Planning meals into a weekly menu WILL save you money on your food shopping without any doubt. So, make this a fun event and involve the whole family in deciding what meals you all love to eat…
The following is an excerpt from my ebook, “Real food 7-day menu for just £50 per week“
Before you get your budget-menu planning hat on, here are some great tips to bear in mind when you’re working out what meals you’d like to include for the next 7 (delicious!) days:
- Do your level best not to waste any fresh veggies
Why? Any food you throw away is money thrown away. And, the more food you can make use of, the less you’ll be buying in the long run. You can eat broccoli stalks, you can eat cauliflower leaves, you can freeze bananas… Check out the Love Food Hate Waste website for tons of recipe ideas. I found the Love Food Hate Waste course to be such an informative (and free) afternoon, and I’d recommend it to anyone. I’m literally saving £10-15 per week purely because of it.
- Cook extra food to use in another meal
Why? Making enough food for 2 meals will save you gas/electric on cooking, and you won’t need to spend much effort on chopping and preparing next time. Cooked food will last 2 days in the fridge, so the next time you’re roasting or boiling veggies, cook twice as much as you’ll need for your meal and save the rest to use as either bubble and squeak or to bung into a blender to make a very easy veggie soup for later.
- Go veggie for most of the week (and here’s a great cheap menu for inspiration)
Why? Apart from environmental reasons – I’m sure you’ll agree that real meat is expensive. So, instead of opting for cheap processed meats with all their mystery ingredients and high salt content, consider which foods you can cook in a vegetarian way – Bolognese, chilli’s, curries, lasagnes – can all be done as veggie versions. (Butternut squash lasagne is a really popular favourite in our house.) It’s important to remember that if you eat mostly veggie meals to make sure there’s protein included in your meals from another source – e.g. eggs, milk, yogurt, fish and seafood, soya, nuts and seeds, peas, quinoa, all manner of beans, chickpeas, tofu, leafy greens, and even cocoa powder.
- Double-up the portions
Why? If you cook double the amount of food where you can, you’ll have some to set aside for the freezer, or to eat the next day. That’ll save you a lot of cooking and energy next time around as you can get some economical use out of your microwave when warming them up. But, please do get into the habit of defrosting food naturally rather than using extra energy (and expense) from the microwave.
- Pad out any meaty meals with a LOT of veg
Why? If meat or ‘stodge’ (like pasta, rice, potatoes and bread) normally forms majority of a meal for you, then consider reducing the portions of these and replacing them with veggies or salad – as much as half a plateful of it if you can. Kids of course need more carbs than adults so ¼ of a plate of veggies is fine for them – if you can get them to eat the veg, that is!
- Don’t buy cartons of fresh juice
Why? All manner of ingredients go into so-called fresh juice, including a heck of a lot of sugar (you can read more about it here). Plus, it’s expensive. The best way to get fresh juice is to buy the fruit yourself and squeeze it yourself and know that just an inch-worth of fresh juice in a glass is enough for one of your 5-a-day. And, if you want that home-made fresh juice to last (or if your oranges are getting past their best), squeeze them and pour the juice into small pots and freeze it for another day.
- Consider cooking a roast once a week (and try out this menu for inspiration)
Why? If you boil/roast a chicken or a meat joint every weekend – you’ll find that you can get at least 3 meals out of it if you keep the portions to no more than the size of a deck of cards, per person. For example, on a Friday, I could boil a chicken and that gives us a Sunday dinner (even though it’s on a Friday!), it makes a very quick and yummy chicken and veggie curry for the freezer, plus chicken salad sandwiches for lunch the next day. So, that’s one meal that takes a bit of effort to start with but gives us 2 further meals that are easy peasy.
Note: Beware of cheap cuts of meat that take several hours to cook… I’ve found that these tend to work out as a false economy as the money I’ve saved on meat is being spent on the amount of energy involved in cooking it.
- Make some ‘oven only’ meals
Why? I actually discovered this by accident when my grill had packed up… Using the grill and the hob can cost you extra £s that could be saved by making more frugal use of the oven. For example, if you want to cook meat with some veg, and you’d normally grill the meat and boil the veg, consider baking the meat instead on an oven tray with lots of roasted veggies around it, sprayed with oil. That way, the whole meal is cooked in one go – saving you time, money and washing up! And – if there’s a spare shelf in your oven, maybe there’s something else you’ve got that you could cook at the same time to save in the fridge for tomorrow, and simply microwave to heat it up when you need it? After all, if you’re going to the effort of cooking, it’s a bonus when you get an easy meal next time.
