Meal Planning

Do You Meal Plan?

Author: Lauren Coleman

I absolutely hate throwing away veg past its sell by date and I also can’t abide hitting the supermarket on a weekend. Therefore meal planning and internet food shopping really floats my boat. I’m not willing to give up my Sunday to prep for the week ahead but thought it might be helpful to share the ways I make our weekly food budget work for us.

We pay the supermarket annually for a free delivery pass which means all orders over £40 are delivered free. In total we probably spend around £60-£70 a week on food to eat at home and then there’s the toiletries and cleaning products which results in us placing an order every four or five days. We both spend the majority of the week working from home and usually eat out a couple of times over the weekend therefore we probably have around 17-18 meals each at home each week. We don’t scrimp on fruit and veg and I think we pack about three of our five a day into smoothies which cost about £15 a week. We try to make sure every meal has some form of greenery and a hefty dose of protein.

Get Geeky

James and I have a shared spreadsheet with links to about thirty different recipes. Listed under each recipe are all the ingredients required for each dish so once we’ve planned what we’re having for the week it’s easy to build our online basket. It works really well for us and means that we rarely waste any ingredients so it’s cost effective too. If we’re buying a load of courgettes for Salmon Patties we’re likely to have another courgette recipe too, for example Bill Granger’s Courgette Risotto, which BTW you bake in the oven so is far less faffy than a usual risotto stir-a-thon.

{Edit – I’ve included a link to download an example ingredient planning spreadsheet. It’s very basic but will hopefully give an idea of how mine is laid out.}

Use Store Cupboard Essentials Later In The Week

Largely this keeps the food fresh but we have a few dishes that are heavy on the store cupboard or freezer ingredients which we slot in later in the week. Dishes such as Jamie’s Kedgeree (great if you have a hangover scheduled in) use frozen fish and we throw in frozen peas too, while super quick Matar Paneer is usually one for later on in the week too as the paneer keeps a while, the tomatoes are cartoned and peas frozen.

Look At the Week Ahead

When we’re planning for the week ahead (or five day ahead in our case) we take a look at our diaries to confirm when we’ll be eating at home or if we’ll be eating on the go. We have a few dishes in our repertoire that are very quick which we’ll plan in if we’re time short on a particular day. Halloumi and Puy Lentils is one of our favourites if we know we’re going to need a quick meal. I also like the Joe Wicks blue book for dinners when I’m short on time.

Batch Cooking

I haven’t got the stage of making large quantities of food and freezing them but we regularly make dishes to feed four and save the leftovers for the day after. This is particularly good for us as we both work from home a lot so often find ourselves gazing into the fridge at lunchtime wishing we had an at-home canteen.
Chilli is always great for this and sometimes I think it actually tastes better on day 2 than the first day when all the flavours have absorbed. Adam was singing the praises of Deliciusly Ella’s Rocket & Brazil Nut Pesto recently. This is great as it’s really tasty and lasts several days so you could have with pasta or courgetti one day and have it with chicken another. While Deliciously Ella can be known for her spendy ingredients, compared to supermarket jars of pesto this is comparable and far healthier.
My go-to for lunch at the moment is Madeline Shaw’s Tomato and Lentil Soup which I make enough to cover at least two lunches for us both.

Bulk Out With Lentils and Pulses

As I don’t eat meat, I’m always on the look out for other protein sources so I have a cupboard full of lentils and pulses. In fact I was reading gram for gram lentils have more protein than beef. Bulking out any dish with a carton of organic chick peas or a handful of lentils is a sure-fire way to make it go further, increase the protein intake and save a bit of money too. I often throw in some of my favourite pulses to a stew to make it last another day.

Did anyone watch the C4 documentary on Britain’s Largest Family? I have no idea how a £300 a week food budget stretched to feed them all. I’m imagining our weekly budget is pretty average for a couple with a full salad drawer. How do you budget and plan your weekly meals and make sure nothing goes to waste?

