Friday, 17 January 2014

Frugal Friday

Completely unrelated photo - this angle was the only way I could fit The Shard in!

We're currently engaged in "trying to use things up" - I get a ridiculous sense of achievement when I finish a tub, packet or jar of something - daft I know but we're so well stocked at the moment it's nice to be creating the sense of a bit of space appearing! Our freezers are both packed tight, and the storecupboard is groaning!

For me the best way of dealing with this is to meal plan - now this is something that doesn't by any means work for everyone, but if you've not tried it before then it's certainly worth a go. I've realised over the last few years that the "plan" that works best for me is actually a 5-week plan. We have certain "regular" sorts of meals that we eat - pasta based, egg based, potato based, stews etc. At least one night of the week I try to do something quite simple - soup & bread, something on toast or jacket potatoes, for example - we're out of the house long hours through the working week and the last thing we want on those nights is to have to do an hour of prep and cooking before we can eat.

One pitfall that trips people up when trying meal planning is the "leftovers" scenario. For example, if we have sausages - there are six in the pack, we don't need six sausages for one meal, so I factor in another meal later in the week which can then involve the other two sausages - I cook them all at the same time when I do the ones for the first meal. Sausage pasta, sliced sausages added to a home made pizza, or chopped into chunks and added to a homity-type pie with potatoes, onions and cheese are all favourite ways of making use of those extras, and all mean that just two sausages are stretched to happily feed two people. Stews get cooked in the slow cooker, but our slow cooked is huge - so if I'm cooking stew for one meal I might just as well add enough extra meat & veg to cook additional portions for another day. Sometimes those extra portions get frozen, other times they get added straight onto the meal plan for a couple of days after we've eaten the first lot! This week I slow-cooked a beef stew using a large piece of ox-cheek. I just trimmed the meat of any obvious fat on the outside and popped it in the pot whole, then the following morning dragged it out, cut a third off and reserved that, before tearing the rest into chunks and putting it back in the pot. The reserved meat got turned into a ragu with tinned tomatoes, chopped onion and some veggies, and used to fill cannelloni tubes. One Ox-Cheek (which cost us about £4 from memory) has done three evening meals for the two of us. Because it's good quality meat, hung properly and from a beast which was well looked after and treated it has enough flavour that a huge amount of it in each portion just isn't needed - and that is the real skill of making your money go further I think.

When you really start "winning" with frugal meal-planning is when you start looking "outside the box" to use a horrible phrase. Those tubs of soft cheese for example - no not "Philly", nothing frugal about that, but the supermarket own brand or value ones - do indeed make a fabulous pasta sauce exactly as the adverts tell you. They also go beautifully on jacket potatoes, and a little blob stirred into a soup or tomato based sauce gives the most delicious creaminess. The whole salmon we bought a few weeks ago when they were half price was portioned up into steaks to eat as main parts of meals, but we asked for the bones too - they were gleaned of every trimming of flesh and then the bones were frozen for making stock in the future - there are three bags of trimmings also frozen to add to fish pies, or as an ingredient with pasta too. The salmon itself wasn't particularly cheap, but the number of meals we'll get from it turn it into an affordable luxury. If we buy a bag of potatoes then I'll alter the meal plan ahead to include them - nothing more annoying than finding they've sprouted! All this is plain old common sense of course, but how often do we all hear people cheerfully telling of what they "forgot they had in" and so had to throw away? A simple list of the fridge door of "things to use up" can cure this problem, as can training yourself to be inventive. Meals don't have to be complicated either - try borrowing High Fearnley Whittingstall's "Three Good Things" book for a bit of simple-food inspiration.

Even if you're someone who doesn't get on with meal planning as such, there's nothing to stop you coming up with a list of meals that you & the family enjoy eating, and using that as a "prompt" when you encounter a "part-used" something. The best thing so far as I'm concerned about planning our meals ahead is it means that I can spend the bare minimum of time shopping - something which I hate - and because I know when I shop what meals I'll be cooking, it also avoids "just needing to pop to the shop" midweek because I need to get something for dinner. My "Frugal February" Challenge this year is going to be grocery shopping based, and I'll be telling you a bit more about that shortly, but it should also help us in our bid to "use up, not buy more".



Anonymous said...

We used to be awful for opening a jar or something like that, using part and putting it in the fridge only to be thrown out the following week as we had forgotten about it/not incorporated it into meals.

To stop this hubby made a simple table with two columns "Food item" and "use by" on a piece of paper. He laminated and stuck it on the fridge. Now we hardly throw anything away as once something is opened and not completely used we write it on the chart with a white board/dry wipe pen and the date it needs to be used by. This way we never "forget" about it and it can be wiped off the chart once used.

Scarlet said...

Meal planning for the next 6 weeks was completed this afternoon, and I only need to buy some mushrooms, carrots and lettuce.If I'd planned 2 different meals I wouldn't even need the mushrooms and lettuce but I'm rather partial to both items! Everything else is in the cupboards and freezer. It feels wonderful to know that we have almost all we need. I think we may be having a ' Frugal February' where shopping is concerned!

Robyn said...

N, that's a great idea! Jars in the fridge is one area where I need to concentrate a bit more I think - all manner of things lurking about in there, although we're none too fussy about "best before" dates so as long as stuff smells/looks fine it'll get used!
Scarlet, rarely a week goes by when I don't buy mushrooms - they're a vital item so far as I'm concerned! :-)

Jennifer Tulip said...

We meal plan on a bi-weekly basis and even have a little chalk board hung up showing what we are eating and who is cooking it each day of the week. It works so well knowing what we are preparing as soon as we get home from work rather than staring blankly into the freezer unable to think straight due to hunger!
Jenni x
The Thrifty Magpies Nest

Robyn said...

Oh Jenni I know that feeling- or worse, the one where you just think "sod it!" and stop at the chinese as you're passing - having stuff prepared and ready to go, or quick to cook definitely solves those issues! We have a deal here with the cooking - MrEH preps lunches before we head out in the morning, and in return I sort out dinner in the evening. Works for us as no way could I face making up rolls that early in the morning and neither of us are so keen on them made the night before!