Monthly Meal Planning

Last month I mainly bought tins of tomatoes, beer and crisps in my online order

Do you struggle with deciding what to eat each evening? Maybe you plan for the week, but find it hard to make time each weekend to do this. Find out why I moved to monthly meal planning…

Buying for a whole month

In my June review I mentioned that I had been reading ‘The Complete Tightwad Gazette’ by Amy Dacyczyn and that as a result I had decided to make a monthly online grocery order for July. I have to say that went well. I mainly ordered tins, beer and crisps in bulk.

Long use by dates

I decided that I would do the same thing for August and started questioning whether I could actually buy more than beer and tinned tomatoes in bulk. Being mainly a vegetarian household we eat quite a lot of cheese, such as paneer, feta and halloumi. I then wondered what the use by dates might be on those and when I looked at the ones we had in the fridge the shortest date was in two months’ time, with paneer lasting for four months and halloumi for a year. Why then do I buy them a couple of times a month when I go to the store? I therefore added them to the monthly order – two halloumi, two paneer and three feta. We are unlikely to eat these all this month, but they will last into next month and I can then just top up next month.

Our juice will last for a month

As well as cheese I found that the orange juice that we buy, which is in the fridge section and not long life, will last for a month. We only drink juice at the weekends so I bought just two cartons. I was a bit worried about the space in the fridge, but in fact it wasn’t too bad as we do have a large one. If we run out of juice this month I will buy three next month.

The pros and cons

So far, the benefits of a monthly online order are spending less time in the supermarket and not having to carry several large bags of heavy shopping when I do have to go to the store. The downsides are that they charge for delivery, although I only spent £1.50 on this. The arrangement they have may not suit everyone as in order to get such a cheap slot I had to choose a long window during which they might deliver. Then, on the day of the delivery, they sent a text message giving details of the actual hour during which they would arrive. As Mr Simple is home a lot of the time this is fine for us, but may not work for everyone. For some reason they also charged us 40p for bags. For my July order the items just came loose in the large plastic crates and we had to empty them and give the crates back to the delivery driver. This time the food was all in plastic bags in the plastic crates. This isn’t great for the environment and when I do the shopping myself I take reusable bags with me. Apparently you can give the bags back to the driver and I have kept them and plan to do this for our next delivery. I need to look into why we had so many bags this time as I wouldn’t want it to be a regular thing.

Local veggies

We are fortunate to have lots of vegetables growing in the garden and at the moment we have lots of courgettes, some green beans, cucumbers and the tomatoes are just starting to go red. Therefore, when it comes to the weekly shop I only need to buy a few veggies and then fruit, milk and ham and chicken for Mr Simple. I think I’ve said before that a woman in the village has a small market garden where she grows vegetables. Every week she sends out a text message letting you know what she has, you order what you want and then collect it from her on a Friday afternoon or Saturday morning. Along with our veg from the garden, this means that we aren’t buying too much from the supermarket at the moment. At this time of year our food miles for veggies are nearly zero.

The move to monthly meal planning

For quite a while now I have struggled with meal planning. I read all of those frugal blogs saying that you need to do a weekly plan and go to the supermarket knowing what you want i.e. with a list. Now, I am good at that, as I always make a list, but I am not good at planning what we are going to eat before I go. I just buy a variety of vegetables and then our usual staples. The trouble with this method is that some recipes call for ingredients that we don’t ordinarily have and so I end up popping out to the local shops for it or just not cooking what could be a really nice recipe.

A bullet journal is a really adaptable planner

This month, having done a monthly shop, I just thought to myself, why not change to monthly meal planning. So that’s what I did. I think that it partly came about as Mr Simple and I have started the 5:2 diet this week and I had to plan what we were going to eat on those days. I also have a lovely bullet journal which lends itself readily to drawing out a nice table. I knew that we would have a lot of courgettes over the month, so I searched in my cookery books for as many courgette recipes as I could find and sprinkled them throughout the month. Even if you don’t have veggies growing in the garden you may want to think about what is in season as that may be on offer in the supermarket. I then added the fasting day recipes and a few curry ones, some from a new book that I found in the library by Dan Toombs, called ‘The Curry Guy Veggie’, and that was it. Surprisingly it didn’t take me much longer than doing a weekly meal plan.

Now, just because we have a plan we don’t have to stick to it rigidly, but use it as a guide. I have already swapped some of the recipes from one day to another, but I have to say I feel so much less stressed about what we are going to eat every evening. When it comes to the weekly shopping list, I can look at what I’ve put down for us to eat over the next week and buy the extra ingredients that we wouldn’t usually have.

