Meal planning for a week working away

Picture of Canary Wharf DLR when planning meals for a week working away

Definitely not Suffolk


Last week was weird for me, because rather than being at home as a family of four, I was whisked off to London for work.

One thing stayed the same – I still did a quick meal plan.

For anyone trying to make the most of their money, meal planning can slash your food costs. Jotting down a list of meals helps me use up food I already have, so I only buy the extras needed to make it into meals. By checking the family calendar, I can make sure I don’t fill the fridge on a week when we’ll all be out, and include quick meals to eat before Cubs or other clubs. Plus if I buy the food in one trip, it cuts down on top up shops that can turn expensive.

Post with more than 80 ways to save money on your food shopping

However, planning meals for a week away was a whole different ball game.

For a start, I only had to cook for myself, and not for the whole family. I was staying in a serviced apartment with a kitchen, rather than an apartment, but still didn’t know exactly what equipment I’d have. I wouldn’t have access to all the food I normally have at home, so would have to start from scratch. Usually, I cut food costs by buying bigger quantities, with a lower cost per kilo. But if you buy a big pack for a few days away, you either get bored eating the same thing every day, or have loads left at the end, or both.

Meal plan for a week working away

In the end I jotted down a list of meals based on a combination of food I could take, and buying a limited amount extra:


3 x porridge and chopped banana

1 x couple of value range Weetabix with milk and banana

1 x cheese omelette and toast

Packed lunches

Chicken mayo and salad sandwiches

Leftover bokkeumbap with salad

Egg mayo sandwiches

Leftover tandoori chicken with rice

(all accompanied with some combination of fruit, yogurt, cucumber and carrot sticks)

Main meals

Bolognese sauce, pasta and green veg

BBQ Tandoori chicken with sweet potato wedges and salad

Bokkeumbap, a fried rice dish


Tips for meal planning for a week working away

Here’s a round up of my top tips:

Pack some essentials

Can’t start the day without a particular drink? Take some with you. I packed some of my trusty Earl Grey teabags. I also took food for specific recipes, if I already had it (like a red onion, a lemon and some white cabbage). I added small portions of stuff that comes in big boxes, to avoid buying more, such as a couple of Weetabix* to vary my breakfasts. (*When I say Weetabix, I mean Morrisons value range M Savers Wheat Biscuits, but it doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue)

Check the fridge

No-one likes to return to rotting remains at the back of the fridge. Before leaving, I had a quick look to see which food might go over while I was away. I chucked out some of the worst offenders, then packed elderly veg for the meals I’d planned, plus some leftover braised red cabbage that would otherwise go off.

Take some store cupboard staples

It’s only when you don’t have your normal store cupboard that you realise what a difference that pinch of chilli powder, dash of soy sauce or even sprinkle of pepper makes to your meals. Pouring olive oil into a small bottle, and taking the salt and pepper set from our picnic rucksack, helped make cooking more possible. A chunk of cheddar, small box of mayonnaise and couple of cloves of garlic all helped liven up my meals.

I also dug out a couple of Simply Cook spice sets from the back of the cupboard, bought long ago on a cut-price trial. They contained the flavours for two specific recipes, BBQ Tandoori Chicken and rice-based Bokkeumbap, so I planned meals around the recipe cards (check them out on the Simply Cook recipe page).

(Post with what to pack to cut the cost of self-catering)

Brace yourself for limited equipment

I’m well aware that my definition of a “fully equipped” kitchen, and the definition by a self-catering apartment might not match. I usually measure out oats, milk and water when making porridge, so it doesn’t explode in the microwave. I was pretty sure the apartment wouldn’t stretch to digital scales, so I boxed up a few portions of porrridge oats, and packed a lightweight measuring jug. I also took along a small sharp knife and a grater.

Prepare for packed lunches

Making packed lunches, rather than buying food out every day, can save a bomb. I took some cling film, a few sandwich bags and a packed lunch bag to help. A set of plastic boxes also made it easier to take leftovers for lunch. I took a set of three that fit into each other, to save space when packing. I also planned meals where I could cook once and eat twice, by taking leftovers for lunch the next day. (Post with more thrifty tips for packed lunches)

Freeze food before travelling

If you freeze food that you’d normally keep in a fridge, it helps survive the journey. I headed off with a pot of home-made butter from the freezer, to avoid buying more. Plus it tastes delicious and I might just be a bit obsessed. (Post on how to make butter)

Check the calendar

I knew I would be eating out with friends for two or three of the five nights, so I only planned main meals for a few nights rather than all of them. I also planned meals that could be eaten at night, or taken as a packed lunch, like fried rice. In the end, work provided a couple of lunches too.

