How to plan your meals to save time and money – expert tips

If you’re looking to save time and cash, as well as losing weight and staying healthy, personal trainer Alex Pedley offers five simple tips on meal planning

<p>Here are some expert tips on meal planning (Image: Mark Hall)</p>

Here are some expert tips on meal planning (Image: Mark Hall)

You may have heard the saying, ‘if you fail to plan, you plan to fail’. I would like to add another phrase, ‘if you fail to plan your diet, you plan to waste time and money’.

The cost of living is on the rise. One of the biggest challenges facing households is rising food prices which, according to the official figures, have increased by 6.7% compared to the previous year.

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At the same time, weight gain continues to rise. A survey by Public Health England (PHE) suggests that 41% of adults’ weight increased during the pandemic, with an average gain of half a stone.

The go-to option for most people is to make cuts – reduce food shopping to save money or go on a restrictive diet to lose weight. Neither is necessary, there is a better alternative, and it will save you time, reduce your shopping bill and aid weight loss.

There are fivesteps you can follow…

Keeping a food diary can help you monitor what you eat (Image: Adobe)

1. Keep a food diary

A Cornell study found that we make more than 200 food choices every day. Most of those decisions are made almost automatically.

When in a rush, many of our decisions are on autopilot. Whether doing the weekly shop or grabbing a bite on the go, our choices are almost automatic. These decisions will impact your bank balance and waistline. This is where keeping a food diary can be so beneficial.

For one week, track everything you eat, including all snacks and alcohol, while also looking at your portion size. Although this process does take some time and effort, the reward for doing so will be worth it. You will better understand what you eat, how much, and what triggers your food choices.

2. Look at what you can remove

With the information uncovered in step one, you can begin to make educated changes to your diet.

If you regularly eat a high sugar snack at 3pm or order a takeout, then these are things you can remove or replace. Replacing a high calorie treat with a lower calorie option will reduce your overall calorie intake over a week and lead to weight loss.

There is no need to make wholesale changes, instead progressively replace higher calorie options with low calorie alternatives or replace unnecessary snacking.

Doing a weekly shop can help you save money and eat healthier (Image: Adobe)

3. Plan your meals – including times and what you want to eat

At the start of the week, plan your meals, including snacks, based on when you usually want to eat.

In my experience of looking at thousands of food diaries, most people eat similar breakfasts and lunches each day and cycle between about 10 dinner options. By planning, you are simply controlling those choices to work better for you.

Remember that most food choices we make are on autopilot; the aim is to remove as many decisions as possible to reduce the chance of making rushed and potentially unhealthy choices.

4. Do a weekly online shop for everything you need

Once you have planned your meals, do your weekly shop of everything you need for the week.

Ensure your fridge is stocked with healthy options. Many people eat poorly when they come home from work hungry and don’t have a quick and healthy option available.

Doing a weekly shop will also save you money and time spent shopping each night or ordering takeout’s due to not having options available in the fridge.

Batch cooking at the start of the week is a great idea (Image: Adobe)

5. Prepare your meals at the start of the week

If you do not have time to cook each night, try batch cooking one or two meals at the start of the week. The initial effort of prepping your meals will save you time during the week.

Stews, soups, chillis and spaghetti bolognaise are great options. You can also batch cook vegetables; they will last for 2-3 days.

If you do cook in the evening, make extra and freeze it. This can serve as a lunch or dinner option in future.

The initial effort of keeping a food diary and planning your meals will save you time during the week, reduce your food bill, and help you achieve or maintain your ideal weight.

Try it for a few weeks, and you will see the benefits both physically and financially.