September 25

Free Printable Weekly Packed Lunch Planner For Autumn 2016

The Tartan lunch boxes have been a bit of a haphazard affair so far this term. I was still waiting for summer to start – the end of the summer holidays came as a shock. I have cobbled together a freezer full of pre-made lunches but they are a bit… repetitive. There’s a limit to the number of variations on a ham sandwich we can eat in a week. Time for a new packed lunch plan…

What's For Lunch September 2015 - Tartan Thrifty

 

Ready to start batching lunches with me? Click here to download a copy of the planner or  click here to download a blank planner to fill in with your own packed lunch plans. Happy packing!

Monday

Autumn Lunch Planner - Monday - Autumn Lunch Planner - MondayA recipe for Cheese Scones is available here and you can find Leek And Lentil Soup  here. Make a potful and have it with your main meal on another day to get double value out of your cooking time. No baking is required for the Apple Crumble – chop up dessert apples, add a spoonful or two of water, and a shake of cinnamon before stewing slowly over a low heat. When the resulting puree has cooled pour it into ice-cube trays and freeze. When it is time to transform your cubes of frozen apple puree, pop a few cubes into a lidded container, top with low-sugar ready-made custard and sprinkle a handful of granola over the top – instant apple crumble! A portion of fruit and a dollop of calcium-rich custard with marginally less fat and sugar and more dietary fibre than a regular crumble. Lunchtastic!

Tuesday

Autumn Lunch Planner - Monday - autumn lunch planner TuesdayMini calzones are an excuse to provide a little bready parcel of veg and a calcium-rich portion of cheese. It’s health food through the medium of pizza – especially if you make the dough with half-and-half white and wholemeal flour for added fibre. Click here for a how-to and add the veg of your very own picky eater’s choice. (Mushrooms and olives here in Tartan Towers, but not for the same people. And yes, that is an unhealthy level of pandering.) Picnic eggs are widely available but if you want to have a go at making their big brother, the Scotch Egg, try this recipe.

Wednesday

Autumn Lunch Planner - Monday - Autumn Lunch Planner WednesaySmoked mackerel dip gives you and yours a healthy serving of omega 3 oils at an even healthier price. Use plain smoked fillets or your choice of flavoured fillet – personally I don’t think you can beat simple peppered fillets. Throw them in a food processor with some cream cheese and a little natural yoghurt. (The yoghurt is optional – it makes a slightly dippier dip, and adds a gentle tanginess. If you want tang-free pate instead of tangy dip, leave it out.) Process until smooth. That’s it – spoon it into small containers and freeze. Defrost overnight and give it a quick stir in the morning if it has separated slightly. Add some bought or home-made bread sticks and you are good to go. Home-made bread sticks freeze nicely, by the way.

Cranachan is what you do if you live in a Scottish croft, it’s summer, your cow’s milk is at it’s creamiest, the bees are a-buzzing and there are wild raspberries all around. It is a sort-of-trifle made with whipped cream, toasted oatmeal, fresh raspberries, whisky and honey. So simple, so cheap, so sweetly, creamily delicious. Great for a treat, but a bit too sweet, high fat and alcoholic for a kid’s lunch box.  So instead fold a little honey, toasted oatmeal and frozen raspberries into greek yoghurt. Sadly it doesn’t freeze but it is quick to stir together and toasted oatmeal lasts weeks in a jar. Spread oatmeal on the base of a dry frying pan over a low heat. Give it a little shake every ten seconds or so until it gives off a lovely, nutty smell. Watch it like a hawk – it will burn if you give it the chance. Frozen raspberries can be folded in straight from the freezer. Their deep red juices will ripple through the finished cranachan as they thaw.

Thursday

Autumn Lunch Planner - Monday - Autumn Lunch Planner ThursdayClick here for my cheese and ham muffin recipe. Ideally, make the chicken and cannellini bean salad with leftover bits of chicken, stashed in the freezer after roasting a bird. No handy chicken carcass to pick over? Buy chicken breasts and griddle them before cutting them into small chunks. Or you can buy ready-cooked chunks of chicken – much more expensive than home-made  but still cheaper than buying ready-made sandwiches. Simply drain a tin of cannellini beans and toss with the chicken, some leaves from a windowsill pot of herbs and some dressing. The dressing is up to you – a squirt of mayo, a bought dressing or the cheapest option – vinegar, seasoning and oil shaken up in a jar.

