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
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)
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:
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!