So, before I begin, this is the first part of a three part course, designed to help you with your meal planning, in order for you to come up with Cheap midweek meals.
- How to build a meal plan
- The Shopping List
- Store Cupboard Essentials
Also, to make it a bit easier for you, you can see what is included within this article, click the link to be taken to the the article you particularly want to see if not all of it:
This article takes you through the process I use to deliver well cooked meals every week, without any food waste, and also lower food bills as a result.
cheap midweek meals – stock taking
A stock take is an important part of meal planning, as we need to understand what is available to be either eaten or re-purposed, in order to fit it into our calendar.
Below is what I had available to me in my fridge, freezer and pantry:
1/2lb Steak Pieces
1/2lb of Beef
Tomato Sauce x 2
2 x Chicken Breasts
4 x Sausages
Mixed Berry Cake
1 x Egg
Box of Grapes
Garlic Cloves x 7
Onion x 2
Sweet Potato x 5
1/2 Pack of Barley
1/2 Pack Lentils
All the Spices
All types of Vinegar
Tins, Beans, Chickpeas,
Fruit & Vegetables
I then began to plot the leftover meals/ingredients into the calendar, as you can see below:
Let’s take a look at the decisions I made for each of the plotted meals, in order for you to understand why I made them.
- January 30th — Sausage Pasta — Sausages in the Freezer, Tinned Tomato in the Fridge, and spices and Pasta in the pantry
- January 31st — Breaded Chicken and Sweet Potato Fries — Chicken in the Freezer, Sweet Potatoes in the pantry
- February 1st — Minestrone Soup — In the freezer
- February 2nd — Spaghetti Bolognese — Lentil Bolognese in the freezer and Past in the pantry
- February 3rd — Veg Burgers and Salad — Sweet Potato, beans and spice in the pantry, along with vegetables for the salad
- February 6th — Ham Pie with Potatoes — Ham Pie in the freezer, potatoes added to the shopping list
- February 8th — Barley Soup — Barley soup from the freezer
- February 9th — Meatloaf and Potatoes — Meatloaf in the freezer, potatoes added to the shopping list
- February 10th — Carne Asada — Steak pieces in the freezer, the rest of the ingredients need to be added to the shopping list
- February 17th — Barley Paella — Barley Paella in the freezer
So that’s not a bad start, thats eleven meals allotted in for the month, and we haven't bougrht anything yet.
There are a few things you should notice about the above calendar, outside of the meals that have been added.
cheap midweek meals – Prep Days
Meal planning isn’t just about planning what meals you have or what ingredients go with what. You need to remember old mother time, and her influence on you being able to make these meals. We are all busy people after all.
It is important to look at your schedule, and understand that if you can add prep days into your schedule, it will take all of the work out of the midweek work struggle.
You will note I have added these in on Sunday, and anyone who watches my Twitter feed knows, that Sunday is my prep day!
How do I manage my prep days?
First of all, I look at what I have planned for that week and think about each meal in the following ways:
- Length of time to cook
- Can it be frozen
- Can it be made the night before
- Does it require additional ingredients to be made (stock, etc)
Let’s talk about an example, where I make Souvlaki for the first time. I decided to do this on a Wednesday, and I am looking at its prep, the Sunday before.
In asking the questions above, I understand what I can do now, and what I can’t:
- Flat-breads — I want to make these from scratch, I won’t have time during the week, and therefore they need to be made on Sunday
- Souvlaki — As this dish requires the chicken to be marinaded overnight, I know now that I must do so on Tuesday night, so no need to make any moves now, other than to set a reminder to take the chicken out of the freezer the night before
- Salad — Can be made on the night, using fresh ingredients
As you can see, I now have a plan for making fresh food, rather than spending money on ready made meals.
For those of you thinking “Why doesn’t he buy the flat-breads?”, by all means go ahead.
Just add it to your shopping budget, but it will cost you more money, the point of this exercise being to reduce food bills, not add to them.
You can also see above that the meal plan itself began on the 30th of January, as this is were I began plotting in the meals.
The big shop, as we call it in our house, is were we go and buy our monthly groceries, and therefore when I need to have my shopping list ready.
Therefore, the majority of what I have meal wise is in the days before the shop, to ensure we are covered right up to it.