Friday

Autumn Lunch Planner - Monday - Autumn Lunch Planner FridayThis lunch cannot be frozen, alas, but is quick to make and, if you make double it will also fill baked potatoes for your dinner. Two birds, one stone. Or two fish, one hook? Anyway. Open a tin of pink salmon and mash it with a fork and a spoonful of mayonnaise. Fold in a drained tin of sweetcorn. Aside from a portion of protein and omega 3 oils, the tinned salmon is a rich calcium source because of all the bones that are softened to edibleness by the canning process. Dollop it into the middle of your wraps and fold or roll them up. The fizzy juice is simply an own-brand diluting juice (our personal favourite is Aldi’s Orange Squash if you are interested) diluted with fizzy water.

Here’s the thing about buying water. Sparkling water – sometimes sold as “sparkling table water” is, quite simply, tap water that has been carbonated – no spurious claims to originate in a highland spring. Just fizz, costing pennies not pounds. If all you want is a glass of water, it is a waste of your money, because you already have water on tap. But if what you want is fizzy juice, it is a very cheap way to transform squash into pop. Tartan Boy loves it and at well under 10p for 300ml of fizzy juice it is a very affordable treat. Fill bottles in the morning – the water will have gone flat by lunch time if you fill them the night before.

 

 

January 24

Money-Saving Tastes Amazing Chocolate Prune Mug Cake

Mug Cakes In The Microwave

 

mug cakes bookTartan Boy got this book for his Christmas.  I had heard of cooking cakes in the microwave and was, frankly, a bit sceptical.  Tartan Boy did not share my cynicism and so on Boxing Day set out to make his first mug cake.   What can I say?  After two minutes of slightly volcanic activity in the microwave, one minute of sweet, vanilla-scented impatience and a slightly burnt tongue, I am a convert.

In less than five minutes, with minimal washing up created and almost zero risk of personal injury, Tartan Boy can now rustle up a delicious cake for himself, his brother, and his grateful mother. When we all stumbled in from an afternoon’s sledging last weekend and I realised I had nothing but breakfast cereal to offer as a snack he made four mini-mug cakes in the same amount of time it took Tiny Tartan to get his boots off. Which is a lot thriftier than stopping at a cafe on the way home.

Mug cakes are too good to be true – pop the ingredients in a mug, stir, cook, eat.  They are not beautiful enough to win prizes in the Great British Bake Off, but if greed and speed are your driving aesthetics, they are perfect.  They are almost instant – but they don’t last.  If you don’t eat them hot, within a few hours they will dry out.  (Which is nature’s way of telling you to pour on sherry, custard and cream and call it a mug trifle in my opinion.)

Lunch Box Mug Cake

IMG_2898With the zeal of the convert I started tinkering with the recipes and with the receptacle.  If it can bake in a mug, I reasoned, it can bake in a Tupperware cup.  And then, with its lid on, the cup of cake can go in the freezer for lunches or snacks.  And so Choc Prune Mug Cake was born.  It’s not quite cake: it has an oozy gooeyness somewhere between a brownie and a pudding.  Topped with a simple cream cheese frosting it makes a welcome treat in a winter lunch box.  And so far, Tartan Boy has not worked out that it contains  two prunes a portion. Which practically makes it health food…

(It is not a health food though.  While dried fruit can give you one of your 5-a-day, the high sugar content here means this is a treat and needs to be offset by a lower amount of sugar in the kids’ diet the rest of the day.  It would be much healthier for me just to give them a couple if prunes to munch.  Except that they wouldn’t…)

How To Make A Batch Of Chocolate Prune Cakes

  • Choc Prune Cake Igredients - New PageMake your topping. Put the syrup and cream cheese in a food processor and blitz till smooth. Pour into a jug and put aside.
  • Now put the prunes in the food processor with the sugar, milk, oil, eggs and vanilla essence and process until smooth. Add the flour, cocoa and baking powder and whizz until no white flour remains visible. Stop as soon as this stage is reached. Spoon the mixture into 18 little tubs. I used a mixture of mini plastic jelly moulds, individual silicone cupcake moulds with lids and plastic food storage tubs – they all worked fine. Microwave them on High, six at a time, for 2 minutes each batch.
  • That’s the baking done. When they are completely cooled, pour in the cream cheese topping, stick on the lids and pop in the freezer.

