None of us want to waste more time than we need to queueing at the supermarket. So it makes total sense that when you do shop, to buy in food for a couple of weeks at a time.
Doing a big shop for 2 weeks without the usual 'top up' shops was quite a challenge at first: how can you eat healthily for 2 weeks without resorting to frozen pizza and chips? But I've got used to it now and I'd like to share my top tips with you. It really can make life easier!
I can't stress the importance of this enough, planning is the only way you'll succeed at this task! To help me prepare, I made a plan of all the dinners we would eat in the next two weeks. I tried to think about meals where I could make extras to freeze for the following week, plus meals that would make use of the ingredients I already had in the house.
Another factor to consider is planning meals that can easily cope with substitutions – for example, I couldn't get hold of any broccoli which we normally have with our roast dinners – so we'll be having cabbage this week instead. I also couldn't find chicken breast to add to some chicken we already have for our curry – but I did find some diced turkey, so chicken AND turkey curry it is!
While planning your meals, continue to think about how to still follow good nutrition. I planned our meals while trying to consider which protein sources we would base them around – to ensure it wasn’t too heavy on red meat and included some fish and veggie options. Recently we've been trying to have much less meat and to opt for more plant based options. But during this challenging time, it's been a case of getting hold of what I can and sticking to the meals I'm comfortable making – because none of us need any added pressure right now.
What I always make sure I do though, is load up every meal with extra veggies – my beef chilli was light on meat and heavy on peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes, carrots and beans – likewise, with the chicken curry. And the salmon stir fry includes 3 portions of veg. Plus bulking out with veggies makes it go further.
Try to plan meals where you can make extra servings in one go and save the leftovers for another day. This is a great way to get your fresh veg used up in meals before it starts to turn, so you can then enjoy the same nutrients in a week's time. Likewise, pick meals that will save or freeze well if you cook them in advance – in case you need to get your fresh veggies used up in week one.
For example, I've made the chilli – which will provide two meals and have also made the tomato and olive sauce ready for the fish dinner in a week and a half's time. This was to ensure the cherry tomatoes needed for it were used while still fresh. I'll also be making the roasted veg lasagne in the next day or two to ensure the fresh veggies are tip top for that too – as the portions will save well in the freezer.
If you have a freezer, then great. There is plenty you can buy and freeze to use the following week. You can even buy fresh veg and freeze it to keep it fresh – for example chop up peppers to be used in a stir fry.
If you don't have much freezer space, then you'll need to think carefully about what can feasibly be stored. Try in the first week to have meals which make use of fresh stuff and in week two, stick to meals which can use tinned vegetables and those that you have managed to squeeze into the freezer. So, for example a mixed bean chilli or sausage and mash with frozen veg.
Frozen fruit and veg is just as healthy as fresh – often more so as it's frozen quickly to help lock in nutrients. So buy frozen fruit and veg if you can, and consider which meals it will work with. Frozen fruits are great to use in smoothies, or to add to porridge for example.
Fresh veg can be frozen too – so depending on the availability of foods, consider buying fresh veg to freeze if necessary. And if you have any fresh veg that's about to go past its best, chop and freeze it to avoid throwing it away. I have some chopped up carrot in my freezer ready for my roast dinner on Sunday!
While the focus tends to be on our main meal of the day, all the same rules apply to breakfast, lunch and snacks. Plan ahead what you can have each day and how you'll boost the nutrient content of these meals. For example, make sure you have some fresh or dried fruit to include with breakfasts and salad bits for your sandwiches. In week one, we'll be having fruit as a mid-afternoon snack – but come week two when the supplies start to dwindle, we'll be switching to a mixed fruit and veg smoothie from the freezer to get our nutrient boost.
It's absolutely possible to still eat a healthy diet when having to buy food a couple of weeks in advance – it just takes more forethought and planning. Try to only buy what you need to avoid wastage or not having room in the freezer for essential stuff.
Nutritionist Emma Brown (ANutr), MSc Human Nutrition is passionate about how food science applies to the human body, and how the nutrients in what we eat affect us and ultimately have an impact on our health.