Resist takeaway temptation

After a long day, takeaway or delivery food are seriously tempting if you’re too tired to cook. It’s easier to resist if you plan a meal that requires minimal effort instead. I took a small box of the bolognese sauce made for my family to eat while I was away, plus a portion of pasta.

Make a list

Something as simple as a shopping list can save time and money. When jotting down my meal ideas, I also made a list of the stuff I still needed to buy, making it easier to run to the shops when I arrived late on Sunday.  I focused on fresh stuff and smaller quantities that would be used up during my stay, so things like milk, bread, yogurt, eggs and fresh fruit and veg.

Bag some bargains

Even with a shopping list, I still make swaps if I see better bargains while shopping. I’d meant to buy a wholemeal loaf, apples and green beans, but then found cheaper yellow-stickered seeded bread, wholemeal rolls, raspberries and broccoli instead.

Scope out the supermarkets

Before leaving, I looked online to find the nearest supermarkets. For the first night, there was a corner shop within sight of where I was staying – but I knew if I headed slightly further up the road, I’d find a cheaper Tesco Express.

Take advantage of supermarket shopping apps

Mid week, I fancied some treats, so I nipped out for a sugar-free soft drink and low cal Oppo ice cream I spotted on supermarket shopping apps. I spent £6.53 but will get all the money back as cashback from CheckoutSmart and Shopmium.

What I packed

If you’re interested, here’s a pic of the food I took:


Store cupboard staples

  • Bit of olive oil in a small bottle
  • Last bit of salt in a grinder
  • Camping salt and pepper container
  • Low cal mayonnaise, decanted in a blue lidded box
  • Couple of cloves of garlic
  • Couple of veg stock cubes, in case I made soup (surprise surprise didn’t happen)
  • Bit of root garlic for fried rice
  • Soy sauce in a plastic fish, hoarded from take away sushi, for fried rice
  • Simply Cook spices for BBQ Tandoori c=Chicken
  • Simply Cook spices for Bokkeumbap
  • Half a leftover red chilli
  • A green chilli

Food to eat

  • 3 mini boxes of 30g porridge oats
  • 2 value range Weetabix
  • Bag with a portion of penne pasta
  • Box with a portion of bolognese sauce
  • Box with leftover braised red cabbage and apple
  • Mini box of leftover roast chicken for sandwiches
  • Third of a white cabbage for bokkemibap
  • Elderly spring onions for bokkemibap
  • Leftover romaine lettuce
  • Leftover flat leaf parsley
  • Last red pepper
  • A red onion, for salad to go with the tandoori chicken
  • A white onion
  • 3 x potatoes
  • A lemon
  • A lime
  • Last of a tub of Philadelphia, for sandwiches
  • Bit of grana padano cheese, to grate over pasta
  • Bit of cheddar, for sandwiches or cheese omelette
  • Glass pot of home made butter, resurrected from the freezer

I also took some cooking equipment:

PItch of kitchen equipment and cleaning supplies I took when working for a week away

Plus a loo roll and some cling film, still in the suitcase

The three things I didn’t take but wish I had were a bit of washing up liquid (not just dishwasher tablets), a wooden spatula and a potato peeler. The ‘fully equipped’ kitchen had a garlic press, pizza wheel and even a potato masher, but no potato peeler, and nothing other than cutlery for shoving stuff round in pan.

I know this looks like a ridiculous amount of food and equipment, but it did all fit in this bag:


What I bought

Here’s what I bought, on my quick shopping trip the first night I arrived:


As you can see, I still couldn’t resist swooping on some yellow-stickered bargains. Total cost from the nearby Tesco Metro: £12.44.

Later in the week, I spent a couple of quid on marmalade, apples and cut-price chutney, plus separate supplies for a friend’s birthday meal round at her house.

In the end, just under £15 covered 12 meals, and I even had some leftovers to bring home.


Now over to you. How do you cut costs when catering for a week away? Do let me know in the comments, I’d love to hear!

I’m joining the meal planning linky hosted by Katy over at KatyKicker and Naomi from The Organised Life Project.


Pin for later:

Picture of food I packed when meal planning for a week working away in a Pinterest sized image

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  1. Sue
    15th January 2018 / 4:25 pm

    I always take an assorted polybag of sachets that I’ve picked up over time from restaurants, cafes and coffee shops. Sauces, mayo, jams, peanut butters, condiments, tea, coffee, sugar etc. And if the dogs travel with us I weigh out all their meals into individual bags for them and use as needed. They have two bags each per day so one of them always has Suky’s joint tablets for the breakfast meal, and they each get one treat/chew a day in one of the bags.