If You Want To Eat Chocolate Prune Cake Right Now

Omit the cream cheese topping. Divide all the quantities by 3.  Pour the batter into two mugs and microwave on High for 2 minutes.  Leave to stand for 1 minute.  Eat.  Give the other mug to someone special… or eat that too.

HandNoticeVintage-GraphicsFairyClick here to download this week’s Thrifty Habits Planner.

 

Affiliate Links:  please note that this post contains affiliate links to products at Amazon UK.  This means that if you click on my link and buy the product, a small percentage gets paid back to me. Alternatively, you can look up the same product on Amazon independently and none of your payment comes to me.  Or you can find a similar product elsewhere.  Or win maximum Thrifty Points by not buying anything at all….  It’s your money, your choice.

January 18

Dogs In Duvets – Lunch Box Loveliness

Frugal Frankfurters Baked In Bread – A Thrifty Lunch Idea That Gets The Thumbs-Up From The Kids

lunch jan 15 - New PageIf you are following my latest Packed Lunch Plan to save money by packing the whole family’s lunches every day (and save your own sanity by doing it in batches and putting them in the freezer) then this is how you stock up on thrifty Thursday lunches.

I came up with Dogs In Duvets when the Tartan Boys were indecently impressed with a frozen pizza that had hot dog sausage stuffed in the crust.  I tried to disapprove of this excessive approach to pizza toppings but, like Carrie Bradshaw (if she wrote for Junk Food Monthly), I got to thinking.  What if I could make and freeze just the stuffed crust – would that work as a freezable and thrifty lunch option?

IMG_2876IMG_2887IMG_2883IMG_2881

So I whizzed up a batch of dough in my ancient and cheap bread machine, opened a pack of frankfurters and handed it over to Tiny Tartan.  He got busy with a rolling pin and we soon had ten little hot dogs wrapped up snugly in a layer of puffy dough.  Hence the name.

IMG_2915Ten minutes in the oven and we had, essentially, soft bread sticks with a hot dog in the middle. Nicer than a hot dog bun, lower in fat than a buttered sandwich, and perfect for dipping in some fancy-shmancy tomato and herb sauce

…OK, some ketchup with black pepper and a handful of dried oregano.  My plan is to gradually adulterate it with passata until I have tricked the kids into eating something that can at least pretend to be a vegetable.  (Yes, I know, a tomato is already a fruit pretending to be a vegetable.)

IMG_2926I have since baked another thirty of them; they are sitting in little bags in my freezer and that’s one packed lunch a week I don’t have to think about for the next month.  Actually, twenty-eight of them are in the freezer:  Tartan Boy managed to scoff two before I could stop him.

How To Make Dogs In Duvets

1. Make The Dough

  • Dogs In Duvets - New Page (1)If you have a bread maker throw in all the ingredients.  (You can swap the white flour for a 2/3 wholemeal/white mix.) If you don’t have a bread machine but do have a hand mixer with a dough hook or a reasonably large food processor then mix it up with that, allowing it at least five minutes.  If you have nothing but your bare hands then enjoy the ancient human pleasure of kneading the dough yourself.  It is quite a wet dough so if you are hand-kneading leave a little of the water out.  It should feel almost too moist to handle.  Try oiling your hands with vegetable oil before you knead it to reduce the sticking.
  • Where you knead is entirely up to you but I like to give the sink a quick clean, dry it with kitchen roll, throw in some flour and pop the dough in there.  It is at a more comfortable height than the work surface and when I am done, I can just turn on the tap and wash the flour away.  Plus, the flour doesn’t all fall off the edge of the work surface onto the kitchen floor.  Although that might only happen in my kitchen…
  • Let your dough rise somewhere warm, with a towel over the top of the bowl, for an hour to an hour and a half.  Or set your bread machine to the dough cycle. When it is roughly double the size it started at, you are ready to roll.

2. Shape The Dough

IMG_2782-300x137Knead the dough lightly again and then break off a lump about the size of an egg.  (A chicken’s egg. Maybe a small duck’s.  Not a quail’s.) Roll the piece of dough out to a little longer than a hot dog and about the width of your palm.  It should be about 4mm thick. Pop a frankfurter in the centre, fold over the ends and roll up the sides to enclose the sausage.  It helps to roll it all under your palm a little once it’s done.  Lay it folded-edge-down on a baking sheet.  Repeat.