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52 thoughts on “Do You Meal Plan?

  1. Oh I love this article Lauren, I am quite an organised person but always fail at meal planning for some reason but I don’t like waste on the food or the money side. What a great idea to have a list of favourite meals with the ingredients so you can quickly order on-line – nicking that tip asap!

  2. I meal plan, planning easy meals or something prepped ahead for days I’m working long shifts as hubby cooks for him and our daughter and he’s nota keen cook. I take packed food for work (3 meals over a long day), hubby works from home and 11 year old with a huge appetite takes packed lunches so I make sure there is plenty of veg, fruit and healthy lunch stuff everyone can grab as needed. I tend t batch make soups for my lunches at home or work and like to have 3 or 4 different ones in the freezer based around veg and pulses. We eat meat everyday which I know is not ideal but hubby not impressed when I cook veggie! I usually spend about £70 on a weekly shop at Aldi and thrn an occasional top up of bread from the local shop during the week.

    1. You seem to make your £70 go far Rachel if you have a hungry 11 year old too!
      Soup is so good for batch cooking. I need to up my game in that area.

      1. Aldi is amazing. Partly because the prices are fab but the more limited range means I keep focused! Let me loose in Booths and I’m sure I’m spend 3 times as much in stuff I don’t really need!

  3. I meal plan, but am not very good at basing it on reducing waste… and it was one of my resolutions this year to try and do more of that, so this post is so timely!! I love the idea of a spreadsheet Lauren, I’ve just started an old school hand written recipe books for my favourites that I pull out of magazines… but a spreadsheet might be the answer to keep some of our ultimate favourites and the shopping lists for them handy!! xx

    1. Everyone loves a spreadsheet Emma 😉
      Love that you have an old school recipe book though – they evoke really strong memories – I can still see my mum’s now, very eighties with red saucepans on it! x

  4. I think I am going to need to see this amazing spreadsheet… Love all of this info! So good to bulk out dishes with extra veg and pulses-great idea Lauren! x

    1. Vanessa. I’ve put a link to it on our Instagram stories. Ignore the typos – it was never meant to go public! x

      1. Hi Lauren I would love to see the spreadsheet but don’t know where to look. Fab article. I really struggle with meal planning and being organised! Xx

        1. Hi Sarah, I popped an example on our Instagram Stories. It’s literally just one cell with a link to the recipe and then a list underneath with the relevant ingredients x

  5. This is very similar to us Lauren. This year I have promised myself to keep up with our meal planning. We are a couple who meal plan for 5 days of the week leaving the weekend to be flexible. We also spend around £60-£70 a week (not including weekends) and its interesting you are similar as I always feel maybe we are way off the mark with that being just two of us.

    One of the hardest things I found last year with meal planning is the inspiration so this year decided to note in my diary what we ate that week, from what book and the page number, so I could look back for inspo but your spreadsheet idea is even more genius Lauren! That’s why I love RMS’s everyday life sort of posts as you can always pick up handy tips!

    1. Hi Sarah, I’m glad to hear I’m not alone with the budget. I couldn’t work out if it was a lot or not!
      This year we’re focusing on lots more everyday posts with tips so I’m glad you like them 🙂

  6. As I hate food waste, I tend to use up all my vegetables in something where they’re cooked – even if they’re quite past their date, as you really don’t notice when they’re cooked into it!

    1. I’m sure I heard somewhere you should use your nose rather than look at sell-by and use-by dates. Some stuff lasts way longer and others way shorter!

      1. Sorry to be a total geek, but I work in food safety!

        Food is ok to be eaten after sell-by and best-before dates because these refer to food quality, not safety, but it might not be its best in terms of flavour or texture.

        Use-by refers to food safety & shouldn’t be eaten after the date, although if you freeze it before it reaches this date it should be ok!

        You can get more information on the Food Standards Agency (England, Wales & Northern Ireland) or Food Standards Scotland depending on where you are based 🙂

        Geeking over.

