When I write about meal planning I make no apologies if I come across as a new-age evangelist. This is because planning your meals in advance is a tried and tested way of saving money in your grocery shop. It comes hand-in-hand with doing a store cupboard stock take and ultimately, only buying what you need, and cutting back on food waste.
The ‘big shop’ comes from meal planning but does not work for everyone. Not all of us are lucky enough to have enough storage space in our presses for food nor a freezer or a large fridge. All of these are essential when you’re buying enough food for a week in advance. Shopping on a Saturday for the following week requires your own transport, or if you don’t have a car, a delivery order which comes with a delivery charge. While delivery charges can vary, even € 3 for off-peak may be too much for those of us on a tight budget.
This is where the split meal plan comes into play. It’s a way of shopping for enough food to last three days. On the fourth day, I use up leftovers or a batch-cooked meal before going shopping again. I don’t have to freeze my fresh meat because it keeps fine in the fridge for three days and I only buy what I know we can eat for a maximum of four days.
It’s easier to carry a couple of days worth of shopping home from the supermarket; saving on fuel in the car and keeping another vehicle off the road too. The fruit and vegetables I buy and eat are the freshest I can get and I have less chance of something going sad and sodden in the bottom of the fridge or fruit flies infesting my fruit bowl either.
I do admit, however, that I’m just as prone to my kids swooping in on the shopping as soon as I get it home and doing their utmost to consume all the nice things within the first hour of filling the presses and fridge. Some things I will never be immune to.
So if you have never tried meal planning before, or thought it was too daunting to tackle a full week’s worth of meals, start with three days in advance and see how you get on. The summer is an excellent time to plan your meals around your proteins rather than deciding on a full dish in advance. This comes into play particularly in the drier weather, when you might decide to barbecue your meats and vegetables rather than using the hob or the cooker for example.
The XXL range returns to Lidl this week. It’s a chance to pick up larger packages of your favorite foods for prices similar to what you’d pay for regular sizes. Call it the reverse of shrinkflation if you like. For example, a multipack of three frozen salami pizzas normally costs € 2.79, but during the XXL special offers, you get an additional pizza at the same price so it’s now four frozen pizzas for € 2.79.
There is free home delivery available for customers aged 65 and over from Tesco Ireland, something which I don’t think many people know about. There are terms and conditions but give them a buzz on 1800 248 123 to see if you, or a family member, are eligible.
SuperValu this week has an offer for an extra-large whole chicken (2.1kg) for € 6, which is very good value if you consider that a large chicken is € 5.99 (1.9kg).
Three of the main retailers have increased the cost of 1 liter of milk to € 1.05 in recent weeks, when I started tracking these prices for the Irish Examiner back in March that same liter of milk would have cost 85c. That’s an increase of over 23.5% in the cost of milk in a very short period of time.
Mac & Cheese
This recipe is one of necessity. It’s the story of a 2-liter carton of milk that has just exceeded its best before date but is fine to cook with. It’s the story of using up a small hunk of cheese in the fridge, and using my stand-by staple vegetables.
⁇ 5 mins
- 50g butter 75g plain flour
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste
100g finely grated cheese of your choice
1kg dried pasta shapes (I used fusilli here)
200g frozen sweetcorn
200g frozen peas
- Put the milk in a jug and heat on high in the microwave for three minutes. The idea is to heat the milk up as a roux needs to be made with warm ingredients. It prevents lumps from forming.
Take a large saucepan and place on a medium heat. Put the butter into the saucepan and allow it to melt. Pour in the flour. Stir well so that the butter absorbs the flour and you get a paste. Pour in one-third of the warm milk and stir vigorously until it is combined with the flour paste. It will thicken, don’t worry. Once you have a thick sauce, pour in another third of the warm milk and stir again. Allow it to come to a simmer. Repeat these steps again with the final third of warm milk.
Stir in the ground nutmeg, salt, and pepper to taste. Leave the sauce to simmer gently to allow the flour to cook out. Add the cheese gradually while stirring all the time; if you add the cheese all at once you’ll end up with lumps. Once the cheese is combined, turn off the heat on the saucepan.
Take a second saucepan and cook your pasta according to the instructions on the packet. Once cooked, drain the pasta and combine with the cheese sauce.
Stir the frozen vegetables into the cheese and pasta sauce.
Spoon the mixture into oven-proof dishes and allow half to cool before covering and freezing.
Cook half in the oven at 180 ° C for 20 minutes until crisp and golden on top.
The jam adds sweetness to the buns and is always a favorite with my kids and extended family.
⁇ 10 mins
- Preheat your (fan) oven to 170 ° C. Set out your bun cases in a bun/cupcake tray. If you don’t have a tray they will bake grand in cases on a normal baking tray, although they will spread a bit wider.
In a large bowl beat the butter and sugar until they are light and fluffy. Add the eggs one by one, beating after each addition to make sure they are well combined. If the mixture starts to curdle, add a tablespoon of flour.
Add the flour and beat lightly until it becomes a pale, smooth mixture, then add the vanilla extract and beat once again for 30 seconds.
Put the spoons of jam in the middle of the bun mixture. Take a metal spoon and swirl the jam through the bun mixture. Spoon the bun batter into the bun cases, no need to smooth out the edges this will happen naturally during the baking process. Bake for 11 minutes until golden brown on top. These buns will store in a sealed box in a cool dry spot in the house for up to 5 days. They also freeze extremely well in an insulated box for up to two months.