugar:  Try to cut out as much refined sugar as possible, substitute honey whenever possible.  I have been reading a lot of articles lately on how dangerous sugar really is for us.  It is being linked with Cancer and numerous other diseases.  I’m down to half a teaspoon of sugar in my coffee and tea now.

Here is an image from the .PDF I mentioned at the top of this post summarizing the above points:

Menu Planning Checklist -
Menu Planning Checklist –

The second thing I discovered is that menu planning is all about variety.  Try to give the person eating your food as much variety as possible by:

  1. Plan a variety of different types of vegetables:  This means that you shouldn’t stick to all root vegetables, or all leafy vegetables, but rather pick 1 root vegetable, 1 leaf vegetable, 1 flowery vegetable and/or 1 squash type of vegetable.
  2. Variety of colour:  So in other words, don’t present the person eating your food with a plate filled with greens only (e.g. Marrow, Spinach and Broccoli).  Add in some orange, red or white vegetables.  The more appealing it is on the eyes the more appealing it is to the stomach.
  3. Variety of textures and shapes:  This is also to make it appealing to the eyes.  Don’t boil all the food into a mush, try to serve some raw (grated carrot), some whole (baked potatoes), some chopped (green beans) and some mashed (pumpkin).
  4. Variety of ingredients:  Try not to use the same main ingredient in two recipes.  For example, don’t make pumpkin pie for dessert and mashed pumpkin in the meal.

Third, it is all about making the different foods compliment each other.  This can easily be achieved by picking one main recipe and then keeping all the other foods on the plate as natural and neutral as possible.  You wouldn’t have a spicy bean curry dish with a rump steak, would you?  The two tastes would overpower each other.  Rather keep the rump steak as a delicious rump and add boiled spinach, chopped pumpkin and carrot salad to the plate.

And while I’m talking about picking recipe’s, it is a good idea to learn which fruits and vegetables are in season and grown locally.  Knowing this can greatly aid you in lowering your food expenses each month.  If you live in Alaska you would pay a small fortune for Kiwi fruit (which grows best in a tropical climate).  And strawberries (which are a Springtime berry) cost a lot more in winter and autumn, don’t they?  So by learning which fruits and vegetables are in season in which months, and knowing which fruits and vegetables are easily grown in your climate, you can dramatically cut down your grocery bill.  This information is essential to effective menu planning.

On the topic of saving money, I also discovered a hint towards saving money on your electricity/gas bill when you are cooking.  Cook together as much as possible. This means that if you are roasting a chicken, then consider also doing baked potatoes at the same time, or find a dessert recipe that needs a similar oven temperature, and cook the two together.  You can also consider boiling eggs at the same time that you boil potatoes (in the same pot!).

Keep the left-overs in mind.  If you plan to cook a recipe that serves 6 and there are only 2 in your household, that means that the meal should be able to feed the two of you for 3 meals.  This saves you electricity/gas again because you cook once for 2-3 days.  But make sure that you can keep the food that you have made for 3 days.  Fish doesn’t quite taste the same the next day, so you won’t be able to make a “serves 8” fish dish for 2 people.

If you have left overs in your refrigerator, then you should also find a way to incorporate them into your next meal.  Use up leftovers as quickly as possible.

Serve 1 hot dish a day.  I’m not talking about a spicy dish, I’m talking about a fully cooked dish. Even in summer, try to at least have 1 hot dish a day.  You can grill meat outdoors if you can’t handle the oven heat in your kitchen.

Serve a dessert after the main meal.  You don’t have to make a full baked pudding, but a sliced banana served with custard is just as nice.  Fruit makes a wonderful dessert, and what better way to make fruit appealing?  Just remember that with dessert it is best to keep the portion sizes small, it makes it more of a treat that way.

Eat at a table.  This isn’t really a menu planning tip, but rather something to think about while we are talking about menu planning.  By sitting at the table, and serving the food in the good dishes, you are encouraging family togetherness.  Meals should be about building your family togetherness.  Try to see each meal as a feast used to build relationships.  So if possible, try to eat at a table for every meal (breakfast, lunch and supper).  When you plan the menu, think how you are going to present each meal on the table.

Finally, you should plan your menu as long in advance as you can stick to.  It saves time and money to do once a week or once a month shopping, and it is beneficial to know in the morning what you should be defrosting for the nights meal.

This is what I have discovered while learning to do proper menu planning.  I hope that my notes have been a help to you.  I’m not pretending to be an expert on this topic, I’m just sharing what I have learned.  If you have any extra things to consider when menu planning, please drop a comment below, I’d love to hear your views.


