Meal Planning to Reduce Your Food Budget

I just saw on the news today that September saw the UK’s key inflation rate hit its highest for more than five years. For people like us, this means a hike in already expensive living costs. And more than likely, we’ll see a rise in the food shopping bills. Frugal, thrifty meal planning is going to become even more important than ever, if we don’t want to be out of pocket!

Spicy autumn soup recipe with butternut squash, sweet potato and carrot

Why Meal Planning is Important

Why is meal planning such a good idea? There are several reasons. Let me explain why it’s been a revelation for me.

Before I had my daughter, I was a bad shopper. I mean, I ate fairly well when I cooked my own meals, and enjoy hearty home-cooked food. And of course, I grow a little fruit and veg on the side to supplement us too. But I never really did any kind of meal planning – I just ate what I fancied or what was easiest. I didn’t budget for the weekly food shop, and didn’t really have any idea of what we were collectively spending on food shopping, takeaways and treats every month.

This meant that we often spent way more than we should have done on groceries – each “quick stop” at the supermarket led to getting “a few extras” which soon mounted up. We couldn’t seem to spend less then between £20-40 several times a week.

We were also overeating with huge portion sizes, and were indulging way too much in takeaways. It’s so easy to give in and say “let’s just get a takeaway” when you’re tired, it’s late and you’re not sure there’s anything in the cupboards that you fancy eating.

It’s a really bad attitude – bad for our wallets, and bad for our bellies!

After another month of Rich complaining about the amount of supermarket shops appearing on his bank statements, we decided to collect all the receipts from our grocery shopping and see how much we were spending. After just two weeks, it was clear to see that we were doing it all wrong. 

So I started meal planning, to help us swap to a frugal shopping budget, and encourage us to eat more healthily, more often. Here’s what I’ve learned:

Patatas a lo Pobre vegan Spanish tapas


Thrifty Shopping – How to Get Started with Meal Planning

Meal planning starts before you hit the shops or do your online shop. 

Do a Stock Check
My first tip is to do a “stock check” of what’s in your cupboards, fridge, and freezer. You might be surprised at what you’ve squirrelled away. When I did this, I found that I actually had a week’s worth of meals, bar a couple of bits of fresh vegetables. Consider the likes of flour, sugar and baking goodies – could you throw together a wholesome pie or make a delicious fruity crumble that’ll last you at least three days? See how many meals you make from what you’ve got, and try to organise your cupboards so that you can easily see what’s in there. No hiding tins of butterbeans at the back! 


Organise your cupboards, fridge and freezer
Having done a Marie Kondo declutter in my house (check her out, she’s a bit left field but amazing), I’ve learned that being able to see what I have, and have it in reach, is vital to living a thrifty but happy life. Marie Kondo is the master of finding joy from decluttering in terms of clothes, books, paperwork etc… but her philosophy applies to food too! 

Ask yourself – does this food bring me joy? Yes? Keep it. No? Give it away. No more unwanted jars, tins and boxes of food will lurk in a dark, forgotten corner of your cupboard or freezer. You’ll always have something on hand that you fancy and that you can work with. 

At this point you’ll be able to organise your cupboards so that you can see exactly what you have, and how many items you might have of a particular product. In the long run, this will help make meal planning a doddle. 


Vegan Shepherd's Pie Recipe

Start with meals that you know you love
It would be lovely to try a new and exciting dish every night to expand your culinary endeavours, but if you’re anything like me, you’ll have days when frankly, my dear, you don’t give a damn. You just want food in your belly, and for that food to taste good and fill you up. 

So when doing your first few meal plans, make a list of your favourite go-to meals, and just make sure you vary them throughout the week. Remember, leftovers can be used for lunch the day after next too. As I’m vegan, I’m already thinking about things like my protein, fibre and iron intake for each day, and meal planning definitely helps me to see whether I’m ticking all the nutritional boxes for both me and my non-vegan toddler each day. 

