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Meal Planning Hack: Smart Ways to Use Convenience Foods to Save Money

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meal planning hack: convenience foods on a budget
Save Money on Convenience Foods. Image by kucherav @stock.adobe.com

If you want to save money on the groceries meal planning is essential. Planning meals saves you money, saves you time is healthier and makes life easier.

But what happens when our best intentions go awry and our meal plan…breaks?

In the parallel universe known as “an ideal world” – where there’s no war or climate change or techno music – our menu plans would always be perfect and as such, we would always follow them with grace and aplomb.

But back in the real world…life happens.

You have to stay late at work and feel too exhausted to cook.

You get sick. 

You cut into the last onion in the pantry and it’s rotten in the middle and it’s the LAST STRAW when you’re having a camel of a day.

(Don’t you hate it when that happens?)

That’s when you need a meal planning hack: a flexible backup plan or two for just those moments. 

And by a backup plan, I mean a few convenience foods in the freezer or pantry.

These convenience foods aren’t meant to make up your everyday meal plan; they are your backup foods that save you the cost and the calories of takeaway.

Meal Planning Hacks with Convenience foods

Below are three tips for having convenience foods on hand without breaking the budget.

1. Stock the Freezer With Convenient Leftovers

Not all convenience food has to come from the supermarket – leftovers are super convenient.

I have one week a month when I just can’t face the kitchen.

I used to try and fight it (I lost, Dominoes won), but now I try to plan for it in advance by cooking double meals when the spring is back in my step.

Having the convenience of a freezer full of meals is both good for your wallet and good for your sense of personal achievement (“I beat you, Dominoes!”).

The easiest way to stock the freezer full of homemade meals isn’t to batch cook over a weekend, but to double up your regular meals. I go into how to do that in this article.

The other option is to fill your freezer with homemade ‘oven-ready’ foods. Food that doesn’t need to be defrosted, so dinner at the last minute is a go.

Check out this article for ‘oven-ready’ food ideas.

2. Stock a Few Convenience Foods

But what if you don’t have a freezer full of meals to go?

That’s when store-bought convenience foods can be a real lifesaver.

While I’m a big fan of cooking from scratch, I’m not above having a few bottles of Korma simmer sauce in the cupboard either.

Or a frozen pie in the freezer.

Or frozen fish and a bag-o-salad to bung on a bread roll.

Convenience foods have a role to play in the modern kitchen and make great backup foods even if you normally prefer to cook from scratch.

They don’t need to compromise your health or your wallet. Read the labels to grab the healthiest option – manufacturers are listening to consumers and making the effort to improve the quality and nutrition of their foods. And to save money, check the catalogues each week to stock up when these foods are half-price.

We don’t have a microwave, but microwave meals can be a good back up meal, especially if you don’t have a whole family to feed. As an example: a Thai Curry and Rice Lean Cuisine is currently half price this week at $2.85 at Woolworths.

A few other convenience foods include:

  • Pre-cut vegetables
  • Simmer Sauces
  • Pre-marinated meat
  • Frozen vegetable mixes
  • Spring rolls
  • Frozen chicken tenders

3. Keep a list of instant meal ideas

Why keep a list of ideas?

Because it’s easier than staring into the fridge and having a brain freeze.

Easy instant meal ideas aren’t as convenient as bunging a dinner in the microwave, but the idea is you use what you have on hand.

For example, my family’s favourite dinner is toasted sandwiches. While I think I’m cheating, they think they’ve hit the bonanza. Especially if there’s bacon on them.

Noodles and fried egg is another easy favourite.

For more instant meal ideas, check out the frugal instant meals article.

Meal planning helps you eat healthy on a budget. But for days when your plans fly out the window, a backup plan – one that involves easy meal options – comes to the rescue.

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4 Comments

  1. My kids love grilled sandwiches with bacon, cheese and tomato. My husband introduced me to baked beans and cheesy toast which the kids love as well but now rather than grilling the cheese on the toast they prefer to eat their food groups separately which is even easier. Slice of toast, slice of cheese, scoop of beans. Simple and convenient.
    Otherwise, if I let them, they’d eat pasta with grated cheese every day. I sometimes cook frozen veggies in with pasta and serve with grated cheese or cheese sauce when I can’t be bothered.

  2. – pizza base : when I make pizza base, I always cut one portion (one large, family size, pizza base). And I top it with whatever is in the fridge.
    – taco sauce. So much better when cooked in large quantity, frozen in batches after the 1st use.
    – fresh, blanched, green beans in portions. Also carrots and capsicums are very easy to freeze in portions.

    My problem Is not so much a change of plan but so little at home time 3-4 times/week, due to kids sports and there activities. Having frozen vegetables, chicken, and other ingredients ready in portions allow me to cook a stir fry on no time.
    The other day I wanted to make a lasagna. With the basic taco sauce already available, it was so easy to quickly make a béchamel, stack everything in the baking tray and slide it in the oven. Bonus: as it was a large tray, we had lasagna for 2 diners this week.
    I don’t really precisely menu plan but think about the week that’s coming on Sunday night, and keep in mind what I still have in the fridge and which days are going to be tricky. My saving tip is always to know what I’m going to serve on the next night and get organized in advance (ex. Monday morning for Tuesday night, etc).

  3. Rammen noodles, tossed in a pan with egg and frozen peas and corn and oyster sauce is my go too. Super fast, one pot and my 5yr old loves it. I also make what he calls ‘burgers’. Basically an english muffin (on special) with a sausage patty and cheese. Wrap in foil and freeze. If you have a microwave then its 30sec a side to reheat or 10mins in the oven with the foil on. I love seeing all these ideas, i write a blog also and have shared most of my frugal ideas.

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