Meal preparation is easier with menu planning

Try to match your food budget with your requirements and plan shopping expeditions to markets and other bulk food depots. By all means shop around for the best prices but don't spend more in petrol than you save in low cost foods.

Write down the amounts you spend. This way you'll clearly see where your money is going. Research the cost of foods as much as possible before setting out to avoid time wasting.

Shopping is best undertaken when crowds are thin, so look at store opening hours and pick your times to avoid after school and work peak times when crowds are sure to be there. Parking is easier too.

Remember to build defrosting times into the meal preparation equation. And try not

There are many different ways to plan menus

Once you've decided what to cook, food preparation is an easy task. You may chose to plan a week ahead or just a day ahead, but by being aware of your family's differing food tastes and having appropriate ingredients on hand you'll find low cost meals easier to prepare. Try not to be too prescriptive with meals. Don't assign the same day each week to a particular meal to avoid that déjà vu feeing that comes with monotonous meal regularity.

Having a planned menu allows you to choose healthy options and avoid having serving fatty or high cholesterol meats too often. While some people like to write up two weeks' worth of menus others write a month's worth. Most people prefer menus oriented towards the season with, for example, more soups in winter and barbecues and salads in summer.

The less you plan ahead, the more likely you are to vary the menu. And the busier you are at any time the more a plan comes in handy. Think of less busy times as times when you might research new recipes, plan meals that take more preparation time, or create meals with a greater variety of ingredients.

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