Spice up your life
‘Not only are other cultures — especially those that tend to eat less meat than us — great sources of tasty vegetarian recipes, but if you want value ingredients, think beyond mainstream supermarkets,’ says Rob Allison, who helped compile The Healthy Student Cookbook. ‘Chinese supermarkets, Indian grocers — you’ll find spices and pulses at a fraction of the price that they’re sold for in supermarkets — and they’re usually better quality too.’
Hitting the supermarket late (when stuff is reduced), looking at the lower shelves where cheaper products are displayed and making sure that you take cash so you never spend more than what you have in your hand are the easiest ways to make sure you don’t bust your budget when you’re out shopping.
Pick up leftovers
Olio is a free app connecting people with their neighbours and local shops so surplus food, and other items, can be shared, instead of being thrown away. When I checked my local area, there were people offloading herbs and vegetables from their gardens, as well as almost out of date bread and milk donated by local food shops. Find out more at olioex.com
Author Rob Allison’s top tip for cooking on a budget is to be a part-time veggie — or even vegan: ‘Even if you only do it for one day a week, it will make a huge difference to your food bill. It’s good for your gut, good for the environment — and for the bank balance.’ Try swapping beef mince for lentils in a shepherd’s pie or bolognese — you’ll barely notice the difference.
Take pot luck
Pot luck dinner parties are a bit of an American staple, but don’t seem to have made the leap over here so well. It’s very simple: each guest brings a dish and everyone shares, making it a cheap way to entertain. So it’s not completely random, set a theme — say Mexican, or Middle Eastern — and allocate a course to everyone.
Caroline Blight, who blogs reasonably priced meals at thehappyfoodkitchen.com, advocates using leftovers to make your own takeaway. ‘Homemade pizza is so straightforward — making a batch of pizza dough costs about 50p, while sauce made from tinned tomatoes is around 30p. Top it all with cheese and whatever else you have to hand.’ You can also turn leftovers into a curry.
In her new book Let’s Eat, Elly Pear encourages us to prep and freeze what she calls the building blocks of meals. It means bulk buying ingredients and then using them in multiple dishes. For example, make a load of her cannellini bean stew, then serve it with a three cheese toastie, as a soup with pesto, with cavolo nero and gremolata, or with crispy-skinned fish and aioli.
According to Jack Monroe, budget cook extraordinaire, writing a meal plan before you go shopping — and writing a list that you stick to — is key. ‘By using similar ingredients, you can save lots on a weekly shop,’ Jack says. Do roast beef on Sunday, use the leftovers for a cottage pie on Monday, a vegetable casserole for Tuesday…