Cost of living: These thrifty cooking hacks could save you money without sparing flavour

With the cost of living crisis making everybody tighten up their purse strings, these hacks could save you a bundle. Food and energy prices are rising while many people’s wages remain the same.

Especially if you have a family to feed, food costs could be one of the biggest financial worries of any household. But if you are thrifty then it should alleviate some worry and you can still eat delicious yet nutritious meals.

Below we have rounded up a selection of top tips to help you save through this turbulant time. With just a few tweaks to your shopping and cooking habits, you will be surprised how much further your money can go.

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Buy a whole chicken

Buying a pack of chicken breast at your local supermarket can cost upwards of £10 depending on how many cutlets you are purchasing. However, you can buy a large chicken for less than £5 in most shops.

You may not necessarily be a trained chef, but a simple tutorial on Youtube can teach you all you need to break down the bird. You could end up with two large breasts, legs, thighs, wings and still have the carcass to cook with.

This could provide you with enough chicken for several meals in different styles, i.e. deep-fried wings, or using the breast for stir fry etc. Or, if it is too much effort to break down the chicken yourself then you can cook the chicken whole and feed a large family with a simple roast.

A lot of people throw the carcass away yet this also provides even more sustenance. Simply add it to a large pot of water along with onion, celery, carrots, cloves, bay leaves and salt and pepper to reduce it into a stock. All you need to do is let it simmer on a stove for several hours until you are left with the amber-coloured stock. The stock and leftover chicken on the carcass can be used to make a chicken soup, or you can save the stock to use for other meals rather than relying on shop-bought stock pots or cubes.

Eat less meat

You can still eat healthily without buying actual meat. Even things such as eggs or tinned tuna can provide you with more than enough protein for the day. Or you can also eat beans, pulses and legumes or even brown bread to get a healthy high-protein meal.

But be careful of the “halo” effect. Just because something is advertised as being meat-free doesn’t mean it isn’t also expensive or that it is any healthier.

Be wary of veggie or vegan burgers or meat substitutes. Often these can are full of salt and preservatives while also extremely processed.

Try to eat as close to whole food as you can. This means even just a meal of vegetables. But if they are baked in the oven or boiled into a soup they are delicious, filling and nutritious yet cheap.

Make bulk batches of rice-based dishes

A 1kg bag of long grain rice costs 95p at Aldi. With an average portion coming in at 100g, this means you have 10 portions for less than a pound.

While most people consider rice to be a side dish to have alongside the main meal, you can very easily make a high-protein, vegetable-rich, nutritious meal for cheap. You can add egg, peas and onions to make Chinese-style egg-fried rice, or you can add leftover meat and Indian spice to make biriyani, or coconut milk and kidney beans to make rice and peas – for example.

It is one of the most inexpensive food items in the world, is easy to store and is highly versatile. If you’re not very good at cooking rice then simply find an online recipe to get the correct measurements. Just remember that you should add roughly double whatever volume of rice you are using with water, at least. For example, 200g of rice should have at least 400ml of water.

Sometimes this split may be more if you are using different grains, such as brown rice. However, the rice should fully absorb the water used to cook it, rather than having it drain like pasta. Cooking with a lid on helps the absorption. Rice is extremely simple to cook once you have the correct measurements, just check places such as BBC Good Food for free recipes and even video tutorials.

Pre-cooked microwave rice is expensive. So avoid this if you are trying to save.

Never buy pre-chopped vegetables

Pre-chopped vegetables may be convenient but you are charged way more for less volume than buying them whole. Also, make sure you try to buy vegetables that are in season and grown locally.

While you may be able to buy a bag of green beans relatively cheaply, they may be out of season and grown in a far-off country. After travelling several thousands of miles they may only last a few days in your fridge before you have to throw them out.

Your produce will keep longer if it is stored properly as soon as you get home. You can also try buying frozen veg which is cheap and keeps for months. Or if you feel you will never get through all of the fresh carrots or salad leaves that you bought, then you can peel and chop them before freezing them yourself.

Then you can simply grab frozen carrots already prepared or chopped spinach to make a thrifty soup. Or perhaps you can just boil or steam them to have as a side dish.

Never buy dried herbs

Buying a tiny amount of rosemary in a glass container is a convenience buy it isn’t thrifty. You could plant your own herbs or you can buy potted ones that give you fresh produce all year round.

Supermarket potted herbs are hit-and-miss. Some are already dead by the time you have bought them. So you could be better off going to a garden centre and buying a potted herb for around £1.

If this sounds like too much effort, then you can still buy cuttings of fresh herbs in-store and dry them yourself. Simply hang the herbs either above your cooker, above a radiator, or in a spot with direct sunlight. Once dried, store them in an empty jam jar or glass container.

Tinned food can be good for you

While everyone knows to stay away from processed food, sometimes tinned food can be extremely nutritious. Tinned tomatoes are a cooking staple in most kitchens, including professional ones.

They are extremely versatile and can be used to make a delicious pasta sauce for less than 30p. You can also save a bundle by not buying processed, expensive ready-made sauces.

Peeled plum tomatoes actually contain more tomatoes per tin than chopped, so make sure you get your money’s worth by buying plum tomatoes. If you’re feeling really thrifty, you could add homemade chicken stock to a tin of tomatoes to make a delicious sauce for pennies.

Don’t feel like cooking after a hard day’s work? Beans on brown toast with a small sprinkling of cheese and light spread is surprisingly healthy. It’s high in fibre, protein and has a moderate serving of healthy fat.

The cheapest baked bean tin available at the moment is the Sainsbury’s Hubbard’s Foodstore, costing 21p. The cheapest loaf of bread is 34p in Lidl. Beans on toast is simple, tasty and extremely cheap!

Or you can buy several tins of ready-to-eat beans such as black beans, kidney beans, cannellini beans, borlotti etc, add chopped tomatoes, stock, and seasoning to a slow cooker. Then leave it to stew to make an even more healthy version that will last all week, saving you time too.

Why not forage for your own food?

Autumn is approaching and so is harvest time. By September, blackberries and brambles will be ripe. Bramble bushes grow wild all over the UK, sometimes even in urban areas.

So you can pick your own fruit easily and safely. You could even freeze the berries to keep them fresh all through winter.

Also if you live in a rural area, keep a look out for fallen veg such as potatoes, carrots or beetroot on the floor. Often farmers while transporting crops can lose a few on the ground.

Often they are perfectly fine to eat. But just make sure it hasn’t been nibbled by a wild animal before, it isn’t rotten and that you wash it thoroughly too.

Or keep a look out for people giving away whatever veg they have leftover from their homegrown produce. Sometimes people can give this away outside their homes or they sell them for a fraction of the cost compared to your local supermarket. If you aren’t an expert in fungi, then don’t pick your own mushrooms as it can be dangerous.

Waste not want not

The take-home message is to try to be thrifty and clever in the way you cook. Plan your meals ahead of time and anything you have left over could be used again. For example, leftover rice could be turned into another dish, or leftover Sunday roasts can be used for bubble and squeak.

Try not to let anything go to waste and if you think sometime might go off either freeze it or cook it immediately. You also don’t need to go hungry or eat less healthily just because you are saving money on food.

Shop smart

Budget shops like Lidl and Aldi are obviously on average much cheaper than Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and other higher-end supermarkets. But sometimes the big supermarkets sell budget items for less than the cheaper alternatives – such as bread, beans, instant coffee etc.

So keep an eye out and split your shopping up. You can buy the majority of your food at a budget store and then buy the rest of the cheaper items at another supermarket.

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Article Source: Kent Live