I’m a little surprised how much I’ve been loving the challenge of feeding myself for $2 a day. It’s been refreshing to look at the world in a different way. It’s also been great hearing from people, especially their tips for saving money on food.
And after a wonderful long weekend eating and drinking my way around Melbourne, my bank balance was screaming out for a little moderation. So I’m back with one last $2 a day menu and a list of tips for minimising your food costs. Some that I use myself, other that I’ve picked up from readers both here on stonesoup and over at Casual Kitchen where my mate Dan put a call out to his readers for their own frugal food tips.
For those that missed the original post, you can read about how and why I’ve been taking the challenge to eat for $2 a day HERE.
18 tips to minimise your food costs
1. cook from scratch
Convenience is expensive so it’s best to cook things from scratch where possible. I’ve used canned chickpeas in the recipe below because I could afford them (only just) and I wanted to share some quick recipes after last week but if I had cooked dried chickpeas myself it would have only cost about 25c instead of the 50c for canned.
2. reduce your meat intake
We all know that animal products tend to be expensive and if you do find cheap meat, you’ve got to question why it is. If the thought of turning vegan scares you, why not start with eating meat-free a few times a week or decreasing the amount of meat in a recipe and supplementing with lentils or beans or even tofu. A few thin slices of proscuitto as a ganish can keep the carnivores happy without the cost of a steak.
3. try ‘unfashionable’ foods
Alex, a reader who had some wonderful suggestions in the comments, had a great insight to look for food that isn’t fashionable. I don’t know if I’ll get the courage to try her sheep’s head this winter. But I do love the idea of a fish head curry.
4. buy in bulk
A good rule of thumb, but larger pack sizes aren’t always better value, so it does pay to check the price.
5. shop with a list
Planning ahead is a great way to economise and reduce the risk of expensive impulse purchases.
6. shop without a list
No I haven’t just done a backflip, well maybe. This probably should read be flexible with your list, or have contingencies withing your list. The aim is to be able to be flexible to make the most of the things at reduced prices.
7. buy veg in season / on special
Fresh fruit & veg are one of the most price variable foods. So it is generally better value to buy in season, although with the whole global food trade, it can be tricky to predict what you’ll find discounted in your supermarket from one week to the next.
8. find an ethnic market
As much as I love shopping in some of the ‘farmers markets’ in Sydney, they can be incredibly pricey. If you’re on a budget, better to head to the far less glamorous ethnic makets in your area. Shop where the migrant communities are.
9. shop at closing time in the large markets
While closing time at the markets can be a scary thing, it can be a great chance to pick up some really great deals.
10. reduce your portion sizes
I’m stating the obvious here but serving less and eating less are one of the most immediate changes you can make. And your waistline will thank you.
11. avoid processed, packaged foods
Marketing costs money, so does fancy packaging. Boxed cereal is one glaringly expensive item that comes to mind.
12. consider frozen veg
Until I started this project, frozen peas and an occasional bag of frozen broad beans were about as far as my frozen vegetable knowledge extended. Have some fun experimenting, especially if you find things on special.
13. invest in a water filter
Buying bottled water, juices and soft drink is an easy way to blow out your budget (lets not even think about luxuries like red wine). I love my water filter, it tastes great, is better for the environment and my budget, and saves me lugging heavy bottles up the stairs.
14. don’t peel your veg
I tend not to peel things because I’m lazy and I prefer a more rustic look. But why throw away valuable nutrition when you don’t have to. Besides, there can be a lot of flavour in the skins.
15. avoid ‘lite’ foods
Someone made a comment not to buy lite milk but to dilute regular milk with water. Not a bad idea when you think about it. So rather than paying a higher price for the ‘lite’ version, just dilute or use less of the full fat product.
16. grow your own
One of the most difficult things I found about the live below the line campaign was the rule about not using home grown ingredients. I was itching to throw in a few sprigs or rosemary or a bay leaf or two. While a veggie patch can be a real source of savings, starting small with a little rosemary plant or some fresh mint can be a great way to supplement your food budget.
17. get creative with spices
One commenter, Martjin spoke about travelling through Central America and living on beans and rice and how boring that can get after a while. This is where a little judicious use of spice can come in handy. It doesn’t take much to change the flavour profile with a little curry powder or ground cumin. And don’t forget the wonderful mood enhancing properties of some chilli warmth.
18. become a forager
Another activity banned in the campaign but a great suggestion if you are trying to save on food in the real world. I have dreams of one day learning to forage for wild mushrooms but so far I’ve got as far as wild fennel and olives growing on the roadside when I lived in the Barossa Valley. And I have been known to occasionally ‘prune’ the rosemary on Jersey Road in Paddington. Best to check up on the legalities of foraging in your area before you get started though.
a final $2 a day menu
porridge with milk & brown sugar 25c
tea with milk 9c
macaroni with buttered peas 39c
spiced chickpeas with cauliflower 120c
TOTAL – $1.93
[5 ingredients | 10 minutes]
macaroni with buttered peas
I was really surprised that the cheapest pasta in my local supermarket was only 59c /500g – about 1/10 the price I normally pay for my artesanal Italian pasta. Happy to report that the cheap pasta (pictured above) tasted pretty good.
I was also surprised how tasty and satisfying this one pot meal was. Normally I would have slathered something like this in parmesan but the sweet peas and even the pasta flavour really shines through as is. If I did have some extra money to spare, some fresh mint stirred through the hot pasta would be nice.
For a vegan version use olive oil instead of the butter.
85g (3oz) pasta 10c
100g (3 1/2oz) frozen peas 19c
20g (3/4 oz) butter 10c
Bring a medium saucepan of salted water to the boil and add pasta. Set timer according to the packet directions.
When there are 3 minutes remaining add peas and cook until pasta is just tender. Drain and return to the saucepan with the butter. Stir to crush the peas a little. Taste and season.
Cost per serve 39c.
[5 ingredients | 10 minutes]
spiced chickpeas with cauliflower
Feel free to use fresh or frozen cauliflower for this recipe. The day I was buying my cauli the fresh stuff was on sale for $1.98 for a whole head, but normally I think frozen would be far cheaper.
You could play around with the spices here. Some may find a whole teaspoon chilli flakes a little on the hot side. I kept it simple with some ground cumin and chilli but a spice blend like garam marsala or baharat or even a good curry powder would be lovely. Again if I weren’t making this on a budget, I’d used some fresh herbs for greenery. Corriander, parsley or mint would all be good.
1 tablespoon olive oil 10c
100g (3 1/2oz) cauliflower florettes 50c
1/2 can chickpeas (200g / 7oz), drained 50c
1 teaspoon ground cumin 5c
1 teaspoon chilli flakes 5c
Heat oil in a small frying pan and cook cauliflower over a medium high heat until starting to brown.
Add remaining ingredients and continue to cook, stirring for a couple of minutes or until chickpeas are hot and everything smells fragrant.
Taste and season. Lovely hot but also good a room temperature so great for a packed lunch.
cost per serve $1.20