Once you’ve got the hang of meal planning and even have some bulk-made meals in the freezer (see next point), maybe it’s time to start planning for those new recipes you’ve been thinking about trying out. You can also get yourself a nifty meal planner, so that you can keep track of your daily dishes and shopping lists. 


Bulk/batch cook for easy, wholesome meals on busy days
I’m a huge fan of soups, stews, curries and chillies (basically, anything you can eat out of a bowl!), all of which are incredibly easy to batch cook and freeze. These have been so incredibly useful for me on busy days when I need a healthy, tasty meal for me and my daughter, and I’ve been rushed off my feet. I also like to take a frozen portion of chilli or stew into work, let it gently defrost all morning and then just ping it in the microwave for lunch. Saves me having to buy in lunch specially at work and definitely helps with the meal planning, when I know I can just whip something out of the freezer! 

Batch cooking does take planning, because you don’t want to use up all your fresh produce and ingredients for one big bulk cooking session! So best to know exactly when you’re going to make up those batch meals and plan accordingly.

This is also a great approach for when illness hits! As parents with a young daughter, we’re no strangers to a house-full of lurgy several times a year. When we don’t feel like cooking, we know there are a few meal options waiting for us in the freezer. 


Black bean and sweet potato spicy stew


Make a shopping list as you go
If I run out of something vital, I write it down straight away. This means that we don’t forget to buy things and have to make another shopping trip a day after our main shop. Inevitably this leads to less spending! I’ll also re-check the cupboards, fridge and freezer before heading out for the main shop, just to make sure I have everything I need for my planned meals.


Aim for one main shop a week… and stick to your list!
I aim to do one main shop a week and just stick to what’s on the list. No being swayed by treats, or offers and multi-buys… unless they’re something I was going to get anyway. 

If I know in the back of my mind I can go somewhere else and get a few extra bits a lot cheaper, I will do another shop. For instance, I find Poundstretcher and Wilko (virtually next door to each other in my local retail park) often have great half price or less deals on things like shampoo and baby products. Staples like tins of soup, sugar, tinned tomatoes and the like are also often significantly cheaper at Poundstretcher (but sometimes have short use by dates). And Aldi and Lidl are great for products like dried pasta, frozen veggie products, personal care products and more baby bits. It’s about planning and trying to do the most in the least amount of shopping trips. 

I’ve yet to see whether our local markets or farm shops are significantly cheaper than the supermarkets, but if I find that they are, I’ll combine them on the same day as my supermarket shop to ensure that I’m sticking to my budget and meal planning. Watch this space!


Vegetable Trug Gardening


Grow Your Own & Buy in Bulk
Eating seasonally is a great way to reduce your shopping budget, and will help you shake up your meal plans from time to time. We have enough space to grow a little of our own fruit and veg, so I can often add my own produce to the store cupboards and incorporate into our meal plan. For instance, in autumn I know we can batch cook lots of stew and soups as pumpkins and squashes are in abundance! These can be kept in the freezer for a good few months. 

From time to time, we also buy some items in bulk. My favourite bulk buy foods are onions, shallots and potatoes, as these work out massively cheaper when bought in bulk from local suppliers, and are great basic staples for many dishes throughout the week. And it also stops me running out of vital supplies and having to run to the shop, inevitably spending another £10 or £20 by the time I’ve finished!


Need to buy a meal planner?
If you want to invest in a meal planner, I would suggest going for one that incorporates a shopping list – that way, you can plan your meals and plan your shopping around your meals! You can purchase a meal planner on Amazon, or if you want to keep your budget a bit tighter, I love this custom printable PDF meal planner from Etsy. 

Got any meal planning tips to share? Let me know in the comments!

Thinning out Autumn King carrots

Bunch of carrots
For me, the Autumn King carrot is truly a regal offering from the veg plot. It’s always been a winner; a reliable grower with strong, straight roots with plenty of flavour.

Last night I began thinning my carrots out from a thriving patch of haphazardly sown seed. The carrots are approaching maturity and size ready for harvest – maybe they’ve got another 3-4 weeks to go before they’re really ready –  but even the thinned out baby carrots were a decent size.

