This self-employment malarky is confusing. One month you’re eating like royalty, bouncing around town at all of the cool spots. What’s that? You can’t be bothered to cook? Let’s go out! Another round of drinks? I’ll get these! Tasting menu? Don’t mind if I do. Then the next month rolls in and suddenly you’re gazing at your bank balance in some sort of a daze, thinking “Where did all the money go?” Prince to Pauper in the extreme.
Alright, so some of that is down to my poor household and financial management, but after three long years of going it alone, I still can’t manage to get into that swing of saving when I’m busy so I don’t need to scrimp when I’m not. Hence the meal planning. August has been my summer holiday month. I didn’t go anywhere exotic, but I took a week off and did a bit of hopping around the country visiting various friends and relatives. Thing is, when you pay yourself and you don’t do any work, well… there’s no payday. Still getting my head around that one.
So this week I’m trying to keep the costs down. I’ve had my jollies, checked out the new openings, but now it’s time to sit back and cozy up for Autumn. I don’t mind staying at home when the weather’s bad. I’ve got £50 this week to feed Matt and I, which may sound lavish to some, but trust me, we can spend a lot more than that. Hey – food is our hobby. I haven’t budgeted for breakfast because generally Matt doesn’t eat it and I have the same thing, of which I have plenty in stock. We’re not big on desserts, either, so you won’t see many of them. This is my plan:
Monday: Because he works in street food, Matt’s weekends generally fall on a Monday and a Tuesday. Sometimes we go out, but this week I’ll be cooking at home so he can put his feet up. Lunch is soup and bread, which I’ll hopefully homemake on Sunday. I have everything needed for bread in the cupboards. Soup will be made from whatever leftover veg we have from the week. Tea will be a courgette risotto – it’s the end of the courgette season and you gotta get those babies while you can. This needs fresh courgettes, goats cheese and a bottle of wine – I have the rest. £10.
Tuesday: For lunch, it’s sliced minute steak from the freezer folded through couscous with harissa, roasted onions and pine nuts. Time to replenish those pine nuts, they’re seeing a lot of use lately. Tea tonight will most likely be cooked by Matt. It’ll probably be that bit of pork belly we’ve got in the freezer if I know him at all, maybe with borlotti beans (cupboard) and cider. I’ll give him a budget of £8 to spend just in case, he’s pretty good at coming up with impressive meals on limited funds. £11.
Wednesday: For lunch today, I’m taking more of the soup I made on Sunday to work. I’ll heat it up in the microwave at lunch time and eat it with bread – homemade if it’s not stale yet, but otherwise I’ll pick up a fresh roll from Co-op on my way in. Left over risotto means one thing only – arancini. Tonight’s tea is light on the spend, heavy on the prep. I’m thinking Italian Small Plates. Arancini, deep fried courgette with mint, homemade garlic bread and aubergine parmigiana. Raspberry ripple ice cream (homemade) to finish. I need an aubergine, a new bulb of garlic and a packet of mint. Eggs and cream for the ice cream. £6.50
Thursday: I’m styling and shooting for a client during the day, so don’t need to plan lunch. For tea? Matt’s working so it’ll be simple pasta for me, linguine from the cupboard, plus pine nuts, diced bacon and peas from the freezer, lemon and a splash of cream leftover from Wednesday’s ice cream. £2.50.
Friday: Another morning full of styling and shooting, this time I’m collaborating on a recipe for Food&. I’ll scrounge what I can from what’s left. In the afternoon I’m finishing off the copy for a client’s website and then shooting out to dinner with friends. No grocery spend today.
Saturday: Realistically, I’ll be out and about during the day on Saturday. I might meet friends for a coffee, Mrs Athas most likely, and pick up lunch while I’m there. Or maybe at Trinity Kitchen. For dinner I’m on my own again, I’m cooking honey sesame chicken with egg fried rice – I’ll make a double portion so Matt can have some when he gets in. The chicken comes out of the freezer, two thighs left over from another meal. I need to replace my honey and buy spring onions. Luckily I have sesame seeds and rice already in store, plus eggs leftover from the ice cream. Will treat myself to a bottle of slimline tonic so I can have a gin or two – it’s the weekend after all. £4.
Sunday: If it’s not a roast on a Sunday afternoon, it’s most likely a bolognese on Sunday evening. I’m alone, so I’ll have a late brunch and a few coffees at my local shop, then pootle home to get the stove fired up. Brunch will be waffles with syrup, for which I’ll use the last two eggs I bought earlier in the week. I’ll make too many waffles and freeze the rest for easy breakfasts – you can reheat them in the toaster. For the bolognese I’ll get mince out of the freezer (Matt picked up five packs for £1.49 each in the reduced section a few weeks ago), I have onions, milk, tinned chopped tomatoes and stock in already, and I can use the rest of the bacon I defrosted on Thursday night. I need to pick up a bottle of red wine, celery, a carrot, basil (our plant died) and gnocchi from the shop. £12.
Total: £46 – wahey, £4 left over for snacks – maybe a few pieces of fruit and a packet of biscuits.
You can probably tell from reading this that my freezer, cupboards and spice rack are extremely well stocked. The spices and herbs have taken a long time to build up – but we tend to buy in bulk from the local Asian supermarket and keep everything in clean, sealed jam jars. When it comes to freezing, we buy the majority of our meat from the butcher but also use supermarket reduced shelves to grab things while they’re cheap. The extra cost at the time will pay you back in spades and if you have a lean month, your stress will be halved. Meat packs from your butcher or market really help too, and also encourage you to experiment with cuts you wouldn’t usually buy. Grains and dried goods can be stocked up on every few months with an online shop, but I love Millie’s for big bags of rice, couscous, pearl barley and lentils, along with large bottles of vinegar and oil. Having these things readily available makes for easy meal planning.
Do you plan ahead for cooking in the week? Are there any tools you use to make life easier?