Good Nutrition Basics

Good Nutrition basics - Authentically Ash ( )
Good nutrition infogram showing the basics of good nutrition and a balanced diet.

Good nutrition is a vital part of everyday human life.  If you are privileged enough to easily come by food, then it is your responsibility to ensure that your body gets what it needs to stay healthy.  And if you are a parent then it is your responsibility to make sure your children get what they need to stay healthy.  This is a basic overview of what I feel an average person should know about good nutrition.

There are 3 basic types of foods

  • Proteins are the foods that build and repair your body
  • Vitamins, Minerals and Roughage keep the body, its chemicals and mechanisms balanced
  • Carbohydrates and fats are converted into heat and energy, and if you don’t use them up they become body clutter.

Proteins (body builders) – The following foods contain proteins and help build and repair your body:

  • Nuts, Eggs and Fish (all edible kinds)
  • Cheese (all kinds)
  • Meat (birds, poultry, pigs, cattle, sheep and wild game)
  • Vegetables (dried beans, soya beans, lentils and peas)
  • Milk (whole, skimmed and buttermilk)

Vitamins, Minerals and Roughage – The following foods contain various kinds of vitamins, minerals and roughage which keep your body in balance

  • Fruit (all kinds, dried, fresh, cooked, berries, dates and tomatoes)
  • Vegetables (all kinds, green and leafy, yellow, raw and cooked)
  • Cereals (whole/unsifted flour, oats, mealiemeal, sorghum meal and soya bean flour)
  • Milk (whole, skimmed and buttermilk)

Carbohydrates and fats – The following foods contain carbohydrates and fats which are used to give your body energy and heat.

  • Vegetables and fruit (avocado pears, bananas, beetroot, dried peas, dried beans, mealies, sweet potatoes and potatoes)
  • Cereals (macaroni, tapioca, mealiemeal, wheat flour, rice, sago, spaghetti and maize products)
  • Sugars (sugar, honey, syrup, fresh and dried fruits, preserves, sweet desserts and sweet dishes)
  • Fats (butter, cream, animal fats, vegetable fats, oils and nuts)

You should try to get at least one serving of each at every meal!

Now, I’m sure you are wanting to know a sure fire way of making sure you stay healthy without needing to do too much meal planning.  That is why I made this check-list:

Eat these daily:

  • 1 to 2 servings of Meat, Fish or Poultry
  • 1 serving of dried beans, lentils, nuts or cheese whenever meat is not served with the meal
  • 500ml Milk per day (try to get organic)
  • 1 egg per day or 4 eggs per week
  • 1 serving potatoes or sweet potato
  • 2 servings of cooked vegetables
  • 1 serving of raw vegetables
  • 1 Orange, tomato or guava (high in Vitamin C!)
  • 1 serving of any other kind of fruit
  • 1-2 servings of wholewheat bread, oats, mealiemeal, sorghum, wheat or any unrefined cereal
  • Use honey instead of sugar whenever possible!!!
  • Use no more than 2 tablespoons of butter, cream, animal fats, vegetable fats or oils each day.

One serving, in this case, is the size of the palm of your hand, and the height of the tip of your thumb (from the knuckle to the point). In the case of cheese where this is the serving size of grated cheese, not whole cheese.

And don’t forget to drink lots of water!

On a personal note:  I was actually researching good nutrition yesterday and these are my notes.  I’m going to be working on implementing this in my family in the coming months.

First Web Article: Valentines day in Bloemfontein, the city of roses…

2 Days ago my first web article went live!  Here is the teaser:

Valentines day is fast approaching and how better could you spend it than in Bloemfontein “the city of roses”? Why give your sweetheart a bunch of roses, when you can enjoy a beautiful outdoor picnic at the Botanical Gardens or Oliewenhuis?

Perhaps outdoors is not the thing for you, then maybe a romantic dinner for two at New York Restaurant is more for you?

What is important to remember is that you need to know your partners Love Language and once you know that, then you will know how best to treat your sweetheart this valentines day. Read more here…

Heaven and Earth Hierarchy

Authentically Ash - Earth and Heaven Hierarchy
Earth and Heaven Hierarchy

A while ago I came up with the Heaven and Earth Hierarchy (as seen in my own eyes).  To make a point I have drawn the diagram the way that a worldly view see’s it.

The reason for drawing it from the worldly view-point is because it is the perception we are bombarded with daily (unless you are Amish or living in another closed community… maybe…).  So it is the hierarchy we all know and love.  … OK not all of us love it, in fact I think very few people love it.

So let’s get to the explanation.  Let’s start with the Average Human Being.

