1. Meal planning
It sounds a tiny bit boring but this is my no. 1 hack to make your cooking life easier. Spend an hour each weekend to choose your dinners for the week. Of course you don’t have to say which day you’ll make which recipes on, just come up with a plan of 5 dinners you want (and your shopping list). If you have cookbooks, this is a good chance to pick some recipes to make from them. If not, search online!
Meal planning will save you a lot of time during the week because you know exactly what you’re making each day. It will also probably save you money as you’ll know exactly what you need to buy and how much (which cuts down on food waste at the same time!).
2. Don’t fall for sales tricks
The easiest way to compare prices is by checking the ‘£ per gram’ or ‘£ per kilogram’ marking which should be on the shelf label by the price of the item. Sometimes it seems like something is cheaper but it’s actually just that the packet is smaller. Another thing to be wary of is the ‘3 for the price of 2’ and other similar deals. Only buy what you need unless you know you like and will use that ingredient (and that you’ll eat it all before it goes off).
3. Don’t just shop in supermarkets
It’s all well and good shopping in budget supermarkets and thinking you’re getting a great deal on your fresh produce but often, looking around in other locations can a) be cheaper and b) give you access to different ingredients. Check out greengrocers, farmers’ markets, Middle Eastern and Asian food shops. Even looking in the ‘world food’ aisle in the supermarket can save you money on spices and things like coconut milk and nuts.
I use miso a lot in my cooking which I’ve found in Korean, Chinese, Japanese and Thai food shops in the chiller cabinets! I also buy noodles, curry pastes, fresh ginger, huge bottles of soy sauce and vinegars from here. For big jars of tahini (for making dressings and hummus), dates, pomegranate molasses and spices I go to Middle Eastern grocers. Sometimes they have large bunches of fresh herbs and cheap vegetables too.
4. Learn how to store food properly
By storing food correctly, you’ll end up maximising its shelf life/flavour and also stopping yourself getting food poisoning (always a bonus!). The first clue is to remember how the food was stored in the supermarket – was it in the chiller cabinet or out on a shelf? For example: potatoes, onions, garlic and tomatoes do not need to be refrigerated (unless cut). Look at all that fridge space you just freed up! Another tip – look at the packet, it usually tells you how to store the food before and after opening.
With ingredients like pesto, curry paste and coconut milk, they often go off quickly, and all should be refrigerated, once opened. If you know you won’t be using them up in the next few days: dollop them into ice cube trays, freeze until solid, then pop out into a sandwich bag and keep in the freezer. Then you don’t have to defrost the whole jar next time you need some!
5. Don’t always go for fresh
Frozen fruit and veg are usually just as good (and sometimes better) than buying fresh, especially if the food isn’t in season. I find ingredients like frozen blueberries, frozen spinach and frozen broccoli to be incredibly convenient to have on hand. Canned foods are another incredibly good thing to stockpile – chopped tomatoes, coconut milk and canned beans in the cupboard (and some of that frozen curry paste or some spices!) and you can make a curry or soup in no time. I always have jars of olives, sun dried tomatoes and artichokes in the cupboard too to jazz up boring meals and as my go-to pizza toppers.
If you’re like me and you love not having to go to the shops on a whim, turning to shelf-stable milks (I’m a big fan of oat milk) are a blessing. I keep it around for baking, cooking and drinking. I never have those ‘oh crap there’s no milk so I can’t have my morning coffee’ moments.
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