3. Bake The Dough

IMG_2923Put the completed dogs in the oven at 220°C for ten minutes.  The dough should puff up and just be starting to colour.  Take them out and cool on a wire rack.  Or eat right away – your Dogs in Duvets, your decision.

January 17

Apple And Custard Cake

IMG_2852These little fruity muffins feature in the Wednesday menu of my current Packed Lunch Planner.  If you are joining me in saving money by packing thrifty lunches for all the family, make the cakes to follow Tiny Pasta, Pesto And Pea Salad with Chicken Wings.  The cakes and the chicken wings can be frozen but the pasta salad has to be made the night before.

Tiny Pasta, Pesto And Pea Salad With Chicken Wings

  • lunch jan 15 - New PageYou can use any size and shape of pasta but I think the scale of mini-pasta works well with the peas and chickpeas.  Cook the pasta along with a can of chickpeas. Add frozen peas for the final minute of cooking. Toss the cooked pasta and peas with a little pesto and, when it has cooled, add some mayonnaise.
  • Chicken wings can be bought much more cheaply than other chicken joints and roast nicely in the oven.  Toss them in vegetable oil, spread out on a baking sheet and roast at a medium heat until they are golden and crisp.  Cool completely before bagging up and freezing.  You can, of course, experiment with more interesting flavours – add herbs or spices to your oil, mix it with tomato puree, add honey, mix it up with barbecue sauce, use sesame oil…  The choice is yours.

How To Make Apple And Custard Cake

  1. apple and custard cake - New PageBeat the eggs, yoghurt, sugar and oil with the vanilla extract and mixed spice.
  2. Add the flour and stir until no white flour is visible. If there are lumps, that’s fine.
  3. Divide the mixture between a dozen cupcake molds.
  4. IMG_2896Drop a teaspoonful of custard onto each cupcake from a bit of a height – this encourages it to sink into the mixture a little.  Top the custard with two teaspoonfuls of the stewed apples.
  5. Bake at 160 degrees F for 35 minutes and leave in their baking tray to cool.
January 10

Batch A Packed Lunch – Lentil Soup & Cheesy Cornbread

Cook, Eat, Save, Repeat For Thriftier Lunches

Last week I posted a new, thrifty Packed Lunch Planner.  If you are joining me in saving money by following that plan, here are instructions and links for batching the Lentil Soup and Cheesy Cornbread for Mondays each week, and the Salmon And Cream Cheese Croissants for Tuesdays.

lunch jan 15 - New PageI will be batching up one lot of packed lunches each week and by the end of January will be back up to full, frugal, lunch-producing speed.

Packed Lunch Planner BlankIf you don’t want to follow my plan to the letter (or at all) you can download the blank planner and use it to create your own menu of packed lunches to stash away in the freezer and cupboard ready for you and yours to enjoy every day.

Monday Lunch: Lovely Lentil Soup and Cheesy Cornbread

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's chilli cheese cornbreadCornbread is very, very easy to make – bung ingredients in a bowl, stir up, pour into a baking tin, bake, done.  (I am no stranger to kitchen disaster, and even I have never had a cornbread go wrong on me.)  I will be using Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s Chilli Cheese Cornbread recipe but will omit the chilli or the little Tartans will refuse to eat it.  When it has cooled, cut it into bars and wrap in cling film before freezing.

796_1_1350299034_lrgLentil soup needs no recipe – a bit of chopped bacon, an onion and other veg, lentils, stock cubes, some common sense… But just in case, you can’t go wrong with Jamie Oliver’s version here. When your soup has cooled pour it into four plastic tubs with lids and freeze.

Defrost your box of soup overnight.  In the morning, pour it into a pot and bring to the boil.  At the same time, boil a kettle.  When the soup is bubbling, pour the boiled water into your flasks and then pour out again.  Turn off the heat under the soup, decant into a jug and then pour into your flasks.  Heating the flasks with boiled water will stop them from absorbing heat from the soup.  This is especially helpful if you are using metal flasks.

