Whether you fall into the 'can't cook', 'won't cook' or 'Gordon Ramsay-in-the-making' category, taking a more organised and frugal approach in the kitchen could make a big difference when it comes to what's on your plate - and in your account - from week to week.
Finding quality time to cook in our busy lives isn't easy for most people - and the phrase 'pressure cooking' can be all too accurate for many! However, dinner times don't have to consist of a diet of microwave meals and frozen pizzas. With a bit of forward planning and organisation, you could cook healthy, convenient and affordable meals that could leave you and your wallet feeling that bit fuller.
Read our handy tips below and find out how a frugal, well-planned kitchen could be a recipe for success…
Stocking the cupboards…
Following these practical hints could save you a fair bit of time and money when it comes to cooking your weekly meals.
- Ditch expensive brands. When it comes to kitchen staples such as pasta, rice and tinned/fresh fruit and veg, you could stick to the supermarket's own basic range: they are usually a lot cheaper than brands, and things like pasta and rice will taste much the same too. Organic ranges can bump up the cost of your shopping bill, so only choose them if you really feel it's worth it.
- Buy in bulk. Shopping at wholesalers could save you money on all the essentials you frequently use: kitchen towels, drinks, stock cubes, oils and sauces, etc. Places such as Costco can offer membership to individuals either currently working in, or retired from, certain professions. And don't forget that if you're looking for that particular spice for a curry, or specific kind of noodles, your local Indian or Chinese cash & carry could have what you need.
- Take advantage of offers. Most supermarkets offer 2-4-1 and 'BOGOF' discounts on many items; with a bit of patience and perseverance, you could take advantage of some great deals - and if you store them properly, they should keep for a long time too (e.g. storing bread in the freezer; rice and spaghetti in air-tight containers).
You'll need more than just your trusty Delia cookbook and apron to cook up a storm in the kitchen - but kitting yourself out doesn't have to break the bank.
- Buy cutlery and other kitchenware from factory stores and discount shops. You could pick up plates, knives and forks for a fraction of the price you'd find them for in other shops. Try eBay and online stores too for brand-new kitchenware people are selling cheaply, or charity shops.
- Get a freezer. When it comes to kitchen investments, this should definitely be high on your list. Leftovers, such as curries, stews and chillies, can be frozen and saved for lunches at work or when the fridge is empty. What's more, you should be more likely to resist the temptation of getting a takeaway if you've already got something tasty and pre-made at home. Frozen fish and meat often works out cheaper than fresh too. Frozen vegetables are still healthy and nutritious and will keep - after all, how many times have we bought lots of fresh veg, only to throw it out at the end of the week because it's gone off? Freezers are perfect for bulk-buying too.
- If you're a keen baker, a bread maker could be another great buy: and now the January sales are on, it could be the perfect time to buy one. Along with making bread, you could also make cakes, pastries and even pizza bases - so you could simply put the ingredients inside in the morning, and when you get home after work just roll out the dough, add your toppings, stick it in the oven and voila!
Ok. So you may think the idea of making affordable, tasty meals that will last for longer sounds good - but does it really work?
Well, thinkbanking's resident culinary maestro has done all the maths to show you just how much money you could save by making more and spreading your meals out over a week.
For example, the ingredients for this recipe for spaghetti carbonara, which serves four, cost an estimated total of only £4.70 (according to calculated prices):
|Item||Actual Price||Calculated Price|
|100g Pancetta||£1.25 for 105g||£1.20|
|50g Pecorino Cheese||£1 for 50g||£1.00|
|50g Parmesan Cheese||£1.60 for 100g||£0.80|
|3 Eggs||£1.50 for 6 Free Range||£0.75|
|350g Spaghetti||£0.89 for 500g whole wheat Spaghetti||£0.62|
|2 Garlic Cloves||£0.22 for a whole bulb||£0.05|
|50g Butter||£1.40 for 250g||£0.28|
|Total = £4.70*|
Bearing in mind that a 'meal deal' - a sandwich, drink & snack - often costs around £3, lunch would cost you about £15 a week if you bought it every working day. However, as long as you have a microwave at work, cooking this recipe could give you four lunches that cost less than £1.20 each - and if you also take a flask of drink with you to work, you could make serious savings.
What's more, with news that households paid £100 more in energy bills in 2011 than they did in the previous year, it makes sense to cook more in one go in order to cook less throughout the week overall - so you're not only cutting back on your shopping bills, but reducing your energy bills too!
Planning your weekly meals in advance could also help you avoid impulse buying, and if you've really got the time and commitment, growing your own fruit and vegetables in the garden or in planting pots could save you a fair bit on pre-made salad.
Anyone for seconds?
As the saying goes, 'if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen!' However, following just a few of these tips could really help you to get organised in the kitchen - and won't leave you with egg on your face when it comes to your food-shopping bills!
*All prices are taken from www.mysupermarket.co.uk, and are for products bought from ASDA. Prices accurate as of 04.01.12.