Mr. and Mrs. Doe (the average Jane and John).  These are our normal average non-Christians.  Some of them might even be “Christians” but only because their parents, grand-parents and great-grandparents were Christians.  Or because it is expected of them to attend a church in their area.  This is the regular average family that works the 8 to 5 routine, has 2.1 children and lives in the suburbs.  We can also include the average homeless person here, or the average teenager, or the average college student.  The only requirement is that you are not a Christ follower and you are average with a low to middle income.

I said at this point “In his pride the wicked man does not seek Him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God. ~ Psalm 10:4”.  These people may not be noticeably wicked.  They might be relatively good and nice people.  The key of what I am saying here is that in their thoughts they either don’t want to know God or they haven’t given Him much thought.

Mr. Slate and Mr. Spacely (the leaders / managers).  Notice the reference to The Flintstones and The Jetsons’ characters here.  That is the image I want in your mind when you think of the typical leaders and managers.  Now, when you look at the “worldly” social class, leaders and managers are considered as slightly above the average Doe.  With leadership comes more responsibility, and a slightly higher worldly status, and with that responsibility, salary increase and status comes a recipe for pride to filter in, because you can start seeing yourself as better than the average Doe.  This makes it harder to maintain a Christ-like nature and cultivate the “Fruits of the spirit”.  I’m not saying that Christians cannot be leaders/managers, I’m just saying it starts getting harder to be a Christian if you are a leader/manager.

Mr. Wonka (business owner).  I’m sure that most people have heard of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  The image of Willy Wonka is what I want you to have in your mind.  Especially the slightly more “arrogant” version that Johnny Depp acted as.  While I do really enjoy the eccentric Willy Wonka, think how somebody would be perceived in the real world.  He would be admired.  In the story there were people who were envious of his success (probably Leaders and Managers who wanted their own business – Envy), and Willy Wonka had developed techniques to shut them all out of his chocolate factory and keep his secret recipe’s to himself.  Gluttony and Greed are easily seen here, all routed in a form of Pride.  People are envious of the business owner and want what he has.  It takes a person firm in his faith in order to keep humble and Christ-like while being a business owner.

Mr. President (the political leader).  Picture just about any president or political leader.  They are strategists, they tend to do whatever will get them the most votes.  If they get votes by being a Christian, then by golly gosh they will be Christians.  If they will get votes by being pro-gay marriage, then they will be.  They are expected to do whatever will get them the most votes.  They have their advisers all around them, pressure from the public, pressure from their sponsors and pressure from the media.  Staying true to Heavenly/Godly values is super hard for the average political leader.

Miss Starlet (actress, singer and all-round famous person). This one I made up, but you can put pretty much any celebrity into this role.  It must be awfully tough to stay true to God when the entire globe is watching you.  Make it known you are a Christian and you have opened up a whole list of “don’t get caught doing XYZ”.  You are a representative for Christ and being a celebrity Christian puts a whole heap of new responsibilities on your shoulders.  You would have to turn down Playboy cover shoots (LUST) and don’t you dare wear a slightly too short skirt to the Grammy Awards.  The long and the short of it, it is way easier to be famous if you are not a Christian than if you are.  For some reason people are more forgiving of sin if you don’t claim to be a Christ-follower, and being a celebrity you can be sure that all your sin is open in the spotlight for the world to see.  I’m not saying you cannot be a Christian celebrity, I am saying that it is near impossible.

Mr. Tony Stark (Iron Man – X-treme Riches).  Yet again I’m using a fictional character to make my point.  He is so Prideful, arrogant, and extremely wealthy.  Why is it that we can’t seem to help admiring this person.  So many men want to be like him (in their deepest depths of their hearts), and so many women would like to be the lady that eventually sweeps him off his feet and keeps his interest for life.  And now, comes the cruncher… when you have absolutely everything in the world, why do you need God?

“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” – Mark 10:25

Of course, we know that without God you are kinda screwed in eternity, but staying humble must be pretty difficult if you have absolutely everything this world can provide.

And along with this mindset comes the classic 7 deadly sins: Sloth, Envy, Gluttony, Lust, Greed, Wrath and Pride.

This is the hierarchy of worldly status and values… climbing the Worldly Ladder as it were.  My point is that the higher you go on the “worldly” ladder, the harder it is to stay on the heavenly ladder.

But what about the other side of the ladder, the one that the world sees as sinking down, down, down… but in truth is the up, up, up (and I just got an image of the Pixar movie in my brain).

I believe that there are stages in the Heavenly ladder too.  First there are the new Christians.  Those that have just acknowledged that Jesus Christ is Lord, that they are sinners and have humbled themselves before God.