It’s up to you whether you use fresh pineapple or tinned – I go for whichever is cheapest (it varies) but make sure to buy only fruit that is tinned in juice.  I put it in little plastic pots, taping a cocktail stick to each lid for easy spearing.

 

Tuesday Lunch: Salmon And Cream Cheese Croissants

aldi croissantsFor these, I like to use the bags of croissants sold in Aldi and Lidl.  At 99p for eight they are much cheaper than the freshly baked supermarket or bakery offerings, a more manageable size for little hands and mouths and, in my opinion, much tastier, with a soft rather than flaky texture.  Their slightly sweet flavour works nicely with the salty fish.  Split the croissants before freezing in bags.

utencil-spoon-vintage-GraphicsFairyTo make the salmon and cream cheese pate, buy a bag of budget smoked salmon trimmings.  (Lidl are my favourite for texture and flavour but most supermarkets do a decent version.)  Combine these in a food processor with two packs of full fat cream cheese and black pepper. Put the salmon pate into sandwich bags, one for each week. Freezing the pate separately means that you can give it a quick stir once defrosted to restore its proper creamy texture before spooning it quickly into the split croissants. Different brands of cream cheese vary in how well they freeze, with some coming out a bit crumbly.  If stirring alone doesn’t fix it, add a little mayonnaise.  If the texture looks fine, just snip the bottom corner off the freezer bag and pipe the pate into the croissants like icing.  Wonderfully pink icing with a surprising aroma…

1acarrotsgfairy005Smoothies freeze well, and I find putting them in the lunch bag straight from the freezer helps to keep the salmon and cheese mix fresh.  Little cartons are easy to use, but big cartons decanted into your own bottles are cheaper. Chop carrots into small sticks and pop them into little plastic tubs.  Or use baby carrots and avoid fiddly chopping altogether.

HandNoticeVintage-GraphicsFairyClick here to download this week’s Thrifty Habits Planner.

 

January 3

Frugal, Filling, Freezer-Friendly Packed Lunch Planner

Cut Your Spending By Packing Lunches

Money-savingIt’s not really ground-breaking news, is it?  Packing lunch for everyone in the family saves money.  In the run up to Christmas I was too busy and ill to do lunches. So we ate bought lunches for a month.  I happen to know exactly how much that came to because I started out with a set amount of cash in a little purse set aside for just this purpose:  £163.  Even had I been making caviare croissants dusted with actual gold, it is unlikely that our usual packed lunches would cost even half that.  OK, maybe with the gold dust…

So it’s back on the thrifty wagon for me and back into the thrifty habit of batching one lunch for all of us each week.

Cook, Eat, Save, Repeat – The Key To Thrifty Meal Planning

Vintage-Line-Art-Picnic-Basket-GraphicsFairy-150x150If you are new to the idea of batching a lunch, read more here and here.  In a nutshell, the idea is to pack away enough lunches for a month in your freezer and store cupboard so you can churn them out daily without any early morning effort.

 

A Thrifty Packed Lunch Plan

What's For Lunch in June?I have found having my lunch planner on the wall to refer to (blearily) each morning very helpful.  When I first posted the lunch planner seven months ago I had every intention of changing it monthly.  Ha!  The problem, you see, is that it worked fine, and if it’s working, why fix it?

Anyway, batching lunches is meant to allow me to get into a nice, dependable groove that allows me to churn out thrifty, delicious and nutritious lunches without actually having to think too hard about it, so letting it roll on for a few months makes sense. Maybe not seven months though…

So to celebrate the new year, I have a new Packed Lunch Planner.  Today’s new plan will run from January to April and I will post a new one in May.  (Probably.)
lunch jan 15 - New Page

How To Use The Weekly Packed Lunch Planner

 

What's For Lunch?You can download and print this plan for easy reference but you don’t have to stick to my plan. You can download a blank Weekly Packed Lunch Planner instead and use it to make up the perfect lunch plan for your own family.  Not every lunch needs to be freezable, but it does need to be easy to throw together quickly in the morning, which means minimal ingredients that can be kept in the store cupboard and need no preparation.

Over the next three weeks I will post recipes for cheesy cornbread, apple custard cake, dogs in duvets and choc prune cake.

Happy eating – and Happy New Year!

