Getting organised, and going to the shops armed with a clear list, is the best way to save money. That way you make sure you buy exactly what you need and that you will have enough food for the week, to avoid expensive top-up shops and take-aways.
Here are ways to make meal planning work for you…
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. You won’t be compromising on taste, but more expensive dishes will be more affordable. Read my post on budget supermarkets to see the benefits of a switch!
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 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.
Consider use-by dates
When you write your meal plan, put meals that will need fresh ingredients earlier in the week. That way, if you are 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.
Stretch the meals
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 to use in a stir fry the next day or make a pie? Or use leftover mash to make bubble-and-squeak or fishcakes. To keep it simple, you might even be able to use last night’s dinner for tomorrow’s lunch – just pop it into a plastic container in the fridge to keep it fresh. My leftovers article will give you plenty of ideas for just about everything!
Check your cupboards
Work with 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 you already have. With the internet at our finger tips, it has never been easier to find a recipe to use up a particular set of ingredients!
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.
Have an ‘easy’ night
The biggest mistake we can make is planning cook-from-scratch meals for all 7 days. They’ll always be nights you are late home or days where 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. We usually have eggs for tea once a week to keep it simple on the day the kids have clubs. Be realistic and give yourself a night off from cooking when you need it!
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: