I was talking to a friend the other day, explaining how we aim to keep our costs for food down by planning ahead and making weekly menus. “That’s easy for you”, she said, “everybody knows that two can eat cheaper than one. I bet you couldn’t make a menu for one for less than 1500 SEK a month.”

I love a challenge! And my brain loves solving puzzles. So I had to try. First of all – how can it be that “two people eat cheaper”? A person doesn’t necessarily eat more just because they’re eating alone? No, it has to be that it’s easier to keep the costs down if you make more food at once. But my friend – as most people in Sweden – has both a freezer and a microwave oven, so that’s not a problem.

What more drives costs up? Needing a lot of different ingredients. If you live alone, you have a greater risk of not using up an opened can or fresh veggie before it goes bad. (The absolutely most expensive way of buying food – not even eating it!) So, as few different ingredients as possible. But I for one want different tastes, I don’t like to eat the same food everyday. So a bit of variation… and a difference between working day and holiday is nice.
Cooking should be quick, I think. No more than 20-30 minutes. At least on working days. And shopping once a week should be enough – the fewer times you enter the store, the less risk for impulsive buys.

Food needs to be planned for, if you want to keep the costs down. I like a menu that’s recurring, saves planning time. For this challenge I settled on a one week menu. That made it easier to calculate costs as well.

So where did that leave me? Let me present to you: Mrs Livslevandes weakly menu:

Workday breakfast: porridge with milk and jam, egg
Hard bread with cheese with soups on working days

Friday:
Lunch: Onion soup
Dinner: Meat, potatoes

Lördag:
Brunch: Bacon and eggs, sandwiches
Dinner: Chicken, rice, wok – veggies

Söndag:
Brunch: Bacon and eggs, sandwiches
Dinner: Lasagne

Monday:
Lunch: Pea soup (store bought)
Dinner: Chili

Tuesday:
Lunch: Chicken soup
Dinner: Pasta Bolognaise

Wednesday:
Lunch: Pea soup
Dinner: Chili

And back to Friday. I started the menu on Friday, since some recepies take a bit longer and it’s easier to find time for that on the weekends.

When a dish first shows up, you cook up a batch of 4-6 servings, eat one and freeze the rest (in separate servings). The Saturdays chicken is also used in the chicken soup on Tuesday.  Next time that dish comes around, you take a serving from the freezer and heat it up. And on, until you’ve eaten them all, and then you cook again.

When I calculated costs I checked our local Coop Konsum, and just went with standard prices. I made the assumption that the person who was going to eat just had moved to a new place and had nothing at all at home,and therefore had to buy everything on the list. All in all I ended up at a total if just under 1300 SEK – for the first month, after that it will be a little less (since some things will last longer than a month). Challenge completed!

You could possibly lower the cost even further, by using the freezer to stock up on ground meat for instance if it’s on sale. Since there aren’t so many ingredients, you’ll soon know when the price is really good. And you know that you’ll be using it, not throwing it away.

Disclaimer: This menu is created to be cheap. I have not checked it’s nutritional values. It’s not following a diet. Nor have I looked for ecological choices, etc. The challenge was to make it low budget, and that has been my sole focus.

That said, I don’t think you’ll get any serious nutritional deficiency from following the menu. And if you want to keep a diet, or just don’t like my choices, use the principles and just switch the ingredients. If you feel that ecological or locally produced food is worth the extra cost, buy that! The very act of planning will reduce your costs anyway.

I’ve been doing this kind of menu planning for most of my life. It reduces not only costs, but also stress – when you come home after work it’s simple to throw something together when you know that all ingredients are there. Or just nuke something you’ve made before. And the planning is concentrated to when you make the menu, or adjust it.

If you have kids at (pre)school, you can make a menu for several weeks that’s adjusted to the school’s. It’s a bit more complex – but think of it as exercise for your mind, like crossword puzzles or Sudoku.