Whilst catching up on some of my favorite blogs (and searching out some new ones) I noticed there was a lot of discussion going on about eating healthily, cheaply and quickly. I have already mentioned in my profile and in my previous posts that this is a concept I try to stick to, so I thought I would join in the debate and add my view (for what is worth).
Like many people time spent in the kitchen (as much as I enjoy it!) can be limited sometimes. However the health and budget conscious side of me doesn’t like buying ready made convenience foods (apart from the cost and healthy problems, they just don’t taste as good as homemade food in my opinion). Most of my budgeting tips have come from the passion for home cooking I developed over the last 18 months and not as a need to save money in the current financial climate. It does help though! and I know we spend less per week than other couples of our age. The money we save enables us to be able to comfortably afford to eat out occasionally etc and most importantly I have fun cooking.
Here are some of the things I do to reduce costs, improve the health benefits of food and for convenience when needed:
Shop around. We shop regularly at one of the discount supermarkets to buy what we can. This includes fruit and veg that looks good quality, household products and dried goods. Although I personally couldn’t imagine doing a full shop there. The rest of the weekly food shop we do at one of the bigger supermarkets. We have also bought fruit and vegetables from the market which was definitely cheaper and more enjoyable than the supermarket but we just don’t have the time regularly shop this way.
Buy non-perishables in bulk when on offer. 3 for 2’s, 50% off etc can really add up if you take advantage of these offers on dried goods, freezable food and tins (as well as household products and toiletries). We always have a look at what meat and fish is on offer even if we don’t need it (so long as we have room in the freezer).
Reduce the amount of meat we eat. Personally I prefer to buy free-range chickens and good quality British meat. In order to do this without massively increasing our food budget we look for offers as above, make the most of a chicken (see below), buy cheaper cuts of meat (pork/ham hock and casseroles using shin beef etc have been popular additions to our slow cooker) and have introduced some vegetarian meals in to our diet (risottos and pasta dishes mainly but baked acorn squash stuffed with cous cous was a very tasty addition to our autumn diet).
Meal plan each week before shopping. This is something I did this pretty much from the start of moving out of home, it just made sense to me. It makes writing a shopping list easier and knowing what to get out of the freezer each night. We’re not too ridged with these plans as my boyfriend will often come home without things that were sold out or of poor quality or sometimes he will bring home vegetables, meats or fish that were on offer or took his fancy and the meal plan will change slightly. I cook differently on a weekend or day off to how I cook on week night (especially the ones I work late on or need to study) so it helps to have a basic plan of the week ahead but there is always some flexibility (i.e. we may eat Mondays dish on Wednesday etc).
Make the most of a chicken. As previously mentioned I only buy free-range chickens. Every couple of weeks or so (whenever time permits) I will cook a 1.5kg ish bird on a Sunday along with the traditional roast trimmings. We also have enough for a leftover chicken dish the following night (nachos, pizza or pesto and pasta are favorites but I plan on trying risotto and noodle soup soon) and sandwich filling for the two of us for 2-3 days. When time and energy permits I will use the bones to make homemade stock (or sometimes I poach the chicken for stock with less fuss) but this doesn’t happen as often as I would like but I still think we are getting our moneys worth from an £6-7 bird.
Take our own lunch to work. Buying sandwiches at work can easily add up to £20 a week each and they’re are usually of poor quality both taste wise and nutritionally. We take things like soups, cous cous, sandwiches, mini calzones and left over pasta bakes etc. I often feel uninspired in this area so I am on the look out for new ideas. It needn’t be too time consuming either. We make ours after our evening meal while the other starts clearing away. Things like soups and mini calzones I make in big batches on weekends or days off and freeze in portions for one.
Bake my own bread. We bought a cheap bread maker last spring unsure of whether it would be a passing desire to make our own. A year on we have only bought a handful of loafs since when time has been especially short (e.g. around Christmas and when I was ill). I am convinced the loafs I make have much less salt than store bought ones and with the massive rise in prices I think it works out cheaper (and we eat more variety than just the basic white and wholemeal loafs). I also occasionally make bagels etc which are definitely better than store bought ones. One of the biggest ways we save is by making our own pizza’s and garlic breads. It is easy to knock up a batch of pizza dough and make your own which are easily as tasty as store bought ones but cheaper, healthier and you have more control over the toppings – so get creative. I also bake my own biscuits and muffins as well when time permits (most can be frozen so I make double and freeze for when time is short).
Make meals ahead and freeze them. Every month or so I will make a large batch of bolognese sauce and freeze it in portions for 2 people. Then it makes a quick and tasty spaghetti bolognese when time is short or with a little bit more time can be turned into delicious lasagne’s or cottage pie. I also cook pasta sauces, soups and pizza sauces in the same way. For convienence I also have bags of ice cubes of wine to add to recipes as needed (instead of having to open a new bottle).
Grow your own. Especially herbs! Supermarket herbs are incredibly expensive for what you get and how long they keep for. We have only a small, north facing back garden so are very limited to what we can grow. However last summer we successfully grew a wide variety of herbs and salad leaves in container and even managed to get one crop of mangetout (again grown in a container) before the slugs beat us too them.
On average for the two of we spend about £35-40 a week on groceries which we are happy with, not only that but I strongly believe we eat better for it and I enjoy the time spent in the kitchen cooking from scratch!