Loose change - teaching menu planning in schools by Cat Plummer

Teach menu planning in schools

Posted on Posted in Loose Change

This week’s Loose Change is by Cat Plummer who blogs at www.pennywiseliferich.co.uk where she shares snippets of her life, ways to spend less, tips to save money and recipes. She lives in sunny East Sussex with her husband and her dog.


I remember when I moved out of home, I had no idea about menu planning or a food budget. I would head to Asda, select a large trolley and wander round thinking ‘I like that’, ‘I like that’. In it all went and then off to the checkout I popped. I would often see a recipe mid-week and pop to the local shop to buy those ingredients when looking back, I could have made a meal (or 10!) with what I already had. In addition, I’d often just buy 7 ready meals! Or pick up a Chinese on my way home from work. Hmmm… no wonder I ended up in debt!

When I started researching ways to reduce my spending, an area that cropped up was menu planning and a grocery budget.  It is one of the biggest areas to cut down and save money if you can’t save it elsewhere. It is always my go-to as a recommendation now. We often spend so much money by wandering around the supermarket and popping stuff into the trolley, or by saying, “What shall we have for dinner?” and then popping to the local shop to buy said items when you’ve decided. I’ve been there!

This leads me on to wishing I had better skills in that area. I know that cooking is encouraged as far as possible in primary schools with Design and Technology lessons and in some schools with Let’s Get Cooking. In secondary schools some people have Food Technology lessons. One barrier can be that not all primary schools have kitchens but this can be got round by using table-top hobs.

I think that we should go one step further and that menu planning and budgeting for groceries be taught in schools. For example, teaching the idea that your budget has to last 7 days or you won’t have any food. Kids love cooking so why not teach them an additional valuable life skill in the process not to mention making cross-curricular links with Maths, English and PSHE to name a few. Children could use their ICT skills to ‘shop online’ in groups and to decide on a menu for dinners for the week to feed a family of 4. This could extend into a project that could take a few days/afternoons depending on curriculum pressures.

The way I would plan it out would be to explain to the children that we have got a set budget to shop for groceries for a week and that out of those groceries we need to feed 4 people breakfasts, lunches, snacks and dinners. As a class we would discuss what kind of dinners we could make, with emphasis on leftovers and using ingredients for several meals. This would be a huge discussion area and one where a lot of learning and ‘light-bulb’ moments would take place.

In small groups the children would then select 7 main meals to create. Then onto lunches and breakfasts. Once they have an idea of the meals, they then need to make up a shopping list, using an online shop to assist. These involve English skills – making notes and recording their ideas – and the Maths skills of adding it all together. Emphasise that they cannot spend any more than the budget, here will enter problem solving skills and trial and error. A class discussion can then take place on what has cropped up, realisations they have had, problems they have encountered. This would be such a rich topic for discussion. Again, this would link to PSHE as issues surrounding budgets, those less fortunate would arise.

I would then select a different main meal from each group. This could be used to research the recipes and then cook them over a period of time, perhaps one afternoon a week over a 6 week term. It would be great to extend the invitation to parents to come in and share the food. Part of this could even be getting parents in to cook with the children and developing their own skill set.

This process would be so valuable, in that the children will be learning to menu plan to a budget and how important it is, they would be thinking about different recipes they could create, they would learn the skills of cooking those recipes and what to do with the leftovers.

I would recommend this project in both primary and secondary schools and one that is revisited each year, especially from Key Stage 2 onwards. What valuable life skills they would learn! I know that I wish I’d had those skills when I left home at 17!

Now, as always, enters the issue of money. School budgets are incredibly squeezed so obviously I am writing this from an ‘ideal world’ point of view but this is definitely, in my opinion, something that should be high up on the government’s agenda.

2 thoughts on “Teach menu planning in schools

  1. Great idea. I’m 61 and I learned what was once called ‘Domestic Science’, then Home Economics, now Food Technology. It was compulsory for 3 years. We learned to cook and sew, both skills I have used throughout my life and they have saved me a fortune. Both my sons could cook from scratch when they went to college, though I am not saying they did! But it was skills I taught them rather than what they got at school. Maybe time to look at some of the old ‘boring’ classes that got ditched, which were useful rather than glamorous! Though I am told by a friend that many schools have ditched cooking, because they can’t find anyone to teach it….

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