With my family of four, food plays a big part in our daily lives. But I don't want to spend all my time in the kitchen and I definitely want to have more money in my pocket, so my meal planning hacks to save both time and money are a life saver.
My meal planning hacks to save time and money came out of resentment. Constantly hearing, “What’s for dinner mum?”, every evening started to really grate on me. I mean come on, how the hell was I supposed to know what’s for dinner. In my head I’d be thinking, “I’ve just stepped into the house and haven’t even taken my coat off. Do you think I’ve been at work all day thinking of culinary delights to cook up and serve tonight?” But the reality was – my kids really thought I had! And what’s more, their faces were always waiting for me to respond with something exciting, delicious and served up on their plate within 30 minutes.
This question would really get on my nerves for two reasons. Firstly, it was their expectation that I always had an answer straight away. Secondly, it was my own mum guilt of not having an answer! The guilt would always result in ordering a takeaway, just to see the excitement on their face and pretend that was my plan all along.
But the start of my debt free journey meant I could no longer charge my takeaways to my credit card. I had to find a solution that would feed my family AND give me back the time I was spending in the kitchen on the days when I was cooking.
That’s where meal planning came in.
I’m coming from the standpoint of a mother with two very hungry boys. However, if you have no children, are single or it’s just you and your bae, my meal planning hacks will still save you money and time – what ever your circumstances.
The main thing to remember is to keep it simple, easy and consistent. That’s how all habits are built. And hey, think about all the things you could do with your newly found time and money!!
Meal Planning Hacks to Save Money and Time
Keep it Simple
Don’t start rummaging through old cookery books or collecting recipes from the internet just yet! Think about the meals you’ve eaten over the last two – three weeks. Chances are, you’ve probably eaten the same thing at least twice over that period of time. Make a list of the meals you usually eat and start from there.
If you can get to a list of about 14 meals to start with, you have the beginnings of a two week meal plan! (If you don’t have 14 meals, that’s OK. There’s nothing wrong with eating left overs the next day. Or saving the left overs for another day in the month.)
Decide Your Menu
With all the different daily demands you have, the weekly menu must fit in with your needs. On a piece of paper, plot your meals across the 14 days bearing in mind any commitments, late working schedules, or time allowances you have. You need to make it easy to stick to the plan by not trying to cook a beef stew on the day you know you get home after 7pm!
Check Your Food Cupboards
Before you get excited and go off to buy all the things you need to make your meals, check your cupboards. Starting a food planning habit is the best excuse to have a good clear out and get rid of anything you have lurking at the back of the cupboards. (I had 3 jars of mint sauce when I started – random!!)
Plan What You Need to Buy
From your 14 meals, write down the ingredients you need to make each one. More than likely, many of them will have similar ingredients. Make a list of the amounts of each ingredients you need to feed the household- and double it!
Yes, I know I said this would save you money and it will. By buying twice the amount you need – you will never run out of anything over the month. This will mean less time ‘popping to the shop’ to pick up any missing ingredients and spending an additional £10 on the special offers on display in store.
Stick to The List
Do not, and I repeat – DO NOT, go into any supermarket without a list. Do you know how much money you could save a month by sticking to a list? For me, it was about £50!! (That’s over £600 a year). Make a list – and stick to it.
Cook in Bulk
The best time for me to cook in bulk is the weekends. Yes I may spend an extra hour or so in the kitchen, but that adds up to be about 4-5 hours saved over the course of the week.
If you’re cooking rice – cook double the potion and freeze the rest. Plan to have spag bol or lasagne over the next two weeks? Cook all the mince at once and freeze a portion. If you’re a lover of lentils, peas or beans – cook them in large batches and use them over the week. Major time savers!!
Batch your Portions
Another hack why you should buy double when you go shopping, is so you can split your meals into portions when you cook in bulk. Get a few containers and some labels to batch your portions after your bulk cooking session. This saves time and also ensures you always have something at hand to put together on a really hectic evening.
Utilise your Freezer
My freezer is my best friend! Literally, if I didn’t want to cook fresh for the whole of this upcoming week, I could feed my family every day. By having meals I cooked in bulk portioned out in the freezer, I’m able to plan my week between cooking fresh and pulling something from the freezer when I have no time and energy. You have no idea how happy you feel when you come home later than expected and all you have to do is boil pasta because your Bolognese is already cooked and waiting in the freezer!
With any new habit, consistency is key. Once you start getting into the rhythm of planning your meals, start to add a few new meals to the menu. I currently have a full 30 day menu plan, which may sound like a lot. However, some of the items are doubled, some days are take always and some are pulled from the freezer. Being consistent also minimises the amount of food waste, as you develop your plan to ensure all short life ingredients are used up during the week.
Take a Night Off
Always ensure you factor in a break (or two) over the month. If you do the majority of cooking in the house, you deserve a night off. And because you’ve been so diligent in your meal planning, use some of the money you’ve saved to buy the nice bottle of wine to accompany your take away or date night.
Meal Planning can seem like a big task to start. But my meal planning hacks to save money and time will make a huge difference to your life. At this point in my meal planning habit, I do one big shop a month and only have to visit the supermarket for bread, fruits and veg – with my list in hand!
I no longer get that pit in my stomach when I know my kids will ask ‘what’s for dinner’. I know exactly what’s it’s going to be, how long it will take to prepare and how much time and money I’m saving.