So, how do you do your shopping? Do you meal plan? Have you tried monthly meal planning? Let me know in the comments below and if you want more ideas for simple living, saving money and being well, on your road to financial independence don’t forget to subscribe. You’ll get my ‘Frugal Tips’ sheet as a thank you for signing up.

How to Eat Well

Dr Chatterjee recommends eating a rainbow of different coloured vegetables

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This week we’re back to Dr Chatterjee’s Four Pillar Plan and the pillar I’m looking at is ‘Eat’. It seems quite relevant to be writing about food at this point as Mr Simple and I have started the 5:2 diet today. Actually, he is starting it, bullied into it by me and I am keeping him company. He keeps saying that he will cut out beer and crisps or just eat a calorie-controlled diet every day, but it never happens. I think that the 5:2 diet, although it is difficult on the fast days (I know I have tried it before) the good thing is that on the other days you can eat normally, including the occasional bowl of crisps, and it is still effective.

So what does Dr Chatterjee saying about eating…

Dr Chatterjee does not believe that there’s one true diet that’s optimal for everyone. According to him we are capable of thriving on a whole range of diets. Have you heard of blue zones? These are magical areas where the proportion of people who live past 100 is up to ten times higher than the average rate. If you go back to my previous posts by Dr John Day you will see that he studied one in China.

The broad and basic principles that are consistent among all the blue-zone diets are:

  • None has a processed-food culture. By and large they eat fresh, unprocessed, local produce.
  • They all sit down and eat meals together.
  • They eat what’s in season.
  • They have treats, but only at very special festival times such as Christmas and Easter, not every day after school or every Friday and Saturday.
Many of our foods contain a lot of sugar

Dr Chatterjee recommends the following:

De-normalise sugar

Retrain your taste buds by removing all sugars from your cupboards and get into the habit of always reading the label on your food to check the sugar content. It is really surprising where manufacturers hide sugar e.g. mango chutney, which I love with curry, is full of sugar – it is the main ingredient.

A new definition of ‘five a day’

Aim to eat at least five portions of vegetables every day – ideally of five different colours. Dr Chatterjee says that one of the reasons for this is that variety is good for the bugs that live in our gut and their associated genes collectively known as our microbiome.

How to increase your colours:

  • Print out the rainbow chart from drchatterjee.com (link) and put it on your fridge. Tick off all the colours you have consumed in one day.
  • Get into the habit of snacking on veg – carrots with hummus, cucumber with tahini, celery sticks with almond butter.
  • Leave colourful appealing vegetables on the kitchen worktop or your desk so that you see them regularly: bright orange carrots, red and yellow peppers, green olives.
  • Add two vegetables to every meal, including breakfast. If you’re having eggs in the morning try adding spinach and avocado. This is one of my favourite ways of increasing the amount of vegetables that you eat. So many people eat cereals and toast for breakfast, missing out on the opportunity to get in one or two of their five a day.
  • Roast a whole baking tray of colourful vegetables drizzled with olive oil; eat some with your evening meal and save the left-overs in the fridge. They can form the basis of lunch the next day.

Introduce daily micro-fasts

Get into the habit of eating all of your food within a twelve-hour time window. Our bodies are designed for going without food for certain periods of time. As soon as you start to give your body a break from all the gorging, incredible things start to happen. Eating all your food in a restricted time window allows your body to repair cells and the immune system. I heard a great analogy on one of Dr Chatterjee’s podcasts – your body trying to repair cells with food still passing through your gut is like workmen trying to resurface the motorway with cars still driving up and down it.

Six tips to help you micro-fast:

  1. Choose a twelve-hour period that suits your lifestyle. Note that your twelve-hour eating window is from the beginning of your first meal to the end of your last meal.
  2. Your body likes rhythm so try and keep to the same times every day, even at weekends. Occasionally you may need to change your eating window – this is absolutely fine.
  3. Outside your eating window stick to water, herbal tea or black tea and coffee. Be careful with caffeine so you don’t adversely affect your sleep.
  4. Try to involve other members of your household or even work colleagues. This will help to keep you motivated and increase your chances of success.
  5. Don’t be disheartened if you miss a day or even two. It really doesn’t matter. When you feel ready, try again and see how you get on.
  6. When you are feeling comfortable with twelve hours, you may choose to experiment with short eating windows on different days. If you do this pay attention to how the change makes you feed and adjust accordingly.
Try to drink more water – adding calorie-free flavour

Drink more water – aim to drink eight small glasses of water per day (approx. 1.2 litres)

Tips to help you increase your water intake:

  • Have two glasses of water when you wake up each morning
  • If you’re hungry mid-morning or mid-afternoon, try having a glass of water instead of a snack
  • Once every hour get up from your desk and go to the water cooler
  • Drink a glass of water thirty minutes before each meal
  • Set an alarm three times per day to remind you to have a drink
  • Try adding lemon or orange slices for flavour – I add fresh mint leaves

Unprocess your diet

There’s no need to count calories, fat, carbs, weight watchers’ points, slimmer’s world sins. Simply focus on avoiding highly processed foods. It’s a pretty safe bet that any food product that contains more than five ingredients is highly processed. Dr Chatterjee believes that the major problem is not that we’re simply eating too much food; it’s actually that we’re eating the wrong type of food. We are now eating large quantities of low-quality food.

