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How To Meal Plan (Reducing Food Waste and Saving Money)

Author: Naomi Liddell

We all seem to love a good domestic post here on Rock My Style, (probably me most of all!). And although Lauren posted last year about how she and James plan their meals, I thought it worth revisiting the topic from our perspective. As some of you will know, Gavin and I are trying to reduce our plastic waste and alongside that, we’re trying to reduce our food waste (and save a bit of money) too. 

According to Love Food Hate Waste, the average UK household throws away 17% of the food they buy. SEVENTEEN PERCENT. It’s the equivalent of £70 per month of food for a family of four. And most of that food is entirely edible and ends up in the landfill rather than composted. Fun fact… Did you know that it takes 25 years for a head of lettuce to decompose in landfill? I used to think that food just rotted away in there and perhaps aided in everything else degrading. But no. The conditions of landfill gases tend to preserve food waste. The reality of that is quite harrowing. 

Another reason for our meal planning habit is the pennies saved. We have quite a few house projects planned for this year (as well as escaping off to sunnier climes) so we’re cutting our cloth, so to speak, to make those financial goals happen. And groceries are a pretty easy way to save cash. Having shopped for many months on a whim and shopped for many months on a meal plan, I can safely say that the bottom line difference is eye-watering. 

With all that said, let me show you the actual process I use for meal planning. At first glance, it seems a bit involved. But actually, it’s not as time-consuming as it looks. We tend to meal plan together as a family during dinner on a Thursday as we’re all sat at the table anyway. It gives my husband a chance to input whatever he would like for dinners/lunches and it gives the 5-year-old a chance to chime in with his new found hatred for red peppers. 

Shop Your Kitchen

The first thing I do is open up the fridge/freezer and have a look at what needs to be used up. I take a scrap of paper and jot down a super quick inventory of anything that can be salvaged or frozen food I’d like to eat soon. Bendy spring onions. Half a jar of pesto. 3 eggs. Leftover potatoes. Unopened pack of sausages.  Frozen salmon fillets. This allows us to tackle any food before it turns and keeps freezer food rotating. Next, I open the cupboards and do the same. Rice, lentils, porridge oats etc. What I’m left with is a list of ingredients that can be turned into (or form a part of) meals. And once you see it written down, it’s pretty easy to see how you could use up the random eggs/carrots/cheese you have lying about. A lot of the list ends up being food that would otherwise go to waste. 

Batch Cook

We have a bit of a routine that means I will often make a big pot of soup on a Sunday (different each week) that serves as lunches during the week. I also bake something with the kids on a Sunday that serves as the treat for the week (last week it was frozen banoffee cheesecake- yum!). And we will have some kind of roast on a Sunday that leaves leftovers for another meal during the week (favourites are leftover chicken making curry, leftover beef making Korean fried rice, leftover potatoes get thrown in a frittata etc.). All of this gets taken into account when we meal plan. 

Plan Your Meals

With breakfasts being pretty repetitive (I shared a few ideas in this post) and lunches usually either soup or leftovers, the main focus of the meal plan are always the dinners for the week. As I said, while we’re all at the table on a Thursday night I whip out my little meal planner pad (I love this thing more than is normal) and we start to map out the upcoming week of meals. Firstly, we take into account any evenings one of us is out or needs a quick turn around after work. Then I’ll look at the list of things needing used up that can serve as a basis for meals. Bendy spring onions – chuck in with mashed potato or tuna. Half a jar of pesto – Pasta goes on the menu. 3 eggs – Scrambled eggs for breakfast. Leftover potatoes – Can get roasted for a side. Unopened pack of sausages – Freeze them.  Frozen salmon fillets – Asian salmon dinner. Then we pick a soup, sweet and roast for the week and fill in any dinner gaps with things we fancy. After this, we’re left with a shopping list that is dramatically smaller than if we had just written down everything we either wanted to eat or usually buy.

Shop The Deals

I always keep a bit of grocery budget leftover so that when I’m out shopping, if strawberries are cheap and in season or our favourite tea is half price, I can buy a couple of boxes. If there’s a sale on meat, I can snap it up and freeze it. These things then often form the basis of the meals for next week. So I’m always getting a good deal and it keeps our diet varied. 

And that’s it! A bit of preparation and a resourceful mindset and you can really make a difference in more ways than just your bank balance. 

Do you find yourself wasting much food? Or do you do what you can to stop tipping food into the bin? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Before I go, some resources you might find useful. I mentioned them earlier but the Love Food Hate Waste campaign website is full of excellent ideas and resources. I love both the Save With Jamie and Jamie’s 5 Ingredients books for simple meal inspiration. Hugh Fearnley from River Cottage fame does a great book called Love Your Leftovers: Recipes for the resourceful cook. And our very own Becky wrote a fab post a while back on keeping food fresh

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Naomi can’t decide which she loves more: adventuring with her boys or being left alone in a luxurious bath with a great book.
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23 thoughts on “How To Meal Plan (Reducing Food Waste and Saving Money)

  1. Ooo! That seems like an excellent way round to do it! We always meal plan but we start off planning the meals and then any food we buy just goes in to the fridge on top of the stuff already in there. And inevitably some will get thrown away.. I shall try this next week!

    Please could you consider a post on what to eat with kids? My almost 4 year old is on a steady rotation of jacket potatoes/various pasta dishes/ fish fingers etc and because we try to eat together most of the time it’s making meal planning a lot less fun!

