Meal Planning Masterclass: Make Your Stock List

Welcome to part 4 of our Meal Planning Masterclass!  In part 1, I gave you an overview of how we meal plan; in part 2, we looked at evaluating how you eat; and part 3 was all about compiling a master recipe list you can go back to again and again.  Now for part 4 we'll be looking at taking an inventory of the ingredients you already have, and starting to build up a stockpile that's relevant to your needs.

Hands up if you've thrown any food away in the past month?  Hands up if you've got things festering at the back of your cupboards that seemed like a really good idea at the time?  Fridge contents you don't know what to do with, or that are so close to their use by date you're not sure how, or even if, to use them?  Things in your freezer you have long forgotten about?  All of the above?  You're not alone.

One of the first big steps towards successful, efficient, money-saving meal planning is learning to make use of what you have and maintaining a stock list.  You've already worked out what you and your household eat, so this next step is going to be easy.

The principles are:
  • Evaluate your cupboards, fridge etc
  • Create your stock list
  • Maintain a recipe list
  • Buy stock items in bulk when they are on offer
  • Only buy discretionary products that you will definitely use

A lot of people start meal planning then give up because they buy too much and actually end up throwing away more than they did before!  Follow our 5 steps and that won't happen, I promise.

1. Take an Inventory

Drag out the contents of your fridge, freezer and cupboards and jot down what you have.  Literally write everything down and then ask yourself honestly what you would and wouldn't use in a normal week.  If you have 3 packets of tortillas but no-one eats them, why bother?

Make your meal plan for the next two weeks around all these items so that they are mostly used up.  You may find you don't even need to go shopping!  If you find things that you really won't use, drop them round to your local food bank.

2. Create a Stock List

I know, it all feels a bit homestead-ish, but this bit is actually quite fun - honest!  Go through your food preference list and think about the things you will always use.  What do you automatically replace when it runs out?  What do you always have in the cupboard/fridge/freezer?

If it helps, here's our list:

In the fridge:

Cheddar - cooking and eating varieties, plus other cheese
Plain yogurt
Vegetables: courgettes, broccoli, carrots, peppers, onions, garlic + seasonal
Salad: cucumber, tomatoes, spring onions + seasonal
Stuffed tortellini (longish life and great for an instant dinner)

In the freezer:

Berries (picked & frozen last summer)
Ice cream
Potato wedges/chips
Pitta bread

In the cupboards:

Herbs & spices etc
Pickled cucumbers
Sun-dried tomatoes
Jars of artichokes and peppers
Jars of olives
Balsamic vinegar
'Lazy' chilli
Tomato paste
Curry paste
Soy sauce
Enchilada sauce
Tinned soup
Baked beans
Chick peas
Red kidney beans
Cannellini beans
Re-fried beans
Tinned tomatoes
Brown rice
Basmati rice
Risotto rice

3. Maintain a Recipe List

Our stock list means we have a variety of meals we can make from scratch, even if we haven't made it to the shop yet.  All of those meals are on our recipe list, as we said last week.  They include things like:

  • TexMex: chimichangas, enchiladas, quesadillas + salad
  • Halloumi with quinoa, lentils and roasted vegetables
  • Cheese & tomato on toast with baked beans
  • Chick pea tagine with couscous
  • Pasta or couscous salad
  • Pasta with pesto or home-made sauce and salad
  • Tortellini with sauce and vegetables or salad
  • 'Scratch' dinner of cheese. chutneys, salad and bread or crackers
  • Stir-fried vegetables with rice or noodles
  • Curry, chilli or goulash
  • Risotto, paella or pilaff

Even if we were snowed in/incapacitated/broke, we have a good week's worth of meals to pull together from our stock.  Of course, usually we only need one or tow of these meals to plug a hole in the week, or between supermarket trips/meal plans, but it is so useful to have it there.  Combined with a few home-made 'ready meals' in the freezer, we're sorted!  I really do recommend it for ease and peace of mind.

4. Buy in Bulk

For many of us, the cash isn't always there to stock up on bargains when we see them, but if you are able to get into the habit it really does save money in the long run.  Buying stock items in bulk when they are on offer, including cleaning/laundry products, baby wipes/nappies and loo roll, as well as food, as long as you (a) have the money to do it, and (b) have the space to store them (cupboard, spare room, garage?) can be such a money-saver.  I usually go through my shopping list, then go back round the store looking for the red/yellow offer signs.

For example, we get through a lot of crackers as the girls eat them most days, so we buy up as many big orange Jacob's boxes as possible after Christmas when they are usually £3 each.  I estimate this saves us about £70 over the year.  The same for loo roll and cleaning and laundry products when they are on offer, saving over £150 a year; and then with buying any of our usual stock in bulk or when it's on offer, I probably save about £500 a year in total.  This increases more if you use discount stores, the local cash & carry, or online shops like Approved Food.  Read more in our article how to save money at the supermarket.

We'll talk more about stockpiling next week.

5. Limit Discretionary Spending

Always, always, always take a shopping list with you.  Your shopping list will include anything you need for that week's menu, and anything you need to replace from your stockpile.  Then at the supermarket only buy discretionary (non-list) products that you will definitely use, essentially remember the mantra: if it ain't on the stock list or in that week's menu, it ain't going in my trolley!

Do you menu plan?  Do you always shop from a list?
Do you have any other money saving tips?

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