Tips to unprocess your diet and eat more real food

  1. Start your day with a meal containing some protein as well as some healthy, natural fat. This will help you stay full for longer, stabilise your blood sugar and help you avoid the mid-morning crash e.g. those eggs and vegetables, not cereals and toast.
  2. Keep an emergency snack pack with you at all times. It can live in your back-pack, your car and even your office. Dr Chatterjee’s includes a tin of wild salmon, almonds and nut butter.
  3. Write a meal planner – many people find it useful to plan out their meals for the whole week so that they can plan their weekly shop.
  4. Remove all highly-processed food from your house – if it’s not there you are much less likely to eat it.
  5. Healthy food is available to buy in every supermarket. Find out where it lives and only shop those aisles.
  6. Come up with five simple meals that you can whip up in fifteen minutes or less. These will become your go to staples.
  7. Keep frozen vegetables in the house at all times. Easy to steam, they can be a quick, healthy snack or form part of a meal. I think that there is a snootiness around frozen veg i.e. they are seen as only eaten by the lower classes, except maybe frozen peas. In fact they have more nutrients than fresh veg that have taken days or weeks to get from the field to your plate. They are also cheaper than fresh. In particular I like frozen spinach to put in curries and have recently bought broccoli and cauliflower for this purpose as well.
  8. Keep pre-chopped garlic and onions in the fridge at all times.
  9. Make sure you always have a healthy protein source such as fish or eggs in the house. Protein is the macronutrient that keeps you most full. It takes little time to boil an egg or pan-fry a salmon fillet.
  10. Herbs and spices are your friends – use them freely as they are a great way to add new and exciting flavours to a meal. Many, such as turmeric, ginger and black pepper, have powerful health benefits. Mr Simple and I eat curry several times a week. I think that you can curry almost any vegetable.
  11. Make your kitchen area desirable. You want to love being in your kitchen.

So that’s it. Do you want to change your eating habits? I think that it’s so easy to overeat and our society makes it easier to be fat than it is to be thin, which takes real effort and a great deal of willpower. As Dr Chatterjee’s suggestions show, you have to make it easier to make healthy choices. What are your tricks for doing this? I would love to know. Or are you struggling with food? Need some help? I would love to give you some more tips to try. Let me know in the comments below and don’t forget to check out ‘The Four Pillar Plan’.

July Review

Just a lovely summery picture as it’s July and the sun is shining

So here’s my review for July. I was thinking today about why I write reviews each month. I started doing it because it’s what FI/RE bloggers do. They review progress towards their financial goals each month, so that’s what I started doing when I launched this blog. I have to say that I really look forward to writing these posts. I find it useful looking back at the month, not only to see hopefully how little I have spent, but also to remember what we have done and how much we have achieved e.g. on the house. Do you review your progress? If you’re a blogger you probably do, but if not, do you measure your progress in any other way?

Anyway, let’s see how July went…

We had our second staycation at the beginning of the month. You may remember our first back in March. This time it didn’t quite work out as it did last time. Mr Simple’s parents planned to visit us some time over the summer and I suggested that they come during our week off, rather than come for a weekend when we’ve only got a couple of days off between busy work weeks. They said that they would come on the Thursday and so we had several days to ourselves to go out and have fun before they arrived.

A few days before the beginning of our week off we receive a call asking us to have a trainee guide dog from the Tuesday. I can’t remember whether I have mentioned this before, but we are boarders for Guide Dogs for the Blind. It’s a bit like being foster carers. We don’t do the training, but the dog lives with us and goes out Monday to Friday to do its training during the day and then is home all weekend. This time though the dog only went training one day whilst he was with us. Recently we have just had dogs for short periods of time when their usual boarders are away. We love having the dogs and so far have never refused when we have received a call asking us to have one, therefore despite our staycation we agreed. Now, I’d love to put a gorgeous picture of him up here, but unfortunately the rules are that we aren’t allowed to show the dogs on social media.

