As you will know if you’ve been here before I am a fan of meal planning. It’s something that I have discovered since I have been trying to reduce our monthly spending. Like anything it’s a case of trial and error and the last few months of lock down have made it more difficult. Fortunately now that things are easing up I’m back to getting a regular supermarket delivery. If you are trying to reduce your budget, food spending is one of the big three to focus on – housing and transport being the other two. It’s also probably the easiest area to work on without having to make drastic changes to your way of life. If it’s something that you’ve been thinking about for a while here’s a few tips and freebies to get you started.
Begin with what you have
The first thing that I do is to open the fridge and take out the salad drawer. For me, this is where I store most of our vegetables. Make a list of what’s in there, particularly anything that’s been rattling around for a while and is on the verge of going off. Hopefully that won’t be the case very often in the future as planning your meals helps to reduce food waste. As well as veg what else do you have in the fridge that needs using up e.g. cheese, jars of sauce, half-empty tins, bowls of left overs.
After this, check your cupboards. I keep vegetables like potatoes and onions in there. You’ll obviously have non-perishables, such as tins of tomatoes, lentils and pasta. They don’t need eating up immediately, but I always think it’s a good idea to use up ends of packets or alternatively look at what’s been around for a while. It might also give you ideas for meals that you’ve not eaten in ages.
Finally, look at what’s in the freezer. I tend to put single portions of leftovers in the freezer. Although they’ll keep for a while, they won’t keep forever and so I try to eat them at least by a month after I’ve put them in there. Don’t know what’s in your freezer? Use a fridge magnet to put a list on the door or alternatively stick one on your kitchen noticeboard.
What’s free or cheap
If like the Simple household you grow some of your own veg you need to add to your list what’s available to harvest. At the moment it’s peppers and tomatoes. Some things may keep in the ground for a while, whereas others, such as tomatoes and runner beans will need picking before they get too big or rot.
Even if you don’t grow your own it’s advisable to have a think about what’s in season. I feel that we’ve lost touch with this as many veg are available all year round. You’re more likely though to get a bargain on something that’s in season in the UK. I know that some people advocate looking at your supermarket flyer as it will tell you what’s on offer. To some degree I can see the sense in that, but usually many products on offer are highly processed ones that aren’t good for you and are more expensive than buying fresh ingredients.
Once you’ve got a list to draw upon you need to get some recipe ideas. I think that we can get into a rut with our meals and end up cooking the same things week in week out. Whilst we all have our favourites I believe that it’s good to have some variety. You may just discover a new favourite! We’ve got a selection of recipe books that I sit down with regularly. There’s always the internet as well, where you can find thousands of ideas. In more normal times I would regularly get recipe books out of the library. If there were enough recipes that we liked I might consider buying the book, otherwise I’d just photograph the best ones and then take it back to the library.
make your shopping list
When you know what you’re going to be cooking over the next week or month you’ll have identified some ingredients that you need, so make sure that you put them on your shopping list. Having a list when you go to the store or do your online order is a certain way to save money and avoid future waste. It’ll stop you just shoving things in your trolley randomly and finding out when you get home that you can’t quite put together enough meals for the week or a crucial ingredient is missing.
Structure of the plan
What period of time you plan for is up to you. Initially I was creating a monthly menu, but now we are having a supermarket delivery twice a month I’m planning from one delivery to the next.
There’s also the question of which meals you plan for. I started with just noting our evening meals, but more recently I’ve been planning breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. If you’re looking to lose weight or at least keep it under control, particularly when we are all at home so much and taking comfort in food, a clear plan of what you want to pass your lips makes feeling in control so much easier.
As with any plan it makes sense to review it from time to time and make any changes you think would help. Once you’ve been doing it for a few months, if you keep your plans you can look back and make a list of your favourite recipes and where to find them. This can reduce the time you spend going through cookery books, although it’s always fun to have a few new meals each month.
So there we are. Now there’s no excuse not to get planning those meals. I’ve also created some basic sheets to help you get started. Just enter your email address below to get a copy.