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It is all about shopping to a menu, eating seasonally, and learning to 'shop your pantry' so nothing is wasted. Easier said than done? A lot of the time. I am always best with sticking to my menu plans when the budget is tight. You need to spend some time putting together a repertoire of cheap and cheerful recipes so that you can feed your brood on the proverbial smell of an oily rag when you need to.
On a good week, I do an inventory of what's in stock at our place, plan some menus around that and add the extra bits and pieces I need to finalise seven dinners, seven lunches, some breakfast for all and a couple of home-baked treats.
Breakfast is pretty standard Weetbix with sultanas for most of us. I switch up the cereals sometimes (usually when the store has a special at which time I stock up) but mostly I find a big box of Weetbix is a reasonably affordable start to the day.
Lunch supplies include cheese, deli meats, tinned salmon, salad, crackers and nuts. I don't have any brand loyalty with any of these products. I just get what I can afford at the time I need to buy it. This means we get variety, even in the basics.
For dinners, I have a good repertoire of easy meals that I make from scratch off the top of my head. Nachos, spaghetti bolognaise, fettucine bosciaola, pasta bakes, bangers and mash, lasagne, dahl, apricot chicken, stir-fries, quiche, fried rice, homemade pizza, san choy bow etc. When I have time, I add a new recipe from one of my many recipe books or from online.
I just buy what I need to make the meals; trying to have enough to stretch for another meal or snack. I take left overs for lunch or, sometimes, we have a night of leftovers with bits and pieces from the previous couple of nights.
I never allocate meals for each night of the week; that would be way too organised for me. I just have a list of possible contenders each night and tick them off throughout the week. It works for me, but I am not one for routine.
Here's my latest Spaghetti Bolognaise recipe (Feeds 2 Adults; 4 children for two nights):
500g pork and veal mince
1 cup red lentils
1 tbsp onion flakes*
1 tsp garlic powder*
1 vegetable stock cube
2 cups water
1 tin tomatoes with basil and oregano**
1 tin condensed tomato soup
I packet dried spaghetti
1. Cook the mince with the lentils, onion, garlic, stock cube and water until the lentils are soft and the water has boiled off. It will look brown and mirky.
2. Add the tomatoes and soup
3. Cook spaghetti as per packet instructions.
4. Combine the bolognaise sauce and cooked spaghetti.
5. Serve with a sprinkle of grated cheese, a salad and some garlic bread.
* Use fresh if your children will tolerate it. Mine refuse to each fresh garlic or onion and won't eat the rest of their dinner if it is in there.
** Use fresh when they are in season or if you have the herbs in the garden. You may need to add a bit more water though
What are your menu planning tips? Feel free to share your frugal recipes in the comments.