Money Saving Kitchen Tips

How can you eat well without spending a load of money or chaining yourself to the stove? Well, it’s a challenge but maybe you can also switch your thinking and see it as an intriguing and satisfying project.

The ultimate irony of convenience foods is that they are not only often quite expensive and nutritionally suspect, but that they are only convenient in that they free up time…for what? To look at some cooking and baking shows, perhaps?

Food preserves and a money jar

The whole area of food politics is a massive minefield and is hotly disputed. In fact, it is so complex that it can even be counter productive: because there are no clear answers, it is tempting to just switch off and carry on as before. But maybe it is better to just take some small steps. You cannot change the world but you can live and eat in a way which makes a bit more sense and which is better for you. So, here are a few tips to shop and cook smarter.

1. Make plans and lists

It is not as tedious actually as finding yourself in the supermarket looking around you in a stupor, thinking that despite the almost obscene amount of choice, you cannot just see something you fancy for supper – I speak from experience here. A list gives you direction and this gives you power. It also means that you spend less because you are not so susceptible to the impulse buy. In fact, you are the smart sort of customer that gets on the nerves of the supermarket bosses!

2. Go to a greengrocer's

Fruit and vegetables are not KVIs (known value items) so they are not usually the loss leaders that the supermarkets use to tempt you in. They are, rather, on the expensive side in the supermarket.

The psychology of food buying is amazing really. Why do we buy fruit and vegetables? Maybe, we buy them just to complete a meal or maybe it is a guilt thing – the 5-a-day message does seem to have reached us. But, fruit (and bread) is one of the food items that most often gets thrown away.

The good intention doesn’t always translate into eating the darned stuff! It comes back to the planning again – if you know what you are cooking for your main meal for the next several days, it is a lot easier to buy the right amount of vegetables. Fruit is better bought in smaller amounts, more frequently.

3. Grow your own

If you grow fruit or vegetables you will be familiar with the feast or famine scenario. You tend to have a load of fruit all at once. The only way to deal with this is to plan. You can give some away or swap it. If you stock up with sugar and jars, (save them as you go), you can make jam.

It is a very satisfying job and very easy when working with fruit, such as plums. My husband makes wine too – mainly damson and plum. All he uses, in addition to the fruit, is sugar, water and yeast. You can source demi-john jars quite cheaply from kitchen shops. I have even seen them at car-boot sales.

4. Freeze

Your freezer is a good friend if you are trying to save money. Frozen vegetables are usually good from a nutrition viewpoint as they are frozen quickly after picking.

5. Cook in bulk

Again, if you have a freezer, it makes sense to cook in bulk and freeze meals to heat up later. It is just as easy to make a lasagne or a shepherd’s pie that is twice the size you need. Foil freezer containers tend to be reasonably priced.

6. Stock-up on staples

It does make sense to buy some items in larger quantities. If you buy a good amount of dried staples, like rice and pasta, it is easier to knock up a quick meal. Store these in airtight containers. If you use spice, it is probable better to buy it in smaller portions as a small amount of cumin or paprika can seem to last a long time!

7. Don't waste bread

I mentioned bread already. Why do we over-estimate the amount of bread we are going to use and end up throwing away the mouldy remains (or, is that just me?)? Again, the freezer can be invaluable.

It is also possible to divide your loaf and freeze it in halves. If you bake, it is a brilliant idea to make a loaf to use and one for the freezer. That lovely staple of the Irish diet, soda bread, is really better eaten fresh.

8. Learn some quick and easy recipes

Even though some people have an expensive habit of buying cookery books, it is claimed that most of us only really cook a very limited number of dishes on a daily basis. I’m sure this is true.

Irish stew

However, if your signature dishes are elaborate and time-consuming to make, it may be a good idea to work on some simpler recipes. I have a few that are really good when I am in a hurry. One is a really simple pasta sauce which I claim takes me no longer to make than heating up a ready-made version.

9. Flavour

Maybe we can learn a lot from other cultures, when it comes to flavours. Sadly, cooking for many people is restricted for health reasons. Herbs and spices can add lots of taste, though, without the problem of using too much salt. Remember too that pepper is a great flavour enhancer.

10. Read labels

Read labels when you buy ready meals. More people are becoming savvy about misleading labels, such as “98% fat-free.” But, a long list of ingredients is also not such a good sign. In fact, it can be enough to motivate you to make your own version.

11. Think healthy

It is a good idea to take a long cool look at the whole healthy eating message. We have been steered away from using the natural animal fats (in butter and gravy for instance). But, we think nothing of having some sort of pasty at the coffee shop – because we can’t see what it contains.

It has been said before, but maybe, just maybe we have something to learn from our predecessors, when it comes to good shopping and good eating.