Many of us who have dieted in the past or frequent any sort of tip websites are familiar with the advice that planning meals saves money. Most of us, however, still don’t do it, and this post is intended to help you design a system that works for you so that you can put this money saving tip to use.
Reasons Why You Should Plan Your Meals!
- Research has shown that people who go into the store without a shopping list spend significantly more money than those who don’t. Companies prey on this by putting unhealthy splurge items on sale and making aisles deliberately difficult to navigate, lengthening your trip. If you have a plan AND stick to it, you’ve beaten them at their own game.
- If you plan your meals, you can plan around extra ingredients, ensuring less food goes to waste. This means less wasted money!
- Because you know your work schedule and what you/your partner/your family likes to eat, you can make room for experimentation while keeping plenty of favorites around “just in case.”
- Packing sack lunches is generally cheaper than eating out, especially when vegan options are limited. If you know that you like variety, or can stick to one or two choices for the week, then you can plan around this and save money.
- It’s worth saying that planning food allows you to plan the amount of money you’re going to spend in advance as well. If you know the rough prices of core items at various retailers, you can purchase things in bulk where they’re the cheapest, and your meal plan ensures these items don’t go to waste. My big stock-up items are dried beans and grains, gluten free pasta, and bulk nuts/seeds.
Different Meal Planning Strategies
There are many different ways that you can go about starting to meal plan. The most important thing is finding a system that you can stick to that keeps you interested in the food, excited to cook and/or eat it, and keeps you consistent in your budget as well.
One approach is to create a “Master List” of foods that are commonly eaten in your household. If you eat a lot of frozen meals, figure out what the favorites are and try to find recipes for them using the raw ingredients. You can always freeze these in individual portions for future use, and they’re more than likely going to be cheaper per serving in the long run if you make them yourself. If frozen meals aren’t your style but you know certain family members like certain dishes a great deal, try giving the one day a week that they can pick a recipe. Ask them ahead of time which one they want, and stick to the plan on that day.
Another approach that is fairly common is to choose various “food groupings” for specific days of the week. When I was doing this, it looked like:
Tuesday: Slow cooker
Wednesday: Stir fry or Indian
Friday: Faux Meat/Pressure Cooker
This left me with one day a week to try a “weird” meal, and the rest of the week to prepare relatively economical, predictable fare. Most of these subcategories freeze/refrigerate well, so the leftovers can be used as lunches. Knowing what type of food will be served each day also helps you stock up for the future. For example, if you regularly eat pasta on Mondays and a brand of pasta your family likes goes on sale, you can pick up a few different varieties and plan them into your future meals. You can also pick up commonly used spices in the bulk section, knowing that you plan a particular ethnic cuisine one day a week where they will be used.
If you have a consistent day off, use the night before to make a list of recipes you’d like to eat that week and check your cupboards/pantry/fridge for items you have and items you need. Try making a list of your staples and keep it updated with what you need each week. You don’t have to cook the same recipes, but finding different recipes with similar ingredients that you can keep on hand really helps keep money in your wallet.
I plan on doing a post on “base” recipes somewhat soon, but if you choose to make a “Recipe Master List” binder or computer file, you may wish to include a few of them. Base recipes are recipes for creating a specific -thing- such as a risotto or lasagne, that you can then change up with seasonal veggies without having to change cook times too much. By mastering a few of these and varying your ingredients by what is on sale and what is seasonal (which often happens to coincide with one another), you empower yourself to create interesting food with whatever is on hand.
If cooking is a burden to you, allowing yourself a “scrap meal” or “leftover day” once a week might be a good idea if you generate a lot of leftovers. Meals made with odds and ends can be charming and sometimes become family favorites. The one below was one such meal that I made, a pot pie with a gluten free biscuit crust and some odds and ends from around the kitchen as a filling.
For the biscuits:
- 1 cup sorghum flour
- .5 cup nutritional yeast flakes
- .33 cup chickpea flour
- .33 cup tapioca flour
- 5 tsp baking powder
- .5 tbsp italian seasoning
- 1.25 tsp xanthan Gum
- 5 tbsp cold vegan butter
- .66 cup hemp milk
- 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
For the Filling:
- 2 cups seasonal veggies (see below for ideas), or frozen mixed vegetables
- 1 cup vegan chick’n, chickpeas, tofu cubes (brown them first!), or veggie grounds (Beyond Meat is gluten free)
- 2 cups veggie broth
- 1/4 cup hemp milk (separate)
- 1/4 cup gluten free all purpose flour (I like Krusteaz but have heard good things about Bob’s Red Mill)
- 1 cup chopped onion
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 tbsp vegan butter
- Place the apple cider vinegar at the bottom of a liquid measure and fill to the 2/3 of a cup line with hemp milk. Give it a quick stir and let sit in the fridge for 10-15 minutes.
- Heat the 2 tbsp vegan butter over medium heat until bubbling and frothy.
- Saute the onion for 5-7 minutes, until softened. Add garlic and cook for another minute.
- Stir in the 1/4 cup gluten free flour to create a roux. Cook for 1-3 minutes, until lightly golden brown.
- Slowly whisk in the broth. Set heat to medium low and whisk in the 1/4 cup hemp milk. Let simmer for 5-10 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F (230 degrees C).
- While the gravy is simmering, combine the flours, baking powder, italian seasoning, xanthan gum, and nutritional yeast in a bowl. Dry whisk until well combined. Cut in the cold vegan butter with two knives or a pastry cutter until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs.
- Slowly stir in the cold hemp milk/vinegar mixture until you have a soft dough. It should just come together, you may not need all the liquid.
- Roll out the dough to be about a half an inch thick, use english muffin rings or a large cup to cut out the biscuits to fit the top of the ramekins.
- Oil four 16 oz ramekins/soufle cups.
- When the gravy has thickened, salt it to taste. Add the seasonal veggies and “meat”, cook for 5-7 minutes.
- Spoon the filling equally into ramekins (about 3/4 cup per), then top with the biscuits. Bake for 15 minutes. Let sit for about 10 minutes after they come out, they will be hot!
Spring: Asparagus, green beans, peas, carrots, chickpeas
Summer: Tomatoes, finely chopped kale, celery, eggplant, beefy crumblesFall: Sweet potatoes, finely diced turnips, collards, Chick’n
Winter: Butternut/acorn squash diced (steam for 5-10 minutes before adding), turnips, rutabaga, parnsip (steam with the squash), beefy crumbles
All seasons: Frozen mixed vegetables, chick’n or beefy crumbles