How to cut thousands from your food budget with meal planning

What's for dinner app

It was whilst preparing the food for their children’s school fete that mumprenuers Jen Petrovic, a professional chef and Gaby Chapman, a copywriter, came up with the inspiration for PlanBuyCook, an innovative app that puts an end to the catch-cry ‘what’s for dinner?’

“We had six parents at Jen’s house and everyone except Jen was talking about the difficulty of everyday cooking,” Chapman remembers. “We all started asking Jen how she organises her family meals – after all she is a chef and highly organised. She managed to balance shift work and daily cooking with ease.”

The conversation sparked the kernel of an idea and Chapman and Petrovic began throwing around suggestions that would “genuinely solve” the problems of busy people juggling work, home and family life.

Given the increasing prevalence of mobile technology the pair believed an app would be their best option and set about creating PlanBuyCook.

At the heart of the app was an ethos that meal planning can un-slave people from the kitchen.

The duo ensured that the app had the functionality to address the lack of planning and the lack of ingredients at home which often lead to a boring repertoire of meals, food wastage and a large food bill. This includes an auto-generated shopping list users can cross off as they shop.

BuyPlanCook is available for iPhone and iPad

“The average Australian household is visiting a supermarket three times a week. In many cases, people are spending more time shopping than cooking. We aim to get people to embrace the weekly shop so they have the ingredients at home to cook tasty, nutritious meals from scratch rather than ordering takeaway or heading to the shops multiple times for last-minute, expensive food,” Chapman explains.

“Jen developed all the recipes and ensured that all meals work from one serve for single households all the way up to 10 serves for larger families,” says Chapman.

“The traditional household of two adults and two kids does not represent the majority of households throughout Australia any more. So being able to scale the recipes was absolutely critical to our meal planning formula to simplify the chore of the evening meal.”

At the heart of the app was an ethos that meal planning can un-slave people from the kitchen.

“Meal planning is a great way to reduce your food budget and the stress of the evening meal, while eliminating food wastage at the same time. It saves you from thinking about the evening meal on a daily basis, and from multiple trips to the supermarket each week. By having a plan and a shopping list for everything you need, you can shop once a week and save your time and money for cooking tasty, nutritious meals,” Chapman says.

PlanBuyCook’s tried and tested formula includes doubling at least two freezable meals a week, using your leftovers for a pot luck meal, incorporating at least one vegetarian meal a week and planning a ‘pantry meal’.

“Pantry meals use non-perishable ingredients from your pantry, and are easy to delay if your plans change so you don’t waste fresh ingredients,” Chapman explains.

“So many people don’t plan what they are cooking until that evening, which generally is fine until you have children. It is a recipe for disaster to have hungry, cranky children without a plan and the ingredients to cook a meal. A simple meal plan means you know what you are going to cook each day, and you can plan your week’s meals to suit your lifestyle: quick meals for busy nights, slower meals for leisurely ones.

Chapman suggests you can even apply the basics of meal planning to your Christmas festivities to deliver on a budget.

“Rather than offer lots of nibbles and cheese, choose one substantial canapé item. Make some simple savoury tarts using caramelised onion and goats’ cheese, which only take a few minutes to make on the day if you have caramelised the onion beforehand.

“Most people will eat around 250 grams of protein, so if you are serving two meats on the day, only allow around 125 grams per person per meat. This will minimise leftovers and wastage. If you are serving a meal for only a handful of people, skip the ham on the bone and buy the quantity you need freshly sliced from the deli. Chicken is more cost-effective than turkey or seafood, so make a simple marinade and barbecue some chicken thighs, or use a whole chicken with some nice stuffing for a festive alternative.

“Three salad options are plenty for Christmas Day. Make your salads simple, and dress them up with Christmas-inspired ingredients. Our rice pilaf salad with cranberries looks and tastes great. Only serve up half your salads at a time if they require dressing, and dress the salad as you’re serving it. This way you won’t waste large amounts of uneaten salads, as they keep better without the dressing.

“Christmas pudding can be expensive to make, so why not swap in a pavlova instead? It is a really cost-effective option and everyone loves it. Berries are in season at this time of year (and therefore cheaper) and they look great atop a pavlova with some cream,” she concludes.

Chapman suggests most families of four could save at least $50 a week through meal planning, by shopping once, eating their leftovers and eliminating food waste – that is $2500 a year.  So why not make it your new year’s resolution to meal plan each week and see how much money you can save!

Avoid wasting time, money and food with PlanBuyCook meal planning app, available for iPhone and iPad. Scale your meals to match your household size and add your own favourite recipes. It generates a shopping list like magic, which you can cross off as you shop. Go to www.planbuycookapp.com for more information.

BuyPlanCook founders Jen Petrovic and Gaby Chapman

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Cec is the managing editor of KBB. She is a multimedia professional with over fifteen years experience as an editor on titles as diverse as SX, CULT, Better Pictures, Total Rock, MTV, fasterlouder, mynikonlife and Fantastic Living. She has spent the past four years working as a news journalist covering all the issues that matter in the political, health and LGBTIQ arena. She is the Head of Content at Pinstripe Media and a recent convert to the world of small business.

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