Tonight we did our fortnightly grocery shop at Pak n Save. In honour of the occasion I prepped most of the dinner before I left for class so all it needed was to be popped into the oven for 30 minutes when I got home.
We had the vegetable crumble from the Comfort: Food for Sharing cookbook. If you don’t already own this book, buy it! Mine’s well-thumbed already – the lemon curd recipe is especially good.
Basically all it involves is a crumble topping – wholemeal flour, cheese, rolled oats, butter and herbs – and the filling is garlic, onion and pretty much any vegetables you have on hand with a tin of tomatoes chucked it. It’s perfect for using up leftover vegetables at the end of the week (makes a nice change from slow cooker ‘end of the week’ soup).
Because dinner was ready so early I had time to give the fridge a good clean and the freezer a de-icing while watching Shorty before heading off to do the shopping. It’s so much easier to do when the shelves are getting a bit bare!
The reason I’m boring you with the ins and outs of my grocery shop are because of an article I read on stuff today. There’s been a lot of talk lately about budgeting, rising food prices and families not being able to afford to eat healthily. We are most definitely not perfect in any way, but I thought I’d share some of the ways we keep our costs down while still enjoying healthy and most importantly, TASTY food.
· Write a shopping list. This is stuck to the fridge so if you use the last of something write it up straight away. If it’s not on the list, it doesn’t get bought.
· If you do run out of something, IMPROVISE.
· Always keep milk powder in the pantry to avoid a dash to the dairy if you run out. If you live with someone who doesn’t like the idea of powdered milk, put it in the old milk bottle and they’ll never know the difference. We also buy enough milk for the two weeks and stash a bottle in the freezer until it’s needed.
· On that note, use your freezer. If you’re cooking, make extra and put it in the freezer for a rainy day. I also buy a tin of tomato paste and freeze it in ice cube trays before tipping it into a snap lock bag so it’s always on hand and nothing gets wasted. If you bake a cake or muffins, freeze half for later. Sometimes I don’t quite finish a bottle of wine – if you freeze it in a snap lock bag it’s great for adding to gravies, risottos and tomato sauces. I also grate ¾ of the block of cheese and freeze it to make it last longer – stops anyone slicing off massive hunks.
· Don’t waste anything. Make soup with any vegetables that are starting to look sad and freeze it for lunches. Any fruit that’s going a bit soft makes awesome crumble, smoothies or add it to some baking.
· Buy everything in its least processed form; it normally works out cheaper. I can’t believe people buy things like kidney beans, lentils and chickpeas in cans. It is so easy to cook them from dry and it works out at about a third of the price. As for ready-made pasta sauce, what’s wrong with a tin of tomatoes, some tomato paste, garlic, onion and fresh herbs?
· Making things from scratch is much more fun and a lot more budget friendly. For a price of a jar of jam you can make several jars – and they make a great gift for friends. All you need is a kilo of sugar for each kilo of seasonal fruit (under $2 a kilo). I even ask my friends to give me their jars instead of recycling them – saves buying any!
· Buy the house brand items if they are cheaper. They normally taste the same. There is a couple of exceptions to this rule – baked beans and bread. Nothing beats Vogels but we save it for toast and use a cheaper sandwich bread and even better, homemade bread for sandwiches.
· If you are going to be busy later in the week, cook two meals at once and chuck one in the fridge/freezer – cheaper than takeaways. Also jazz leftovers up and you’ve got another meal e.g. cook more roast veges than you’ll need and chuck the leftovers on a pizza, through cous cous, in a risotto or on a toasted sandwich.
· Don’t say no to anything that is free. Use your contacts. I am very lucky to have parents that farm and fish – not paying for snapper is a very sweet deal! This rule applies when hosting a dinner party too. When people ask if they can bring something, don’t be afraid to ask them to bring a bottle of cream or some berries for dessert for example.
· You don’t need to eat meat every night. Vegetarian meals are often cheaper and nutritious too. We eat vegetarian or fish the majority of the time because my flatmate doesn’t eat meat, but even for all the meat eaters out there it’s worth having a meatless night once or twice a week. Vegetarian food isn’t bland or boring. Lentils are your friend! I recommend healthyfood.co.nz for recipe ideas.
· Invest in an easiyo maker. Less than $3 for a kg of greek yoghurt and even cheaper if you nab the sachets when they’re on special.
· Shop at a vege market if there’s one near you. We do a supermarket shop once a fortnight but a vegetable shop at our local school, weekly. The prices are a heck of a lot lower and $20 goes a long way. You can also get 36 eggs for $6-7. Often you can get things like very ripe bananas for under $1/kg – I chuck them in the freezer to use in baking. If something like broccoli is really cheap one week I’ll buy a couple and parboil then freeze it in snaplock bags – much cheaper than the stuff in the supermarket frozen section!
· Buying in bulk sometimes works out cheaper (like for a 5kg bag of flour or 10kg bag of potatoes) but not always, so check the prices carefully. E.g. today I found 2x 500ml oil was cheaper than a 1 litre bottle.
· Cleaning products – now this is where we save a fortune! Thanks to mum putting me onto Wendyl, we barely spend a cent on cleaning products at the supermarket. The only things we really buy are bleach (very occasionally), cloths (the cheapest brand) and dish washing liquid. I’m going to start trying to make the beauty products too – got to be better than putting all those chemicals on your skin.
· In a flatting situation, do you all need separate toothpastes?
· This one’s not to do with food shopping but not having a clothes dryer keeps our power bill right down. Clothes racks are a godsend (especially when you stick the dehumidifier next to it) and we try to only wash the sheets/towels when the weather’s nice.
· Garden! Pots are cheap and I’ve managed to grow silverbeet and herbs very successfully in them. Right now I’ve got lettuce on the go too. Seeds are cheaper but you can’t go wrong with a 6 pack of vege plants for less than $2 at Bunnings.
I hope that didn’t come across too preachy. We manage on $30 per person a week ($90 total) including rubbish bags etc. We definitely could cut that down if we were on the bones of our arses but that much keeps us not wanting for anything (like cheese and butter and the occasional tub of ice cream).
I love hearing new ways to save money and make meals go further. The destitute gourmet Facebook page is a treasure trove of followers’ ideas. Is there something you do that isn’t on my list?