Working a 9-5 (more like 8-8 in reality, by the time you count the commute) and getting a homemade + healthy + fast meal on the dinner table every night can be quite the challenge.
Our routine is usually as follows: do a grocery shop once a week and pick up random things that I think I might want to eat, then do several smaller shops to pick up specific ingredients to make dinner with, once I’ve decided what to actually cook. For two people, our monthly grocery bill has been unnecessarily high (easily over €700). Granted, we allocate a decent-sized portion of our budget to food because…well, we love to eat good food! We don’t skimp on high-end ingredients like organic meats, seafood and veggies, and we don’t always buy based on what’s on sale. What happens way too often, though, is that we ended up wasting food (which is horrible) and not eating as diverse meals throughout the week as we should. Since my shopping isn’t always targeted based on actual meals, I end up with too many ingredients that I can’t use that end up going bad. Of course, when we’re not sure what to make for dinner, way-too-often we opt for an easy pasta dish. I would eat pasta for every meal if I could (really…) but Hubby’s metabolism doesn’t process it the same way mine does, so alternatives need to be served up on a regular basis.
To battle the weekly dinner problems described above, I’ve implemented a 3-part strategy to eat better (for less money), waste less food and generally be more organized with our meal management.
So, the plan is:
– Online grocery shopping
– Strict(ish) budget of £400/month
– Weekly meal planning
Online grocery shopping solves the problem of just randomly throwing things in the shopping cart, then getting to the checkout with tons of groceries but nothing to really make into actual meals. Our flat is a 3rd floor walk-up, so it’s also a pretty big convenience to not have to lug everything up the stairs! We shop at Waitrose (one day I’ll write about the Tesco grocery delivery fiasco) and we love it. The food is fresh and deliveries arrive on-time, which is key for busy folks like us. Most online grocery stores have a shopping list feature, so you can essentially build your list over the course of a few days, then order once you’ve gotten everything you’ll need for the week. Shopping online makes price comparison significantly easier, because you can just sort by price and make smarter choices. The price per item or per kilo is often provided as well, so you can really make sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck this way. If you have the online shopping option available to you, then give it a try!
Sticking to a budget: We are big believers in only putting quality products into our bodies, and are very thankful to be able to afford organic foods and the like. That doesn’t mean, though, that we can’t eat just as well for less money! We just need to pay attention to what we’re buying and stick to a budget. Again, online shopping comes in handy because I can very easily keep track of exactly how much I’m spending and I can cut down on mid-week shopping trips – I always end up buying things I don’t need when I’m at the grocery store! So, I’ve reigned in our budget to no more than £400/month. So, that works out to £75-100/week, plus a little leftover for a mid-week shop if we do run out of something.
Online shopping and budgets are key, but the real revolution for us has been meal planning. I’ve dabbled in make-ahead breakfasts and freezer meals, but I’ve never actually committed to a full-on weekly meal plan. It just seemed so daunting: spending hours thinking of recipes, making sure to have all the ingredients on-hand, then a full day of preparing everything ahead of time. Who has time for that…? Well, it turns out – I do!
Saturday morning I spent around 2 hours working out recipes. This takes a while because: my husband is somewhat picky, I wanted to choose recipes that allow me to use similar ingredients without making similar recipes, I was sticking to a budget, and I wanted easy recipes that could be semi-prepped in advance. Once all of my meals were planned out, I made a grocery list and did my online shopping to be delivered on Sunday. So ::drumroll: here’s the menu for our first week of meal planning:
- Monday: Homemade shake-n-bake chicken
- Tuesday: Paris-style roast chicken
- Wednesday: Beef & Broccoli stir fry
- Thursday: Jonathan’s spaghetti bolognese
- Friday: Greek chicken salad
Once my groceries arrived, I brined the chicken, made the shake-n-bake mix, marinated the beef for the stir-fry, marinated the chicken for the salad (the put it in the freezer). I didn’t pre-chop any veggies because I still prefer to make those fresh. All of this took under an hour, which was pretty surprising as I thought it’d take way longer. It was so fast, that I had time to work on my Ikea Bekvam stool makeover (coming soon!) before it got too late 😉
For the moment, I’m only doing the meal-planning for dinner but I’ll be updating it for all meals soon – so keep an eye out for that!
Since I have a husband that’s less-than-thrilled when it’s his turn to make dinner, this also erases the stress he might feel when I text to say that I’ll be home late…please make dinner! Whenever I know I’ll have a late night at work, we plan ahead by picking out a man-friendly recipe that Jonathan feels comfortable making. The main ingredients are usually already prepped, so on “his nights” he usually just needs to pop his recipe in the oven and I come home to a delicious-smelling apartment!
What are your tips for getting healthy meals on your dinner table every night without going crazy? I’d love to hear them, as our strategy is constantly evolving!