I’ve admitted it before: I’m cheap, and I’m ok with that. I happily spend hours scouring comparison websites for the best prices on my staple groceries. When there’s ‘nothing to eat in the house’ I challenge myself to make it through one or two more days without buying any new ingredients. It fills me with pain to throw away uneaten food, even dry crusts of bread or the last wilted spring onion from a bunch that I used when they were fresh the week before. This could be for a variety of reasons- a sign of our troubled economic times, a legacy from my depression-era grandmother, a practical necessity when living in a city as expensive as London, a political statement about reducing waste. These are all reasonable explanations for my stinginess and each of them are in part true. But there is another side to it…I actually enjoy economizing. I find it strangely satisfying to maneuver the resources in my life to cover my needs without exceeding them. It makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something important, even when all I’ve done is feed myself and my friends a humble bowl of stew.
Here are my top tips for making the most of the food that you buy:
-Always keep certain staples in the house which allow you to turn scraps and half-ingredients into nice meals. My staples are: canned beans, cubed pancetta, chorizo, anchovies, sardines, lemons, cans of chopped tomatoes, eggs, olives, capers, stock cubes, and a wide variety of carbohydrates like potatoes, rice, risotto rice, pasta, cous cous, barley, and bread flour. When I’ve run out of all of the above, I know it’s really time to go shopping.
-Use mysupermarket.co.uk or a local comparison website for your staples, which prompts you to make the most of in-store promotions, and to move your virtual shopping cart to the store that charges the least.
-Buy ingredients that you can make several different meals from. You can afford to spend £7 on a single free range chicken if you consider that this will provide four separate meals for a household of two (or two separate meals for a household of four- you get what I’m saying.) Meat is an area of your kitchen where this works really well- you plan the primary meal, for example roast chicken, and then there are several offshoots, like chicken and herb risotto, or chicken and caper pasta, which you can make with the leftovers. Then you use the bones to make stock, which you can freeze in ziplock bags until you need it.
- Use your freezer liberally. I do a massive shop online once a month and have it delivered to my house (we don’t have a car,) then all of the meat (with the exception of what I plan to use in the next two days) goes straight into the freezer. That way unplanned nights out don’t lead to ‘erm, do you think this shrimp is still ok?’ type conversations.
- Understand what single portion size is, and only use that much per person, unless you want leftovers for an offshoot meal—especially when it comes to expensive ingredients like fish and meat. Feeding a lumberjack? Ramp up the cheap ingredients like rice or pasta, but stick to the normal portion of meat. A serving of meat or fish should be about the size of your fist if it's being incorporated into a stew or something else with plenty of other ingredients. If the meat is the main feature on the plate, you'll probably want about 50% more than that. I generally find that 50g of rice per person works in my house, and I do actually weigh it out so that I don’t overdo it. We eat more pasta though, so I usually measure out 75g per person. Look on the package labels, weigh it out, and then adjust according to your needs. Once you get a few numbers in your head that work for you, you won’t have to think about it so much.
-When you see luxuries available for a big discount, pounce! There is a beautiful bordeaux that my local supermarket carries, which is usually out of my price range. But occasionally they run a half-price sale, and when they do, I buy a case. It stings the wallet a little, but then I’ve got my lovely wine sorted for weeks and I don’t fritter away £5 here and there for inferior bottles on impulse.
-Make it yourself. Like beer? Learn to brew. Like bread? Make your own. Mayo? No problem. The more versatile you are on the basics, the less you have to shop for factory-made versions. Learn to joint a chicken. Better yet, learn to do your own butchery, or make cheese. The possibilities are endless.
There are so many ways to eat well while consuming less- do you have any additional tips to share?