Without sounding too negative, 2022 has been an incredibly tough year, emotionally and economically, and unfortunately things aren’t going to get better overnight.
We’re in the midst of what the media are calling a ‘cost of living crisis’ and with energy prices unacceptably high, fuel prices rocketing, and inflation the highest it’s been in decades, money just doesn’t seem to stretch as far as it did pre-Covid, and even then, times were hard.
In particular, we’re feeling the pinch while food shopping, which is why more people than ever before are looking to cut food costs. Food is a basic necessity for us to survive, yet as it continues to get more and more expensive, people are finding it tougher than ever to afford their groceries on a weekly basis.
While it is tough, the good news is that you can cut food costs and eat well for less, by making a few alterations to how you shop for, and prepare your meals. To provide it, here are some tried and tested tips from professional chefs to help you keep your food bills down.
Stop buying bags of salad!
Yes, we know that pre-prepared bags of salad that have been prepped, washed, and chopped up before being packaged up are very convenient for people looking to tuck into a crisp salad, but they’re also much more expensive.
Bags of pre-prepared salad leaves are much more expensive than buying whole heads of lettuce because there has been more work involved in preparing them, so the extra labour has to be reflected in the costs.
Not only that, but pre-packaged bags of salad tend to turn brown and go off much quicker than whole heads of lettuce and other salad ingredients, so once opened, the bag needs using quickly or else it gets thrown in the bin!
Rather than bags of pre-prepared salads and salad leaves, instead, buy whole heads of lettuce such as cos, iceberg, romaine, etc, as these last much longer, they’ll be tastier, and as they’re cheaper you get much more for your money.
Get inventive with food about to expire
Nobody likes wasting food at the best of times, especially when supermarkets are hiking prices and inflation is well into double digits. The problem is that some food wastage is near enough unavoidable, especially if you live in a smaller household.
Whenever possible however, rather than letting food expire and turn bad, why not get inventive with food about to expire instead of letting it go to waste?
If you’ve any vegetables such as onions or peppers for example, instead of throwing them out because they’re about to expire, why not chop them up, bag them up, and freeze them instead?
If you’ve old salad leaves such as rocket, spinach, or watercress, you could blend them into a paste and make pesto, or again, freeze them.
Bread is another food that is often left to go mouldy, so rather than letting that happen, how about freezing it or blending it up into breadcrumbs to make stuffings, add to meatloaf, to make bread sauce, or for breading foods such as chicken Kiev?
Grow your own veg
Without sounding condescending, growing your own produce is another great way to cut food costs, and enjoy tastier, healthier, vegetables in the process.
People assume you need a huge garden or allotment to grow veg, when in fact you can use growbags, window boxes, garden planters, or raised beds.
While it can be expensive to buy plant plugs, seeds, and compost, if you make use of food you already have, along with your own compost, you can have an endless supply of veg for next to nothing.
Take a slice of tomatoes with a few seeds for example, submerge it in the soil, keep it warm and watered, and it should soon be sprouting. From here, you can grow your own tomato plant and have an endless supply of tomatoes and seeds. You can do this with a whole bunch of different fruits and vegetables.
Herbs are also very useful, so when buying fresh herbs such as basil, parsley, or sage, rather than buying the leaves, buy the plant instead. That way, you can harvest the leaves and then plant what’s left of the plant, keep it watered, and watch it regenerate new herb leaves.
Make meals with cheaper ingredients
While it would be great to tuck into a braised beef shin stew cooked in red wine or port, cooking meals in this way is not the cheapest. As we’re looking for ways to cut food costs, we’re looking for ways of making tasty and delicious meals for less.
If you fancy a beef stew, look for cheaper cuts of beef such as braising steak, or basic cooking steaks, and use cheaper ingredients. Rather than a bottle of red wine or port, how about a beef stock cube or a red wine flavoured stock cube instead? To make the beef stretch further, use less and bulk the stew out with fresh root vegetables and some pulses perhaps?
As a winter warmer like beef stew is not complete without dumplings, instead of buying readymade frozen dumplings, why not make them yourself? All you need is some suet or vegetable suet, flour, salt, pepper, water, and maybe a few herbs. Making fresh dumplings is much cheaper than buying frozen ready-made dumplings, plus they’ll taste better too.
Use cheaper cuts of meat, bulk meals out with beans, lentils, root veg, and other pulses, and look for cheaper substitutions for expensive ingredients.
Go meat-free for a day or two each week
When looking to cut food costs, if you can cut back on your meat and/or fish consumption, you’ll save more money as these are, by far, the most expensive ingredients found on a typical food shop.
It stands to reason then, that buying fewer of these ingredients means that you’ll save more money by spending less on them.
Going meat-free or vegetarian for a day or so each week, will help you to spend less on meat and fish, and will get you experimenting with new ingredients and recipes you likely wouldn’t have considered before.
Don’t be a food snob
When shopping for everyday food essentials, don’t be a food snob by turning your nose up at own-brand products in the place of big-name brands.
Many big-name brands who will remain nameless, such as those responsible for popular varieties of baked beans, soups, and tomato ketchup, have hiked their prices way beyond inflation with some products more than doubling in price over the past twelve months.
Rather than buying brand-name products, a great tip for anybody looking to cut food costs is to go with own-brand products instead. With a bit of extra seasoning, own-brand baked beans and soups can be just as nice, if not better, than branded varieties, and cost more than 300% less than branded varieties.