Monday 4 February 2013

10 ways to save money in the kitchen (The £50 weekly budget)

A few weeks ago I shared 15 tips to save money when grocery shopping. This week I am delving into the kitchen and letting you know a few of the ways we save money when cooking.

I'm trying to keep this series of posts open for anyone to try. You should be able to take on board any of these tips easily, whatever size of household you have, whether you are a town mouse or a country mouse, a busy working mum or a thumb twiddling time waster.

I've already covered the merits of meal planning which goes hand-in-hand with grocery shopping, but the following tips are more specific about how you might save money eating, preparing and storing food in the kitchen.
  • Cook - Not opening jars of stir-in-sauce... I mean really cooking. The best way to learn to cook well is to watch and help your parents and grandparents in the kitchen... but that has fallen out of favour in previous generations so failing that, get yourself a good basic cookery book (my favourite is cooking for blokes) Get practising with the basic meals that you and your family enjoy. There is no need to get adventurous until you have 4 or 5 basic recipes under your belt. 
  • Cut down on the meat - Meat is expensive, good meat is more expensive and ethical meat is even more expensive. Your protein intake doesn't have to be meat-based (lentils, pulses, eggs and dairy are also good sources) but even if you do like meat, most of us eat far too much of it. The dept. of health recommends roughly 70g of red or processed meat a day,  I've heard that is is roughly the size of a deck of cards. Which means that decent beef steak would easily stretch to a family of three or four. Think about how you serve meat and maybe try to cut down the size of portion.
  • Get saucy - I'm talking pasta sauce and curry sauce here. The standard 'meat and 2 veg' is difficult to do on a budget but once you dive into the amazing world of sauces there is no stopping you. Sauces are easy to bulk up with cheap produce, they are easy to batch cook and freeze. They can be healthy, hearty and quick.
  • Say hello to lentils - lentils are a so called 'superfood' because they are amazingly healthy. They also thicken up a soup or a stew, add bulk to any minced meat dish, and best of all, lentils are nice and cheap. If you can find a good recipe for lentil soup and Dahl (lentil curry - I'll share my recipe one day) you can feed your whole family filling nutritious meals very cheaply, and the lentils keep so well they are a good store cupboard food.
    Red lentils are cheaper and mushier, green lentils are nutty and hold their shape better.
  • Bulk it up - This works particularly well with mince (ground beef) ie. in bolognese, chilli or cottage pie. Match the weight of meat to a selection of grated veg, and add a handful of lentils. Mushrooms, carrots, courgettes and celery all work well for this trick. Stir the grated (or finely chopped) veg into the pan once the mince has finished browning, add a beef stock cube and a handfull of lentils. You just made 1 pack of mince stretch double the distance.
  • Batch cook - once a week I make a huge pot of sauce, we eat it that night and the left overs get frozen for other meals. We usually get 12+ servings out of one pot. My favourites are - Chilli, Bolognese sauce, Pasta Sauce (with chopped up sausages), Dahl (lentil curry), Sausage and bean casserole or any kind of soup.
5.5 litres of Chilli - that is about 15 portions.
  • Bake - Well we could technically roll this in with cooking but I see it as a very different process in the kitchen. Homemade cakes and treats are much cheaper and usually tastier than there shop bought equivalents. Try my cinnamon bun recipe for a cheap baking fix. 
  • Portion Control - Don't over-feed yourselves, or fill plates too much for tummies to manage. Portions should be sufficient, but if you are still hungry 5 minutes after clearing a plate you can have a refill from the pot, a slice of bread or a pudding from the fridge. Here is my rough (and I do mean rough) guide to portion sizes.
  • Rice - 1 cup for 2 adults
  • Pasta - 90g per adult 
  • Potatoes - 2 to 3 medium per adult (adjust to suit sizes of potatoes available)
  • Pasta sauce or curry - 1 cup/ ladle per adult
  • Soup - 2 cups/ladles per adult
  • Love Leftovers - Planning for leftovers can help save money yet again. Left over sausages or bacon can be added to a pasta sauce the following night, or pop them in the freezer for future use. Left over veg can be whizzed into a homemade soup. Left-overs from a take-away treat can easily be reheated for another meal or kept in the fridge for a day or 2 for a late night sneaky-snack. Most things can be zapped in the microwave and/or popped under the grill to reheat them - pop pizza or chips in the microwave for 2 mins and under a hot grill for a further 2 mins - always make sure re-heated food is piping hot before serving.
Left over curry from the indian take away.
Reheat in the microwave and omnomnom
  • Freeze it - Invest in some stackable freezer boxes (or keep a hold of some of those take-away containers) and some bag clips. Your freezer is the best way to keep food good and fresh, plan ahead and stock your freezer well for emergency quick meals or to extend time between supermarket visits. And my top tip for the freezer - LABEL IT! label everything, label what it is and how many it might feed, and maybe even the date you froze it. Remember to clear out your freezer once every few months and toss what you will not use. Do not waste freezer space on tubs and bags that you can't remember the origin or contents of.

