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Meal Planning to Save Money

Rebecca BebbingtonRebecca Bebbington · Jun 9, 2022

Want to cut the cost of your food shop? Have a read through our budget meal planning tips to save money and eat healthily!

With the cost of food on the up, a weekly meal plan is a fantastic way to save money on your food shop while still enjoying the tasty meals you love.

Food costs are one of the most flexible expenses, all it takes is some simple forward planning. Creating a Menu, Batch Cooking & Bulking out your Meals are our 3 steps for trimming down your budget while still cooking up a storm in the kitchen.

How to save money when cooking

Step 1: Create a Menu

The first step to saving money on meal planning starts at home before you even set foot anywhere near a supermarket. Shopping without a list or menu in mind is one of the easiest ways to overspend. Instead, you should aim to organise your food shop around each meal you plan to eat during the week to ensure you’re only buying essential ingredients.

Create a Menu

And if you’re looking to save money on your food shop, try downshifting brands when planning your meals. Try opting for the supermarket’s own brand or cheaper branded products to save money. More often than not, you will find little to no difference in taste but a huge contrast in price.

Use Ingredients you Already Have

Use Ingredients you Already Have

When creating your menu, try and focus your meals around ingredients you already have at home. If there’s pasta, passata and onions in the cupboard, you’re only a few ingredients away from a spag bol. Buy the few bits you need to complete the meal and pay a fraction of the price it would have cost to buy everything from scratch.

Use Simple Ingredients

If you’re really cutting back, you should also consider sticking to simple ingredients. Meals like chicken and rice and chicken pasta are really affordable, easy to cook and healthy! In fact, you’ll find that any meal containing grains like pasta and rice is affordable to buy in bulk- not only do grains go with everything, but they also have a long shelf life.

Other simple ingredients you can make use of are herbs & spices. These can be used to make different types of curries, pasta and meat dishes without the need for extra fresh produce. 

Use Simple Ingredients

Stock up your spice cupboard and transform plain ingredients into a variety of different meals. Just make sure you avoid buying overpriced small spice pots, non-branded spices are basically the same and are much more affordable. 

If you have a go-to spice that you include in every meal, you could consider buying it in bulk. Loads of stores offer refill services, allowing you to take home a large jar of your favourite herbs for a small fee. This not only saves money, but it’s also much more eco-friendly!

Although simple ingredients are more affordable, there are still ways to enjoy more adventurous meals without overspending. BBC Food has loads of £1 dinners on their website with everything from Beanie Burgers to Vegan Singapore Noodles included. 

Another great place to visit is the Cooking on a Bootstrap blog by Jack Monroe. Here, you’ll find more than 10 years’ worth of tasty recipes that cost less than £1.

Avoid Special Ingredients

The only thing to consider when choosing which of these meals to cook is whether any of them require a special ingredient. If you’re trying to keep costs low it’s best to avoid a complicated ingredients list and opt for one that features everyday goods that can be found in your fridge. 

However, if you do fancy trying something new and need a pot of harissa, caramelised onion or any other special ingredient, make sure it doesn’t go to waste. For the next few days, you should plan meals that also incorporate this ingredient to ensure you’re still getting the most value out of your money.

Use Seasonal Recipes

Another way to keep things interesting in the kitchen is to plan seasonal recipes. Not only are ingredients much cheaper to buy when they’re in season, but it’s also exciting to switch things up with new flavours. Compile a list of your menus and recipes and each year, when a new season comes around, you can refer back to it. Not only will this save you time it’ll also keep things fresh.

Go Meat-Free

Go Meat-Free

If you really want to switch things up, why not try going meat-free one day a week? Meat can often bump up your food shop bill so this is a good way to keep costs down while also doing your bit for the planet! Opt for vegan or soya-based products instead and keep your nutrition balanced by eating low-cost protein-rich foods such as spinach, eggs, lentils and dairy.

Plan your Leftovers

While planning your menu, you should also consider the number of leftovers you’re going to have. If there are only two of you in the house, it’s likely that you’ll be left with a few portions after cooking. These leftovers make great lunches for work or can be reheated for tea the following day. The main thing to consider is whether your meal is going to keep your fridge stocked for a couple of days. If so, then you can avoid buying extra food.

When cooking your meals, you should also utilise any food waste you have leftover. Veg peelings, chicken carcases and food that has reached its best before can always be used in soups and smoothies. This is a great way to make meals for next to nothing.

Plan your Meals around Discounted Food

Once you do start shopping, have a look around your local supermarket for any reduced to clear or sale items. If you find some discounted bits, pull a different recipe from your catalogue of menus and make something different. Or, if you don’t want to veer off course, you can always buy and freeze the discounted item and use it in the future.

Step 2: Batch Cooking your Meals

If you’ve never considered batch cooking or meal prepping, you really could be missing a trick! While it can be convenient to grab prepackaged foods in the supermarket, batch cooking food in larger quantities can be much more affordable as well as being a healthier alternative. All it takes is some simple preparation and time to prepare your meals.