  7. Definitely meal planning all the way! We shop once a week, and have very little fruit and veg waste (well apart from when the spontaneous curry takeaway happens, but we try to be good!!). It really does make your money stretch further too. I reckon we spend about £60 per week for 2 adults and a toddler, including making soups for lunch, but we also spend a little ourselves on lunches for the week to add variety so it doesn’t cover everything. I always make batches of meals at the weekends if I’m doing a time-consuming meal – lasagne, fish pie, chilli, bolognese etc – to keep something in the freezer, and we usually have pretty quick meals during the week as we are rarely able to start cooking before 7.30ish. Sadly I can remember pretty much every ingredient for most of our go-to meals (and we have a fair amount of variety) so I have an internal spreadsheet going on 🙂 And an old-school handwritten recipe book for my absolute favourite recipes.

    1. You’re a legend for remembering all those ingredients Annie. I would just end up with lots of missing bits and pieces! x

  8. This is just the post I need! I’ve been seriously thinking how I need to sort myself out with meal planning!! My husband works shifts and we seem to just decide each day what to have which means….a lot of not so healthy dinners and a lot of waste. We’re expecting our 1st baby in March and need to look at ways to make things a bit easier/finance friendly.
    I too would be very interested to know more about this amazing spreadsheet of yours- do you put all the ingredients on there too or just the links to the websites? I’d be interested to know what other people find helpful in terms of spreadsheets. When I’ve tried meal plans in the past it takes me ages just to write out all the ingredients!
    Also…loving the sound of your recipes- totally going to give them a go! Great post
    Becky xx

    1. I always meal plan with all my recipe books in front of me and then I just tab up the pages/recipes I decide to cook and then go through each page putting the ingredients straight into the online food shop. I find it much easier and quicker than writing it all out first and going to the supermarket x

    2. Thank you Becky and glad to hear this post has come just at the right time.
      I’ve put the spreadsheet on RMS instagram stories if you want to take a look. x

  9. Oh yes I meal plan as I’m doing Weight Watchers so it’s essential! I’m also living with my boyfriend now and it’s hard for my diet, I’ve put 19lb back on argh! Plus I’m a veggie and he still eats some meat so it’s even more important to plan and agree what we’re having. Although last night I suggested a quick drink date at the pub, which he took to mean going out for dinner so we didn’t have healthy curry as planned! We spend about £300 a month inc plenty of prosecco plus household items. We eat out about once/twice a week on top of that.

    I tend to plan on a Sunday, do a supermarket shop to last till Thurs/Fri and then we freestyle a bit at weekends. I batch cook, never make a chilli/bol/curry for two!
    My staples are
    BBC Good Food Black bean chilli with extra peppers
    BBC Good Food Prawn, pea and tomato curry but with Quorn pieces and peppers, with cauli rice for me and normal for him
    Stir fry and noodles with baked tofu for me and prawns for him
    Jacket potatoes and chilli from the freezer
    Omelettes and homemade wedges and salad
    Sausage, mash, red cabbage and green veg

    I also take a packed lunch to work so I’m trying to get the boy to take one too! I make soup on a Sunday to take each day, then make some sort of sandwich thin and Quorn, or cottage cheese and crackers, to accompany. I am obsessive about adding protein to every meal, and usually have eggs for breakfast.

    1. I love how you mentioned that includes prosecco 😉
      Going to check out your veggie recipes Bunny – thanks for those x

  10. I hate doing the food shop (also online with the delivery saver) and menu planning so this year I am doing monthly menus! I have menu planned all of January – feeling SO smug 😉 It doesn’t always go to plan but it makes the shopping easier. I do a lot of soups or leftovers for lunches and any left overs from an evening meal get portioned into kiddy portions (I’ve two little ones) and bunged in the freezer for when we don’t all eat together at kids teatime. This is soooo nice to know I’ve got a stash in the freezer ready and waiting. I also make sure that everything can be eaten by an 8 month old and a 2 year old which at the time is a bit of pain tbh but I’m thankful when it comes to it as I am not going to get into different meals for different people! If there’s something we do want that doesn’t suit them then we do kids tea out of the freezer stash and eat later when they’re in bed.
    My dream is a chest freezer…

    1. Good to hear you meal plan monthly Victoria. This month is the first month I have started doing this. I am also trying to do one big shop monthly and then just a small weekly one for fruit, veg, bread and milk. It seems to be going well so far!

