6 Lockdown Meal Planning Tips and Tricks

How to survive on one supermarket trip per week, spend less and waste less
6 Lockdown Meal Planning Tips and Tricks - Halloumi Hash - The Cardiff Cwtch

If you’re going to pick one thing out of the Coronavirus Pandemic that’s affecting all of us in some way, it’s got to be food. The way we shop for, cook and eat food has completely changed in the past month; we’re not eating out anymore since all our favourite restaurants and cafes have either closed or shifted to delivery only, we’re all heading to the supermarket far less (or maybe even not at all), and we’re cooking from scratch more than ever before. We’re also wasting a lot more food. After all the panic buying a couple of weeks ago – as people rushed to stock their fridges and kitchen cupboards ahead of lockdown – local councils and collection crews have seen up to a 30% increase in food waste (everything, from unopened packs of chicken to bread and speckled bananas). That’s bonkers! Especially considering a lot of us are still struggling to get basic items like eggs, flour and pasta in our local supermarkets.

While most of us are familiar with the process of a weekly shop – we’re probably not used to not being able to “pop back” to the supermarket for a couple of extras or fresh items that we’ve forgotten… or a pack of jam doughnuts on a whim (*sigh* the struggle is real). Lockdown food shopping and cooking for many of us (including all the extra food needed for working from home lunches) is a tricky thing to get your head around – and if you’ve never tried it before, then I really can’t recommend Meal Planning enough.

I started Meal Planning myself a couple of years ago when I suddenly realised how much money I was spending on food every week, and how much of that food I was throwing out. I was Queen of the Soggy Cucumbers and half-eaten Sour Cream; I’d head to the supermarket three times a week without a plan and then I’d usually come home with stuff that I already had in the fridge anyway. Enough was enough; I was sick of coming up with meals last minute, I was sick of living in the supermarket and I was sick of throwing out food (quite literally once or twice – rotten potatoes are seriously janky, yo). So I started meal planning and it’s honestly been a game changer – I’m spending far less time and money in the supermarket (I go once a week and spend roughly the same amount every time), and I’m wasting far less food because every item is planned out. It’s a system that works for me every week of the year, but it’s suited even better to Lockdown conditions when you’re only supposed to head to the supermarket once a week. If you’ve planned exactly what you’re going to eat every day of the week ahead, it means a quick and seamless supermarket trip, fuss free meal times and zero food waste.

If you want to give it a go yourself then I wrote a whole post about How to Start Meal Planning, but for Six Lockdown Meal Planning Tips to get you started, just hit scroll. 🙂

6 Lockdown Meal Planning Tips and Tricks - How to spend less, cook more and waste less food - The Cardiff Cwtch

Write a Supermarket-Friendly List

Right now I’m shopping for two households, which has the potential to make for very long, very painful supermarket sessions. To make the process as quick and as painless as possible I have to pretty much attack it like a full on military operation – and writing a Supermarket Friendly Shopping List is top of the game plan. I want to be able to breeze through the supermarket, hitting all the aisles individually – and only once.

  • Target Use by Date: When I sit down to write my weekly shopping list, the very first thing I write right at the top – before I even get to adding milk or eggs – is what the date is going to be in seven days time. I want to be able to hunt out the best possible use by date on the products I add to my trolley to make sure nothing goes off during the week ahead – meaning no desperate follow-up dashes to the supermarket, and no wasted food.
  • Location List: Have you ever shopped at an unfamiliar supermarket and had a meltdown in one of the aisles because, “Argh! Everything’s in a different place!!!”? Yeah, same. You probably know your usual supermarket like the back of your hand – you’ll know exactly where to find everything, from cheese to ground cinnamon – as well as how you usually move from aisle to aisle. So write a list with that in mind! I write mine in the order I shop – that way I don’t have to ping pong back and forth from aisle to aisle.

