Earlier this year, bestselling cookbook author Jolene Cox challenged her social media followers. She told them to go to their freezers and cupboards and start cooking, using up the things in stock first before stocking up on more.
Typically, people would tell her they had things like canned lentils, ground turkey, and chicken thighs in the back of the pantry and freezer. She then shared with them ideas on how to transform the simplest of dishes into tasty, nutritious meals.
With a bit of magical thinking, she says ground turkey — which is a lot cheaper than ground beef — can make a delicious bolognese. Picky eaters won’t even notice the difference if you add a can of lentils to fill it up. With a clever use of spices like oregano and paprika, the chicken thighs can be turned into a Cajun delicacy.
Jolene believes that with everyday items increasing in price, most of us have no choice but to go back to basics. Using what we have around the house is a really good start, says Jolene, mom to nine-year-old Lily Mae.
Operation Transformation Resident nutritionist Aoife Hearne says the biggest game changer when it comes to waste is meal planning. “Make sure you know what’s in your closet so you can start in a place where you know what you’ve got. If you prepare meals from scratch, it becomes cheaper,” she says.
It’s important to pay attention to your ingredients and staples like herbs and spices, which are needed for a range of meals, she says. “When you buy things like fajitas, the condiments can be pricey, while you’re getting a full container of spices that can be used in 10 different dishes.”
At a time when people are cutting back, Aoife says there might be a tendency to choose fewer vegetables rather than watch them spoil. However, she does point out that frozen vegetables have a really high nutritional profile and can be used and stored effectively in your freezer.
“The place where I really notice the cost is in the meat cut of the meal, and that adds a big chunk to my grocery bill. Remember to buy quality meat that’s affordable – things like chicken thighs are a good option. You also have to make sure you take apart the fried chicken so you can have lunch the next day,” says Aoife, a mother of three.
She’s also a fan of what she calls “deliberate leftovers.” By slowly simmering a chicken carcass you have a nutritious base for a soup or casserole; Leftovers from a roast can also be used in a chicken pasta dish the next day. And if your kids might complain when the same dinner is served two days in a row, Aoife says leftovers stored properly in your fridge can last a few days, avoiding that parental trap.
According to Joana da Silva, Chief Nutrition Specialist at Safefood Ireland, people who find themselves under financial pressure tend to look to their weekly shop as the flexible element they can use to save money. Irish consumers ranked cost as the most important consideration when buying groceries, according to the results of a study by the European Food Safety Authority on food safety, published on October 2.
With costs being a priority, Joana says meal planning has never been more important. “If you’re shopping weekly, it’s really important to create a meal plan for the week so you can get all the ingredients you need,” she says.
While Safefood publishes a guide on how to create a meal plan and how to save money on healthy eating, one of Joana’s top tips is to toss veggies that may be at the end of their lives in an omelet or soup. Buying canned and dried foods in bulk can be an inexpensive trick, as can keeping an eye out for deals. However, she urges caution with some food ads, which tend to emphasize foods high in sugar, fat and salt.
“When you’re in the store, make sure to avoid distractions and stick to your grocery list as much as possible. Being able to make larger batches and freeze some not only saves money but also time. Having a meatless lunch or dinner and substituting beans or lentils for meat is a very affordable way to make changes,” she says.
Joana says people can get overwhelmed when bombarded with complicated recipes on websites and social media pages. That’s why during these lean times, it’s really important to get back to basics to gain more confidence in your cooking skills.
Safefood has also published a meal cooking guide in partnership with the Money Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS). 101 square meals, which can be downloaded from his website. “If your skills aren’t the best, you can learn and develop this. By learning to cook, it will improve your diet for life, and it’s a very good investment,” she says.
Children’s nutritionist, Cathy Monaghan, says a good place to start saving is to take a look at your weekly budget and then see if you could make it $20 cheaper. Proper, purposeful weekly shopping where you have your meals planned out will save you money because those trips to the local store to get a few sundries will add up in the long run, she says.
As a mother of three, Cathy is a big fan of using up her leftovers for the next day. “By keeping an eye on how much you cook and how much you throw away, you can make a difference. Just make a note of how much pasta, rice and potatoes you actually need,” she says.
While many of us rely on meat as our dinner staple, Cathy says there are ways to stock up on our meat to keep it going. By using half the amount of meat in our shepherd’s pie or casserole, we can bulk it up by adding plant-based protein in the form of lentils.
If you’re freezing, her top tip is to “freeze flat” by spreading your meal out in a Ziploc bag to freeze. This allows you to defrost quickly without having to make a quick stop at the supermarket on your way home from work. This way, you can have what she calls “a library of dinners” in your freezer for quick, easy, and affordable dinner fixes.
Nutritionist Orla Walsh points out that we all need to address our food waste and how much it costs us in a year. A whopping 1 million tonnes of food is wasted in this country every year, and a third of that is household waste.
She recommends looking at what you’re throwing away, identifying repeat offenders, and maybe buying more frozen fruit and veg if you find you’re getting rid of fresh fruit and veg that’s spoiled. Eating only fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables also helps reduce waste.
Orla says she makes a plan since she knows what she’s going to cook for dinner while also considering her time constraints. This makes economic sense and saves time. A mother of two, she says if she knows she’s short on time, she’ll prepare a slow cooker meal the night before and then reheat it for dinner.
Orla is also a big fan of “stretchy” dishes like plain spaghetti bolognese. By adding things like grated carrots, zucchini, or lentils, her meal will go much further. “By stretching it, you turn it into two meals for not much more money,” she adds.
https://www.independent.ie/life/food-drink/meal-plans-lentils-and-freezing-flat-experts-share-their-top-tips-on-how-to-eat-healthy-and-save-money-doing-it-42055832.html Meal plans, lentils and flat freezing – experts share their top tips on how to eat healthily and save money at the same time