Food prices are rising at a frightening rate. If you're watching your grocery bill climb each week, now is the time to act! You can have fantastic meals without emptying your bank in the process! Here are some tips for how to save your cash with some clever cooking.

Make your own lunch
Do you buy your lunch from a café everyday? If you added up how much you were spending in just one week, I bet you would be shocked! Think how else you could use that money. Just getting up 20 minutes earlier to prepare your own lunch could save you some serious money. Of course there's the traditional sandwich. You can buy a cheap loaf of bread and a good tip is to keep it in the freezer and take out a couple of slices each night so they are defrosted and ready for the morning. This means you won't have to waste any bread if you haven't used the whole loaf by the time it's reached its use-by date. You can buy small loaves, but often they're not as good value as the full size version. If you want to be a bit more adventurous, why not make a pasta salad? You can make a really easy lunch by boiling up some pasta, which could be done the night before, and putting it in a pot with a selection of any ingredients you have in your kitchen. This is a fantastic way to use up leftovers to avoid waste. Ideas include chopped vegetables like tomato and pepper, grated cheese, leftover cooked meat, tuna, boiled eggs, beans and pulses. Be creative! Similarly, don't buy coffee ready made. Think how much profit cafes are making by selling you what is effectively a cup of water with a tiny amount of coffee and a tiny amount of milk. I admit there are certain mega-soya-latte-with-caramel-syrup-and-steamed-milk-hold-the-water drinks you might not be able to easily recreate yourself but try to budget these so work out how many you could afford to buy in the week and make them more of a treat to look forward to than an everyday drink. You can save a lot of money by making sure there's always a jar of coffee and some milk at your workplace and making your own drinks, plus you could make them for your colleagues and earn some brownie points in the process!

Bulk buy
It's often better value to buy a bigger pack (though always check as sometimes the stores can rip you off!) A good example would be buying a whole chicken instead of a small packet of chicken breasts. You can have roast chicken one day, then use up the rest of the meat over the next few days. You could have chicken pittas or wraps, make it into a pasta sauce, add it to a risotto or roll it in breadcrumbs and fry. Mince can make bolognese, burgers, chilli con carne and cottage pie. Take advantage of multi-buy offers. If you use your imagination you can make loads of different meals from one base product.

Use your freezer
Shops often sell food which is close to their sell buy date much cheaper, especially if you shop close to closing time. It's fine to buy as long as you freeze it straight away and just defrost when you need it and make sure it's cooked thoroughly. Always check the freezer section of the supermarket as products like pizzas and burgers are often cheaper if you buy them frozen.

Cook from scratch
However tempted you are to buy ready-grated cheese and pre-prepared vegetables, it's so much more expensive so put in some effort and cook from scratch where you can. Why not make it a family activity and get the kids to help chop, wash and peel (under supervision obviously). You could even have a rota and give them some pocket money or a treat if they help prepare the meal. It really doesn't take up that much time to grate your own cheese, so give it a go! I've recently stopped buying pizzas and started to make my own using a shop bought pizza mix. If you can't find this, you can just use a bread mix. All you have to do is add water, knead the dough and leave it to rise for about 20 minutes, depending on which brand you use. You can then just top it with tomatoes, grated cheese and your choice of toppings and bake. You can even make a stuffed crust pizza by sprinkling cheese around the outside once you've rolled out the dough and folding the sides of the dough over. This is a brilliant way to use up leftover vegetables like peppers or cooked meat, and means you can have some fun by making your own combinations of toppings. Kids love to make their own pizzas, and you make it healthier than a shop bought one by adding vegetable toppings and using less cheese or a low fat cheese.

Search for coupons
The internet often contains coupons which can save you money so do a quick search before you go. Just bear in mind that it's only good value if you will actually use the food so don't buy anything just because there's a coupon. Always ask, would I buy this if it was full price?

Write a list before you go shopping and try to stick to it. This will avoid you making impulse buys which eventually add a lot onto your weekly bill. If you have some spare money, you could decide you will spend a certain set amount on impulse buys which take your fancy on the shops, but again make sure you stick to this and only buy little treats if you have already got all the essentials. Obviously your list can be flexible to accommodate any special offers you come across when shopping, but keep asking yourself "do I need this?" Shops can entice you by making something appear really good value but if you aren't going to use it, it's a waste. It might not be possible for everyone, but try to do your weekly shop at a time when you are relaxed and not in a rush. If you've got a clear head you're more likely to think and buy in a sensible way, whereas if you rush to the shops on the way to work you're probably going to be less likely to carefully consider your purchases and more likely to just throw things in the trolley and get out of there as fast as possible!

The bad news is that food prices are still going up and it doesn't look like that's going to change anytime soon. The good news is that by following these tips you can beat the price hikes and hopefully have some fun in the kitchen whilst your at it.