WWith food prices rising at the fastest rate in more than a decade, Britons are trying to increase their kitchen budget by buying cheaper frozen and canned produce and a label at the supermarket.
Simon Roberts, chief executive of Sainsbury’s, said this week that customers are watching every penny. They also take more trips but buy less per visit, and they monitor the price of shopping to avoid being “shocked up” when you finally pay.
With the average annual grocery bill rising around £400 this year, there’s no magic bullet for prices to go up that big but there are ways to cut costs at home. Here, professional chefs and the people who train them give advice on how to cook on a budget – without underestimating the quality of your food.
Set a budget, plan your menu
Conservative MP Lee Anderson caused an uproar when he suggested that nutritious meals could easily be cooked for 30p at a time.
It’s technically possible to make a meal for less than that — but only if you have “the time, the cash flow to buy ingredients in bulk in order to get the best deal, the knowledge,” says Felicity Kluck, the Guardian food writer and author of Red Sauce Brown Sauce. And the equipment to do it, and those for whom you cook are so desperate that they will eat anything.”
It is possible, however, to keep costs within a certain more realistic limit, if you plan carefully in advance. “Sit back and plan meals throughout the week,” says Miguel Barclay, author of One Pound Meal Recipe Books. Think of these meals as connected rather than separate, so you can use the same ingredients in more than one dish, and create an extensive shopping list.”
Next, resist any impulse to push the purchase. If it is not in the list, it will not be put in the cart. “There is no room for improvisation in this way,” he says. “You can’t think: ‘Look, that ham is on offer, I’ll buy some,’ because if you did, you wouldn’t be able to stay within your budget.”
Don’t waste anything
Once you know what you’re going to eat, buy the ingredients in the largest “whole” form you can, or else you’ll pay for the processing, even if it’s just cutting the leaves or chopping them up into pieces. Use your meal plan to ensure nothing is wasted.
Stella West Harling, founder of the Association of Independent Cooking Schools and president of Feeding Devon, part of the Feeding Britain charity network, says roast chicken can make multiple meals: “Boil the chicken for about 30 minutes in a large skillet before roasting,” she says. Add carrots, celery and any other vegetables that need to be consumed up to the water. When you strain it, you have chicken broth.”
Use the broth in soups or sauces, or freeze it for future use. Use leftover roasted food for pie, risotto, stir-fry, or curry. Once you reach the bones, boil again to get more of the broth, brushing through the remaining chicken pieces.
The same approach should be taken from top to bottom with vegetables, says Holly Taylor, senior chef at Kindling Restaurant in Brighton. “Using them all means you get more value for money than the thing you paid for.”
Taylor says broccoli stalks shouldn’t be thrown away when they’re a tasty pickle and used as a garnish or in salads. Likewise, Taylor says, make mashed potatoes by baking whole potatoes in the oven, slicing them in half, scooping out a thin mash, and then reserving the skin to make loaded potato peelers the next day.
Do you have an Italian week
When you pick up a recipe from a cookbook, you may end up going out and buying everything on the ingredient list. “You may never use these ingredients again, so they’ll just sit in the cupboard,” says Lewis Walker, vice president of Birmingham College of Food. “It’s not cost-effective.”
Planning meals around the same combinations of flavors, herbs, and spices means you’re more likely to use ingredients. “You could say, ‘Okay, we’ll be going through the Italian phase for a little while, so I’ll be using all of my Italian ingredients for the next few weeks,'” says Walker. “By not diversifying too much, you always use what you have in the cupboard instead of buying more.”
Get more from zero
“I don’t think a lot of people realize that tomato pasta sauces are so cheap and simple to make, or that they won’t buy them,” Kluck says. “A few cans of tomatoes, maybe a clove of garlic or some tender herbs, a bit of sugar and salt, stew on low for 30 minutes, and you have something much nicer. It freezes brilliantly, so make more than you need and pick up as necessary.”
For comparison (at the time of writing), a 400g can of plum tomatoes costs 28p at Tesco, while a 350g can of Loyd Grossman Tomato and Basil Sauce costs £1.90. Even when you factor in the cost of cooking on the stove (between 25 and 50 pence for an hour’s use, according to the Center for Sustainable Energy) and other ingredients, it can still be made your own.
To get away with it, it’s hard to beat homemade flatbreads and tortillas for value, says Barclay. “I don’t make my own bread but I make tortillas. It’s quick, simple and cheap – one piece of bread for less than a penny.” A 1.5 kg package of plain flour is offered at 45 pence at Morrisons – however, plus a little oil, a pinch of salt and some water, you can make 60-70 tortillas. An eight-pack of El Paso flour bread costs £1.45.
