We have meal planned for over 10 years now and what started out of necessity (Chris and I were both earning very little when we first lived together) to keep our food bills low has turned into something that is second nature and dare I say: enjoyable!
Our food ethos revolves around limiting waste – we don’t throw away food, we find a use for it. If I see something in a cupboard that’s been there for a while or a half used pot of creme fraiche, I’ll either incorporate it into a weekly recipe, or find a new interesting dish (BBC Good Food is so good for this, or you can often google ‘what recipe can I use xx ingredients in’).
We do our food shop weekly and we buy in store and mainly from lower priced supermarkets to make it more affordable. Before we do our weekly shop, I go through our fridge, freezer and store cupboards and write down everything we have on a scrap of paper (I don’t always include jars of mustard etc, unless it’s running out or I think we need to finish it).
Then I look through cookbooks, recipe tears, or just discuss with Chris recipes that use up these items first and foremost. Personally, I don’t see the point in meal planning if you’re not using up what you have first. It’s only then that we plan the rest of the week’s meals.
The recipes we choose tend to be those we can make in bulk, eat the next day, save for the kids, or freeze extras. That way, I’m never aimlessly looking in the fridge when I’m hungry for lunch, as there’s always something ready to eat, and I can stay focused on work. We’re now very experienced in the recipes that are great for this, like tray bakes, soups, risottos and shakshuka (a surprise hit in our family!).
There isn’t a week that goes by where we don’t plan what we’re eating. It saves us so much money but also never feels like we’re scrimping (and I genuinely love the meals we make!). Lots of you ask me about it, so if you fancy trying it too, here’s how (it’s really simple, grab a pen)….
WHAT YOU HAVE
Everything in the fridge, freezer and cupboards. I often leave every paste/jar unless I really want to finish it!
WHAT YOU NEED
Regular things like bread, and milk, or things that have run out like dishwasher tablets.
WHAT YOU WANT
Write down delicious meals that use up what you already have (but we also allow ourselves a few meals just because we fancy: like fajitas!). We love The Roasting Tin by Rukmini Iyer, One: Pot, Pan, Planet by Anna Jones (the saffron cauliflower is heavenly and makes me look like I am an accomplished chef!) and Saucy by Nina Parker. For vegan food, Rachel Ama’s cook books are great (she has just brought out a one pot book too!) and I love Melissa Hemsley’s cooking style.
For instance, you have a tin of chickpeas you don’t know what to do with? Buy some tinned tomatoes, coconut milk and curry paste and serve with rice (add onions and ginger if you fancy!). Not sure what to do with that butternut squash? Try roasting with some mushrooms in a traybake with feta.
We also add the days that we are in/out onto the planner, and we tend to freestyle breakfast (generally, in our house as long as we have eggs, bread, Weetabix and yoghurt – we’re good!). We plan a shop like this for a week, but as plans change or we make a bit more than anticipated, especially freezing some meals, a food shop like this will generally last us around 8-10 days (with a bread and milk top up). We also get a medium Oddbox delivered twice a month on top of this, which is so great for helping prevent food waste as well (our Oddbox always makes us try new things and recipes too – it’s celeriac soup this week!).
For the grocery list, we use the Microsoft TO DO app which you can share with a partner/friend/housemate and you will both be able to see when items are ticked off/bought from the list! Very handy.
This might sound too simple for you, it might sound not healthy enough. You might snack more (I know my son will start to eat us out of house and home soon!). It suits us, and more importantly it is completely adaptable. The principles of making larger batches (we usually make stews or tray bakes for 4-8 so there is always something in the freezer ready to eat), so you can freeze and save leftovers, and using what you already have are the most important aspects of this, and make such a difference to how much the weekly shop costs and how much use you get out of your food.
The vital point here is that we enjoy these meals, we never feel like we’re scrimping, or not living our best life. I think there’s a common misconception that eating and feeding your family ‘frugally’ isn’t about having delicious food. That, in my opinion, is a complete falsehood – but obviously deliciousness and palate are subjective, so feel free to adapt this philosophy to something that works for you and your family.
You can also watch my Instagram REEL here.
Henny Coe says
With regard to the tin of chickpeas idea above is that something I could freeze if I’d made extra. It all falls apart for me knowing what I can and can’t freeze.
Such a helpful article. Thank you so much!
Yes! I freeze pretty much anything, except noodles and I’m hesitant with rice! I was browsing through Rachel Ama’s cook book yesterday and she adds whether you can freeze at the bottom of each recipe and how long you can freeze it for x
I couldn’t get through the week without a meal plan! There’s nothing worse than sitting there trying to decide what to cook (I hate making the meal plan but always so grateful when it’s done!).
It saves us so much waste! And is also great when you have a tiny kitchen like ours because we don’t have space for excess food!
I’d love for you to design a shopping list to go alongside the meal planner! I find using an app annoying as often forget my phone, or use it as a scanner and it’s pain to flit between apps!
Oh that’s a point!! Maybe that’s a good idea….I also have not found a perfect ‘to do’ list pad for work !
Desperate to find a recipe that efficiently uses half a bag of slightly soggy spinach leaves – which I always seem to end up with in the fridge! Absolutely agree on the BBC Good Food recipes. Such a useful website.
Oh I throw it in anything! Mac n’ cheese, shakshuka, fried with onions and garlic as a side – but agree, sometimes it doesn’t feel ‘appealing’!