I’m no Nigella Lawson in the kitchen, trust me.
A friend asked me recently what my cooking style was, to which I replied: I grab a protein, I grab a complex carbohydrate and I grab a fat. I whack ’em together and that’s a meal.
This philosophy led, on one memorable occasion, to a breakfast of chopped sausage, thawed-out frozen raspberries and dollop of peanut butter, which I maintain to this day was actually quite delicious.
More usually, it’s baked chicken, salad mix and chopped nuts. Or salmon, steamed greens and olive oil. You get the picture.
As a good feminist, I have a complex relationship with food prep. Not for me, the apron-stringed and barefooted kitchen life.
Since taking on my monster mortgage two years ago, tackling food bills has become something of a necessity.
And amid soaring food costs and imminent interest rate rises, it’s a growing necessity for all Aussie households. Food is, after all, the second biggest drain of our household budgets, according to the Bureau of Statistics. It’s housing costs first, then food, then transport.
I’ve devoted a whole chapter to slashing food bills in my new book , which hits stores May 9 (yay! ) Stay tuned next week for your exclusive extract in our Sunday papers!
Here are some of my top food savings tips to help get you started fighting back against the rising cost of living.
1. Play the supermarket field. It might not work in relationships, but it pays to have a wandering eye when it comes to supermarket chains. For example, I buy a lot of my meat from Aldi, my longer shelf life foods in bulk from Costco and my fresh fruit and veg in smaller weekly or fortnightly shops at Coles, Woolworths or farmers markets.
The arrival of foreign competitors, such as Aldi and Costco, have helped keep a lid on prices in recent years. So, if you’ve yet to set foot in one, now is the time. They’re definitely cheaper(see my analysis of Aldi and Costco ).
2. Download apps like , and . These search competing grocery chains to find the week’s best deals. Check them to make the most of Coles and Woolworths’ regular 50 per cent off specials.
3. Cook at home. This is the big one. When you eat out, you are not only paying for food, but the labour costs of paying someone to buy your food, cook it, serve it to you and clean up after. You’re also chipping in a share of the business’ rental costs and profit, of course. Cut the fat. Cook at home.
4. Track your food spending. I know , meaning a weekly food bill for myself and my son (half the week) of about $100.
Why not track your spending for one month and then see if you can beat it the next month? You can use my spending tracker .
5. Avoid waste. One of the best ways to save money on food is not to buy what you don’t eat. I’m looking at you, wilted spinach leaves and spices.
6. Shop your pantry first. Before you head to the shops, write a list of all the food you have at home. Set a challenge to see how long you can last before re-stocking. You might be surprised.
7. Write prices on your pantry items in black texta. Seeing the price on things is a great reminder not to waste them.
8. Know the difference between ‘use by’ and ‘best before’. Manufacturers put a ‘use by’ date on items that really are not edible beyond a certain date. Items labelled ‘best before’ may decline in quality, but are not immediately inedible. If in doubt, give it a sniff.
9. Make friends with your freezer. A surprising number of foods can be frozen to prolong their life, from avocados to herbs to fruit.
10. Make friends with ziplock and/or reusable freezer bags. When I buy meat, I break it into smaller portions and store it in ziplock bags in my freezer. It makes defrosting much easier, and you avoid hitting the expiry dates as soon.
11. Go meatless for a few meals a week. Beef prices are up 13 per cent over the year. ’Nuf said.
12. Bulk out your meat recipes with legumes. Add a tin of lentils to your spaghetti bolognaise. You can also add dry legumes to veggie soups for an added protein punch.
13. Store and revive vegetables in water. I recently took a soggy tipped carrot, chopped it, put it in a bowl of water in the fridge and the next day it was crisp and crunchy, as new. For veg such as broccoli and lettuce, just immerse the stems/stalks.
14. Download the app. You can dictate a list of your ingredients to hand, and it spits out hundreds of recipe ideas.
15. Buy frozen fruit and vegetables. Depending on the time of year, items such as berries are cheaper per kilo to buy frozen. And there is less chance of food wastage.
16. Try the ‘GST diet’. Look at your receipts – they will show for each individual item which have and have not had the 10 per cent goods and services tax applied. Save 10 per cent by buying fresh food instead.
17. Look down. Supermarkets put their highest profit margin items at eye level, so go low to score a better deal.
18. Switch to home-brand products. Seriously, we live in a rich nation – even our lowest-quality products would be a banquet in some other countries.
19. Always compare prices on a ‘per unit’ basis. Don’t just look at the total price, but compare the price per kilo, per gram, per sheet etc.
20. Take your lunch to work. Cook double portions for dinner and take the rest to work the next day.
Nigella, eat your heart out!
Jessica Irvine is author of the new book . You can follow more of Jess’ money adventures on Instagram and .