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Five top tips to frugal eating

September 15, 2011

Twelve days into the The Frugality Challenge and I’ve already learnt some really key lessons about eating frugally.

1. Variety really is the spice of life… Or if I could turn that around, I’d say ‘a good spice cupboard will give you a lifetime of variety’.  The variations you can get with different combinations of herbs and spices is endless and exciting.  Just the other night I made Potato Pakoras from Mridula Baljekar’s Secrets from an Indian Kitchen.  As cheap as chips (excuse the intentional pun), plain ordinary potatoes were transformed into something quite exquisite, using a combination of cumin seeds, green chilli, onion, ginger, coriander, salt and turmeric.  By getting your spices and herbs from markets or Asian supermarkets, you can stock your cupboards very cheaply.  If you’ve got friends that do a lot of Indian/Asian cooking, see if you can set up a spice co-op and share the cost of buying big bags of basics, such as ground cumin and ground coriander.

2. The freezer is a lifeline.  If I hadn’t had a well stocked freezer with an assortment of meat, fish (and ice cream), I doubt we would have made it to day four, let alone into a second week.  Batch baking meals such as cottage pies and lasagnes when you’ve got lots of time and storing them in the freezer for days you know you will be too busy to cook, saves a fortune on takeaways and ready meals.  They also taste nicer too!  We have a well-stocked supply of homemade burgers in our freezer, so the man about the house is always prepared for the days when his ‘chef’ has deserted him.

3. Always plan ahead…but not too far in advance!  I always used to think it would be good to plan the whole week’s meals out at the start of the week and shop for the lot.  Great, except that by Saturday and Sunday, you’re eating vegetables that are at least a week old and things like herbs, fish, milk and cream could have reached, or be past, their use by dates.  You also don’t tend to plan too well for leftovers ingredients either, that you might have used in one recipe but not in any others.  No, I now think the best way to plan is for the next day, and maybe the night after that too.  By thinking about dinner the night before, that gives you the chance to get things out of the freezer to defrost if necessary, check the contents of your fridge to see what needs to be eaten whilst it’s still good, look up recipes if you’re short of inspiration and pick up some extras from the market or shops if you are short of anything.  Providing you’re a disciplined shopper and you stick to what you need, you’ll find you save quite a lot on your weekly shopping bill and you’ll hardly ever throw any food away.

4. Use the resources available to you.  I love trying new combinations, but I’m not brave enough to just chuck stuff together and see what happens.  No, I like to pick the key ingredient(s) that I’ve got to work with and scour my ‘small’ (he he) library of cookbooks and magazines, or recipes on the internet, to constantly provide fresh inspiration for me and my kitchen.  It’s a great way to learn about new ingredients and cooking techniques and you build up quite a lot of knowledge without even realising it.  Most importantly, it gives you the help you might need to use up all the leftovers and plan for ways to use the bumper crop of whatever might be growing in your garden or allotment.

5. Eat seasonally.  I know this is stating the obvious, but it’s so much cheaper to eat seasonal food, especially if you’re growing it in your garden (or you have generous neighbours who are!)  If you then worry about eating the same dishes over and over again, look at ways you can preserve those ingredients, whether by freezing, bottling, cooking etc.  Or see if you can barter!  Now you probably thinking I’m just being daft, but just this week I swapped my neighbour a big box of tomatoes for some of her potatoes (and from thus the delicious potato pakoras were born!)  I subscribe to a very handy little website called Eat the Seasons, which emails me every week to tell me what’s in season and what’s going to be really good to buy right now.  Because, as well as being cheaper and more environmentally-friendly because it hasn’t been flown half way round to world so that the supermarkets can meet the uneducated demand of consumers, seasonal food also tastes better.  It’s fresh and in its prime.  Ooh, I’m making myself hungry just thinking about it…

And on the subject of hunger, I’ve got to work out now what I can cook this weekend to use some of my towering pile of ripe tomatoes and the abundance of Swiss Chard that is still happily growing in the garden.  Swapsies, anyone?!

I’d love to hear your top tips to frugal eating..!

Related posts:

The Frugality Challenge: Day One (Sunday 4 September 2011)

The Frugality Challenge: Day Four (Wednesday 7 September 2011)

Day Five of The Frugality Challenge and a recipe for Baked Salmon and Noodles (Thursday 8 September, 2011)

It is possible to be frugal whilst eating fillet steak…?  (Saturday 10 September,  2011)

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