But note further, I have then spread the rest out, as the freezer is my ally here. Don;t be afraid to use your freezer to your advantage.
cheap midweek meals – shopping for meat
I am a great believer in championing local produce, were I can outside of the usual supermarkets, and my butcher fulfils that need brilliantly.
The great thing about a butcher, is when you buy meat packs, you get tremendous value for money for what you get.
Below is what I got from the butcher, and also it has a price comparison with a leading supermarket, so you can see the savings made on the equivalent meats:
|Food Item||Butcher Price||Tesco Price||Asda Price||Aldi Price|
|1.7kg Free Range Chicken||£7.02||£3.28||£3.18|
|4 Pieces of Frying Steak||£5.70||£6.80||£2.92|
|1lb Mince Steak||£2.98||£3.78||£2.09|
|4 Steak Burgers||£3.00||£6.00||£1.99|
|4 Chicken Breasts||£4.00||£3.09||£3.10|
|4 Chinese Marinated Pork Chops||£2.84||£3.78||£3.29|
|10 Pork Sausages||£2.00||£2.15||£1.89|
As you can see above, the butcher wins out against everyone bar Aldi.
Now thats not a bad thing were I am from in Ireland, as we do not have an Aldi here, but it does go to show shopping around can bring better deals, and lowewr food costs.
As you can see from the above picture, I got a lot for my money, and I froze all of it.
This is how I divided up the meat:
- 1.7kg Free Range Chicken — Will be cooked and divided by breast meat and brown meat, carcass will be used for stock
- 4 Pieces of Frying Steak — split in two
- 1lb Mince Steak — halfed
- 4 Steak Burgers — halfed
- 4 Chicken Breasts — halfed
- 4 Chinese Marinated Pork Chops — kept together, will do one meal
- 10 Pork Sausages — halfed
- 2.5kg Potatoes — split usually in four, depends on the recipe
In the majority of cases, these ingredients lend themselves to specific meals, that I already hold in my recipe arsenal.
So lets break it down, but first we need to talk about recipes in general.
cheap midweek meals – Source good Recipes
The first thing I look at is the ingredients themselves, and do some searches on recipes that use those ingredients.
I have a few suggestions for this, for you, on how to do it:
Firstly, I would like to suggest this website, as I have deliberately tuned the search engine to search on ingredient, as well as meal.
- Go to the home page, by selecting Home in the menu at the top of the site
- Scroll to the section @Recipes That Attract Attention@
- You will note there is a search bar
- Search by ingredient
Secondly, I will do the same in Google, and it will suggest recipes for each ingredient as well.
This is very interesting for someone like me, because I find a lot of new recipes every single week, which not only expands my culinary repertoire, but also give me inspiration for new recipes for this very website.
Lastly, I will use my own YouTube Channel, or the search engine to search for ingredients, to find step by step recipes to make.
Below is how I put together the new recipes, that I added to my meal plan.
- Chicken Sunday Dinner
- Steak & Chips
- Burger & Chips
- Quick Souvlaki & Flat-breads
- Chinese Pork Stir-fry
- Chicken Curry & Cauliflower rice
- Paprika Chicken
- Beef & Pork Kofta
Next up, we need to fill in the rest of the gaps in the calendar, so we must now move on to The Big Shop!
cheap midweek meals – the big shop
Now that I have used all of the meat I can with what I currently have in my fridge, freezer and pantry, it is time to get ready for the big shop, by plotting in meals for the rest of the days that are missing.
The only caveat at this stage to throw in is that in my house, we have soup every Wednesday, without fail, as it is brilliant for getting rid of odds and sods ingredients that would otherwise go to waste.
As previously mentioned, I go through the same process of finding recipes, and have split them out again below, so you can see what is mine already, and what is new.
- Quesadillas & Nachos
- Chickpea & Vegetable Stew
- Lentil Shepherds Pie
You made it this far, and I hope this has been an exploration into my logical mind, and ultimately, this process is of use to you. That’s right, its a process, and if you get used to doing it, you can save yourself a fortune in grocery bills, at least as it comes to food.
“But FatLad, what about the missing Saturdays and lone Friday?”
Well, it’s takeout night in our house, so I leave it to others to provide me with dinner.
In the next instalment, we will finally build our shopping list, and then discuss the savings that can be made, and how I put it together based on the dinners I have shared above.