1. Get over your pressure cooker fear
Pressure plus heat sounds risky, but there’s nothing to be scared of. Dried beans, pulses, grains and cuts of meat that need longer cooking are all low-cost foods, and pressure-cooking them will cut cooking times, so substantially that you can use them as everyday ingredients. The microwave pressure cooker from Lakeland will do the trick, without taking up too much room in your kitchen. £34.99.
2. Love your leftovers
You don’t have to be a slave to your kitchen to make stock with a chicken carcass, turn nearly stale bread into crumbs or invent a new five-cheese-and-a-spot-of pickle sauce for your macaroni. Stock takes no effort other than shoving the carcass in a pan, and adding water and the odd bit of veg. It will then bubble away on its own. If you boil it after straining out the bits, you can make a strong stock that will take up less room in the freezer. Here is a great tagliatelle recipe for leftover roast chicken.
3. Visit the back of your food cupboard
You might be surprised by what you find. Using up what you already have in an imaginative way is like the invention test on MasterChef, and it will save you money on your next few food bills. Liberate all the bags and boxes from the cupboard and freezer, make a list of what you’ve got and then look up some recipes. Check everything before you eat it and throw away anything that is past its best – oils and nuts may have turned rancid. Food editor Janine suggests mixing any small leftover amounts of grains and lentils together after cooking to make enough for a whole meal, for example in this delicious salmon salad recipe.
4. Try new recipes
Pick a cuisine that uses lots of seasonal veg and low-cost pulses rather than huge chunks of meat. Cookbook Salmagundi by Sally Butcher (owner of Middle Eastern emporium Persepolis in Peckham) is full of new ideas, including bacon-browned lentils and black-eye beans with lemon and dill. £25, Pavilion.
5. Air is the enemy
Vacuum-packing meat and fish before you store it in the fridge or freezer will keep it better for longer. Air around meat in the freezerwill cause it to dehydrate, which is what causes freezer burn. Invest in aFoodSaver vacuum sealer, and not only will your fridge and freezer look spicand span, your food will also last longer and there’ll be no mess when youdefrost. (£74.99, Lakeland)
6. Knuckle down and make a shopping list
Make a list of what you actually need – on paper, or on your phone – and then stick to it. If you shop off-list you may well impulse buy. You can transfer ingredients straight to a shopping list on the digital edition of olive, or you can download various apps such as Shopping UK (free on the App Store) to help you.
7. Target your social media
Check sites like vouchercodes and follow restaurants on twitter and Facebook so you know about special offers.
Look for venues near your work and home, so that if a freebie lunch for the first 10 punters, a 2-for-1 deal or a timed offer comes up you can sprint over.
8. Learn a new skill
Buying whole fish or chicken is cheaper than buying pieces, so being able to divide them yourself will save money in the long term. Billingsgate Seafood School’s ‘Gut, fillet and shuck like a fishmonger’ course will sort out your fish skills (£180 for the day, visit seafoodtraining for dates and details), and Leiths School of Food and Wine run regular knife skills classes in butchery and specifically for chicken and fish. Then use your skills to make the most out of this succulent roast chicken.
9. Check BOGOFs and deals carefully
Some deals are worth it; others are not. This is where the handy calculator on your phone can come into its own. Check the original price and weight of each item. Some packs are shrinking in weight, so THEY SHOULD COST LESS!
10. Buy wine in cases
Take advantage of money-off deals for buying six bottles or more at a time. Sign up to supermarket and wine-shop websites for a heads-up on deals. Then pace yourself. Waitrose and Majestic often have very good wine offers.
11. Shop strategically, and often
Food writer Anna Glover has her shopping bills on a very tight leash. ‘Making an evening meal into something extra special with little money is very important to me, so I’ve come up with a system that doesn’t bend the budget, and also lets me try new things and eat really well for just about £100 per month for 2 people (excluding a few bottles of wine here and there, and occasional meals out). You have to be creative with your meal planning, as you don’t know what you’re having until you find it, but with a cupboard full of kitchen staples there are so many options – it isn’t too hard.’
