Wages are going up, but not as fast as prices are. Everyone in the whole world is getting less for their money in the current economic climate, whether rich or poor. But for those of us who could really do with an extra few bills in our pocket it's a lot more significant than for those who just can't afford another yacht. Food is a necessity, along with shelter they are the two most important requirements (and WiFi of course) for human life. Unfortunately the majority of us also have to buy said food, but I'm here to try and reduce your food bill with some simple tips. How much are you spending on food every week? I bet it's more than you could be. I did food and toiletry shopping last week for me and my girlfriend, that's 5 evening meals for two, 10 lunches and 7 breakfasts (I skipped a few, oops). The final bill came to £18, which is just under $30, pretty good if I do say so myself. That works out at a beautiful $1.11 per meal, and that's not even counting the toiletry items I bought. Here's a few tips to help you reduce your food costs.
Meat is expensive, in fact, it's the most expensive part of most people's diet. Where I live two chicken breasts cost £4, around $7. Do you know how many onions I could buy with that!? I do, about 30. This includes vegetarians, that Quorn imitation meat doesn't exactly come cheap either! It is also really not that vital, you do not need to have meat with every single meal. I generally eat meat a few times a week and am perfectly happy having a meal without it. No, I'm not a professional chef, I'm fairly good in the cooking department, but with a few select meals you can make it easy to live without meat. There is a world of vegetables out there that are delicious, and much cheaper than that sirloin steak you're thinking about. Any pasta recipe can also easily be meat free and you won't even notice the difference!
If you're thinking something along the lines of "But, I can't just cut out meat!? Where will I get all my protein from?" then the answer is simple. Legumes, lentils and eggs. The first two are incredibly versatile and can be used in replacement of meat in pretty much every Asian meal out there. Do some research, replace meat with some lentils in a few dishes and realise how little meat brings to the table in some dishes. Don't get me wrong, I love a good steak or roast beef, but in things such as curries and pastas the meat is barely noticeable, so why not replace it and still get the right nutrients for a much cheaper price? Another example, £4 or $7 for two chicken breasts; one bag of yellow split peas, £0.59, or just under $1. This bag of yellow split peas can easily serve about 15 meals.
Make A Shopping List
Sounds simple right? It is. But how many of you go off to the supermarket without a list and come back with a ton of stuff you don't even need? I know I did for a long time, now I make a list and stick to it rigidly, it cuts impulse buys drastically because you're not looking around aimlessly for something you might need in the coming week. Plan it all out, stick to it and profit (or save)! It really is as simple as that. Also, don't go shopping when you're hungry.
Just to illustrate, does this internal monologue scenario sound familiar?
"Hmmm so what am I going to eat on Wednesday? Maybe some sausages? Where are the sausages, oh wait gravy is on offer! That could go with the sausages, now I'll go and get some potatoes, sausage and mash! Excellent. Oh wait, we need mustard to go with the sausages, better go pick that up. Oooh Snickers on offer, don't mind if I do!"
Then you forget the sausages...
Buying stuff in bulk is a lot cheaper than just getting small amounts. Items with long shelf life such as dried pasta, rice, tinned goods and frozen goods is good for this, because you don't waste it when you don't eat it in time. I compared the 2.5kg bags of pasta with the 500g bags the other day, same brand and everything. The 2.5kg bag was almost half the price by weight as the 500g bag! Considering dried pasta is something that has a shelf life of over a year, why would you ever choose to pay twice the price for the inconvenience of having to buy the same thing again in a few weeks? This includes items such as dried spices and herbs as well. Shop smart, buy big!
If you know you aren't going to eat something before it spoils, put it in the freezer! Leaving food in the refrigerator when you know you won't eat it is akin to dropping money down drains. Say you bought a pack of four steaks but only 2 of you are eating, you have taken my advice on shopping lists and planning everything and have your next 5 meals planned. Don't just leave the steaks in the fridge to go rancid, put them in the freezer and use them next week, or next month if you want! Again, this goes for fresh herbs as well, you can put them in an ice tray with a little olive oil and cover in water then freeze them. Simply drop them into your cooking dish straight out of the freezer when you want to use them.
Also on the topic of freezing, buy bags of frozen vegetables. These are just as good nutritionally as the 'fresh' vegetables you can buy, since it's frozen very soon after being picked. It's also usually cheaper, and of course it doesn't spoil in a hurry. Bags of frozen spinach are a great source of nutrition, easy to cook and last for a proverbial ice age!
Don't Waste Your Leftover Vegetables
Don't throw things away when you can do something amazing with it! There is a boatload of things you can do with small leftover vegetables and fruits to get more life out of them and cut your shopping bill even more. That little off-cut of red onion you have left, or the broccoli, or the carrots? Don't put it in the bin, put it in a jar and cover it with pickling vinegar to make a lovely home-made pickle. Now you've got some extra life out of your vegetables AND saved money on buying pickles. Two birds, one stone. Those chillies or cloves of garlic you never got round to using? But them in some olive oil and make a gorgeous chilli oil. With chillies you can also freeze them, dry them, pickle them or plant them and grow your own!
On the subject of preserving leftovers, have you ever had a bit of leftover wine and thrown it away? I haven't, but that probably says a bit more about me than it does anyone else. You can make your own cooking vinegar out of these dregs of wine. All you need to do is save and combine your dregs of wine, put them in a bottle (about half full), wrap it in a towel and put it in your car. Let it roll around for a month or so and you have a vinegar 'mother'. After this just continue adding your leftover wine to it and use it in cooking whenever you want!
Well, I hope those tips will save you a bit of money and add a bit of creativity into the kitchen for those of you who were struggling. Let me know if you want me to write an article on some of my favourite budget recipes that I use over and over again, and I will gladly do so!
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