Do you plan your meals? I'm equal parts always thinking about my next meal and a total control freak so meal planning is something I've always tried to stick to and I've noticed how much more money and time I spend on weeknight meals when I haven't. It does require a bit of forward planning but it saves on both wasted food and money so I think it's really worth giving a go. I've put together a few of my meal planning tips that I hope will be helpful!
NAIL YOUR RECIPE REPERTOIRE
One of the most cost-effective and easy ways to plan meals is to think of a few go-to recipes that you eat in some kind of variation week in, week out. Having things you like to eat (and cook) to hand makes it easier to plan a few meals for the following week. You could keep a running list on your phone or stick one to the front of the fridge that you can add to. I like to write down things I think of during the week that I'd like to eat for the following week's food shop, which stops you just grabbing random ingredients that don't go together.
MAKE YOUR RECIPES WORK HARDER
Once you've thought of a few recipes you like to cook, try and think of other meals you can make with similar ingredients. Using the same key ingredients that you would use to make one meal last for two is a great way to save money and time. Here are a couple of ideas:
- Transform leftover spaghetti bolognese into chilli con carne with a few spices and a can of kidney beans
- Roast chicken on a Sunday becomes the base for chicken pie filling the next day
- A packet of mince can make beef burgers on night one and meatballs on night two
Read my post on using up leftovers for more ideas!
WRITE A LIST
By picking two or three meals and then following the above advice, you should have nearly enough meals to fill a full week. Don't forget to check your diary for any plans you've made so you don't end up buying food that you won't get around to eating. Write out all the ingredients for your meals and then add anything else you might need - milk, bread, cereal, eggs, etc. I think one of the things that puts people off shopping for the week is that last minute plans might crop up or you might end up working late and getting a takeaway instead, but you can always freeze meat or leftovers to use for another day.
One of the biggest things that has impacted the cost of our weekly shop is doing it online. You make a list, stick to it and hopefully aren't tempted by deals that aren't actually cost effective or extra ingredients and special treats (the treat aisle always gets me). There are plenty of supermarkets that offer cheap delivery slots and even if you have to pay £5, I bet you will still end up spending less. The other great thing about online food shopping is that you can see the total cost of your basket and if it's more than you thought it would be, you can go through the items and take out any that aren't essential. Since we've started getting our food delivered, we spend about £35 - £40 a week between us (including delivery) for a full week of meals with plenty of fresh vegetables and meat.
If you like the idea of planning meals but don't want to be restricted by a schedule, do a big order of staples - grains, pasta, tinned tomatoes, frozen vegetables and offers on meat. You can freeze the meat - or batch cook a few meals to freeze - and everything else will keep in the cupboards for ages. The Deliciously Ella cookbook is particularly good for rustling up meals from the cupboards as most of her recipes use store cupboard staples and don't require meat, dairy or most other items with a use-by date.
I know some of these tips might seem a bit obvious, but once you start meal planning, it really makes a big difference. Not only does it help cut down on food waste and save you money, but it saves so much time as well. Instead of deciding what you want to eat, then going to the supermarket after work (when you're hungry and will inevitably buy more than you need) and then coming home and finally starting to cook, you can get dinner on as soon as you get in the door. Having the whole process streamlined means I can often get home, cook and sit down to eat within thirty to forty minutes, which means more time for enjoying the rest of the evening.