Do one large shop every month or two to take advantage of wholesale prices by buying in bulk for staples. Lidl and Aldi sell rice, tinned tomatoes, flour and most condiments cheaper than other supermarkets. Compare prices per 100ml/100g – price labels usually have this information. At the start of the month, we have about 10 tins of choppedtomatoes, 12 bags of strong white breadflour and a couple of 3kg bags of pasta in the cupboard.
Buy spices in 100g bags from Asian supermarkets and refill your cupboard spice pots, keeping the bags for the next refill. Sometimes I share spices with my mum, and we take it in turns to buy them.
Shop at Lidl or Aldi for lunchbox items such as biscuits, crisps and dried fruit, as they work out so much cheaper than brands, and taste exactly the same. I also buy lemons, limes, carrots and potatoes in bulk from Lidl, as we go through them pretty quickly and they last for a while.
For meat, fish and salad, I pick up something reduced from Sainsbury’s or Waitrose on the way home – these are regularly reduced. Sausages and braisingsteak are worth looking out for, and I’ve bought racks of ribs for £1, a topside roasting joint for £3 and a couple of pork tenderloins for £1.50 each. Anything spare goes in the freezer.
12. Eat seasonally
Obvious really. When there’s a lot of something around, it’s much cheaper. This goes across the board, including meat and fish. eattheseasons.co.uk is very useful.
13. Make meat an ingredient rather than a main event
Cut back on large quantities of meat by using small amounts that pack in plenty of flavour. This is where bacon (especially lardons) and chorizo really come into their own. Just 75g is enough to flavour batches of soup, lentils or pilaff. Try these recipes for baked eggs , angel hair pasta and risotto.
14. No frills = lower cost
Restaurateurs who spend money on linen tablecloths and napkins have to include this in their costs, so head to places that are more pared back in style.
15. Adopt a packed lunch policy
If you spend £2-3 on lunch a day, that’s £480-720 per year. Factor in a daily coffee and you’re heading north of £1,000. Eat leftovers instead, or work an extra five minutes into your morning routine to make a sandwich each day. (Try these easy sandwiches)
16. Ditch the Indian takeaway
Buy good-quality ready meals instead. Every supermarket has meal deals for a combination of main courses and sides. An Indian meal for two is £8.95 at Waitrose and £8.50 at M&S, and you can easily cook your own rice.
17. Check out set-price menus
Whether you’re eating Michelin starred lunches or cheap and cheerful at the local bistro, a set-price menu is often really good value. This doesn’t apply to ‘menu turistico’ joints. Also, be careful not to add too many extras, or it won’t end up being such a good deal after all. Check squaremeal for special offers.
18. Drink tap water
Bottled water can rack up your bill, especially if the bottles keep on coming without you noticing. Under UK law, drinking water has to be free anywhere alcohol is served. Do check though, the ice and lemon might be extra!
19. Look out for soft openings
Sign up to Hot Dinners and follow new openings on twitter – restaurants often build business on twitter before they open, so you’ll be privy to what the place looks like, the dishes that are being tested, and all sorts of other info. Plus, you’ll be first in the queue for any pre-launch soft opening deals (these can be as much as 50% off).
20. Bake your own cakes
You can buy a fairly ordinary cake very cheaply these days, but if you want to eat better food containing free-range eggs and without an additives, then making your own bakes will often work out as better value. Mixed-size eggs are often cheaper, so use these and weigh them to make sure you have the right amount for your recipe. A medium egg weighs between 63g and 73g, so work out the weight-range you need for the recipe then use as many mixed-weight eggs as makes this amount, a few grams here or there won’t hurt a cake. Try these delicious indulgent cake recipes, you’ll never buy one again… triple chocolate caramel cake, lemon drizzle cake and muscovado carrot cake.
Sign up to supermarket loyalty schemes so you know when pricey things you like are on offer. You have to shop around to get the best deals so check supermarkets regularly. You can freeze all sorts of expensive ingredients like parmesan so buy double if you see a good offer.