Make (almost) everything from scratch.
If you’re not a particularly skilled cook this is probably the most intimidating thing I could say, but seriously, cook everything you can from scratch. Instead of buying a jar of pasta sauce buy a tin of tomatoes, some herbs and some garlic – boom, two servings of sauce for pennies. Even for things like complex curries there are thousands of recipes for free online, and as soon as you’ve built up a bit of a spice collection you can make almost anything out of tomatoes, rice, and a few veggies.
Eat less meat.
Again, a slightly controversial one – the fact is that meat is damn expensive, and even replacing half of the protein in a meat dish with beans or pulses will dramatically reduce the costs of cooking. Using less meat you’ll also be more likely to pad things out with vegetables, which as well as being cheap are way better for you in the long run.
Buy healthy snacks in the baking aisle, not the snack aisle.
If you like nuts, seeds, and dried fruits for snacks, you’ll find them in unbranded packaging in the baking aisle – and unlike snacks, baking ingredients don’t get slapped with VAT. And unlike a bag of £1.50 crisps you might eat in one sitting, a large bag of almonds for £3 will likely last all week, and can be used on porridge and yogurt for breakfast too.
If a recipe tells you to use kale, use spinach, chopped up sweet potato can be used for carrots, quinoa can be subbed for rice or couscous, and fresh herbs switched for dried. Don’t be afraid to play around with recipes to swap in more affordable ingredients.
Don’t buy branded ingredients.
I won’t pretend that branded packaged food always taste exactly the same as unbranded (aside from cereal – honestly, give it a try and you can save pounds per box), but if you follow tip 1, that shouldn’t be too much of an issue. But when it comes to ingredients, at the end of the day a tin of tomatoes is a tin of tomatoes, noodles are noodles, and dried pasta is just dried pasta. Don’t waste money on things that won’t even affect the final dish.
I can’t believe I ever used to do shopping without a plan for the weeks meals, because it honestly makes life so much easier. By planning what you want to eat you can put a shopping list together, meaning you never buy excess food and you hugely reduce the number of days when you’re staring into your fridge and thinking about throwing it all in and going out for dinner. Having a shopping list means you won’t impulse buy, either, because if you’re not heading down the crisp or sweet aisle you can’t be tempted.
Buy in some freezer food.
I know this seems like it goes against all the other tips I’ve given, but hear me out – you won’t always be up for cooking, and sometimes you’re just too tired to do anything at the end of the day. Instead of rushing out and spending £15 on a takeaway pizza, have some in the freezer ready for these kind of days so you’re not tempted. Even buying my favourite branded pizzas only costs me £2.50 per go, which is a huge saving.