Batch Cooking your Meals

The great thing about batch cooking is that it can be done for breakfast, lunch, dinner and even dessert if you wish! Batch cooked meals are great for taking to work or while you’re out and about. They’re also easy to grab when it’s a lazy dinner kind of evening.

With so much inspiration on the likes of TikTok, YouTube and the World Wide Web – you will never be stuck for tasty recipes to knock up.

Traybake Dinner Recipes

What is a traybake? Good question! Traybakes are hassle-free dinner recipes you can cook all together on one tray. These usually consist of meat, veg, potatoes and lots of seasoning – but can be made up of anything you fancy or enjoy. All you do is pop it all on a tray and let the oven do the work. If you’re looking for hearty, healthy meals that take little time to prepare, traybakes are a great choice.

Traybake Dinner Recipes

Traybakes are also a great option for those looking to batch cook dinners or lunch recipes for the week! Simply cook it all at once, divide the food into tubs and stick them in the fridge or freezer. Pair your traybake with a delicious salad, noodles, rice or potatoes and you could have 5-7 tasty meals to grab and go!

Our Top Tips for affordable Traybakes:

  • Create yourself a budget and stick to it
  • Stick to 1 type of meat
  • Buy your meat in a multi-pack
  • Bulk your tray with lots of colourful veggies
  • Use ingredients you already have at home
  • Opt for low-cost carbs like noodles, rice or potatoes (dried rice & noodles have a much longer shelf life)
  • Bulk buy carbs like rice from the International Aisle in your local supermarket
  • Switch up your recipes with different spices!

Now you’re armed with all the facts, it’s time to get inspired! We’ve spotted some mouthwatering & affordable recipes over on TikTok featuring tasty recipes like Chicken & Chorizo, Sausage Traybakes and even Rocky Roads and delicious cakes.

TIP: @Mealsbymitch is your go-to if you’re looking for not only traybake recipes, but simple & affordable recipes that are cheap and quick to make. You can even buy his Bon Appetit cookbook for the full low down of his hottest recipes. For more TikTok inspiration, do a quick search for ‘Traybake Recipes’ and have a scroll – you’re guaranteed to come across something you fancy.

Tesco Real Food is another great resource! They have a 10 terrific traybake dinner recipes page filled with delicious hassle-free concoctions. Check out BBC food or just hit ‘Traybake dinner recipes’ into Google. Or, why not create your very own recipe with the foods you love?

Freeze your Meals

If you’re keen to start batch cooking your dinners or lunches, the best way to make them last longer is to freeze them. Refrigerate the meals you plan to eat and freeze the rest for as and when you wish! This is a fantastic way to make your meals go further and means less food wastage.

Freeze your Meals

And if you’re worried your food can’t be frozen, you will be surprised by how many foods can survive in the freezer, including cheese and milk! Have a read through our Foods you can freeze blog post for the full low down of foods you can pop in the freezer.

Store your Food in Tupperware

Tupperware is perfect for storing your batch cooked meals and super affordable to come by in your cheaper supermarkets like Lidl & Aldi or bargain stores like B&M or Home Bargains. You may even have tons of Tupperware boxes stacked up in your cupboards from those cheeky takeouts. If not, invest in a set or keep hold of the next batch when you next order a Chinese or curry!

Prepare Extras

While batch cooking, you will probably have some ingredients like meat, potatoes or veg left over. Instead of chucking them away or forgetting about them, use them to create another meal!

Soups are super easy to knock up and can be stored in the freezer for when you fancy a hearty lunch. Whatever you do, don’t throw away anything you don’t use. Get creative and prepare something tasty.

Step 3: Bulk Out your Meals

Another great way to be frugal with food shopping is to bulk out your meals. 

While batch cooking or making meals for your family, try adding extra ingredients you already have at home to make your food stretch further.

How to Bulk out Meals

Things like oats, grated carrot and beans can be added to mince dishes or tomato-based sauces – ideal for bulking out your spag bol. All you need is a handful or two of each item, and since they are fairly plain they’ll take on the flavour of your dish so you won’t be able to taste them.

How to Bulk out Meals

Replacing meat in your dishes with cooked or canned beans and chickpeas can be a great way to not only go meat-free but bulk out your dishes when you’re short of ingredients – not to mention more affordable. It’s likely you already have these ingredients in your cupboard so why not give it a go?

Vegetables, bread and cheaper cuts of meat are all great and affordable choices for helping bulk out your meals and keeping you fuller for longer!

Side Dishes

Side Dishes

Another way to bulk out your food and stay fuller for longer without overspending is to make side dishes to go alongside your main meals. Bread and butter and side salads are always easy go-to’s but if you’re wanting to push the boat out why not roast some veg? You can also make your own garlic bread using bread, garlic and butter you already have – this is not only easy to make, but it’s ideal for the whole family.

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