We’ve all been there; a long, stressful day at work and a late finish lead you straight to the nearest supermarket’s ready meal section on your way home, the ingredients for that Bolognese safe in the fridge for at least another day. But it shouldn’t have to be this way. Not only will a bit of meal planning make those nights in with a pot noodle a thing of the past, but it will also help you keep on top of your finances, because as we all know, buying in bulk, prepping in advance and cooking conscientiously saves time and money. Yep, eating well for less is something we should all be doing, and with that in mind, here are 7 IDEAL tips and ideas for budget meal planning.

DO A STOCK CHECK, PRE-SHOP

If you want to save money, planning is key. Before you go grocery shopping, check your fridge, freezer and larder and plan your meals around any ingredients you already have. A thorough analysis of what’s lurking in the darker corners of the cupboards will give you inspiration, help use up stuff nearing its use-by and ensure you don’t buy items which you already have plenty of. Because as the professionals like to say, ‘FIFO’ (that’s in ‘first in, first out’ to us leyman).

HAVE MORE THAN ONE MEAL IN MIND

Think about how the ingredients you buy can stretch to more that one meal. Consider buying a chicken whole – the cheapest way per gram to buy it – cooking the whole bird, and using the meat to go into a few different meals. Or learn how to butcher it yourself and freeze the parts won’t be using this week for another time. Remember too, to make stock from the carcass and use that for a wonderfully nourishing soup.

USE LEFTOVERS

Trying to reduce food waste should be a priority for both culinary professionals and home cooks equally. And this starts by using leftovers which, with a little creativity, can create some frugal-friendly recipes. We all know a roast dinner turns into a sandwich for lunch the next day. But take it further, and use up everything. Those spare roasties can be an amazing Spanish omelette with only the addition of some eggs and onion. There’s a soup to made by pureeing the broccoli florets you were too full to finish – just add cream and some liberal seasoning. Freeze the gravy for a deep base to add into your next sauce. Think outside the box – an extra portion of risotto leads to arancini for lunch, too much mash becomes tomorrow’s potato cake. Also making egg fried rice is a cost-effective way of turning leftover rice and vegetables into something really tasty.

The list goes on and gets even more delicious with each extra touch of inventiveness and creativity. Moreover, cooking with thoughtfulness where waste is concerned will not only save you money but your conscience too.

STIR UP SOME SOUP

Speaking of leftovers, turning your leftover veg into a soup is multiplies your meal possibilities endlessly. Almost all of the soup recipes that exist today are relatively cheap to assemble, just involving a few blitzed vegetables and a bit of thoughtful seasoning. Be careful, though, not to undersell yourself in terms of calories and protein; a simple keto calculator will tell you if such a meal will help you meet your daily nutritional requirements.

GO MEAT-FREE BEYOND MONDAY’S

We’ve all heard about meat-free Mondays, and it’s a noble start to reducing our meat intake and in doing so our carbon footprint, weight and weekly spend. But one in seven days, it has to be said, seems a little half-hearted. Plan at least four meatless meals a week. What’s especially good about this is that veggie versions of classic meals (a vegetarian lasagna perhaps?) keep well as they contain less quick to perish items. They also freeze well.

COOK IN BULK

Set aside some time on Sunday and make a few different dishes for the week. Put them in the freezer. You won’t be tempted with takeaways and going out for a ‘quick bite’ after work when you’ve got a delicious homemade meal waiting for you. Also, don’t be ashamed to be that person sifting through the reduced section – just freeze your bargains and use them to cook another time.

DON’T BE BRAND LOYAL

Although it seems like stating the obvious, we’re all guilty of an irrational devotion to a brand when much cheaper, just as tasty alternatives are available (Heinz baked beans and pretenders, we’re looking at you). Save money by buying cheaper brands than you normally do as there’s often not that much difference between value and premium ranges.