One of the best ways to save money on your grocery costs is to plan your meals. Meal planning can seem overwhelming if you've never done it before, and even more so if you have to stick to a tight budget.
To get the most value for money, you will need to plan meals around what’s already in your pantry, and what's on special offer and/or in season. Meal planning won’t save you money if you buy expensive cuts of meat, out of season produce, and other expensive items all the time.
Here are my top tips:
Do a Stocktake and Use What You Have
One of the easiest ways to save money is to plan as many meals as you can using what you already have in your cupboards. See how many meals you can make using the food you already have, you will probably be surprised at how many meals you can whip up using the ingredients lurking in your cupboards, freezer and fridge.
Use Less Meat
If you can plan a few meals each week that are meatfree then you are sure to save money. Try planning meals around cheap proteins like beans/pulses or eggs. Frozen fish can also be a cost effective option. You can also bulk out meals with vegetables to make less meat go further.
Cook with Cheap Staple Ingredients
Another great way to save money is to base some meals around inexpensive basic foods such as porridge for breakfast, pearl barley risotto for dinner, and pasta salads for lunches.
Keep Things Simple
I plan simple, easy to prepare meals, that make my life easier as well as save money. There's nothing wrong with including time saving tasty meals such as twice baked potatoes or beany burritos, frittatas or pasta bakes, and slow cooker vegetable or meat stews. Include some of your family favourites in the Meal Plan too, there's no point living off lentils for a week if your family won't eat them. As with most changes to routine, it is easier to cope if things change gradually. Perhaps introduce one or two new meals a week at first, bulking out your usual meals with more vegetables, then try introducing more new meals each week as time goes on.
Use up your ingredientsIf you are buying 1kg of rice, try to plan meals that will use it up that week. For example, you could use the rice as a side dish one night and then have Fried Rice for dinner another night, and perhaps make rice pudding for dessert or after school snacks. The same goes for pasta, if you find you have lots of part packets of different shaped pasta, put it in a Minestrone or pasta bake to use it up. Any stray tins of pulses or lentils can be put into a chilli or bolognese to make it go further and also increase the fibre content of the meal.
Cook From Scratch When You Can
Convenience food has its place, but shouldn’t be relied upon all the time, especially when you’re on a tight budget because it costs more and is usually not the healthiest option. Anything that you can learn to make at home instead of buying it will save you money. A homemade pasta sauce can be made for pennies, and will contain much more flavour and much less sugar than some commercially made ones. Herbs and spices can be purchased cheaply in the ethnic food aisle of the supermarket or from local shops, they are also brilliant for buying rice, beans, and some grains in bulk. A slow cooker is brilliant for making stocks, soups, and stews.
Make the most of expensive ingredientsFor example, if we have a roast chicken for dinner one night, I make another two meals with the leftover cooked chicken and stock with the carcass. Use good quality sausages, with a high percentage of meat, to flavour a stew that will last a couple nights, or dinner and a couple of lunches.
Love Your Leftovers
We don't waste anything if we can possibly avoid it. I quite often make double the amount of dinner so we can enjoy a quick dinner later in the week, or freeze it for when we need a quick meal instead of buying a takeaway. Leftovers are also great for lunches. If we have small portions of leftover dinner I freeze them in smaller portions for a quick toddler dinner, or in larger portions for teenagers to defrost, reheat and eat, before they dash off to evening clubs.