Last month my column was all about budget friendly meal ideas and recipes. I hope it was helpful! If you missed it, you can still read it here
In this month’s column I am going to talk about great ways to stretch your food budget as well as how to stretch your meals, so they go just that extra bit further. It’s much easier than you think, and nobody will even know. To avoid food waste and make what you have go further, there are lots of things you can do.
SHOP THE SPECIALS
This is in my opinion is probably the most important food budget tip of them all! Plan your meals around the different specials that are available when you shop. It takes a bit of time but your wallet is going to thank you for it.
KEEP BREAKFASTS CHEAP
Breakfast is a meal that you can keep very simple and save money in your food budget. Instead of buying expensive ingredients go back to basics – think toast, eggs, oats, in season fruits and yoghurt. While we are on the topic of breakfast, how about once a week switch things up a bit and have breakfast for dinner! It is something fun to do, my kids love it and it helps that bottom line.
TINNED FOODS ARE ALSO GOOD
Add tinned food to your next shopping list. Tinned foods are great for reducing food waste as they can be stored for longer. They can also be as healthy as fresh options – just make sure you aim for tinned fruit in juice and avoid fruit in syrup. Don’t limit yourself to just tuna and baked beans either. There are lots of fruit (prunes, peaches, pineapple), vegetables (sweetcorn, peas, asparagus), pulses (chickpeas, butter beans, kidney beans) and fish (salmon, sardines, mackerel) that can be bought cheaply in tins. Stock up when there is a sale and you will not be sorry.
USE YOUR FREEZER
The amount of foods which you can freeze is quite surprising. Freezing food means it is kept in an edible state for longer. If you freeze and defrost the foods safely, they should be able to stay in the freezer for as long as you need them to. Everything from meat and milk to fruit and eggs can be stored in the freezer.
DRINK THAT WATER
The more liquid you drink, especially water, the fuller you will feel. Although you should still be eating your main meals, drink lots of water before and during mealtimes, filling up on water will stop you from snacking, which means these foods can be used in larger meals later on.
FIND SOME CHEAP RECIPES
Cheap does not mean less tasty. Nowadays there are plenty of websites offering recipes for cheap eats and leftover ingredients. In fact, there are many people on social media who are more than willing to share their budget friendly recipes. Just hop onto facebook and search for budget meals and you will find plenty to try.
ADD BEANS AND LENTILS
Stretch a meal by adding beans and lentils to your meat, curries or stews to bulk them out. They are great source of protein and they are much cheaper than meat and very filling.
Grate some cauliflower in with the cheese sauce for mac and cheese. This is also a sneaky way to get your kids to eat their veggies!
Pasta is a great way to stretch a meal when you don’t have enough meat to go around. You may only have a single chicken breast that needs to feed 4 people. Or maybe you have some leftovers that you’re looking for a new way to eat. Serve it over pasta and you’ve got a whole new meal.
Rice is another good option for stretching a meal. It doesn’t matter which type of rice you choose; it goes great with everything! Rice is like a blank canvas upon which you can cook almost anything, from adding sugar and cinnamon for something sweet to adding spices for a wide variety of ethnic styles.
Potatoes are another delicious option to make a meal go further. Mashed, baked, fried, the options are endless! They’re also good to add to a stew or soup to make that meal last longer and feed more. I must admit I love potatoes so I always add plenty into my stews and curries so my meals definitely stretch a bit further. In fact, don’t throw your potato peelings away. Just sprinkle with salt, pepper, chilli or other spices bake them to make a yummy snack. If you have bought more potatoes than you can use why not peel, chop and par-boil the potatoes you are not able to use and freeze them in bags. Defrost them during the month to make fantastic crispy roasties or chips.
If you have eggs on hand, then you can create your own meal out of pretty much anything! Add a handful of leftover chopped ham and spinach and you have an omelette. Make a quiche using whatever random veggies and meat you have in your fridge that you need to use. The sky’s the limit! Eggs are a great source of protein and a good way to stretch a meal.
Oats are another fantastic way to stretch a meal. Use them to stretch your meatloaf meal, use them to thicken soups or use them to “extend” breakfast. Oats are very high in fibre which means you will fill up quicker and eat less.
ADD BREAD OR ROLLS
If you have stretched your meal but it still is not quite going to get you there, serve it with bread or rolls. And do not waste your bread if you haven’t finished it by it’s used by date. You can easily turn stale bread into bread pudding. Or how about making breadcrumbs out of the bread loaf ends and freeze to use another day. You can also use the breadcrumbs to coat fish and chicken.
Cheese is not only full of tasty, tasty goodness, but it is fantastic for stretching a meal! You can grate it, slice it, dice it or eat it plain, but adding it to your meals will make them seem larger.
ADD LEFTOVER VEGGIES
Got leftover veggies from last night’s meal? Depending on their state, vegetables may be reheated and mixed with a little lemon juice, chopped herbs and melted butter; mashed into bubble and squeak fritters; folded into an omelette; or chopped and added to a sauce or stew.
MAKE A SOUP
Soup is also a great way to take a little bit of everything and stretch it into a new meal. Meat, veggies, rice or pasta, basically anything that you have on hand can be made into a soup! Soup is also a great way to use up veggies that are going soft and you don’t necessarily want to eat them as they are anymore. Toss them into a soup and they instantly taste better! If you haven’t got enough vegetables for a full meal add plenty of thickeners such as potato, rice and even flour. If the soup seems a bit light, add dumplings or beans, or use pasta such as macaroni pieces to help to bulk it out.
USE AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE
Use as much of your food as possible. Many people throw out bones and vegetable trimmings that can still be put to good use. For instance, chop up broccoli stems and cauliflower leaves for stir fry or steamed vegetables.
SAVE YOUR VEGGIE SCRAPS FOR A STOCK
Every time you make a meal, instead of throwing all the vegetable scraps either away or into the compost bin, pop them into a container and store in the freezer instead. Root vegetable peelings, carrot tops, onion skins, mushroom stalks and herb stems are just a few ideas on what to keep to make a wonderful vegetable stock. On the weekend simply add everything into a big pot along with some salt for seasoning, bring it to the boil then reduce the heat, cover and simmer for a couple of hours.
DON’T THROW AWAY OLD BANANAS
Bought too many bananas? Don’t throw them away. Instead cut your over ripe bananas into chunks and freeze and then, with the addition of a few other ingredients, you’ve got banana ice cream. And don’t forget good old Banana bread is also a must to make with your overripe bananas.
USE THOSE CITRUS SKINS
The peelings from oranges, lemons and grapefruits have a whole lot of uses. Boiled with sugar and water, they can be used to make candied peel or a citrus-infused syrup for baking. Another good idea is you can top them up with boiling water or even dry them out to use at a later date for a fragrant tea.
So, there you have it, some great ideas to not only stretch your meals but some ideas to stretch your food budget too.