    1. Gah kids are hard, aren’t they?
      My 5 year old has just turned super picky in the last 6 months. But he gets served up the same dinner as us. I’ll omit anything I know he truly hates (broccoli or the like), and will always put raw veg on the side that I know he likes but I refuse to cook a separate meal for him! I know, I’m mean 🙈
      I’ll ask the team and see if we can come up with a post. It’s something we all struggle with by the sounds of it!

      1. I would really recommend https://www.myfussyeater.com/ – she has a website and Instagram with great recipes, and we also have her book and I would say we eat at least one or two of her meals every single week. Our family favourites are sweet and sour chicken, baked risotto and sausage and butterbean casserole!!
        Our four year old has got much fussier recently, having always been an amazing eater. I do the same as you Naomi, my only concessions are ones that don’t require much effort of fundamentally changing the menu – e.g. dishing up pasta and sauce separately before I mix it together, or putting her raw peppers aside before they are added to a stir fry for example.

        1. That’s exactly what I do Amy! I’ll restructure a meal but I won’t change the menu. Haha. That’s a great resource… Off to get lost in some recipes!

          1. Ah I like the idea of restructuring! My 1 year old & 3 year old get served the same as us as I refuse to cook more than 1 meal but good idea to adapt.

  2. Great post Naomi! I do try to do a weekly meal plan once my shopping arrives on a Saturday morning (usually based on the use by dates!) but I would like to cut down on our waste more. I really like the “Shop your kitchen” tip.

  3. The lettuce – 25 years?!!! I just had no idea. Great post Naomi, we had become much better at having less waste, but just last week was a disaster – I think it was a combination of last minute changes to what we were doing and really short use by dates on food (I have found Sainsburys online shopping to be a bit crap to be honest – we usually use Ocado). I definitely make the most of deals and offers – and I buy more frozen veg than ever before, fresher and far less wasteful x

    1. Frozen veg is fab Charlotte! You only use what you need then too. I wish ocado delivered to my postcode. They have some amazing filters for food packaging and dietary requirements!

  4. Bizarrely, I find the use by dates on Aldi’s food to be MUCH further into the future than Tesco’s, so it’s better for not throwing food away. Often I’ll see potatoes in Tesco that have only 2-3 days left on the use by date, and they are already sprouting and turning green!

  5. My husband and I always plan our meals and have a rolling list of what is in the fridge/freezer with use by dates. We still end up putting bits in the trolley that we fancy or items on reduced or offer, but having a food plan keeps us mostly on track. Every couple of months we have an afternoon of cooking meals to freeze – spag bol, curry, chilli, soup etc – and stock the freezer up for a while. It also makes cooking after work much quicker when you just need to cook some rice or pasta to go with the warmed through freezer dinners.

    We don’t have too much food waste and now have a compost bin in the garden for the odd shrivelled carrot and brown banana.

    1. Oh an afternoon of batch cooking sound like a great idea Claire! I only do a Sunday for the week but cooking loads of meals at once would be great too. Also, I freeze all my brown bananas, great for smoothies or banana bread 😉

    2. We do this too, and really find it a lifesaver! Spag Bol and chilli are always on our list, as well as a red lentil curry, a Chinese-style chicken and a creamy garlic chicken. Pretty much everything we cook, we make double at least, and there’s usually enough for a few individual portions for our wee boy for post-nursery dinners too!

  6. Another great post Naomi. I’m similarly horrified by the lettuce taking 25 years, how does that even make sense? We’ve been grateful for our local council food waste bin since we got it, and after it blew away recently in a night of strong winds we realised just how much we would have otherwise been sending to landfill, as we kept hold of our waste until we could source a new one!

    I’m terrible at properly planning meals, I tend to think of 2 or 3 that I ‘kind of fancy’ then buy a random selection of additional veg/salad/fruit and we have a fairly standard offering in the food cupboard. I’ve been shopping the kitchen this week however, as I’ve been too disorganised to do a shop at all, and I also suffer from the child who suddenly changes their mind about what they like (if it’s not pasta she ain’t interested). Necessity is the mother of invention though, so last nights offering was a cheesy pea+potato cake (frozen peas, the last potato) served with broccoli and fried eggs. I have no idea what tonight is going to be, but it should probably involve parsnips.

    1. This gave me a real giggle Rebecca! Ethan had a dinner of scraps last night too. haloumi, leftover mash and green peppers. He seems to love these dinners more that you’d imagine. Kids are weird.

  7. We meal plan over the weekend similarily to you, looking at what’s happening through the week and I check the freezer but not really the fridge or cupboards so will be taking that tip onboard, thanks! I find it makes the week much less stressful if everyone knows what we’re eating & when. I just wish I could get my husband to take a more active role rather than his usual “I don’t mind, make whatever you want” then complaining about it! 😤😂

  8. You need some chickens!!! Nearly all our food waste goes to them and the rest goes in the compost bin. Whenever I visit my mum and dad I’m always horrified at how much food gets thrown away and their council doesn’t do a food waste collection. Our lovely rescue chooks have so many benefits but clearing away leftovers and turning them into beautiful eggs is the best.

    Really need to get organised on batch cooking and planning ahead of Nannie and Grandad childcare services ending in April… dreading coming in from work and pick up trying to cook from scratch…

    1. I really need some chickens! It’s the dream. I still remember your comment on my chickens post. But alas, we’ve decided to delay them until our next, hopefully bigger garden. We’ve planted way more veg that we thought we would so just don’t have the room. Batch cooking will be the post work saviour! (That and pizza…)

  9. Great post we meal plan over the weekend and keep an inventory of stuff in the freezer. I’ve also just bought an electric pressure cooker and last night we had pasta with pancetta and leftover veggies which I prepped in the morning 9 hours delay timer 8 mins cooking and it was ready when we got home from work last night

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