Fill your franc
Much of a household’s energy bill is consumed in the kitchen — with 12% from refrigeration or freezing, 4% from cooking and 16% from washing and dishwashers, according to the Energy Saving Trust (ETS).
To reduce energy use, says Brian Horn, Senior Insight and Analytics Consultant at ETS: “Let food cool completely before putting it in the fridge, and thaw food in the fridge as this will help keep your appliance cool. Never leave the door open. Unnecessarily, keep the temperature between 3°C and 5°C. Regular defrosting of freezers will maintain efficiency.” If you need to replace your machine, choose the best power rating that you can afford for long-term savings.
Induction hobs are the most energy efficient but not the cheapest to operate. “Gas is cheaper than electricity, so gas stoves usually have the lowest operating costs,” Horn says. “An electric furnace will have lower CO2 emissions than a gas furnace but it will be more expensive to operate.”
Whatever the type of furnace, using it efficiently is the best way to reduce costs. “At the restaurant, we have conversations in the morning about what’s going on in the oven, and what time,” Taylor says. “Basically, setting up a schedule for the furnace.”
Adopting a similar approach can save time and money. Always fill up your oven, says Kluck. “If you’ve got them anyway to roast them, have more veggies to eat throughout the week, or put them in a loaf of soda bread—so simple and subtle to put them together.”
Unless you’re making something delicate, turn off the oven 15 minutes before done and leave to finish cooking in residual heat, she adds.
When reheating dishes you’ve made beforehand, “a microwave is more cost-effective than a conventional cooker,” says Horn, who adds that boiling water in a kettle is more efficient than a stovetop.
Stove usage improved too. “I use the water I use to steam vegetables to make my Sunday roast beef broth,” Walker says. “And you can put the vegetables in the water you use to cook the pasta – just pay attention to the different cooking times they need.”
Kitchen Essentials for budget chefs
High on Taylor’s good knife list. “I know it’s a chef but it will help you reduce waste and you’ll have it for life.” She also says an ice cube tray is also useful for an unused collection of herbs. “Especially if you live alone. If you don’t use a whole bunch of herbs, they will rot in the fridge. You can chop them up and stuff them into ice cube trays with a little water to use at another time.”
For Barclay, the best tool in his kitchen is a silicone spatula. “I really use it for everything; cooking scrambled eggs, scraping the last bits of mashed potatoes out of the pan. I even took it with me when I stayed at an Airbnb recently.”
It’s an expensive item, but an air fryer, which heats up and cooks more quickly than a conventional oven, is fine if you frequently cook small amounts of food, such as oven chips, or fish fingers, says Kluck. A good hand mixer for soup is helpful, she says, as well as measuring spoons. “And the humble sieve. It does a better job of drying food than a regular strainer, sifting powdered sugar and flour and also acting as a steamer. I use mine a lot and have separate sieves for the savory and sweet stuff.”
A recent survey by food waste charity Wrap highlighted the presence of UFOs (unidentified frozen objects) in freezers in the UK, with more than a third of people saying they are sometimes a ‘total disaster’, making it extremely difficult to operate. Contents.
“I also try to keep an inventory of the freezer on the door, so I remember what’s inside,” Kluck says. “The same goes for the fridge; getting rid of it regularly is a frustrating chore but it prevents you from wasting food and space, done weekly, and it will save you time.”
Walker adds that the golden rule in a restaurant kitchen is to have “stock in first, first out, so whenever you get a delivery, whatever’s fresh comes back.” Follow the same approach with refrigerator and cupboard storage to avoid forgetting the ingredients you can use in a dish.
Herbs and spices
Instead of buying jars of mixed spices, raid the spice rack to see if you actually have what you need. Garam masala for example needs cardamom, cloves, black pepper, cumin, nutmeg and cinnamon. “Mix it as a powder, or cook and add oil, and it’ll be like batak dough,” says West-Harling. “And if you don’t have all the ingredients, adapt them.”
Growing your own herbs can be simple. If you have an outdoor space, mint is easy to grow. Use the fresh leaves during the summer and dry some for peppermint tea in the winter months. “Perennial herbs like rosemary and thyme need a tremendous amount of sunlight, so they don’t grow well indoors,” says Jane Peroni, journalist and host of the On the Ledge podcast. “But herbs like basil, cilantro, and parsley can be grown in your kitchen, provided you give them enough Enough light.
You can raid a spice rack and plant coriander seeds right out of the jar, and if you buy a pot of basil, you can extend its life by removing the seedlings and replanting the compost in a larger pot.