When money’s tight, it can seem hard to think of ways to trim your food bill and still provide healthy, balanced meals for the family. But, it is possible – here’s how.
Make a plan
Write a menu plan for the week ahead, including breakfast, lunch and dinner. If seven days is too long, do one for Monday to Friday and be flexible at weekends. Get the whole family involved, making sure their favourite (healthy) meals are included.
Base your meals on the mainfood groupswith wholegrains, fruit and vegetables making up the biggest part. Then, add protein, such as chicken or fish – or beans and pulses for veggies or meat-free Mondays. Beans and pulses are also excellent for making meals go further – add them to lean mince for Bolognese or chicken for chicken curry.
Write down the meals for the week on a meal planner and stick it to your fridge, or somewhere where the whole family can see it, to remind you what you’re eating that week.
Download yourfree menu planner(PDF, 52KB).
Make a list
The shopping list is your most important tool when sticking to a budget. If you know what you need before you head to the shops, you’re less likely to pick up extra food and keep costs low. Use your menu plan to work out what you need for the week, then check what you have already in the store cupboard, in the fridge that needs using up and in the freezer.
Checkuse-by and best-beforedates. Use-by means the food must be eaten by that date for food safety, but best-before dates simply mean the food may not be quite as flavourful after that date. This applies to many canned foods and dried ones, such as pasta, so use them up before you buy more.
Download yourfree store cupboard checklist(PDF, 138B).
The shopping trip
If you prefer to do a weekly supermarket shop, the golden rule is never do it if you’re hungry as you’ll end up with high-fat, high-sugar foods in the trolley. Stick to your list and you’ll stick to your budget.
- Seasonal fruit and vegetables are usually cheaper. Frozen fruit and vegetables are often cheaper than fresh ones – and just as good. Canned varieties are good, too – look for veg in water with no added salt, or fruit in juice rather than syrup.
- Choose own-brand versions of staples such as cereals and pasta.
- Try cheaper cuts of meat, such as shin of beef for stews, instead of stewing steak, and pollock or flounder, instead of cod or haddock.
- Keep cartons of fruit juice to a minimum – they often contain added sugar.
- Keep an eye on BOGOFs (buy one get one free), as you might end up buying more than you need. It can be cheaper to buy some foods, such as chicken fillets, fruit, vegetables or cheese, whole, rather than chopped or prepared.
Make it go further
Dedicating an hour or two in the kitchen at the weekend can pay dividends during the week. For example, cook up a batch of lean mince (or Quorn), making it go even further by adding beans or pulses, then create a shepherd’s pie for Sunday dinner and freeze the rest in two portions for lasagne and chilli con carne later in the week. Cooking more than you need for one meal is also a great way to use leftovers for lunch the following day. When you reheat food, make sure it’s hot through before you eat it – and only ever reheat food once. For more on food safety, go to theNHS website.
Try these other smart tips:
- Use leftover chicken from a roast to make a risotto for the next day and use the bones to make stock for chicken broth another day.
- Blitz over-ripe tomatoes in a blender and use in place of canned tomatoes in pasta sauce or on top of pizza bases.
- Make your own smoothie or a fruit compote from over-ripe fruit – great topped with yogurt for kids.
- Friday night use-up meal – take whatever’s in the fridge and use in a pasta bake.
Five a day – getting the family on board
Perhaps you have a member of your family who’s not keen on vegetables. Here’s how to get them to up their intake:
- Add sliced bananas or sultanas to breakfast cereal or porridge.
- Add raisins or dried fruit to school lunchboxes.
- Provide two different coloured vegetables for supper, such as broccoli and carrots or courgettes and squash.
- Add canned sweetcorn or peas (in water with no added sugar) to a frittata or omelette.
Use it, don't waste it
We throw away millions of tonnes of food a year, some of which has never been opened. That’s equivalent to £700 for an average family with children – or six meals a week. According to the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), which compiled the figures, top of the waste list are potatoes, bread, fruit and vegetables.