Fill your Pantry / Freezer on a Budget

Filling up your pantry/freezer on a budget - grocery bag

By Ashley Cairns

As we all know there is a huge difference in our mood when we are hungry versus our mood when we are well-fed. Anyone experienced the beast that is known as ‘hanger’? 

When you are hungry, your mood becomes volatile, making you feel snappier and short fused as your body screams at you to go get some food. The relationship between food and mood doesn’t just end there; the foods that we put in our body has a direct impact on our mental wellbeing. If we fill ourselves with unhealthy, empty calories that have no nutrition we’re not setting ourselves up for feeling good, physically or mentally.

We literally are what we eat, so I’m keen to pass on some of ACFB’s best tips to help you fill up your pantry. The problem is, if you’re on a budget buying the right types of food can be tough work. I know how hard it is, and likely so do you. So, in a bid to help, here are some ways to fill up your pantry and/or freezer without breaking the bank.

1. Set a weekly budget

The first thing I would recommend you do to fill your pantry, is set a weekly budget for all of your food. If you’re unsure of how much you spend, take a look at your bank statements and add up your food shop expenses. Often most of us find that we’re spending a lot more than we think on food. When you compare this against how much food you throw out at the end of the week you might be more motivated to set yourself a budget to stick to.  

Furthermore, if you’re likely to buy yourself the odd lunch on the go or enjoy a coffee on the way to work, account for this in your food budget. Additional treats and purchases that we don’t associate with a budget can slowly build up as an expense you haven’t accounted for, leaving you wondering how you’ve overspent when keeping to a budget. 

Stick to it!

There are many ways to keep on top of your budget. If you’re like me I like good old fashioned pen and paper to set out my weekly budget and keeping note of how much I’ve spent but there are various online or app based budget trackers out there.

I highly recommend you always look to try and set a clear budget at the start of the working week and you check in with it regularly throughout the week. Keeping it in mind will help you adjust to thinking about your food purchases, getting that voice to say “do I really need this?” or “can I afford it this week?”

girl in front laptop

2. Plan your meals

Along with your budget, make up a meal plan – at least for the first three days of the week. As you get more confident meal planning and sticking to a budget you might want to increase this to 4-5 days a week. 

Thinking ahead serves two purposes, first it allows you to shop for the ingredients you need meaning your freezer/pantry will be full of food items you’re actually going to use up during the week. 

Secondly it leaves less room for making last minute unhealthy choices for meals when you’re stuck hungry trying to think of something to eat for dinner. When our bodies are in a state of hunger our blood sugar levels are low which sends SOS messages to the brain that you need food. This food, (generally carb based) raises your levels back to normal. Without a meal plan, this is when you throw out all good intentions and grab the pizza menu. If you’re interested in learning more about the connection between mood and food, MIND has a great resource that explain how it works and the impact it can have on our mental wellbeing.

Fill your pantry and reuse your items!

In addition to planning your meals, another great way to fill your pantry whilst on a budget is to try and think of a few meals that can use similar ingredients. This means you can buy bigger packets of ingredients (which is often cheaper) and not have to buy lots of different types of ingredients. Therefore, an example meal plan to show how this can work a little further down. Find yourself lacking inspiration? We have a great collection of meal ideas in our archive. 

The last tip I have around meal planning is to try and make sure each meal has a nutritional foundation. By this, I mean make sure you’re adding in a good balance of fruits, vegetables and carbs to make sure you’re feeding yourself with mood boosting foods. This doesn’t mean you have to live off salads and superfoods, cook what you like but just think of ways of incorporating more healthy elements. 

For example, if I’m making Mac’ N’ Cheese, I’ll add in some chopped leeks and spinach and serve it with either a side salad or broccoli. It’s still packed with oozy, cheesy goodness but also helps me to make sure I’m having my quota of vegetables each day

casserole

Example 3 day meal plan (using similar ingredients)

Monday

Chicken Fajitas 

Ingredients: Tortilla wraps, chicken breast, onions, garlic, peppers, mushrooms, spice mix, cheese, salad

Tuesday

Sausage Casserole

Ingredients: Sausages, lentils, beans, onions, peppers, mushrooms, tin of tomatoes, tomato puree, stock, spices 

Wednesday

Wrap Pizzas

Ingredients: Tortilla wraps (base), chopped tomatoes, puree, garlic (sauce), any leftover ingredients from previous nights i.e. meats, onions, peppers etc, cheese, salad

3. Get items with various uses

When buying fruits and vegetables and other produce, look for items that you can use in numerous dishes. An example, carrots and peas can go with a lot of dishes; far more than other vegetables might be able to.

Always look to shop for your pantry/freezer and buy products that can be used in more than one dish. The same goes for sides. Always look to buy something that you know could go with Meal A, C, and E, for example. The more versatile a food is, the better it’s going to be as part of your pantry.

vegetable grocery

4. Look around for comparisons to fill your pantry

Before you head out shopping, be sure to compare prices. You’ll likely have the option of 2-3 places to shop for your food and produce, then check out their online stores first. You might find a few items that you were going to buy from Store A are on offer in Store B, for example.

This all adds up across the week. A few comparison checks before you head out shopping can allow you to spot deals that you might have missed out on if you were simply shopping in one store without checking beforehand.

Filling Up your Pantry/Freezer on a Budget -grocery aisle

5. Avoid ‘bargain valley’ to the end of your shop

Every major store these days has a bargain section that can be a great place to shop. However, the only reason I recommend leaving this to the end of your shop is that you often end up buying items just because they’re on offer rather than because you need them. 

You have a solid budget for the week and ideally will only make 1-2 trips to the store each week. So, avoid going to the bargain sections until you’ve got everything you need. This might mean you can afford a few extra bargains or might be able to swap out some of the shopping list for alternatives that are on offer. 

Warning: End caps and fools offers!

Also, don’t be fooled that you get a better bargain because there’s a big offer sign next to it. Think about the purchase and if it actually is a better deal. A good example of this is when I went to get washing power and the larger packet had a big discount sign on. I thought ‘great! more expensive than what I normally pay but it looks like I’ll be getting double the amount!’ it wasn’t until I checked the back of the packaging to see it was only about slightly more than my normal pack (the outer packaging was just bigger!). As a result I would actually end up paying more for less if I got the bigger discounted pack in comparison to just sticking to what I usually get.

Filling Up your Pantry/Freezer on a Budget - girl in the grocery

6. Shop at the right time

Speaking of the bargain sections, I recommend leaving your shopping until later in the evening if you can. This allows you to turn up when items are being put on the reduced section, such as quickly perishable products like milk and bread. This might help you to pick up some of these essentials cheaper than you would have got them earlier in the day. Just remember to visit these cut-price sections after grabbing everything else so you don’t exceed your budget!

Filling Up your Pantry/Freezer on a Budget - grocery shopping

Fill your pantry today with these tips and tricks!

As you can see, the above should make it pretty simply to start filling out your pantry with a collection of enjoyable foods. It’s not hard to do it, per se; you just need to know what to look out for and crucially what to avoid. I recommend you keep reading over the article to get a good idea of it, and also check out my growing list of articles on financial health

This will really help you to get a better grasp on what is often a confusing and challenging topic. So, now that you know how to fill your pantry without a massive expense, where will you start?

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