  11. LOVE a spreadsheet – I’m going to copy you & create a new tab in our joint account budgeting spreadsheet right away (spot the geek accountant!). Totally with you on the bulking out with beans and pulses. Any slightly past it veg in our household is either fed to our baby tortoises (I know, random pets, very easy though!) or goes into homemade soups (bulked out with aforementioned pulses and lentils). I find the ways in which other people manage their lives / finances / meals / routines etc completely fascinating. Anyone else, or am I just mega nosey?!

    1. Me too Nicola – so fascinating. We’ve done a few posts in the past on finances and savings but we’ll look to do more. x

  12. I’ve al liked the idea of meal planning but I’ve never quite got around to it. I’ve just ordered my first bullet journal to try and be more organised this year and I plan to include a meal planning section. I’m militant about food waste so we have some “creative” meals where I chuck in a lot of veg e.g pasta with mixed veg sauce. That helps to reduce waste. We also have a dog so worst case scenario he gets any leftovers with his dog food! We have a lot of frozen veg in the freezer which is much cheaper, I also freeze fruit from our garden to make crumbles throughout the winter. With a toddler and a new baby I think some meal planning would be a good idea though! Great post x

    1. I’m interested to hear how you get on with bullet journalling M-J. It seems very popular at the moment so I’m intrigued. x

  13. I would like to meal plan but my husband (who does most of the cooking) doesn’t! He likes the daily visit to the supermarketing! I think when he goes to the supermarket to get ingredients he is very strict but if I go I end up picking up extras!

    Thanks for the links to all the recipes – that baked risotto sounds nice!

    1. We’re exactly the same Lynn! I’d ideally be much more organised like others have discussed as I think our way means my husband makes more unhealthy choices for us by shopping when hungry! But as he does the vast majority of the cooking I don’t like to complain too much 😉

  14. I’m rubbish at meal planning and always feel that with creating something like a spreadsheet there’s and effort to time saved ratio that needs working out. Mostly when it comes to shopping I do it online and so tend to just go through our ‘favourites’ selecting the fruit, veg, cheese etc. I fancy that week, plus restocking any store cupboard and freezer items that we’re running low on. There are some meals that come up pretty regularly in the rotation – spag bol whenever my husband cooks, for example.

    At the moment I do a big shop roughly every other week, where I usually spend around £70-80, which will also include other household items. And we’ll top up with bread and bananas, and anything else we decide we want as necessary. We’ve cut back on meals out since the toddler, and we’re trying to cut down on takeaways too – healthier attitude and all that. With that in mind I’m trialling hellofresh for the next couple of weeks, to mix things up a bit.

    1. When we started the spreadsheet it just started with the meals we were having that week and we’ve added to it over time so it really didn’t take a lot of effort to set up. It’s a google doc so can be accessed anywhere which is handy if you need to do the shop from the office.
      Heard good things about HelloFresh – so good to have all the ingredients weighed out!

  15. We always meal plan and often buy two weeks food at a time. We always check the diary for when we are likely to be eating out or working late and plan accordingly. We haven’t had much time for batch cooking in recent months – although I need to plan this in sometime soon – but we try and incorporate a couple of meals that will last for two days, such as quiche, chilli, lasagna etc.

    It saves us a lot of money as we have to go shopping less and are less tempted to put random things in the trolley. We spend around £80-100 on a large fortnightly shop, and then £10 a week topping up fresh items.