Here are a few other tips that didn't quite make the grade but I feel, since I had them all thought out I might as well pop them up here.

  • Slow cookers and Pressure cookers - These are great pieces of equipment and they can save you a lot of money. They save energy and time cooking and are especially good for cheap cuts of meat. The down side is that you need to buy them to begin with, and that initially expense can take a while to re-coup. If you get one off of freecycle or gumtree then you are on to a winner.
  • Growing your own - In the middle of winter and with the snow falling outside it is easy to forget that we grow a lot of our own fruit, veg, herbs, and eggs and it does save us lots of money. But I know that lifestyle just isn't available to many people, some don't have the time, some don't have the space and some don't have the inclination  I would recommend you try to grow a few windowsill herbs at the very least but really because they are nice to have around, not because they save you loads of cash.
  • Foraging - If you can find a great foraging guide, you have a good place to go foraging and you have the time to do it then foraging can be brilliant. The occasional handful of blaeberries and brambles we pick don't save us tonnes of money but they do make our summers days a bit nicer.
  • Jam and Chutney making -  I do make lots of jam, marmalade and chutneys, this is because homemade jams and chutneys taste better. But not because it is cheaper. The sugar alone can cost more that a store bought cheap jam (30p for 1lb and you even get a free jar)
  • Wine making - now here you can save a lot of money, I have made some lovely country wines, but we don't drink (a couple of glasses a month, at most) so it does seem like a rather pointless money saving escapade.

Have you got any other tips to help us all save a bit of money with food in the kitchen? Leave a comment below and let me know your best ideas.

Next up in the £50 budget series will be cleaning on a budget.


  1. Do you know how long sauces can be kept frozen for? I used to make marinara sauce, but was afraid the leftovers wouldnt be good when I next ate pasta.

    1. Hi there,

      We freeze sauces for up to 6 weeks, but they are usually only in the freezer for 2 or 3 weeks.

      We eat pasta a few times a week so it wouldn't take long for the marinara to be used up.

  2. The great thing about cooking ahead and/or freezing the extra meals is that lots of things taste better the day after/after freezing and thawing. Especially so with curry. When I make spag bol I do much the same as you, but instead of lentils add porridge oats; after several hours in the slow cooker, the oats give it a lovely, creamy texture, and the flavours of herbs and garlic are well developed. Out of 2lbs mince I get 14 portions, which is seven meals for us two. We eat spag bol about once a week but only cook it every seven weeks. Making your own jam and chutney is more expensive, but the taste is so much better than the cheap stuff. Living on a tight budget, homemade jam makes it feel much more luxurious. We have a friend with 2 allotments who in 2011 gave us loads of fruit on the understanding he would get some jam back; there was plenty for us, him and to give away. Last year, we were moving house at the critical time and neither of us had the freezer space to store the fruit for later, so blow me, he learned how to make jam, dang it!

    1. I have never tried porridge oats to thicken. I'll need to try it one day.

      I totally agree about making jam and chutneys, they are much tastier than the shop bought ones. Hope you find another giver of free fruit sometime soon.

  3. Add a large green apple (peeled/chopped) to mince. Makes it go lots further. I add veg as well so the mince is pretty sparse by the time it's served :)

    viv in nz

    1. Wow, I wouldn't have thought of apple! I'm going to try that some day too.

  4. Someone on twitter the other day suggested turning leftover stew/curry/whatever into pie, so it doesn't feel quite so much like repeating the same meal. I am reliably informed that one packet of puff pastry (no way I'm making THAT myself!) will do two pie tops, just roll it out to cover the top of the dish and lay over leftover stew. Even my non-existent domestic skills are up to that.


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