Mum Cuts Monthly Food Bill From £500 To £150 With This Genius Meal Plan
- Sarah-Jane Cerullo, 23, drew up the meal plan to take the hassle out of deciding what to cook AND to prove it was possible to stick to a £150-a-month budget
- Approximately £72 goes on everyday food and the rest goes into a dedicated pot to cover one-off expenses, such as Christmas dinner
- Says the trick that can have the biggest impact on cost is picking some key ingredients and stretching them out over multiple meals
Yellow sticker shopping, extreme couponing and picking up wonky vegetable boxes are all great ways to make your food budget stretch that little bit further.
Sarah-Jane Cerullo, 23, has done it all and more, but it’s her latest idea that’s making the biggest difference to keeping her family’s food bill in check. The teacher, who lives with her partner Jack, six-month-old baby, and mum Jane in Southend, Essex, has come up with a monthly meal plan that makes the most of her £150 food budget. It provides three meals a day for approximately £72 – that's around £2.35 a day – with the rest going into a dedicated pot for one-off expenses, such as Christmas dinner.
“I know how daunting and scary it can be when you don’t have much money and need to plan meals and feed a family,” Sarah told money-saving community LatestDeals.co.uk. “Previously, my mum did a big shop each week which cost £100. Plus, we'd spend £30 on extra stuff we forgot. This meant we were spending around £500 a month, and my baby wasn’t eating solids then.
“We currently benefit from being able to pick and choose from handy store cupboard extras, like tinned foods, that have built up over time,” she added. “We’re planning to move out of mum’s soon, so I wanted to be sure we could stick to a £150 a month budget without having this as a back-up option.
“We used to do a lot of yellow sticker shops, but our baby goes to bed at around 6:30-7pm, which is usually the time the deals are put out, so we aren’t able to do this anymore. This is what led us to start planning our meals in advance and cooking from scratch a lot more. Plus, our baby is weaning now, and it can be a struggle to come up with ideas for new dishes for him to try.”
With some savvy research, the meal plan was born. It features an itemised shopping list for a month (31 days) totaling £72. Ideas for breakfast, lunch and dinner are included on the premise of feeding a family of three – two adults and a baby – although Sarah reveals that the dinners are large enough to be split into four adult portions.
Breakfast options include banana porridge, eggs on toast and frozen fruit smoothies. Lunches range from chicken soup and bacon omelets to sandwiches followed by a piece of fruit. Dinners that made the cut are: cottage pie with broccoli and carrots; savoury crêpes with bacon, spring onion, mushrooms and cheese; and creamy garlic chicken with sweetcorn, carrot and mash.
“It only took me an hour or two to come up with the plan, as I love using spreadsheets,” says Sarah. “As a starting point I chose some recipes from our favourite cookbooks and I also asked my partner for some suggestions for dishes he likes. Next, I looked at ways of getting multiple meals out of some of one main ingredient. For example, I could use one large chicken for three different meals, such as a roast chicken dinner, followed by soup and enchiladas using the leftovers.
“My partner and I have both been vegetarian in the past, so we want to get the most value out of the meat we're eating rather than buy too much of it.
“I planned it all based on shopping at ASDA, as I find it easy to search the price of each of the items online. However, I think it would work out roughly the same if I were shopping at Lidl or Aldi too.”
Occasionally Sarah would add cleaning products or extra fruit to her shop, which would bump up the cost, but that’s where the extra cash pot comes in handy.
The family has been following the plan for one month now and says it’s going well.
“My mum loves having us here to cook for her. She's said she'd probably live off soup otherwise,” says Sarah. “She has one of the extra dinner portions that come out of the plan, but she doesn’t have breakfast or lunch here, as she eats for free at work.
“My partner will occasionally eat the other leftover portion for lunch or take to work with him. It’s usually a little smaller, though, as our baby has had a tiny bit from it.”
Her organised approach is driven by a passion to pack in lots of nutrients and flavour.
“It’s definitely hard to eat right on a budget but I didn’t want to rely on freezer food when I currently have the time to cook and prepare things myself,” she says. I’m not a natural organiser – I used to really struggle with it. However, when I went to university I found I had to plan my meals or I’d end up spending hundreds. I do love cooking, however, which makes it a lot easier.
Sarah is planning to switch up the meal plan in the future to add more variety.
“I think with the next plan I do I will definitely incorporate some different fruits and breakfast options, as my son is now more open to trying different flavours. Plus, I’ve recently found ways to get some of the ingredients cheaper. For instance, eggs are only 49p for 15 at Farmfoods so it would be worth a visit if you have one locally.
“I realise the plan may not be to everyone’s taste, but I think it’s really easy to adapt,” she adds. “The best way to start is to think of a few evening meals you like and stretch a main ingredient to use across three dishes – this will really help to bring down the overall cost. As I mentioned, a lot of the chicken dishes are great value for money.”
She also recommends bulking out meals with vegetables to make your money go further, but not to stress if you feel the need to deviate from time to time.
“Plan your meals, but also know that you don’t always have to stick to them,” she says. “If you don’t fancy it, then don’t cook it. We tend to have a few ideas up sleeve that we can easily choose instead of what’s planned, without having to worry about going over budget.”
Tom Church, Co-Founder of LatestDeals.co.uk comments: “It’s easy for your food shopping bill to creep up over time, but meal planning is a tried and tested way to take back control.
“Not only does it take the hassle out of deciding what to make, but it can help you cut down on food waste too, by pinpointing ways to stretch ingredients across multiple meals.
“If the thought of making a monthly meal plan seems a bit overwhelming you can always start with a two-week plan on repeat and go from there.”
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