If you’re new to meal planning, that could be for a number of reasons; You don’t like to plan too far ahead. How do you know what you’ll fancy to eat on Wednesday when it’s only Saturday? You haven’t got time.
Well, I hate to break it to you but we all have the same hours in the day. Spending a bit of extra time at the weekend to plan ahead for the week will save you literally hours the following week. Honestly. In my house, the perpetual conversation approaching mealtime in the evening used to go like this;
JT: “What shall we have for tea tonight?
Me: “Dunno, what do you fancy?
JT: “Dunno, what do you fancy?
Then we have a bit of back and forth discussing ideas and then 20 minutes have passed and we’re no closer to deciding! Some nights we just get so sick of trying to decide that we just switch the oven on and stick something frozen on a tray to cook.
Planning ahead takes all of this away. You know what you’re having and what night you’re having it on. You can even do a lot of the prep days in advance to save even more time.
Create a week-long meal plan
If you’re anything like me, you probably stick to the same handful of go-to meals because it’s easy! Occasionally, we do see a recipe and have a go but in the main, we tend to have probably the same dozen or so meals.
To start with, make a list of all your usual go-to meals. Then have a think about other stuff you may not have had for a while but want to try again or have a go at cooking yourself.
Once you’ve done this, you’ll be able to see what ingredients you will need and which ones can be used in multiple meals.
If you or any other people in your house that you feed, need lunches to take to work/school, etc, rather than spending money in canteens or sandwich shops, think of what ingredients you also need for this. One good tip (if it’s feasible depending on your facilities) is to consider taking leftovers from dinner the night before or using meat from a roast dinner to fill sandwiches, you get the idea. I always end up making way too much but even if you don’t, just consider chucking a few extra ingredients in to create an extra portion or 2.
Write a shopping list from your week-long plan
Once you’ve worked out what meals you want to make over the next week, make a list of the ingredients you will need. If you’re familiar with your local supermarket layout, section your list into meats, bakery, tins, etc. this will help you to just get the stuff you need and not be distracted by other things as you wander aimlessly. An even better way to save money with this is to shop online. Doing this means you’re much less likely to be tempted by special offers or items you just don’t need. If there are ingredients that you can use in multiple meals this is a good money saver. Whether it’s buying a slightly bigger chicken for the Sunday roast so you are able to have sandwich fillings for a few days or getting that bigger portion of mince and some beans to turn a spaghetti bolognaise into a chilli. Which brings me to my next point….
Use ingredients which can be used for more than one meal
When it comes to creating a meal plan, writing all the meals for the week down will help you see what ingredients you will need. Trying to buy ingredients that can be used in a number of your meals will help keep your costs down. For example, you plan to make a spaghetti bolognaise and a chilli. Instead of having one at the beginning of the week and one at the end, why not have them one day after the next. This way you can purchase a large pack of mince (which will work out cheaper than two smaller portions) and use one lot of tomato sauce and puree. Once you have portioned out the bolognaise mix, simply add a tin of beans and some spices to the rest and this will thicken up the remaining sauce giving you your chilli for the next day. (or day or 2 after actually as it will keep just fine in a container in the fridge) Ya get me?
Stick to your list when you do your shop
I pretty much have zero willpower. Therefore, me walking past 2 for 1’s on chocolate is about as likely as Bradley Cooper declaring his undying love for me. It’s important though to try to stick to your list as much as you can if you want to save money. The occasional extra or a good multibuy is great every once in a while but constantly throwing them in your trolley results in spending more money, taking more time and putting on more weight!
Buy cheaper brands
It’s really easy to be sucked in by branded products with a well-known name. Switching to a supermarket’s own-brand products rather than popular brand products is a good money-saving option. Switch up where you shop too. If you go to the most expensive supermarket (in the UK this would the likes of M & S or Waitrose), you’re going to spend more. There’s nothing wrong with shopping somewhere cheaper. After all, a potato is the same wherever you buy it from surely? This applies to so many products and could end up saving you loads.
You know what you’re having when so there’s no reason why you can’t prep your meals beforehand. Taking a couple of hours on a Sunday afternoon can save hours during the week. If you’re making a dish that requires vegetables, prep and chop everything and store them in airtight containers in the fridge. If you’re making sauces, make a batch and pop it in the fridge. Making a spice mix for chilli or curry? Pre-mix it. This sort of thing will save time as you’ll have all of the stuff out that you need such as knives, store cupboard ingredients, etc. and can do one load of washing up.
One of my fave ways to cook stuff is in the slow cooker. Honestly, it’s so versatile, you can pretty much make anything in there. If you’re doing chilli, spaghetti bolognaise, curry, soup, casserole, whatever, having all your stuff pre-prepared means you literally sling it into the slow cooker with whatever sauce, etc you’re using and switch it on before you head to work. My slow cooker has an auto setting so it just switches on and off during the day to maintain the same temperature. This avoids overcooking anything.
Cooking this way means it’s ready when you want it, less washing up, and you don’t have to watch over it cooking.
Overall, meal prepping means more time to spend doing the things you want in the evening. Winner winner, chicken dinner. (see what I did there? ?)
Have you got any top tips for saving time and money when it comes to cooking? Let me know in the comments.