The cost of food is rising in a crazy way (along with many other costs). This is spectacularly unhelpful if you are trying to look after a family in a healthy and ethically friendly way.

The thing is decade by decade, food has become cheaper and cheaper.  We have got used to this, and used to spending our money on other things instead.   Food poverty is on the increase, and there are way too many junk food companies out there ready to take advanage.  As the wealth extremes of society polarise even more, in these really difficult times, more and more people are finding it harder to eat well, cheaply.

This might be an opportunity to really think about spending priorities.  Talking to the older generation about this can be helpful – food cost them much proportionately and they had less options to spend money.  I am not suggesting one way is right above another, but I do think we perhaps need to get used to the idea that food might not be so cheap in the future.  Particularly as sustainabilty issues around food increase. 

Therefore, if finances are limited for you, it is a question of doing what you can.

Some of these suggestion might not be new – however they also might not have been needed for a long time and a reminder can be helpful.

My top money saving kitchen and food ideas:

 

  1.   Budget friendly ingredients –   Think about what your most expensive regular items are, and then what can be done to substitute these?  Is it time for a change, can you mix things up for a while?  For example:
    • Meat –  without compromising on quality it is possible to save money depending on the cut of meat you buy.  Get to know your local butcher, ask for their advice.  Chicken thighs instead of breast, minced instead of diced, long slow cooking tougher cuts instead of roasting.  And see below for padding out meat meals with pulses.
    • Coconut milk – you can buy a packet of 4 creamed coconut sachets for the price of just over 1 tin of better quality milk.  Perfect for curries or risottos.
    • Cheese – the harder cheese like parmesan have so much more flavour than the milder cheddar types.  Use this for sauces, toppings etc, it goes so much further.  Nutritional yeast is also dropping in price and brings a great savoury flavour.
    • Fruit & veg – thank goodness the idea of perfect fruit and veg is starting to change.  Most supermarkets now are starting to sell the wonky and out of size stuff.  Or you can sign up to a regular box like Oddbox
  2. Tins and frozen similar to above, sometimes these are far more cost effective per ingredient.  I know some people have issues with tinned foods, sometimes it has to be a trade off though.  Frozen is said to be just as nutritious as veg too. For example, Tesco frozen cauliflower florets, frozen berries are currently almost 5 times cheaper than fresh equivalent.  The cheapest way to eat fish is tinned.
  3. Choose your freezer over your fridge  have a freezer clear-out.  Get rid of anything dubious, and keep a list (next to your shopping list) of what you could use this week.  Then, start to refill with left overs (even wine can be frozen). More can be frozen than we realise. For advice on doing this safely read HERE and HERE.    Some tubs, some labels and a freezer pen are a worthwhile investment.
  4. Ingredient swaps – I have often in the past thought that I needed to have every ingredient for a recipe, particularly when cooking for others.  Often, this isn’t necessary.  Going off-piste with a recipe can seem scary, making swaps when needed to save money and sometimes time.  It can be done by learning what is the function of a recipe ingredient, then making a suitable swap. Google it if not sure! For example, ingredients might be there for binding, rising, flavouring, adding bulk.  As long as you swap for another ingredient that has the same purpose, and add it in the same quantities,  things should be OK!  Different flours, spices, herbs, binders for example, all work well when needs must. One word of warning though about meat and fish, please do adjust cooking times accordingly.
  5. Save your electricity (and time) – a little bit of planning for when your oven is on – what else can you cook at the same time?  This works particularly well for batch cooking or weekly prep.  Fill your oven.  The savings on your time will also be valuable too.  I rarely cook for 1 meal at a time – even rice, pasta, potatoes – double everything up and then chill or freeze.  And when the oven is on then fill it with other meals / bakes for the freezer. 
  6. Go Victorian – many people have got used to meat, maybe fish, very frequently.  Perhaps you, or as I hear from clients, particularly your male partners, don’t consider it a meal unless it has meat / fish.  It didn’t use to be like this. The cost of good fish particularly has rocketed.   If we could go back to the way it used to be where meat was considered a luxury, we (and the planet) would feel benefits in health and wallet.  Can you move to thinking of meat, or fish, as a weekend luxury that is then eeked out over several meals?   Speaking to the oldest member of your family (without implying they are Victorian!) for their kitchen tips, can also be really useful.
  7. Bulk out meals couldn’t write this article without including one of my favourite food groups – pulses.  A 1kg bag of red lentils is under £2, that is 16 portions.  This is AMAZING value compared to meat. Bigger pulses, such as beans or chickpeas, might need soaking and then longer cooking – well worth the money still but if you can’t be bothered then again tinned or frozen are so useful.  And they are a great source of plant protein, full of fibre, nutritious, colourful and versatile. There will be less meat and fish in the future – get used to this now. Win, win, win.  If you can’t handle pulses’ fibrous content fair enough, (can you try a little and work up?), otherwise make these part of your regular ingredient list for stews, salads, curries, dips.  In fact pretty much anywhere – even cakes!
  8. Eating it all – again with one eye on food waste, trying to use the whole produce has quite rightly had publicity recently.  My current favourites are broccoli and cauli. I now use the whole thing – leaves and the stalk (apart from the very end).  I also pay more attention to minimising topping and tailing, use orange peel to flavour drinks, and using meat carcasses for soups and stocks.  Probably all stuff our grandparents did – we could learn a lot from them.  There is a movement in the meat industry to eat so many more parts of the animal, often these are cheaper as they are less popular.
  9. Meal planning – absolutely key for maximum food efficiency – main meals at least. And once you have done it a few times, it becomes second nature.  Rotating a 3 week meal plan, or keeping a list of favourite main meals to choose from, are my 2 favourite ideas here. I have a shopping list and meal planner combined in my kitchen, however there are numerous apps out there to help too.   And meal planning is SO much easier these days since we started …..
  10. Online shopping –  not for everyone I know, but it can be helpful for budgeting.  This is because we are much less likely to pick up items on the spur of the moment, the power of marketing is less, the temptation is reduced.  And of course you can see a cost running total too. It isn’t for everyone I know, some of my clients prefer to go in person, and of course that human connection had many benefits.  But hands down when it comes to saving money, online wins.

    Some old favourite meals are still so budget friendly, not all food costs are crazy (yet?).  Some examples of every day simple, nourishing meals are – (You may need to substitute for allergies etc here)

    • tuna pasta bake with frozen mixed veg & parmesan
    • sweet potato, baked beans, cucumber and little gem lettuce
    • bean chilli (with basic stock veg) and rice
    • omelette with peppers and courgettes
    • cottage pie (with basic stock veg, red lentils,  & keep the skin on the potatoes) with wilted spring greens
    • carrot and red lentil dhal (see tip above re coconut)
    • cous cous, cucumber and chickpea salad

    I hope this has been useful to you.  As always I would love to hear some feedback, and if I can help you balance your weekly budget please get in touch.

    I offer a free 30 minute conversation to anyone needing a bit of help.

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