With this in mind, I've put together a list of 10 Ways to Eat Well on a Budget. I hope this will be useful for those of you on tight budgets, or those of you who are just looking to shop, cook and eat more economically.
1. Meal Planning & Shopping Lists
How often do you go to the shops, buy a load of things that look nice, and then come home and realise that none of those things could actually work together to create a meal? Exactly. By planning what meals you are going to cook for the coming week in advance, and writing a list with the ingredients you need to cook these, you can go into the shops and just buy the things you actually need. This means you'll spend your money more wisely and waste less food; plus by sticking to a shopping list it's easier to steer clear of those tempting promotional offers.
2. Your Local Market
|A fruit & veg stall at Kingston Market|
If you're lucky enough to have a market near you, you should make the most of it! Markets are a great place to pick up fresh, seasonal fruit and veg, and they're often cheaper than supermarkets. Another great thing about markets is you can buy exactly the amount you need. If your recipe only requires one carrot you can buy just the one, rather than buying a 1kg bag because that's all they had at Tesco Express. At markets it's also very easy to do some price comparisons. I usually browse the different fruit and veg stalls quickly to see which ones are cheapest for the things I need, and then I'll make my purchases at a few different stalls where the produce looks fresh and the prices are low.
3. Bulk Cooking
For a lot of people, Sundays is the day that they like to do meal prep for the coming week. These days I tend to do my bulk cooking on a weekday as my work schedule has changed. Either way, when you have a spare morning or afternoon, it's a great use of your time to spend a couple of hours in the kitchen to make a big batch of something - one pot dishes are always a great idea like soup, stews or casseroles. Not only is this an economical way of cooking (wastage is lower when you cook a large batch rather than single meals), it also saves you time in the long run, as if you've made enough to last the week, you simply have to reheat your dinner each night rather than cooking from scratch after a long day at work.
A slow cooker is a great way to cook a big batch, because once you've prepared and added your ingredients, you can leave it for 6 to 8 hours until it's finished cooking. I bought a really cheap slow cooker from Tesco - which was worth the price many times over, given how much time and effort it has saved me.
This goes hand in hand with the bulk cooking - of course once you've cooked a huge meal, the question is where to store it all! Tupperware is a great idea because you can store the meal in portion sizes, plus tupperware is easy to stack in your fridge or freezer. I've acquired the majority of my tupperware simply by keeping the ones I get from the odd take away. I also have a more sturdy set that I bought from Lakeland, and a big circular tub that I use for soups and stews. I also keep a lot of honey jars, big yoghurt pots etc to store bits and bobs in. Basically, you can never have to much tupperware or too many containers!
If you haven't got any tupperware yet, go down to Poundland and buy a basic set to get you started. Not only can you store the food you made in your bulk cooking sessions in it, you can also use it to take lunch into work. You can either take a portion of the one pot dish you made, or you can chop up some vegetables, add some meat, fish or eggs and make an easy salad!
5. Your Freezer
Your freezer is also a great companion to your batch cooking! If you've made more than you think you'll get through in a week, simply freeze some of it. Then if you need a meal in the following weeks, simply take it out the night before and leave to defrost in the fridge.
Frozen fruit and veg are always a great thing to have in the freezer - frozen berries for example are a lot cheaper than buying fresh, and you don't have to worry about them spoiling. Frozen fish fillets are also a fantastic thing to have in the freezer, especially ones you can cook from frozen.
If you know that you have a few items in the freezer, you're less likely to pick up that take away or ready meal on the way home, because you know you can rustle something up even if your fridge is looking a bit sad and empty.
6. Aldi & Lidl
These two budget supermarkets have really upped their game over the last few years, and between the two you can certainly get everything you need for your weekly shop, at a fraction of the price of the bigger supermarkets. I can do a weekly shop at Aldi for about £12. In comparison, a smaller top up shop at Sainsbury's often costs around £10 for a lot less food!
|A weekly shop at Aldi|
Aldi and Lidl aren't just great for food - they also have special events where they sell certain gadgets or clothing. Both have sold cycling and running clothes and accessories in the past, as well as kitchen gadgets - so it's worth signing up to their emails and popping in when you know they have something you need on offer.
7. The Reduced Section
If you happen to be passing a supermarket near closing time, it's usually worth popping in to see if you can pick any reduced items up. Things like bread and meat are great items to pick up in the supermarket when they're about to pass their 'display until' date and have been heavily discounted. When you get home you can pop them in your freezer to use later.
8. Store Cupboard Essentials
If you have a fully stocked store cupboard, you can make a wholesome meal even if you only have some rather sad looking scraps in the fridge. Store cupboard essentials include tinned tomatoes, stock cubes, tinned or dried beans, rice and pasta. For example, if you only had an onion, some carrots and some celery in the fridge, you could actually whip up a hearty minestrone soup by adding items from your store cupboard.
It's also worth investing in a range of spices: these can help liven up a meal that doesn't have many exciting ingredients!
If you don't have a fully stocked store cupboard yet, I would recommend investing in an item or two every week to slowly build it up.
9. Eating Out
|Lamb special noodles at one of Time Out's best cheap eats, Silk Road|
Of course, we all love to go out for a meal every now and then, and luckily London is full of fantastic cheap eats for those looking for a bite to eat without blowing the budget. If you're dining with friends, why not share a few plates so that you can try a number of things without paying the full price? And if you don't finish it all, don't be afraid to ask for the rest as a take away - there's tomorrow's lunch sorted.
10. Grow Your Own
If you have even a tiny amount of outdoor space, you can grow some of your own food. You can grow lettuce in old wine crates, potatoes in bins and tomatoes in grow bags. You can easily grow a number of different tomato varieties, like heirloom tomatoes, black cherry tomatoes and sungold tomatoes, mixed punnets of which are sold for a small fortune in supermarkets.
I hope I've shown that you don't have to resort to beans on toast and instant noodles when eating on a budget!
What are your top tips for eating well on a budget?