I was raised in a house where money was extremely tight and plenty of times, my mother recalls running out of housekeeping cash halfway through the month.
The upshot was that she became (and still is) a brilliant budget cook, and with rising food costs, I am so grateful to have learned to cook with her.
Brits are notorious for their comfort food and we love to stock up on cheap, nutritious carbs, so all you need is some inexpensive ways of serving the meat and veg.
Here are a few ideas to make your housekeeping rand go a bit further this winter.
1. Get a slowcooker
If you can afford to buy one, or can borrow one from somebody (lots of people get them for wedding presents and never use them – true fact!), then get a slowcooker.
They use hardly any electricity and are great for cooking and tenderising meat over a long period of time. I always unpack mine with relish as soon as the first cold day hits.
Recipe: Slow cooked gammon and pineapple chutney.
2. Cheap is cheerful
And why do I need to cook my meat for a long time? Because I buy cheaper cuts.
Topside, brisket, neck, shoulder, shin, blade, chuck, stewing steak – these have so much flavour, but can be tough if you rush them.
Sticking them in a slowcooker or putting them in the oven for a few hours will turn the meat into tender nuggets of deliciousness whilst the bones add flavour and intensity. All at half the price of ‘posher’ cuts.
Recipe: Slow braised shoulder of lamb.
3. Aaaaand stretch
I can make 500g of mince feed at least 15 people – and no, my name isn’t Jesus.
Every bolognaise I make is 50/50 meat and cooked brown lentils – my family don’t taste the difference, it’s far healthier for us all and it doubles the amount of food I can make. Chicken curry? Add some chickpeas. Beef stew? Add a chopped butternut.
In my experience, the tasty sauce is what makes a casserole, so add extra herbs, seasoning and flavouring and no-one will miss the meat.
Recipe: Low GI cottage pie.
4. Make and freeze
If you’re starting to cook on a budget, then after a slowcooker, your best friend is a freezer.
When cooking a stew or casserole, always, ALWAYS make at least double and freeze in individual portions.
It means that you don’t end up with 2 baby marrows in the fridge going mouldy (the recipe only asked for 4) and it also means that when you come home and can’t be bothered to cook, there is something tasty and far cheaper than a takeaway pizza easily available.
A freezer also means you can take advantage of any special offers going which is cool.
5. Cook on the bone, serve off the bone.
I use a lot of chicken breast on the bone in my winter cooking – it’s far cheaper than fillets and the bones add flavour - and I often find that although I can eat a whole breast, I actually don’t need to.
If you cook a pack of 3 chicken breasts on the bone and then remove and chop the meat, you will have a dish that can easily serve 4 or 5 people and everyone will have enough. The same goes for chops.
6. 2 meals for the price of 1.
When you use a slowcooker, you do need to keep the liquid levels fairly high to keep the meat juicy. The upshot can be that you have more sauce than you need.
Don’t throw it away, blitz, add stock and turn it into soup – beef and tomato, chicken and white wine, Thai chicken green curry - mmmm……
7. Multi-task with your oven.
If there is a problem with cooking meals over a long period of time, it’s that it uses lots of electricity.
Try and multi-task whilst your dinner is in the oven so you get the most out of the heat – whip up a batch of banana muffins for next week’s lunchboxes, oven roast some tomatoes to turn into pasta sauce or brown some beef bones and make your own stock.
These are all budget tips for meat-eaters and of course, being vegetarian or having one or two veggie days in a week will always help as well, but if anyone has got any other money-saving tips they’d like to share, then my wallet would appreciate it!
- Cathy Marston