Then there are those that are on their walk with Christ.  They are reading their Bibles daily, they are spending time in reflection and prayer, they are building the fruits of Peace, Faithfulness, Kindness, Gentleness, Joy, Self-Control, Goodness, Patience and Love… the heavenly values. Many of them go unnoticed by the world at large, because the impact they make is on individual lives rather than the whole world, but then there are those who have become World-Changing Christians.  I think of William Wilberforce who lead a movement to abolish slavery and  C.S. Lewis who wrote numerous books about Christianity.  There are so many others!

Then come the Saints – I would like to classify them along-side the World-Changing Christians, but I decided to give them a higher level on the Humility scale.

Finally, just before Jesus himself, the 12 apostles. Their humility, even in Peter eventually, was commendable.

Jesus, the ultimate in Humility: “And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!” – Phillipians 2:8

And this Jesus, is the person that we are encouraged to strive to be like.  The Jesus of Peace, Faithfulness, Kindess, Gentleness, Joy, Self-Control, Goodness, Patience, Love and HUMILITY!!!

So, this is how “The World” sees the status ladder, with X-treme riches at the top and the humility of the apostles at the bottom, when in truth, Jesus is at the top and Satan at the Bottom.

Why I became a programmer

Last Saturday I remembered why I decided to become a programmer.  It was because I believed that being a programmer was the only way for me to have a stable income and live the life-style I wanted to live.

What did I really have in mind for my life?

At 18 this is what I wanted for my life:

  • The ability to set my own work hours.  I wanted to be able to decide when I work and for how long.  I didn’t want the “routine” structure of getting up and going to work every day at 8am and then leaving at 5pm only to repeat the next day.  I like routine, but I don’t like somebody else dictating my routine to me.  I was under the impression that the only people who got to do this were programmers, housewives, writers and those in the arts.
  • Performance based rewards.  I wanted to know that if I work through the night to get a product or feature launched by the next day, then I would be rewarded for my efforts.  Whether it was financially or through time off to recover before the next project.  I thought that a programmers list of tasks was definite, it was derived from the requirements of the client, so I thought there was a concrete list of “To Do’s” and I thought I would be rewarded for completing that list ahead of schedule.
  • Don’t have to work with people all the time.  I disliked working with people.  I also disliked being interrupted when I was doing something important.  I thought that programmers had the ability to lock the door, turn off cell-phones, and unplug from the world until the task was complete.  If it was urgent, then the person could still contact the programmer through email and the programmer could get back to that person at a convenient time.
  • Work from home.  I have always known that I LOVE being in my own home.  My number 1 goal for my life was to own a house (which I now do).  I thought that in this information age, the person that would have the highest likelihood of working from home  (and having a stable income) is the programmer.
  • No uniform.  The one thing I hated more than anything else about my school days was the uniform.  Not because it didn’t look nice, just because it didn’t allow for me to express my creativity.  My first year at University was heaven and hell all in one.  I was in a hostel, and on Tuesday’s and Friday’s we had to wear a “uniform” – I couldn’t stand being told what to wear.  The heaven part is that I was able to wear anything I wanted every other day of the week (as opposed to when I was in school).  I thought that the careers that would have the most flexibility in what you wear were anything of the arts or programming.
  • Earn enough money to live a comfortable life.  I have never wanted to be a multi-millionaire.  All I have wanted was my own house, with a yard big enough for a vegetable garden and a dog, a car that get’s me from A to B, and to have a little bit of “pocket money” to buy the occasional gadget or toy.  I thought that would be fairly easy to achieve as a programmer. At least I was correct about this one.

The reality of it is that I chose my career based on the type of lifestyle I wanted to lead.  The difference is that I didn’t realize programming in the corporate business world meant set work hours, monthly salary, constant interruptions from those in the office (and the need to take part in team building – which I loathed at 18 and tolerate now), needing to be in the office during work hours and a dress code.

Once in a while there is a day of heavenly job bliss.  That is what I experienced this past Saturday.  I negotiated a Friday afternoon off (this coming Friday is my husband’s 30th birthday) if I squeezed in an extra project and did it from home over the weekend.  Just for one weekend I could set my own work hours, wear board-shorts and a t-shirt (and no shoes!), work from home, have NO interruptions (except Mark bringing me coffee every now and then) and get a performance based reward (a Friday afternoon off).  And that day was the happiest and most fulfilling day I have ever had since entering the corporate work-force.

Being a corporate programmer is nothing like the lifestyle I was looking for.  So if you plan on being a programmer because of anything I mentioned above, then I advice that you stick to running your own business, or work in a partnership with 2-3 other people.  Be the person that corporate outsources to, not the person that corporate hires full-time, or else stay out of corporate programming altogether.