Double-up to Leave Plenty of Leftovers for Lunches

The current lock-down situation is made for those who cook from scratch. If that’s you, then you’ve probably got an arsenal of home cooked recipes up your sleeve and are well-rehearsed in double-ing up meals to serve you for leftovers and lunches throughout the week. Slipping in some easy, from scratch meals into your weekly meal plan is the way to go, now more than ever. For a start, it’s cheaper, and often healthier – but also, now that we’re all working from home we’re hitting up the home fridge at lunch time as well as dinner time, so having some leftovers going spare goes a long way. Chilli, Pasta and Curry all make for brilliant leftovers – especially vegetarian versions – and some favourite “double-up” recipes in my personal arsenal include:

Support Your Local Cafes and Restaurants by Ordering In

Before Coronavirus there were some weeks where I’d factor in a night for a Takeaway or a Meal Out. Obviously a trip to my local pub for a curry (I LOVE a pub curry, mate) or to a restaurant in town is now off limits for the forseeable – but a takeaway is still most definitely an option. Lots of our much loved local businesses are still slogging on through these strange times by offering delivery options – so why not support them, give yourself the night off from cooking and order something in?

(*If you live in Cardiff then this brilliant website has up to date information on local restaurants and businesses that are currently delivering food in and around the city.)

Factor in a “Dog’s Dinner” Dish for Day Seven

Dog’s Dinner, Hodge Podge, whatever you like to call it – everyone’s got a recipe for using up any leftover veg and meat hanging around in their fridge. I like to factor one in to my weekly meal plan for day seven (the day before I start over and head to the supermarket again), just to clear out my fridge and cut down on food waste. I’ve usually got at least a pepper, some mushrooms, tomatoes and some salad leaves left – and so my absolute favourite Dog’s Dinner dish to use them all up is Halloumi Hash. Halloumi freezes really well (and thaws out quickly) so I’ve always got a handful of blocks at the bottom of the freezer – and then I just fry it up with some potatoes (even better if I’ve got a few left over from a roast), leftover veg, paprika and olive oil. To finish it off, I top it with either a fried or a poached egg. Yum!

Use Leftover Roast Meat Strategically

If you’re a big fan of a good old fashioned roast dinner – or just roasted meat in general – then start working it into your weekly meal plan to save from buying extra meat and to give your midweek meals an easy glow-up. Roasted meats can be reheated safely once (some say twice, but after having severe food poisoning once myself I’d personally rather not risk it!) within three days of first cooking them. I like to use leftover roast chicken to make curries and jazz up stir fries and noodle dishes, and leftover pork roast is absolutely perfect to throw into Ramen and Pho.

Keep your Pantry and Freezer Stocked with Versatile Ingredients

Obviously don’t start panic-buying an apocalypse-ready trolley-full of tins and freezer food (most supermarkets are restricting shoppers to three items per person now anyway) – but strategically picking up some long-lasting food items and ingredients that can be used to create easy meals from scratch makes weekly meals so much easier – even out of a lockdown situation. I’m really lucky, I’ve got a makeshift pantry of shelves out in the garage where I store up tins of beans, chick peas, tinned tomatoes, chutneys, rice and pasta – all items that can be used to make a quick meal in a pinch. I also keep my freezer stocked with chicken dippers (try my Cheat’s Mango Chicken, and my Honey Sesame Chicken – both made using chicken dippers!), Halloumi (great in stir fries and curries instead of meat), as well as lots of frozen vegetables and herbs. My kitchen cupboards are also stocked up with spices, sauces and meal kits (I LOVE the Blue Dragon ones) – so if I can’t make it to the supermarket for my weekly shop and have to hang on a few more days – then I’ve got plenty to make something out of nothing.

Let me know your favourite Dog’s Dinner/Hodge Podge recipes below – I could use a few new ones to try! Have a great week! ❤︎

How to Start Meal Planning

Halloumi Hash

I’m pretty sure you could build a life-sized replica of the Eiffel Tower with the amount of gone-off, half-eaten cucumbers I’ve thrown out over the years (…albeit a very soggy, structurally unstable one…).  And it’s not just cucumbers; I am one of the worst people when it comes to wasting food.  It’s not that I do it on purpose, I just forget what I’ve got in my fridge and so stuff tends to go off before I can get to it.  Most nights I have to scramble to find something to cook or rush out to get something last minute, and there have been more than a few nights where I’ve just given in and ordered a takeaway.

One of my resolutions this year was to start Meal Planning in an effort to cut down on supermarket trips and food waste, as well as learning to cook some new meals and eat a little healthier along the way.  And honestly?  It’s been brilliant.  Now, I only buy food that I know I’m going to use, and I know exactly what’s for dinner every night of the week.  No more hanging on the fridge door every night wondering what to cook, no more last minute trips to the supermarket, and no more soggy cucumbers!