    I am not a fan of spreadsheets at home, but I keep putting off setting up some kind of recipe book so maybe a spreadsheet is the way forward!

  16. Great post. I do a vague meal plan and am big into batch cooking (my parents just gave us an extra freezer they were going to throw away as they’d ordered a new one so we now have three freezers – the dream!!). I love being able to get something out of the freezer in the morning to heat it up and add veg or potato/rice/pasta to in the evening, soup is also great for batch cooking. On leftover veg I will make a soup with it all or if it’s complimentary flavours, a roasted veg sauce and chorizo into the oven dish which adds so much flavour, whizz it up and have it as a pasta sauce etc. We shop in Aldi (I LOVE ALDI) and do a big shop probably every 3-4 weeks and spend £100-£120 a time, including household items like washing powder etc. Then we top up with bread, milk and any veg as needed but that probably only amounts to another £15-20 over the same time period. I also don’t take notice of sell/use by dates and go by appearance and smell. x

    1. Sophie, you seem super organised with your batch cooking. I need to get much better with freezer stuff. Agree it’s so good to know food is there just ready to be put in the oven! x

  17. We’re very similar to you Lauren! We do a weekly shop (although still in person, call me sad but I still love shopping myself – I feel really grown up, haha!) but plan Sunday to Thursday, and Friday lunches, leaving Friday evening and all day Saturday free for meals out or a “fancier” tea. We spend about £60-£70 too, spread over Aldi and Sainsbury’s (Aldi for everything we can and Sainsbury’s for the random bits Aldi doesn’t stock!). We’ve started putting the list in order of how we walk around Aldi to try to avoid picking up spontaneous extras!

    We always work out what meals are needed and also what nights have a time constraint (my boyfriend plays football on a Monday for example which would need a quick tea as soon as he gets in rather than eating later after our baby has gone to bed). Then we sit with the cookbooks and pick dinners that look good! It’s usually Jamie Oliver as they aren’t too faffy and don’t take too long.

    However we’re just starting weaning with our baby so now I’ve got to start thinking of meals for the three of us… adding a new dimension!

  18. Lovvvve this .2nd favourite post after Christmas decoration one obvs! And I’m a spreadsheet queen and DID not see that coming . Game changer ! Keep great work up

  19. I have tried many ways of mealplanning and have settled on the way which suits me best. I use an app called Wunderlist. Within that I have a folder called food and within that folder a list called shopping list and one called meal plans so that I can write out the different dishes we are having and then add all the ingrediants. It also means when I am in the supermarket I can tick it off the list as I go (very satisfying!). I have the app on both our phones, and also my work and personal computer so I can add to it as I want and it all syncs.

    I now have a slight obsession with Wunderlist and have lists for holidays, to do lists, packing lists, renovation lists (by room) and even go so far as to have a must watch on TV list – which was massively added to after your ‘what to watch on TV in Jan’ post. I love it.

  20. I do the food shop on Friday lunchtime at work and get it delivered on Monday evening. I spend an hour cooking 4 meals (double portions) for Tues-Fri lunch and dinner, and we eat out on weekends. I refuse to spend my weekends cooking 😂 Add on breakfast, snacks, drinks, fruit, toiletries and cleaning products we spend £80 a week in Asda.

  21. We are big batch cookers in our house, making separate portions for our toddler. My husband also makes up his sandwiches for the week and freezes them, taking out some each day that defrost by lunchtime. I’d never thought of this and it’s been a total game changer, not having to make them up every night saves so much time!

    1. Cat the sandwiches idea sounds great. What sorts of fillings does he do? Do they all freeze ok/not go soggy? Thinking this would be great for the kids too!

      1. We mostly use cold meats Aimee but swap around the condiments for interest – pesto, mustard, mayo etc. Sometimes cheese (cheddar) or even coleslaw works too. This type of thing all freezes well and isn’t at all soggy when it defrosts (which was my worry too).

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