The simple trick that can slash your food bill

posted by in Budgeting, Money saving

There’s something you can do right now that will cut down food waste, save you money and make shopping easier. And it only takes about five to ten minutes a week to do.

It’s not a big secret; you don’t need anything more than a pen and paper, and you can get started right now.

This simple trick is this: making a weekly food plan.

It’s the kind of thing that many people recommend but few people actually stick to it. You plan out what meals you’re going to eat for the week ahead and use that as the basis for your shopping.

I’ve recommended following a food plan to hundreds of people over the years when giving debt advice but have only started doing it myself in the last few weeks. I’ve been really surprised by how this small change has made a big difference to my life and to my finances.

Why make a food plan?

Making a food plan makes sense for several reasons. Since starting to make a food plan every week I…

  1. Save money: If you base your food shopping on your meal plan then you’ll only need to buy the things you’ll use. This reduces food waste and cuts costs, so it’s a double win!
  2. Save time: I find doing the food shopping annoying. Having a meal plan means I can go in, get the things I need and get out in much less time because I’m not having to think nearly as much.
  3. Reduce hassle: Have you ever peered into your fridge and wondered how you can make the bizarre mix of food into a meal? Well, I have, but not anymore. Knowing what you’re going to eat in advance means you don’t have to try and turn a radish, three eggs and a browning avocado into something delicious.
  4. Improve my diet: If you’ve not got a plan in place it can be tempting to treat yourself to something unhealthy, which is fine now and again, but when it’s all the time it can be a problem. With a meal plan, I’ve found it’s much easier to stick to a diet and I can still allow for the odd indulgent meal.4 reasons to make a meal plan - cheaper, quicker, easier and healthier

How do I make a food plan?

Making a meal plan is incredibly simple – it’s really just making a list. You need to get a pen and paper, though you could use a free note-making app such as Google Keep if you prefer.

There are also some pretty meal planner templates on Pinterest if you want something to print out and write on.

Then you make a list of the food you’re going to eat in the next week.
You can work out a system that suits you. I prefer to plan my evening meal out on a daily basis but then just have a list of options for lunch and breakfasts. That means you’ve got a clear idea of what you’ll be having in the evenings but can be spontaneous at times too.

When planning out the food, it’s worth thinking about what you’re wanting to achieve. Having a hungry one-year-old bashing his hands on his high chair table means that most meals in our house need to be cooked quickly, so lately I’ve been thinking about meals that can be put together in minimum time but still have a good variety for my little boy.

If cutting your costs is most important you can focus on cheap meals, or if you’re hoping to lose a few pounds you can stick in some healthy but appealing meals to make sure you stick to your diet.

Example meal plan

Here’s my meal plan for this week:

Monday – Corned beef hash – A huge favourite with my son

Tuesday – Chicken fajitas – Need to remember to remove a baby-sized portion before adding spices

Wednesday – Chicken and bacon salad – Using up the chicken from the day before

Thursday – Tuna pasta bake – Mostly store cupboard ingredients, so can be swapped around if plans change

Friday – Sausage, egg and chips – An old favourite

Saturday – Spaghetti bolognaise – A Saturday night treat, to avoid the takeaway temptation

Sunday – Beans on toast – Quick and easy option

Lunches: Leftovers, sandwiches, houmous and carrots, pork pie, sliced peppers, soup, scrambled egg, cheese and crackers

Breakfast: Cereals, toast, eggs, fruit

Snacks: Nuts, fruit, crisps, biscuits

If you’re stuck for ideas or in a bit of a food rut, LoveFoodHateWaste.com has a two week meal planner already filled with recipes for dinner. You can find a further selection of recipes on the website as well.

8 tips to get the most out of your food plan

I’ve only been making food plans for a few weeks now but I’ve already worked out a few tips that can help you get the most out of your meal plan:

  1. Plan your meals around your calendar – Plan easier-to-cook meals when you know you’ll be short of time and the most elaborate recipes for days when you’re less busy.
  2. Use a mixture of meals using fresh food and things from the cupboard – Make sure at least one or two of your meals use ingredients that last a long time. That way you have more flexibility if your plans change and you’re not forcing yourself to eat things because they’ll soon be out of date.
  3. Be strict in the shops – Supermarkets are designed to tempt you into buying more than you really need. Having a meal plan means you only need to buy the things on your list, so resist buying things unless you know they’ll fit with the things you’ve planned. It might also be easier to do your shopping online, to avoid any temptation.
  4. Swap a day – If you don’t have time to cook your planned meal, or just don’t fancy it, then swap with a meal from another day. As long as everything stays in date it really doesn’t matter when you eat which meal. If you find there are some meals you never fancy then stop putting them in your meal plan.
  5. Give yourself something to look forward to – If it’s Saturday night and I’m in the house I know that I’m going to fancy a takeaway. Having something home-cooked and tasty takes away that temptation. Check out SkintDad’s Fakeaway ideas for inspiration.
  6. Look in the fridge before making your plan – Make sure your meals for the week ahead are going to use up whatever is going to go out of date in the next week (moving short-dated food to the front of the fridge is an easy way to make sure you don’t forget about it). Then you can work out what else you need to buy to make the meals you’re planning.
  7. Get everyone involved – The whole household can get involved in making your meal plan. Kids will love being able to choose what you’re going to eat and if you all agree then there shouldn’t be any chance of people turning their noses up at meal time.
  8. Take the store cupboard challenge – Our blogger pal Penny Golightly has invented a challenge to help you use up the stuff in the back of your cupboards. The store cupboard challenge is a good way to save money on food while making space in your cupboards. If you saw my cupboards you’d think I was preparing for the zombie apocalypse, so this is something I should definitely do.

Are you a meal planner? Get involved

Making a meal plan has really improved my life, which isn’t something I’d expected to be writing before I started. I’ve noticed that I’m spending less on food, throw out much less food and that shopping has become quicker and easier.

If you’ve experimented with meal planning then we’d love to hear your stories, good and bad! It might not suit every situation but it can be a great way to get organised. Pop a comment below and share your experiences.

James Winterbottom has been a debt advisor for six years. Away from work he is an amateur app developer and writes fiction. James is a lifelong supporter of Huddersfield Town football club, which suggests he is either very loyal or very daft. He also likes to talk about himself in the third person in bio pages.

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