And the scent as they were pulled from the earth! There’s nothing quite like it.

Little E loved the cooked carrots with her dinner, eating the whole lot along with some other fresh veggies and mashed potato. That’s always been part of my dream – to provide homegrown, fresh organically grown food for my family.

And if our little venture (see previous blog post) comes into fruition, I might be able to start making a little living off the land too.

Vegan Easter weekend feast

We’ve already been spoiled here in Bedfordshire this April, with bright blue skies and highs of 21C last weekend. And although the tulips and daffodils seemed to be positively basking in the summery haze, this week’s chilly breezes are serving as a stark reminder not to get too ahead of ourselves. It’s still spring; cardigans and tights are still very much required, and with Easter only a few days away, we have the perfect weather for a celebratory warming roast.

Lentil squash vegan pie

Where lamb is the traditional centrepiece in British Easter feasts, my vegan take on an Easter main dish is a hearty squash and lentil pie. I hadn’t tried making this particular pie before, but for my roast I wanted a subtle nod to middle eastern cuisine in honour of the origins of the Easter story (recipe below). Accompanied with the usual roast potatoes, parsnips and veggies, it turned out to be a mini shortcrust-encased triumph.

Lentil butternut squash vegan pie

Thanks to Debenhams and their Home collection, for this Easter roast dinner I had a few new kitchen utensils to play with, including a 20 cm copper base saucepan; something I’ve always coveted due to excellent heat conductivity of the copper. (The saucepan’s handy in-built strainer is also a winner, as now I’m officially a busy mum anything that makes life that little bit easier is so, so welcome). You can also check out the multi-use black Joseph Joseph Cut&Carve chopping board here.

Joseph Joseph cut and carve chopping board


(serves 4-6)

1 medium butternut squash, peeled, de-seeded and cubed
3 small sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
3 medium red onions, diced
3 garlic cloves, chopped finely
1 tin green lentils
1 heaped tbsp tomato puree
Vegetable stock
Fresh rosemary sprig or dried rosemary to taste
Dried sage to taste
Mixed herbs to taste
1 tsp Dijon mustard
Olive oil for cooking

For vegan shortcrust pastry
200g/7oz plain flour
Pinch of salt
50g TREX vegetable fat, cubed
50g dairy free spread, cubed
Cold water


Preparing the pastry in advance
1. Sift flour into a bowl, add the salt and rub together the flour and fat to make a breadcrumb consistency.
2. Add a little water at a time (around 1tsp per ounce of flour) gradually to the mixture, making sure the dough does not become too wet. Keep combining the water and fat/flour mix until the breadcrumbs begin to stick together and hold.
3. Knead in the bowl until the dough is smooth and doesn’t crack.
4. Dust a rolling pin with flour and roll out the pastry. If needed, roll flat onto cling film and refrigerate.

Pie filling
1. Preheat oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6
2. Boil butternut squash and sweet potatoes in salted water or with veg stock. Meanwhile, dice onions and finely chop garlic.
3. Once the squash and sweet potato has boiled, set aside until the onions and garlic have softened, then combine boiled veg. Add enough water with veg stock powder to keep the ingredients from burning.
4. Drain the tin of green lentils and add to the mixture, as well as a liberal helping of sage and mixed herbs. Then add the dijon mustard, tomato puree and a fresh rosemary sprig (to be removed before decanting into a dish).
5. Simmer gently for 10-15 minutes and stir occasionally; the mixture should become thicker. Drain off any liquid if necessary and add tomato puree to help thicken if required.
6. Remove pastry from fridge and roll out. Take a shallow casserole dish or pie dish and pour in pie filling ingredients. Lay pastry over the top, trim the edges and crimp. Prick the pastry in a couple of places, and wash with soya milk or almond milk.
7. Cook in oven for 30-40 mins until pastry goldens.

So there it is – something a little bit different to enjoy this Easter weekend. We’ve got plenty of portions of pie to enjoy, so they’ll be going in the freezer ready for another round of roast potatoes and parsnips, and some tasty homegrown veg!

orange tulips