- Take your own food to work
Why? Work out if it’s worth taking your own food to work, because it might just work out cheaper to cook more food the night before and warm it up at work the next. It’s one of those things that takes a lot of discipline to master and become a real daily habit. But just remember, convenience will cost you in the end.
But enough of my ramblings! Let’s crack on with your menu. It’s time to set yourself a personal challenge to make a sh*t hot menu with plenty of choice so nobody ever gets bored with it – in just a few easy steps…
- What meals do you all love to eat?
On single post-it notes (or bits of paper), encourage everyone to write down all the meals you eat regularly in your household – right down to breakfasts, snacks and drinks.
- Sort your meals into ‘meal piles’
Arrange your post-its into separate piles for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and drinks.
- Place your meals into ‘day piles’
Arrange your breakfasts, lunches and dinners into days. Be realistic – really think about the days when cooking is a drag and place some easy meals into those instead. Think about what day you normally go shopping too, as you’ll want to use up fresh food during the first few days.
- Add some alternative meals for more choice
So that you never get bored with your menu, it’s really important to have some alternative meal choices every day. For example, perhaps on one mealtime you’ve got ‘beans and cheese on toast’ on your menu, so you could decide to add an alternate meal option of ‘beans and cheese on a jacket potato’, and a third option of ‘cheesy potato wedges with beans’’. Aim to have at least 3-4 meal alternatives to choose from every day that won’t involve buying many additional ingredients.
- Make your meals even cheaper
Go an extra step further and work out how you could make your meals creatively cheaper. Maybe it’s by cooking a double portion on one evening, and freezing the rest for next week? Or, maybe you could remove the meat from a meal and make a vegetarian version? Or – perhaps you could swap that jar of curry sauce and use a tin of tomatoes and curry powder instead? Every small change you make will cut the cost of your food bill, so it’s well worth scrutinising every single meal and removing the most expensive ingredients from it.
- Make it healthy
Take a look at your meals and work out how to make them as healthy as you can by making sure you’ve got a portion of protein on the plate (e.g. eggs, milk, yogurt, fish and seafood, soya, nuts and seeds, meat, poultry, peas, quinoa, all manner of beans, chickpeas, tofu, leafy greens, and even cocoa powder), a portion of what I call ‘stodge’ (potatoes, rice, pasta, bread), and as much as half a plate of veggies or salad – but please avoid bagged salad – here’s why. You can also read more about portioning your food frugally, here.
You’ll find that cutting down a little on meat and stodge and adding much more veg will bring the cost of your food bills down. Of course, this can’t happen with every single meal, but if you can do this for 50% of your meals at the very least, you’ll be on the road to a fabulous healthy diet for everyone in the household, and you’ll be saving cash in the process.
And there you have it, your family menu. Print it out and pin it up, save it on your phone, but most importantly, keep it alive. Review it and refine it every single week. Find out what meals worked and what didn’t work. Work out which meals worked out as too expensive and could be replaced completely with something else. Discover which meals were a pain to prepare and chuck ’em. Add and change meals as the seasons change too. Use your menu as the basis for your weekly shopping list. Most of all, be especially proud of your menu and all of the effort you’ve put into it because this will motivate you into keeping on top of it.
How to save more money whilst feeding your family on a budget…
- Weekly 7-day menus for your family that amount to no more than £50 per week.
- All about food – Where it comes from, what they put into it, how it gets from farm to fork, and why it should be organic, fair trade, local and seasonal.
- Eating healthily – My discoveries on what foods are best for us and what portions they should be served in, how best to cook and store foods, myth-busting on foods the media have convinced us are ‘healthy’, and any other health concerns when it comes to cooking and eating healthily.
- Simple recipes – together with a ‘cost per meal’, and cost of cooking.
- Making life easier – problem solving when it comes to fitting healthy food and extra cooking into a busy lifestyle.
- Honest reviews – book reviews, course reviews (from great courses I’ve attended like Love Food Hate Waste, CAPmoney and the Open University) and reviewing time-saving labour-saving gadgets that I’ve invested in from the money I’m saving on not buying processed foods.
- Shopping tips – tactics that help me beat the supermarkets at their own game so I can keep my hard-earned cash in my pocket, not theirs!
- Ebooks – whenever I have enough information on a particular subject, I’ll package it up into an ebook – great for you as you’ll have everything in one place at a super-cheap price of just £2, and great for me as it’ll help me to afford the hosting costs for this blog.
Or you can find out what the very latest posts are here to discover even more food for thought.