How to Get Started

Before you start you’re going to need a few things to help you organise your shopping and your meals for the week:

A Calendar:

I always like to have a month to view calendar up in the kitchen where everyone can see it to write important dates/events/reminders on.  This year – surprise, surprise – I’ve got a Golden Retriever one. 😉

A Menu Board:

This is where you’re going to display your weekly meals; it could be anything from a black or white board hung up in the kitchen somewhere, or even just a piece of paper tacked up on the fridge.

A Recipe Journal: 

You’re going to need somewhere to write down any recipes that you come across so you can refer back to it when you’re planning meals for the week.

Well-Stocked Cupboards:

Make sure your cupboards are full of basic cooking essentials like rice, herbs, spices, sauces, pasta etc…

A Weekly Food Budget:

What’s the most you’re willing to spend on your weekly food shop?  I had no idea myself to begin with, but now that I’ve been meal planning for a while I know roughly how much my weekly food shop should cost and so know when I’m over-spending or coming up short.

Assign a day of the week and time to do your food shop: 

This will determine how you prepare and plan your weekly meals. I like to do my food shopping on a Monday because it’s nice and quiet and it’s right at the start of the week – duh!

So, what does it look like in practice?  Well, here’s what I do each week:

The Day Before Food Shop Day

As I said, I like to do my food shopping on a Monday, so on Sundays I start thinking about what kind of food I want to eat during the week ahead and if there’s anything that’s going to play a role in that decision.

  • Check your fridge and your cupboards:  Is there any food that needs to be used up this week?  Are there any cupboard essentials/ingredients that you need to repurchase?
  • Check the calendar:  Work your meals around your schedule, for example, if you know you’re tired on Thursdays and struggle to cook then plan to eat leftovers that day, eat out, or order in.
  • Check in with other members of the household: If there’s more than just one person in your house, check in with them and work out if there are any days that they’re planning on working late or won’t be in to eat.
  • Check your Recipe Journal:  I save a lot of recipes I fancy trying to my Pinterest, and then copy down the ones that worked out well into my journal.  I check this every week before writing my shopping list to see if there’s anything in there that will work that week.  You don’t need to write your menu out just yet or know what you want to eat each day.
  • Now, write your shopping list
Pancake Party

Food Shop Day

On Mondays before I head to the supermarket, I clear out my fridge to make space and then head out armed with my list.

  • Check Use By Dates: When you bring your shopping back – before putting anything away – check the use-by dates on perishables.  Meat is the big one, so take a look at each pack and write on your calendar when everything goes off or needs to be used by.  This is going to cut down on food waste, and will help plan your menu for the week ahead.
  • Don’t over-pack your fridge:  I still struggle with this one, but I do try and keep the fridge as organised as I can so I can clearly see what I’ve got (and find things easily!).
  • Write Your Meal Plan: Using the use-by dates on the calendar as a guide, write out a menu for each day of the week and stick it up somewhere so everyone can see it.  If you share out cooking duties, write down who’s cooking on each day.
Potato and Cauliflower Flatbreads

During the week

Most of the hard work is done, but during the week there are a few things I like to do to stay on top things and help make planning for the next week a little easier.

  • Meal Prep: Prep what you can ahead of time, or make sure you keep your freezer stocked with ready chopped herbs and vegetables.  Frozen chopped onions, people.  They’re AMAZING.  Having a good stock of frozen veg, makes things so much easier when it’s time to cook!
  • Empties: Keep a list of anything run out of or need to buy for next week.
  • Update Your Recipe Journal: If a recipe goes wrong or isn’t THE ONE, then cross it out on your weekly menu and remove it from your Recipe Journal. Similarly, if you’ve found a good ‘un, then lock it in.
  • Leftover Ingredients: If there are any ingredients you haven’t used or that you know you’re not going to get through before the end of the week, freeze them or work them into next week’s plan.
  • Hunt out New Recipes: Always be on the lookout for new recipes to try.  Pin them, or write them down in your Recipe Journal.
  • Leftovers: Sometimes I like to cook meals that I know are going to leave me plenty of leftovers.  That way, I can stock my freezer, or have a couple of days the following week that I don’t need to plan for. 🙂

And that’s it!  It takes a little time to get into the swing of things, but doing that little bit of planning each week has really helped me to cut down on my food waste, eat healthier (which I find really hard) and discover some new favourite foods! 🙂

Anyone got a favourite recipes?  I need to make my list for next week and fancy trying something new.  Hook me up, people! 😉