I wish that I had been given some sort of guide to meal planning on a budget when I first moved away from home. I look back at those years and cringe at just how much food, and money, I was wasting. It wasn’t until I had my first child that I started to seriously look into meal planning. Children aren’t cheap to look after, and maternity pay isn’t huge, so tightening our belt braces was a necessity and one good way to do that was by meal planning.
I have tried all sorts of methods over the years and have adapted them to fit in with what was best for our circumstances at the time. For example; when M & G were babies I found it really suited me to plan a whole month’s worth of meals – whereas now I work with either a one week or fortnightly plan because that works better for us right now. I can see this changing again, possibly back to monthly, very soon… but that’s the great thing about meal planning – it’s adaptable.
If you think that meal planning is something you should be doing, but aren’t sure where to start then read on for my top tips…
8 Tips for Meal Planning on a Budget
Check your cupboards
Every time you start meal planning the very first thing to do is check what you already have in stock. Check the fridge, the freezer and the cupboards, and make a note of everything – including everyday items such as flour, sugar, oils, and herbs and spices. You might be pleasantly surprised by what you find.
Work out your budget
Work out how much you can afford to spend over the course of the week, fortnight, month (however long your meal plan is), and then divide it by the number of days. Knowing roughly how much you can afford to spend each day can make a huge difference to how you plan. You don’t need to religiously stick to that figure each day – you may be able to spend less on some days, which means that on other days you can spend a bit more (ie; you might spend under your daily budget on a Tuesday and Thursday so that you can spend more at the weekend, maybe for a big roast dinner on Sunday)
Sometimes I am completely at a loss for meal ideas – I find this is particularly the case if I am doing a weekly plan for some bizarre reason. I don’t know why. But, there are a wealth of resources available to help you come up with ideas according to budget, cuisine or dietary requirement. My favourite websites to get ideas include BBC Good Food, Good to Know, and Cooking on a Bootstrap (Jack Monroe’s website)
Jot down those meal ideas – put them in a big list that you can call upon in future.
Organise your calendar – Use Leftovers Wisely and Cut Waste
This is such an important element of meal planning on a budget. Leftovers are your friend. That roast chicken you had on Sunday – use the leftover meat in a risotto, or stir fry on Monday. Chuck the carcass into a pot with an onion, a leek and a couple of carrots, along with some herbs and you have the makings of a pretty good soup.
Also, if you are planning a recipe that requires a certain ingredient that you may not use often then try to find another recipe that uses it later in the week.
Cooking in bulk is one of the best things you can do. If you are planning to make a bolognese for example then make enough for several meals and freeze what you don’t use. Not only does it cut costs it’s also an absolute time saver on a weeknight when you want to get dinner on the table in a hurry.
Bulk it Out / Substitute
If you are a meat eater then you know that meat can be expensive. Look at ways to cut down on the amount of meat you use, either by substituting some, or all, of an ingredient with an alternative such as lentils or vegetables. This a great way to save money while losing none of the flavour.
Order Online or Time Your Shop
The ability to do a food shop online has been the single biggest money saver for me. No matter how strict I am with my shopping list, when I go to the supermarket you can guarantee that a couple of extra items will end up in my shopping basket. Now I do a big online order once or twice a month and only pop to the shop for top up items such as fresh fruit and veg. Many supermarkets now offer delivery for as little as £1 so it really can be a cost effective option.
If you are lucky enough to have several supermarkets close by, or they offer delivery in your area, then using a comparison site such as mysupermarket.co.uk will show you who offers the most cost effective options.
If online ordering isn’t an option then, if possible, try to hit up the supermarkets when they are most likely to have their reduced items. For many supermarkets, this will be late in the evening, one to two hours before closing. The savings you can make by going at this time can be considerable.
While I like to do a big order online each month for items I can freeze and store there will be some items, mainly fresh fruit and veg, that I will have to buy weekly. I try to buy all my fruit and veg at a local greengrocer if possible, rather than the supermarket. Buying local means the quality is often superior, often cheaper, the product is generally ‘in season’ and of course you will be supporting local businesses. It’s a win-win situation all round.
Premium Brand vs Supermarket Own Brand
If your shop contains premium brand items then why not try out the supermarket own brand version instead – you may be pleasantly surprised.
Have you got any meal planning tips that you would like to share? Why not pop a comment below? I’d love to know!
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