Sick of spending hundreds of dollars at the supermarket, only to see a bare fridge after just a couple of days? Niki Bezzant takes a refresher course on the simple things you can do to save money. Plus, we share the best moneysaving tips from readers!
How to make basic ingredients tasty
It’s definitely tempting to reach for exotic sauces and flavours when you’re doing your weekly shop. But they’re expensive! You don’t have to give them up, of course, just cut back on them. Replacing costly ingredients with simpler, less expensive ones, such as mince, eggs and potatoes, can also make a big difference.
‘Simple’ doesn’t have to mean ‘bland’ – if you think about it, most comfort foods are simple dishes with basic, familiar ingredients – not elaborate affairs made with strong flavours and a huge number of ingredients.
So rethink your meal bases, take another look at favourite ingredients and re-work ‘classic’ recipes in healthy ways.
Money saving tips
A can of smoked fish, around $4 for 415g can: Make a white sauce, add lots of vegies, top with mash and bake to make a classic fish pie for less than $6 for 4–6 people.
Eggs, between $0.20 and $0.76 each: 4 eggs, some leftover cooked vegetables, and a sliced lean beef sausage ($1.08) makes a tasty frittata to feed four people for around $4.
Lean beef mince, around $7.50 for 500g: Add breadcrumbs, herbs, spices and an egg and make meatballs or a meatloaf to serve with potatoes and a salad for around $10 for 4 people (with leftovers).
How to make the most of every bit of food
That means making what we’d consider one meal’s worth of a meal base, last over two or three nights. For example, cook a bolognaise sauce and serve it with pasta, then use it in nachos, then on toasted sandwiches, then as chilli con carne (see money-saving tips below).
It also means stretching pricier ingredients, such as meat and fish, to help you keep your budget under control. You can do this by padding out meals with cheap, healthy ingredients such as seasonal vegies, legumes and pulses, and by using the most expensive ingredients (such as smoked salmon) as part of another dish, like pasta, so you can use less. With all the inspiration available on the internet, it’s much easier to be creative in the kitchen. Jump online to see what’s on sale at the supermarket, then use this information to plan your meals for the week.
A $15 kilogram of mince can stretch to two quick meals (and get a health boost) by adding a bit of padding! Brown onion, garlic and carrots. Add mince and brown. Set half the cooked mince aside. Add a can of flavoured tomatoes and chopped or grated vegetables, then simmer to make pasta sauce. The next night, use the other portion of mince and add a can of chilli beans, a can of tomatoes and Mexican spices to make a chilli. Serve with brown rice and a salad. Or take it in a different direction and make a stir-fry by adding lots of thinly sliced vegetables, soy sauce, chilli sauce and noodles.
Instead of chicken breasts for one meal, buy a whole chicken on special (generally between $8–$10) and spread it over several meals. Roast a chicken and serve with lots of roasted or steamed vegetables, on the first night. Use leftover cooked chicken to make a chicken and corn soup the next night: bring stock to the boil, add chilli, soy sauce, ginger, garlic and a can of corn kernels. Add chicken, fresh coriander and mint. Use the remaining chicken carcass to make stock (it’s easier than it sounds).
How to use cheap cuts of meat
Cheaper cuts can be higher in fat, making them less heart-friendly, but if you get to know all the different cuts of meat, you can save money on your purchases, and make tasty, healthy dishes which go a long way
Silverside (unsalted) – approx. $10 per kilo Trim fat. Simmer gently in one piece, in water flavoured with onions, carrots, celery and herbs. Cook for 50 minutesper kilo, plus an extra 25 minutes. Serve sliced with roasted or steamed vegetables. Also great for sandwiches.
Blade steak, chuck steak, gravy beef – between $10-$13 per kilo Use for stews and casseroles. Remove visible fat and cut into cubes. Brown in pan, then add vegetables and cover with water, stock, tomatoes or other liquid. Simmer gently, covered, for at least 1 1/2 hours, until tender.
