How do I add variety to my meals when I am on a low budget?
Some people find meal planning a chore, but I actually enjoy it as it is a challenge to make meals out of what I already have, or what I find discounted or for free. I think that it is important to add variety to meals as they can become boring if you eat the same thing each week. We also need variety in our nutrition to remain healthy. I completed a sports nutrition course years ago and was taught to try and eat a rainbow of coloured foods. If you are short of time or on a low income it can be difficult to make meals that are different. Here are some of the ways that I add variety to our meals.
- I try to make at least one completely new recipe each week. I look on Pinterest or through old recipe books for ideas. I love looking in old cookbooks (especially ones from the war) for ideas. I also think outside the box by playing ‘Ready, Steady cook’. One ingredient can change a meal.
- I buy different groceries each time I shop. I know people that virtually do the same shop each week. My choice depends on what is discounted or seasonal. Our menu is then based on those ingredients and what I already have in.
- I may use the same ingredients, but I change the spices. A lot of meals from different cultures are similar but the different spices make it taste different.
- I change how leftovers are served and don’t have the same meal again. An example is that if I had chilli left, I might put it in pastry, put mash potato on top, change into tacos, add pasta or rice or turn into soup.
- When I bake, I put some in the cake tin, but also portion some and put it into the freezer. That way we don’t have to eat the same tray bake all week and I can take different cakes or pastries out of the freezer for variety each day.
- I freeze leftovers rather than eating them the next day. I then use them later in the month.
- I add different side dishes, eg if we are having roast chicken I might do it as a Sunday dinner, with chips and salad, or with ratatouille and rice. I might also incorporate it into a meal by using on some pizza, in a pie, in a curry or bolognaise instead of mince.
- I try new ingredients eg grains I have not used before, or I try making different sauces on side dishes or main meals. Last year we introduced barley into our sweet and savoury meals, and a Moroccan inspired sauce.
- I make batches of meals like bolognaise or chilli, when I have time, and freeze them. I then take them out every couple of weeks and serve them in a different way.
- I use different cooking methods to change the texture of a meal eg. sometimes I will air fry a wrap for lunch to make it crispy, or I will toast a sandwich.
- I add different ingredients to a bland base eg If I make overnight oats I will add different fruit, or maybe cocoa. If I am making a milk pudding I will use different grains like tapioca, rice, or macaroni and add different spices, or dried fruit, or serve it with compote. When adding a white sauce, I might add cheese or different herbs.
- I try not to repeat the same meal each month. I try to make different dishes, even for breakfast based on what we feel like. Mr S loves breakfast pizza with an egg on or we might have pancakes with yoghurt and fruit. If we have overnight oats, I will make one that tastes of carrot cake by adding grated carrots, sultanas and spices, or a black forest one may have blackberries and cocoa powder.
- I try using different proteins and don’t always rely on meat. When I get a yellow sticker meat or fish bargain, I will portion it up and freeze so that we can have variety each week.
- I add seeds, fruit and grains to bread, porridge or flapjack.
- I forage and use wild ingredients in cordials, pesto, bread, soups and main meals eg nettles, wild garlic and fruit.
What is my typical meal plan?
This was a meal plan for the two of us from a few weeks ago.
A pork and pineapple stir fry (using left over pork joint meat and half a tin of pineapple (I froze the rest), vegetables from the garden, and vegetables that needed eating up in the fridge with home grown frozen sweet corn added.
Hummus and vegetable pie (previously frozen)
Sausage pasta using only 2 sausages, lots of veg and homegrown bottled tomato ragu.
Thai sweet potato curry
Baked potatoes with pulled chicken, bacon and peas in white sauce (left over from a pie)
Quiche, salad and chips
Pitta bread pizza made from bits in the fridge
Stretched beans on toast (half a tin of beans with onion and pepper added)
Wild garlic and cheese toastie with salad
Mexican chilli vegetable soup and flat bread
Pasta with herb pesto and parmesan
Spicy vegetable wrap
Pulled chicken salad
Poached egg on toast and foraged fruit smoothie
Porridge and foraged apple compote
Vegetables in a tomato and herb sauce (leftovers) on toast with a sprinkle of cheese and fruit smoothie
Vegetable omelette with half a tin of beans
Porridge with cinnamon and honey and fruit smoothie
Drop pancakes, foraged cooked apple and yoghurt.
Yoghurt with foraged apples
Homemade pot rice with foraged fruit,
Scones and homemade jam,
Sponge with custard and blackberry and apples,
Home grown bottled pears with mincemeat and apple and custard.
Home grown apples
That might seem quite an expensive menu but by eating vegetarian meals, incorporating leftovers into new meals, batch cooking, foraging, growing and preserving we are able to eat well on a low budget. They say that variety is the spice of life and if times are hard food can take on a larger significance in life. We try to make our meals a special occasion and sit down at a table and serve and present them nicely. This brings more joy to our life as well as providing us with the nutrition we need.