As I said yesterday, if you want to save money on food costs, you need to make meals with cheap ingredients. Here are a few pointers.
1. Cheap ingredients are also usually simple ingredients, so that means staying away from anything processed and pre-prepared and leaning towards fruit and veg, nuts, seeds, plain old rice, and natural meat.
2. Fill up on seasonal veggies. I don’t subscribe to the paleo diet or anything else that tells me I can’t eat a particular food group! But I do think it’s true that if you bulk out every meal with pasta, bread or other processed carbs to save cash you will put on weight. Instead, eat a balanced meal and use veg in season as a significant component, if not the biggest. When veg is in season it is fresh and plentiful and the prices drop so it’s a no brainer. Side note: Having said don’t fill up on carbs, a bowl of (unprocessed) oats for breakfast is a cheap and wholesome way of keeping you full through the morning.
3. Meat is an expensive product, so keep your intake low. An adult only needs 50-70g of protein a day (depending on your sex and life stage) and if you eat more than you use, you will just lose it in your body waste. This amount of protein is found in about 250-300g raw weight of chicken or beef. It is quite exxy to eat that amount of meat everyday, so a few days a week you can skip the meat and get the same protein intake from two eggs, a cup of chickpeas and a handful of nuts. Ok, nuts aren’t that cheap but eggs and dried chickpeas are!
4. Your meat options are not limited to mince! Other well priced options are casserole steak or diced beef, which available for about $10/kilo at Coles. The cheap cuts just need slow cooking in casseroles and stews to be fall apart delicious. With chicken, the cheapest way to buy it is to get a whole bird and portion it yourself with poultry shears (freeze what you don’t need immediately). And buy organic or at least free-range chicken, otherwise you’re not being frugal, you’re being tight. The same goes for free range/ organic pork, but you won’t find any pork recipes here because I don’t eat it, pigs are just too clever and cute to cut up.
5. Either don’t use recipes that call for fancy ingredients or substitute. Occasionally I’ll come across a recipe that calls for saffron. Now saffron is a spice that retails for about $10 for 10g – or a whopping $1,000 a kilogram. Saffron strands are the stigma of the saffron crocus, laboriously hand picked by virgins (probably) in the picturesque fields of La Mancha, Spain. So what do I do when I come across the need for saffron? I either find another recipe or just omit it or use something reddish to colour up the meal (paprika, turmeric etc.). Likewise, ignore calls to use any kind of baby vegetable – just use the adult version.
Putting all the cheap ingredients together to make tasty meals (or making something from scratch that you normally buy ready made) comes with experience, so if you haven’t already got a repertoire and want to save $$$, take courage in the fact that it only takes three attempts to learn a recipe. Get motivated to follow the recipe twice, by the third time you’ll pretty much have it and be modifying the ingredients to suit what you like, what you have in the pantry and the way your oven behaves and so on.
I use a slow cooker to make throwing things together very easy and I’ll share recipes for that plus other favourites along the way. I also like to test whether it’s cheaper to buy something ready made or make it from scratch (including the cost of my time because some things are just…difficult!) so I will share those experiments as well.
In the next post I’ll take you through my strategies for getting the food you’ve chosen at the best price.
Happy grocery hacking!