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!

Comments

  1. Great post! I never go shopping without a list and do one main shop a week as we live a 26 mile round trip to a large supermarket. I do support my local village shop where I buy extra milk and local newspapers. I keep a running list of my freezer content and I write my weekly menu alongside my shopping list. We have just properly started growing our own and are making seasonal progress with that project. I made jams, chutnies and bottled fruit this year to store. I very rarely buy things like bread and biscuits as I make most things myself and there are very few days I don’t cook tea from scratch. Next year I hope to buy things like pasta, rice and flour in bulk. Always interested to see how others manage food, shopping, budget etc.

  2. You sound more organised than me! I have to admit, my other half doesn’t always want to eat as early as my daughter and I, so he is a bit of a law unto himself when it comes to his meals and grocery shopping. I haven’t managed to keep it to one weekly shop on account of forgetting things like spread, and more nappies, but it’s been a lot better.

    I’m with you on the biscuits; if I buy any treats like multipacks of crisps or biscuits, I just can’t control myself! So I don’t have them in the house.

    I’d love to have more time to make jams (we made a delicious batch of raspberry jam a couple of years ago) and chutneys. That’s the ultimate goal 🙂 Thanks for dropping by Louise 🙂

Speak Your Mind

*