So, now you have worked out what you have, cut costs and brought in a little more, the next few posts will concentrate on making the most of what you have, starting with meal planning. I have just been doing this for June and so the process is fresh in my mind.
The first thing to do is take an inventory of what you already have in stock. I walk around with a clipboard, paper and pen and write a list of things in the fridge, the cupboards, the freezer and at this time of year, the garden. This month I had lots of split peas and bacon left as every week there was enough spaghetti bolognaise left to feed us for another meal so the bacon dish was not made. This means that I have enough ingredients on hand to cook it 4 times this month.
I find it easiest to theme each day of the week and then cook something to match. For example, Sundays are a roast/meat dish and Thursdays are always soup and rolls, I did adapt this in the hot weather so that the bread dough for rolls became pizza bases and the vegetables for the soup were used to top pizzas which we had with salad from the garden. I could also have served a cold soup.
I also try and include a couple of new recipes, which this month will come from those new cookbooks I got. This means that we don't get too bored with our limit of around £10 per person per week. Now that MasterShoestring is a teenager I do find that I also have to include snacks on the menu and I can't rely on there being leftovers for the following day. One day I made 3 large pizzas and had half left after the meal. Oh good, I thought, those will do for lunch tomorrow ! They didn't last, MasterShoestring ate all the pizza for supper that night !
Now that food prices are rising I don't have the funds I used to for stocking up but I do try and have a little left over to nab a bargain if I see one and I also allow around £40 a month for school meals. I could provide cheaper lunches myself but MasterShoestring likes to be able to go to the cafe with friends and not feel left out. This is a priority, so I make the budget stretch in other areas such as using chapatti flour for bread making rather than more expensive labelled wholemeal flour. It makes a good loaf and costs 30p a kilo instead of 50p.
The good thing about meal planning is that it is flexible, if you have all the ingredients in at the start of the month you can swap meals around and not be reaching for the takeaway menu on busy nights. It also means that if you have the time you can cook ahead and put things in the freezer for emergencies, like someone not being well or the car breaking down and you get home late.
Meal planning undoubtedly saves us money and time so I thoroughly recommend it and if you need help getting started then Bernadine Lawrence's book on feeding your family for £5 a day is a great place to start.