Top ten tips for a thrifty kitchen

Market Stall 2

During the weekly shop this week I was having a good think about how we save money. We don’t live on a ridiculously small budget, but I do believe our food bill is below average. I know families of three that spend £80-£100 a week on their shopping, whilst ours is usually around £40. I thought it would be nice to list the things that we do to save money on the food shop and make our food go further, and we’d love people to add their tips too. A quick warning, this is a long one!

  1. Always plan meals in advance – every week there is a list on our fridge of meals we could make from the ingredients we have. I try to go through everything we have in the fridge freezer and cupboards and then look through our recipes to see what we can make. I then do the Monday morning shop based on this. It’s usually for ingredients that would make meals with what we already have. I try never to shop blind, I always take a list.
  2. Make your own sauces – the amount we spent on shopping was halved when we stopped buying jars of sauces. It is so easy to make things like my bottom-of-the-fridge pasta sauce for a fraction of the price. Most sauces start with a tin of chopped tomatoes, from there you can make a variety of things, pasta sauce, Indian, BBQ, Mexican, Caribbean, the choices are endless, and it’s much cheaper.  Chuck in a load of veg you have kicking around and it’s a lot healthier too!
  3. Buy a slow cooker – I cannot say this enough, I love my slow cooker and I couldn’t be without it. You can put cheap cuts of meat in in the morning, and by tea time you have a delicious meal with very little effort. I always used to cook cheaper cuts of meat in the oven for a few hours, but our oven is gas and it cost a fortune! A slow cooker costs the same as a light bulb to run, and the best bit is you can make anything! Whole joints of meats, cakes, bread, fudge, as well as complete one pot meals. As we speak I have a reduced leg of pork in ours cooking in apple juice. In ten hours we will shred it and cover it in homemade BBQ sauce and have it in a sandwich with coleslaw. Total cost of meal for two with leftovers – £2.75
  4. Use your local market – if you have one of course, but most towns have a fruit and veg stall once a week. Not everyone can grow their own, and we certainly don’t have enough space to grow everything, so we supplement what we grow on the allotment with a trip to the market. If you go at the end of the day when they are closing up you can get some real deals. Just tell the stall holder what you want and how much you have to spend and you will often get a bag of goodies for a lot less than if you had gone first thing. If you use them often, you’re much more likely to get a bargain, and in general the food is better quality and a better price than the supermarkets.
  5. Find the reduced section – I always go to the reduced section first in a shop. If you’re buying items anyway, you might as well get them cheaper! Meat, fruit and veg are usually the best things to get. If you were buying meat for the freezer then it makes perfect sense to buy reduced as the use by date is of no odds. Fruit and veg may look a little past it’s best, but you could use it in stews, sauces or soups, or make smoothies, and often they are selling for pennies.
  6. Only buy what you will use – it’s one thing to buy reduced food or something that is on offer, but think about it realistically. Are you going to be able to use it or freeze it before it goes off? One of the ways most people can save money on their shopping is buy avoiding offers that aren’t relevant to them. It might seem like a good deal at the time, but it’s often a false economy. This applies to things with a short shelf life or that you don’t use much of.
  7. Make in bulk – you’re cooking the ingredients anyway, so it makes perfect sense to bulk up and make twice as much for the freezer. Next time you can’t be bothered to cook (and it happens to everyone) you will have a healthy, cheap ready meal waiting for you in the freezer.
  8. Use your leftovers – it is so easy to make a whole new meal from leftovers, and it doesn’t cost anything. Left over veg and mash? Bubble and squeak! Left over meat from a roast? You can make pretty much anything – stews, curries, stir fries, pizza toppings, sandwiches, pasties. Thanks to Nigel Slater, we have started blending left over soup and using it instead of stock to make risottos. Delicious and free!
  9. Stock up on basics – I insist on having a drawer full of stocks and herbs and blends. Most people think I have too much, but it means I can turn basic ingredients in to pretty much anything I like. Also if you have nice stock cubes, you can improve pretty much any dish. Two of my favourite ways to use chicken stock cubes is to make a paste to smother chicken before cooking, or to sprinkle on to sprouts before stir-frying in butter. Delicious. And you don’t have to pay a fortune either. Discount stores such as Home Bargains and B&M usually have good quality stock and herbs for a fraction of the price of supermarkets.
  10. Make use of blogs and websites – you wouldn’t believe some of the amazing things we’ve found on blogs that we would never have thought of on our own. Not only recipes, but also how to store or freeze things, or how to use up everyday things in exciting new ways. The possibilities are endless.

9 thoughts on “Top ten tips for a thrifty kitchen

  1. Mmm, that slow cooked pork leg you’re going to shred has really got me thinking. I love my slow cooker too, but my husband & I don’t like eating too much meat, any ideas for low on meat high on veges slow cooked meals? The slow cooker tends to limit the kind of veges that can go in it.

    • I made a refried bean chilli not too long ago that was delicious. All the normal chilli ingredients, but refried beans instead of meat. Lentil or vegetable curries are pretty tasty too. I find if you’re going to blend it, you can make pretty much any soup, but some vegetable soups don’t quite work.

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  3. Even the humblest homemade pasta sauce is going to trump an expensive brand. You just can’t give a jar of pasta sauce the flavour that you can get out of a bit of butter or oil, a sautéed onion and some tomatoes (even canned). I don’t have a slow cooker but I do have the use of Brunhilda, our 4 oven wood burning combustion stove. She gives me free “slow cooking” all day, all night from May to November and I make the most of her. We buy in bulk (10kg of potatoes and 10kg of onions is MUCH cheaper than buying them by the kilo) and we always use our leftovers to make new tasty meals. I get up at 3am and check my blogs till 7am (when Steve and the dogs get up) finding wonderful recipes and stockpiling new and thrifty ways to do and make things. I learn SO much in my 4 hours of “me” time that it almost makes it worth me falling asleep by 7.30pm each night ;). Again, an excellent post and hope you don’t mind me pinning it on Pinterest?

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