Click here to download this week’s Thrifty Habits PlannerHandNoticeVintage-GraphicsFairy

June 8

What’s for Lunch? A Free Downloadable Planner For A Week’s Packed Lunches

Vintage-Line-Art-Picnic-Basket-GraphicsFairy-150x150I have been batching lunches for a few months now.  At first, I had just one lunch a week stowed in the freezer, then two, then three and by the end of that first month I had several weeks of packed lunches in the freezer, ready to go.  Tartan Boy and Tartan Dad liked their lunches.  I liked the savings –  the money, the time and most of all the hassle.  In the mornings instead of dashing around in a panic I flitted about the kitchen like Snow White packing the dwarves their lunch.  “This is working!”  I thought.

And it was.  The freezer, as it turns out, was not.  “This sandwich,” observed Tartan Boy, “is soggy.”  I checked the freezer.  All the sandwiches were soggy, or stale, or tasted a bit odd.  They had clearly thawed a little and refrozen.   I chucked out the lot and went back to my old, chaotic morning self.  More like Shrek making the dwarves their lunch.

4872131_R_Z001A_UC1196873Defrosting didn’t do the trick.  I bought a fridge/freezer thermometer and was appalled to discover that the unit was running a good fifteen degrees higher than it should be.  Meanwhile our lunch costs shot back up.  The freezer was old and the man in the white goods repair shop shook his head and told me it would cost more to repair than to replace.  I admitted defeat and spent most of the money I had saved by batching lunches for the last few months on a new freezer.   It cost £139 from Argos.  In lunch costs alone it will have paid for itself within a year.  But I still feel a little guilty because jt didn’t occur to me to find a reconditioned one.  Next time.

So now I am ready to re-stock the freezer with thrifty, nutritious and delicious packed lunches.   What's For Lunch?This time I am armed with a handy planner to print out once a month and stick to the fridge door.    It has space for me to note what will be on the menu each day of the week and also (crucially for me) reminders of what types of food to include to make sure each lunch is nutritionally balanced.  It will make me even more organised or at the very least make me look like I am organised.  Which is half the battle.

This month’s menu is below and you can click here to download a blank copy.  Why not comment and tell me what you are packing this month?  I would love to know What’s For Lunch? in your house.  (Mainly so I can steal your ideas…)

 

What's For Lunch in June?

 

 

 

 

January 10

Cook,Eat, Save, Repeat – How To Save Money By Freezing Thrifty Meals

Next to the mortgage, our biggest monthly expense is food, so it makes sense to try to reduce how much we spend on that.  It’s not rocket science:  buy cheap ingredients, cook them yourself, don’t eat more than you need to.  But…

utencil-knife-vintage-GraphicsFairy2utencil-fork-vintage-GraphicsFairyI don’t want to cook every day; I don’t want to cook any evening (which is when a hot meal is most welcome in our house) and I don’t always have time for cooking in the morning.  As for cooking breakfast every day, or standing making packed lunches in the pre-school-run chaos – not my superpower. The solution I am going to embrace each week is to cook meals, pack lunches, and bake snacks, but only once a week, in bulk.  That  way we can eat one helping now, save the rest in the freezer and eat it again (and again, and again) on other days.

Let’s start with lunches and snacks:  these seem an easy first step.  Heck, lunches don’t even require any actual cooking!  At the moment for us, lunch is a sandwich at home for Tiny Tartan and me (good and cheap), a sandwich from the M&S round the corner from the office for Tartandad (good – not cheap) and a school meal for Tartanboy (cheap – not so good).  The two bought meals cost around £5:  that’s £25 a week!  I know the two homemade lunches don’t even come close to that, so clearly there are savings to be made – potentially over £50 a month – by making sandwiches for everyone.  Tartandad and I are not big snackers but the boys get through ninety little snacks a month – more if they have friends over.  Even bulk-buying snacks from supermarket basic ranges adds up – and I do worry about the salt, sugar, trans-fats and almost total lack of any actual nutrition in them.  Again, room for improvement.

So that’s this week’s new habits – batch prepare one packed lunch and one snack each week.  The aim is to make five times as many lunches and ten times as many snacks as we need for one day.   As I get into this habit, by the fifth week I will have five different lunches a week stashed in the freezer, and five different snacks to eat twice a week.  And no more 8am panics about where to find change for Tartanboy’s school lunch.  Unless I forget to defrost them…