A beginner’s guide to meal planning

So you want to spend less at the supermarket? There are four little words you need: Meal plan. Shopping list.

Search through your cupboards and write a list of what you’ve got. And I mean everything – half-eaten jars of peanut butter, that weird looking bit of cheese which has been around forever but hasn’t gone off, those healthy snacks that everyone buys with the best intentions and then never eats… Everything.

Then sit down and figure out what you can do with the food you have. You’ll probably surprise yourself – I can usually manage at least one meal with what I’ve got in, if not more. Things like chickpeas and canned tomatoes are the basis of so many tasty dinners that if you’ve got them and some spices you can usually rustle something up. Next step – which meals have you almost got enough to make? Write down the things which would turn these into a full dinner and that’s the start of your shopping list.

I usually set myself one challenge a week – use up this item, or that item. Last week it was the turn of the ubiquitous dates – bought for a cake of some kind and never used. I blended them with cocoa powder and poppy seeds, rolled them into balls and passed them off as ‘brownie-bites’.  Doing this challenge stops me from getting stuck in a food-rut and it makes sure I’m not wasting food I already have whilst buying more.

At this point, it’s a good plan to check whether Approved Food or Clearance XL have anything you need. Muscle Food is another great idea – if you have the money to ‘invest’ now, a bulk-buy of something like chicken thighs might save you a good amount for next week/the week after.

If you’re a fair distance from the shops, travel can be a real factor in choosing your supermarket or whether to shop online. If you know the cost of your bus ticket/petrol to and from your local food stores, it’s a good plan checking to see whether or not the delivery price is less. When I lived in halls at university, it cost £2.20 for a return to Sainsbury’s on the bus, but only £4 delivery to the flat. My housemates and I would club together and split the shipping cost. It wasn’t a huge saving, but every little helps and if you add it up over the course of a year, you might be surprised as to how much you save. Again, if the travel to a discount supermarket like Aldi/Lidl is too much, it could end up cheaper to shop at one of the more expensive places close by. It’s personal preference, but I really love that you can do Click and Collect at most places now. Ordering online (via Mysupermarket so that I can see who is cheapest) stops me from impulse buying – having someone else stick rigidly to your list will keep you on track where self-discipline won’t. Most stores offer this service for free, and for me it’s worth doing if only to stop the incessant nagging from the kids in the cereal aisle. I need to get a recording of me saying, “I’m sure X does get chocolate cereal for breakfast, but you’re getting Value porridge and you’ll be grateful for it.”

That said, it’s well worth considering the value/basics ranges. Tesco’s Value tea – at less than 30p for 80 bags – is bargainous and if you’re having a bad week money-wise, will certainly not leave you feeling cheated. It’s not as strong as other teas, but if you’re not the builder’s brew sort then where’s the harm in saving a few quid? However… make sure you check the kilo price of food too – just because something says ‘Value’ on, or because the pack size is larger, it doesn’t mean that it’s cheaper. And looking for food in different forms can also be a way to save money – one can of sweetcorn costs around the same as a massive bag of frozen.

I still remember the first time I really tried to stick to a budget – I couldn’t believe just how much money I saved by being mindful and focused on what I was doing. My shopping went from being £70 for two adults a week, to £35. Now, I can do two adults, a four year old and a weaning baby on around £20 (though I do keep a freezer fully stocked with meat). Planning really does work.

What tips do you have for cutting your shopping bill? Are you a fan of vouchers?

— Farn ❤

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3 thoughts on “A beginner’s guide to meal planning

  1. Really need to do the whole inventory thing but it’s so daunting. I know I’ve probably got enough food to feed our little family for about 3 months but I just don’t know what’s in those cupboards. It’s almost like I need a therapist on hand while I write it down!

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