Skirt steak – $14 per kilo Score, marinate and cook quickly (6–8 minutes only) in a hot pan. Slice across the grain and add to stir-fries, or eat with sauce and a salad.
Beef shin – $10 per kilo Braise whole in beef stock, wine and herbs. Cook, covered, for 2 or more hours, until tender. Remove from bone and use in casseroles, curries or chilli.
Lamb shanks – approx. $10 per kilo Gently simmer, covered, in liquid for 2 hours. Serve on the bone, or remove from the bone and add back to sauce. Leave to cool and skim fat from the top of liquid.
Lamb shoulder – between $12-$14 per kilo Use for stews or casseroles. Remove visible fat. Cut into cubes. Brown in pan, then add vegetables and cover with water, stock, tomatoes or other liquid. Cover and simmer gently, for at least 1 1/2 hours until tender. Serve with vegetables and mashed potato or pasta.
Try these healthy, hearty dishes using cheap cuts of meat:
Supermarket convenience foods are expensive for a reason – they’re convenient! While it can make sense to buy some convenience foods, (especially when they could take hours to make and you can buy them for $2 jar), there are a lot of pre-packaged foods that are incredibly easy (and cheap) to make. Making things from scratch also means you are consuming less additives, preservatives, fillers and other processed ingredients; another health bonus. See our ideas in the column on the right, and turn the page for recipes for easy sauces and marinades, to get you started.
If you have a stock of basic Asian ingredients, you can do away with stir-fry sauces and flavour sachets, save money and make tastier meals. (See below for some easy recipes.)
A can of tomatoes and some fresh or dried herbs are really all you need to make pasta sauce. Stock up when they’re on special and you’ll never need a jar of readymade sauce again.
Make your own biscuits and cakes, instead of buying them. Treats like these aren’t everyday food, so if you’re going to spoil yourself and your family, why not give them homemade sweet treats?
Make your own salad dressings. It’s unbelievably easy and a great way to use up leftover herbs and vegies. For example, roast capsicum tastes incredible when puréed with a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar (just remove the skin first!).
If you love pasta, think about investing in a pasta machine. They cost between $100–$200, but you’ll make that back quickly. A batch of fresh pasta costs less than $1, and once you’ve tried it, you’ll never want to buy the packaged variety again.
Replace pre-made with homemade
Make your own versions of stir-fry sauces and dressings.
400g can tomatoes 1 teaspoon sugar dash red wine (optional) 1 teaspoon dried or fresh rosemary
Place ingredients in a saucepan. Cook gently for 10–20 minutes, until slightly reduced, and season to taste. Try using different herbs for a range of flavours.
Break carcass into pieces and place into a large saucepan. Add 2 litres water and bring to the boil. Add remaining ingredients. Half cover, reduce heat to low and simmer for 2 hours, until stock is reduced by half. Remove from heat and strain, discarding bones and vegies. Cool and skim off fat.
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar 3/4 cup olive oil 1 teaspoon wholegrain mustard
Combine ingredients and shake well to mix. Store in the fridge.
400g can chickpeas, drained 1 clove garlic, crushed 1 tablespoon tahini 1 tablespoon olive oil 2 tablespoons lemon juice
Process all ingredients, with 2 tablespoons water, in a food processor until smooth.
“Why use mayo at all? I mash eggs in a bowl, using a potato masher, add a 1/2 teaspoon of olive oil then mix it to a smooth consistency using skim milk, lots of ground pepper, a pinch of salt and some chives for flavour. Delicious, and way less fat.” – Caz Hedley
“With winter coming on, I use a lot of vegetable stems from broccoli, cauliflower, silverbeet and spinach in soups and casseroles. They bulk up meals, add nutrition and flavour, and increase the family’s intake of vegetables. – Geraldine Scanlan
“I purchased a slow-cooker a couple of years ago and use it throughout autumn and winter. It’s a huge money-saver. Leftover vegies, rice, spices − no two soups are ever the same in our house!” – Beth McClellan
“Purée leftover roasted vegetables and add them to a tomato pasta sauce to add both bulk and flavour.” – Sue Dennisham