    I always take a washing up liquid bottle with just a couple of inches in the bottom, my oldest dish cloth, face cloth and bath puff, these all get used to wipe around everywhere before we leave and then get binned.

    Also if we are travelling lightly I wear/take my oldest underwear, socks and even occasionally t shirts and bin them after wearing, meaning there is room in the bag to bring home any new purchases or just travel lighter on the way back.

    • Faith
      15th January 2018 / 10:19 pm

      Great point about taking bags of pet food, Sue. I do wish I’d taken some washing up liquid – did remember to taking some washing liquid and the plastic dispenser for laundry, and then didn’t use the washing machine!

  2. 15th January 2018 / 8:38 pm

    Wow, I’m so impressed that you meal planned for when you were away. I think I’d have just eaten ready meals!! Thanks so much for linking up.

    • Faith
      15th January 2018 / 10:20 pm

      I did think about ordering one of the meal delivery boxes, like Gousto or Hellofresh, but was too late to book one in time!

  3. 15th January 2018 / 9:01 pm

    This has made me think about what we need to take when we have a weekend away. Must remember washing up liquid!

    • Faith
      15th January 2018 / 10:20 pm

      Taking a box of stuff for a weekend away makes such a difference! Hope you have a great time.

  4. 16th January 2018 / 11:12 am

    Great post when I’m working away is often when I fail on both a diet, exercise and financial point! Will have to start planning more!


    • 16th January 2018 / 11:16 am

      It’s hard when you’re away from your normal routine, isn’t it? This time, I packed my running kit and managed to get out running* a couple of mornings before work. Checked out routes online beforehand, and then it was fun exploring new surroundings.
      (*When I say running, I mean staggering along part run, part walk, now I’ve restarted Couch to 5K)

  5. 16th January 2018 / 4:47 pm

    Great tips, especially as prepared food when you’re away isn’t something I ever really see covered, it’s all about stuff for when you’re at home which is totally different. Really interesting seeing what you chose to take and make too (I’m nosey!)
    Amazed it all fitted in that rucksack – maybe you could give some tips for packing in the next post as I’m impressed! 🙂

    • 17th January 2018 / 7:47 am

      I used to travel a lot for work, years ago, so have got used to stuffing things in bags and cases! Packed a lot of the food inside the storage boxes and measuring jug, for example.

  6. 16th January 2018 / 9:20 pm

    I always struggle with this, although when I travel, it’s international trips, and all meals are covered. However, it’s such a struggle to eat well & not gain weight. I typically average at least a pound in a week. Just off the normal routine, eating at strange times, jet lag makes working out harder, and I tend to eat more carbs when I’m unclear on the meat/fish options.

    I have a trip to Tokyo coming up in a few weeks, so working on a plan now to not gain any weight.

    Also, I try to menu plan for my husband & the kids while I’m gone. It doesn’t always work out as planned, so I tend to budget for at least one meal out for them.

    • 17th January 2018 / 7:52 am

      I find it trickier if I’m eating out for multiple meals, hence being keen to do packed lunches and stay somewhere with a kitchen so I could cook for myself sometimes. Good luck with your Tokyo trip, I’d love to visit Japan!
      Can sympathise with menu planning for the family while you’re away. Weekend before leaving I did a roast chicken, massive pot of bolognese and a fish pie. Meant there was food to carry them through most of the week, but I also suggested cheese on toast for the evening when there was less than an hour between after school club and Cubs!

  7. 17th January 2018 / 12:56 pm

    This is how I pack to go on holiday! It is so easy to start to eat all your meals out, which is expensive. Great post!

    • 17th January 2018 / 1:47 pm

      Thanks Jane! Taking some supplies on a self-catering holiday makes such a difference, doesn’t it?

  8. 18th January 2018 / 12:31 pm

    This is a fantastic post. So inspirational for those of us who love to meal plan but sometimes fall by the wayside when our routine changes.

    Also, I LOVE the phrase elderly vegetables! Brilliant! Thanks for linking up x

    • 1st February 2018 / 6:29 pm

      Glad to join the linky, Katy, thanks for commenting!

  9. 18th January 2018 / 8:27 pm

    I have really enjoyed reading this and got some great ideas from it. Thanks for sharing!

    • 1st February 2018 / 6:30 pm

      Oh good glad you got some ideas. I’ve learnt such a lot from other bloggers.

  10. Mo
    1st February 2018 / 5:14 pm

    Hi Faith, just found your blog and love it x

    • 1st February 2018 / 6:30 pm

      Really glad you like the blog Mo, thanks for letting me know!

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