Eating Well on a Budget

Food prices have risen quite dramatically lately, and more of us are finding we are desperately trying to source the cheapest (which often means nastiest) option, in order to keep to our tight budgets. It is bad enough having to worry about our food budgets, let alone having to worry about whether we can afford to eat sustainable, local food. However, it needn't be so difficult. If you follow some of these simple tips, you can save money, without having to abandon your ethical values and new sustainable leanings!

One way of cutting your food costs is cutting your food waste. It is astounding that in the UK we throw away around 25% of all the food we buy. We throw away 7% of the milk we buy, 36% of bakery goods, and around half of all the lettuce and salads we buy. This is crazy!

So this list is a combination of saving money by cutting waste, and saving money by being shrewd! Here goes:

  • Make a list. Before you go food shopping, check what you have in your fridge and cupboards. How often have you bought ingredients for a recipe, and when putting them away you find you already have them, hidden at the back of the cupboard. I find, this is often the case with spices! So, plan what you are going to buy, and make sure that you stick to your list.
  • Plan your menu for the week. By spending a bit of time before each food shop, planning what you are going to cook for the week can save a lot of money, and food waste. This will help you make a list of the things you need to buy, and not have you wandering around the shops buying whatever you want to buy. If a recipe calls for one carrot and two courgettes, buy one carrot and two courgettes, don't just reach for a pre packed selection for convenience. Plan to cook extra some evenings, so that the leftovers can be used for lunches the following day, or to freeze for another meal.
  • Use up your fruit and vegetables. If your fruit is starting to go a bit soft, make a smoothie or a compote, or maybe put it in a pie or crumble. If your vegetables are past their best, make a soup, minestrone or even roast them in the oven with some herbs and garlic.
  • Shop around. Take some time to go to different shops to see if you might be able to get better deals elsewhere. For example, fruit and veg tend to be cheaper at markets or greengrocers, spices are much more affordable and often better quality in Asian shops. Some products like Parmesan cheese or Parma ham can often be found in foreign discount chains, along with various other products. Organic vegetables and eggs can often be cheaper if bought from a farm shop, farmers market or veg box scheme than in the supermarkets. Discover your local area - you will often find that different parts of town might be cheaper than others - find your bargains!
  • Use up your leftovers. Start with a good stock of store cupboard staples like dried herbs, spices, grains and tins and then get creative! Don't bin your leftovers, plan to turn them into a new meal. For example, leftover mash, use it to make fish cakes tomorrow. Leftover roast chicken, make a chicken curry tomorrow. Leftover rice, make a rice salad for tomorrows lunch. Leftover bread can be used to make breadcrumbs, or maybe a bread and butter pudding. As a starting point check out BBC Good Food leftovers page they have a great selection of recipes that use up leftovers.
  • Cook from scratch. Processed foods, convenience foods, take-aways and ready meals are expensive. It is far healthier and cheaper to cook your own food from raw ingredients, and it will no doubt be tastier. This may mean that you need to sharpen your cooking skills, but there are plenty of ways to do this. Keep an eye out for future posts with tips and resources for improving your cooking skills. To start with check out Youtube 4Food channel, some great videos on there.
  • Rotate your food! Make sure you move the older food to the front of the cupboards and fridge with the new food going to the back, so the older food gets used up first. This will prevent you finding unidentified mouldy objects in the back of the fridge!
  • Use your Freezer. It is always useful to cook double quantities of a meal and freeze for a night when you don't feel like cooking. Just make sure you label it!
  • Make your own pack lunch. Another great way of using up leftovers and saving money, taking your own lunch to work is a win win situation. It does require a little planning, but soon you will become a natural at rustling together a gastronomic lunch from odds in the fridge and a bit of imagination!
  • Grow your own. Whether it be a window box or an allotment, growing your own veg, fruit or even herbs can save you a stash of cash. Beyond that, there is nothing better than eating veg that you have grown, and just picked. It doesn't get much better and fresher than that. Herbs cost a fortune in supermarkets in particular, so try growing a couple of your favourites so they are always on hand to jazz up your meals. I have just found Allotinabox , delivering grow your own boxes to your door. Great idea!
  • Think about fish. Try to purchase sustainably sourced fish whenever possible, I'll go into more detail in an upcoming post. Go for things like seafood spaghetti, where the fish isn't the main part of the meal - thus saving a bit of cash. Frozen fish can also be a good option, if you choose the right brands they can be sustainable, tasty and reasonably priced. Mackerel or mussels are good choices, lots of flavour and not too expensive with other options including herring and haddock. Chat to your fishmonger to find out what's in season and therefore cheaper to buy.
  • Think about meat. A couple of things here. Firstly, try cutting down the quantity of meat you eat. For example, in a dish cut down on the amount of meat in it, and instead bulk it out with vegetables, pulses, beans and so on. This will save money and allow you to choose meat that is free-range instead of factory farmed. Secondly, buy cheaper cuts of meat and learn how to cook them. The beef shin, duck legs, pork cheeks, chicken legs are the cheaper cuts of meat, but often have a better kick of flavour. Speak to your butcher, ask for advice on cooking in order to get the best results.
  • Never go to food shopping on an empty stomach. I can guarantee you will spend more money and buy a whole load of stuff you don't need!
  • Stop drinking bottled water! It costs at least 500% more than tap water! If you don't like tap water, invest in a water filter jug and keep it in the fridge. You will still save yourself a fortune.
  • Get to know your fishmonger, butcher, deli etc. Become a regular, and be friendly! Not only will you be able to ask advice as to what's in season, and cooking tips, hopefully you will soon be comfortable enough to ask if they have any knuckles of prosciutto or ham for soups or chicken carcasses/fish bones for stock going cheap or even free!
    Editor's Note: Go and see Emma now at Sustainable Food Revolution for more great ideas for eating well, and making healthy and sustainable food choices.

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