Can you cook well on a budget? Whilst junk food may seem cheap often when you compare it to cooking yourself it actually works out far more expensive on a per person cost. Not to mention the longer term cost for your health.
There are three areas which really help keep food budgets under control, meal planning, cheap protein options and seasonal ingredients.
One of the first things you need to learn when on a tight budget is the most cost effective cuts of meats. Take the humble chicken – the demand for breast meat is high so it can cost between $12 to $16 a kilo, by comparison thigh cutlet chops are around $10 a kilo and chicken drumsticks often average $4. Cuts which include the bone usually respond better to slower methods of cooking but are great when you are on a budget. My Easy Roast Chicken recipe is a great way to use thigh chops.
Legumes are meat for vegetarians as well as a cheap and filling source of protein. Adding legumes such as lentils and chickpeas to a potato curry creates a healthy and filling meal.
The second area that really helps keep costs under control is learning to cook using seasonal ingredients. Apple crumble is a bargain when apples are $1.99 a kilo but less so when they are $8.99 a kilo. Usually high prices represent the out of season cost and also reflect that it may be imported. Vegetables in particular change price significantly over the year depending on the season. The website seasonal food guide has a list of all the common fruits and vegetables and when they are in season. Check it before you go shopping.
The last but most important area to focus on in shopping on a budget is meal planning. Its much easier if you write out a week’s menu in advance and ensure that your recipes do not involve a lot of different ingredients as this can really add up specially if you only use them for one dish.
A sample week’s menu could be as follows;
Marinated Drumsticks with Asian salad
Marinated Drumsticks with Fried Rice
Vegetable curry with sausages
Vegetable curry with lentils
Turkey mince bolognaise with spaghetti
Turkey mince cottage pie
Baked Beans or dinner at your parent’s place (very cheap option)
Whilst not really a fan of minced meats (as often you don’t really know what you are getting) turkey mince is a good lean protein which has more flavour than chicken and is a good substitute for beef. Mince recipes are easy to stretch by adding chopped carrot, celery or cooked eggplant.
Honey Soy Drumsticks
1kg chicken drumsticks scored with a knife (cut in about half a cm)
1/2 cup caster sugar
1/2 cup soy sauce
Combine sugar and soy sauce and pour over drumsticks and allow to marinate for up to 2 hours. Place drumsticks uncovered in an over at 180c for 40-50 min. Turn at least once during cooking.
Turkey mince bolognaise
750g turkey mince
1 brown onion finely chopped
2 carrots peeled and diced
1 jar of passata (chopped tomatoes)
1 glass of red wine or beef stock
1 tsp chili (optional)
1 clove garlic crushed
In a little olive oil saute onions and carrots on a low heat for a few minutes until onions are soft. Add mince, continue cooking until mince is browned and then add remaining ingredients and simmer for twenty to thirty minutes. Serve with pasta and a little grated Parmesan cheese.
Turkey mince cottage pie
Leftover Turkey bolognaise
4-6 potatoes peeled
Depending on the remaining quantity of bolognaise you may want to add additional carrots, celery, mushrooms or lentils to bulk it up further. Boil potatoes for 15-20 minutes until soft and then mash with a little butter and milk until soft. Layer the bolognaise in a casserole dish and top with mashed potato. Heat in over for 15-20 minutes and then serve. Ideally with some seasonal greens such as steamed beans or snow peas.
80ml (1/3 cup) extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 tbs freshly chopped rosemary
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 x 425g can 4-bean mix, drained
425g can diced tomatoes
¼ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley (optional)
Grated Parmesan, to serve
Heat half the oil in a frypan, add the onion and cook over medium heat for 1 minute. Add rosemary, garlic and cook for a further minute until everything is well combined. Add the beans, stir well, then add diced tomatoes. Reduce heat to low and cook for 5 minutes, stirring to prevent catching. Stir in half the parsley. Place on toast, sprinkle with parmesan and remaining parsley. Serves four to six or gives you an easy breakfast for a few days!!
This prompted a number of ideas about alternate menus so I will follow up with a second blog with some more ideas.
Let me know which of these recipes you try and how it works for you.