We didn’t start our staycation until the Monday, doing our usual chores on the weekend. I had arranged to have my car serviced on the Monday, having struggled to find a day when I didn’t need it during June. The weather was good and so after dropping off my car we went for a walk along the coast. Instead of taking sandwiches we stopped at a pub for lunch. Mr Simple’s mother had given us some money back in April after she received a dividend windfall and we still had £30 of this left. This just covered lunch so in terms of our budget for the week it cost us nothing. We did have an ice cream at the end of the walk, which came to £3.

On Tuesday we did a cycle ride around the local area. We discovered a café in a village where we had previously looked at a house before we decided on the one where we live now and treated ourselves to coffee and cake. Lunch was a sandwich in some woods where we have taken previous guide dogs. Our ultimate destination was a ‘castle’, though more of a mini stately home, where the gardens are open two afternoons a week and entry is free. We were the only visitors and had a wander round the somewhat weedy gardens before making our way home in order to be back for the dog arriving.

We live near the coast so can take the dogs to the beach

On Wednesday the dog stayed with us for the day and we took him for a walk on the beach in the morning and then pottered in the garden in the afternoon. Labradors and retrievers have a quite disgusting habit of eating manure and Mr Simple put down some manure pellets around some of the plants. Unfortunately, most of them were then eaten by the dog – he seemed to think that they were tasty treats put out especially for him.  

He was out on the Thursday training and we prepared for the arrival of Mr Simple’s parents. We did a bit of shopping and had lunch in a café. Mr Simple’s parents arrived late afternoon. His mother is somewhat nervous of dogs and so we hadn’t told her that one would be staying with us prior to their arrival. She had met one of our four-legged-friends one Christmas when they stayed with us and they got on well, as the dogs are usually very well-behaved. Fortunately, it was also the case this time and I think she enjoyed spending time with him.

Having researched places to go with the dog I had discovered that the botanic gardens about an hour’s drive away have doggy days twice a week. As he was a trainee guide dog we probably could have taken him in anyway as most places, although they are not obliged to do so, allow the dogs in. It was great as there was only one building that he couldn’t go in. They even had a room in the café where we could sit. On the financial side it was a cheap day as Mr Simple’s mother generously paid for petrol for the journey and entry to the garden and his father paid for tea and cake in the afternoon. For lunch I made sandwiches.

A BBQ with Mr Simple’s parents

Over the weekend we spent time walking the dog and sitting in the garden. On Sunday we had a cooked breakfast and then a late lunch, which was a BBQ, as the weather was great. Usually we would have gone out for a meal with Mr Simple’s parents, but with the dog this was more difficult and so we just ate at home. Therefore, it was a very frugal week foodwise.

The rest of the month has been fairly quiet. I had one of my get-togethers with former colleagues, which we do every other month. As always, the meal was cheap – only £10.50 and then I had a mint tea for £2.10.

So, let’s look at the figures…

Another good month on progress with the mortgage. The standard monthly payment was £532.28 and then we made an overpayment on the mortgage of £578.

This leaves the balance on the mortgage standing at £77,286.52.

Savings stand at £34,731.86. My Vanguard stocks and shares ISA has been up, up and up this month and by 31st July I had made a profit of £270.29.  As usual I saved £185.00 to Vanguard and £250.00 to Nationwide. Managed to get excel to draw me a nice little graph showing the progress on my savings so here it is – a good steady increase so far this year:

Interest on Marcus account which I am using for stoozing was a grand total of £6.14.

General spending

Food £139.93 – I ordered some dried fruit which lasts us a few months. Otherwise it was a fairly ordinary month.

Petrol £108.32 – Slightly lower than the budget.

Pilates £32.00 – Managed to get to four sessions which was great, as work doesn’t always allow me to do so. I feel so much better for going and really enjoy it. The lessons are also quite sociable as several people from the village go.

Toiletries £12.22 – Nothing exciting.

Miscellaneous £60.18 – We had to buy a new blade for the bread maker.  The non-stick was peeling off and lumps were coming out of the loaf when we took it out of the tin. I also bought a new airer to dry clothes. This was to replace a very old one belonging to Mr Simple which keeps collapsing and the plastic coating is peeling off. The new one looks much more robust and will hopefully last for years. We don’t have a tumble dryer and so our clothes are hung on an airer in a warm room over the winter months.

Expenses from bills account – expected annual expenses

Physio session £32.00 – I only managed to get to one session as I had to cancel the second due to work.

Car service £315.28 – nearly £100 more than budgeted, but unfortunately it is getting old and is likely to start costing me money over the next couple of years.

Gifts £19.98 – candles for two of my former colleagues who I met up with.

Eyebrow waxing £7.50

So that’s it folks any observations or suggestions? How was your July? I’d love you to let me know in the comments. Have a lovely August.