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Updated February 2023
Getting organised, and going to the shops armed with a clear list, is the best way to save money. That way you can ensure you that you’ll buy exactly what you need and that you’ll have enough food for the week, to avoid expensive top-up shops and take-aways.
Here are 10 ways to make meal planning work for you…
1. Set your budget
Be realistic about what you can afford to spend, and stick to your budget. Can you make simple swaps to reduce to costs? For instance, using frozen meat or vegetables instead of fresh. Or ditching brand names for supermarket own brands, which can save you up 30% off of your weekly shop! You won’t be compromising on taste, but more expensive dishes will be more affordable. For lots of tips on reducing the cost of your weekly shop, read my post: 20 easy ways to cut the cost of your food shop.
2. Use similar ingredients
When you plan, try to make the most of everything you’ll be buying by lining up meals which will use similar ingredients. This will help you to make the most of your food shop and reduce waste. Be flexible too, are there ingredients that you can swap to accommodate what’s already in the fridge or your pantry cupboard? Download my free, printable meal planner to help you to organise your meals and shopping list.
3. Plan around bargains
We love yellow sticker bargains and freeze meat, cakes, bread… and anything else we come across! I then plan meals for the following week around our yellow sticker treasures, for instance – cheap bacon; make a carbonara, cheap sausages; rustle up a toad in the hole, cheap veg; make a soup or stir fry.
The Olio app is brilliant for this too – you can get plenty of free food to stock the freezer. We’ve had some amazing bits from Olio – tandoori meat, sausages, mackerel, bread, gluten-free products, fruit and veg. We save around £10-£20 each week using Olio; just plan your meals around the freebies you collected the previous week, defrosting as needed. Check out my Olio post for more info: What is Olio? Stop waste and slash your food bill with the free food app!
4. Consider use-by dates
Plan to cook meals that will use fresh ingredients earlier in the week. That way, if you’re doing one big shop, the ingredients won’t have gone off by the end of the week. Utilise your freezer for the end of week meals, or pick items with a longer shelf life.
5. Stretch the meals
A recent article reckoned that the average British household bins more than £65 worth of food every month – around £800 annually – time to book a holiday instead! When you’re planning the meals for the week, think about how much of each ingredient you’ll need and what could be used for more than one dish to save time and money.
You may find that the food cooked for one meal can be useful for others. For instance, could you save leftover chicken from a roast (or even buy a slightly larger one) to use in a stir fry the next day or make a pie? Or use leftover mash to make bubble-and-squeak or fishcakes.
6. Mix it up
If you want to stick to your plan, and avoid take-aways or throwing out wasted food, then keep it fresh. Don’t use the same meal plan every week – you’re much more likely to follow it (and enjoy it!) if you’re not bored of the same old meals. If you like to be organised, do a three week plan and rotate dishes to keep dinner time interesting.
Don’t forget to plan breakfast, lunches and snacks too – be prepared and you can avoid relying on eating out / convenience food – you’ll save loads! Even a small £5 expenditure each weekday wastes £100 every four weeks – so take a packed lunch to work, or cook a little extra dinner and enjoy the leftovers the next day.
7. Have an ‘easy’ night
According to Nimblefins.co.uk the average household spends around £135 each month on takeaways and restaurants – more than £1600 every year! And, the biggest mistake that we can make is planning cook-from-scratch meals for all 7 days.
Some days you might be late home, and plans change, so stock the freezer with a little junk food for nights off or plan to have a quick dinner if you know you’ll be busy. That way you won’t resort to eating out or expensive takeaways – which can easily blow half the food shopping budget for the week in one meal! Have a night off from cooking when you need it – just make sure you’re prepared!
8. Batch cook
One thing that can save you lots of time and money is batch cooking. I do A LOT of cooking in bulk and it makes life so much easier to have ready cooked dinners in the freezer for a day when I can’t be bothered to cook. It stops ingredients from being wasted too and meals cooked in bulk are usually cheaper as the more you buy of something the cheaper it will be – so buy more than you need and fill the freezer with tasty meals.
Check out some of my batch cooking recipes to get started:
9. Avoid packaged vegetables
Check your recipes before you shop, and buy loose vegetables to save a lot. For example, if you only need 30g of mushrooms, 1 pepper and 1 red onion for your pasta sauce; don’t buy big bags of each. If you buy all of these items individually, unpackaged, they’ll only cost you pennies and it’ll definitely reduce how much food is thrown away at the end of the week.
Frozen veg is brilliant too – it’s cheaper, already pre-chopped and you won’t waste what you don’t use. (Taken from recent prices at Tesco: An 80g pack of fresh green beans will set you back £1.05 – but for just £1 in the frozen aisle you’ll get a whopping 900g!) My freezer is packed with frozen vegetables, and it keeps using going for ages, reducing how much fresh food we need to buy weekly.
10. Check your cupboards
When you’re planning for the week ahead, don’t forget to check what you have in your freezer or pantry to save money and use up forgotten about ingredients! Have a look through to stop food hitting its use-by date and plan recipes around what needs eating up. With the internet at our finger tips, it has never been easier to find a recipe to use up a particular set of ingredients!