Few of us will be unaffected by the sharp increase in food prices. We’re all looking for tips on how to save on groceries, use our food more efficiently and substitute expensive ingredients for cheaper while still eating healthily – but where to turn?
There are books and consultants dedicated to helping you save money on food, but they require an initial outlay. If you know where to look, however, there are some excellent online resources that won’t cost you any more than your internet connection.
Read on for some of the best.
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Government and NGOs
Someone with little cooking confidence, particularly a young person going flatting or living independently for the first time, or anyone who is struggling to bring their grocery bills in at their budget, should check out The Great Little Cookbook. It’s available to download for free as a PDF from the Work and Income website.
The Great Little Cookbook is more than just recipes. It’s a sort of guide for feeding yourself and your household, with tips on things like cheap homemade cleaners (“A strong solution of vinegar is a good toilet cleaner”), meal planning, food safety, how to stock a pantry and “The art of shopping” (“Look out for end-of-the-day bargains but make sure you can use them while they’re still okay”).
This information is very basic, but then, being responsible for your own food, let alone that of others, can be overwhelming. This is good, solid advice for how to serve up healthy and flavoursome food on a strictly controlled budget.
Plus the recipes it offers are exactly the kind you want to master and whip out when time is short and money is tight – things like basic spag bol, fish cakes made with tinned tuna, pumpkin soup and Weet-bix slice.
Reducing your food waste doesn’t just help save the planet, it also helps save you money. So whether you’re concerned about your carbon footprint or frustrated that veg goes off before you get to it, the Love Food Hate Waste website is a great resource.
The government and council-funded organization has put together a wealth of easily digestible materials. You can take a quiz to identify the areas where you could improve, then read helpful tips about how to meal plan, organize your pantry and fridge, use leftovers and preserve food to reduce your supermarket spend and waste.
Love Food Hate Waste also has dozens of recipes free for use. There’s the “8 ways with” series, which offers ways of using up frequently thrown-out foods – think apple and banana peels, broccoli stalks, or Aotearoa’s most-wasted food, bread – and plenty of others, covering starters, mains, desserts , snacks and condiments.
The organization also publishes Easy Choice, a free seasonal meal planner with shopping lists that you can download for free from the site.
Both of New Zealand’s leading supermarket chains have useful tips on reducing spend. Of course this is ironic given they’re trying to encourage you to spend money with them, but taken in isolation these are still useful free resources.
Countdown’s Budget Friendly Recipes are exactly that. The archive of 70-odd recipes included mainly dinner and lunch options focused on basic fresh produce as well as tinned and frozen, and cheap proteins, pulses and starches, with lots of meat-free choices.
The recipes aren’t costed out (presumably because there’s too much variation in prices) and Countdown doesn’t put a definition on “budget friendly”, and there’s definitely a spectrum on display here; the spicy red kidney bean casserole, for example, is going to be a lot cheaper than the prawn and courgette pasta. But if you’re keen on browsing recipe ideas, or have a glut of something you want to use up, this is a good site to check out.
New World is more ambitious, with its seasonal meal plans that promise five family dinners for under $100 (with some caveats). The meals are also designed to be zero food waste (New World has partnered with Love Food Hate Waste on this aspect of the plans).
Each of four weekly plans includes five downloadable recipes and a shopping list, but if you don’t want to go all-in you can still read the individual recipes online (either way, it’s free).
There are infinite social media groups and accounts devoted to cooking on a budget, but it’s useful to look at locally-based ones who, generally, have access to the same things you do and are operating in the same context.
The Facebook group Frugal and Living Cheap in New Zealand isn’t just for food, but it is a major theme. Here the 16,000 members share bargains they’ve spotted in the shops, tips for making grocery items last longer, hints for lowering food waste, and lots and lots of recipes. And if you have a question about how to use an unusual veg you’ve found cheap or want a recipe for using up the frozen bananas taking up space in the freezer, ask it here and you’ll get suggestions in spades.
Cooking on a budget is a lively niche corner of TikTok, where videos with the hashtag #cheapmeals have been viewed over 300 million times. A great Kiwi account to follow is salmakescheapfood, where Sal Claire shares her cheap grocery shops and recipes for dinners and lunches with her more than 17,000 followers. She cooks meals achievable by just about any home cook, is very canny with in-store specials and seasonal produce, and usually brings her weekly shop in for under $70.
One more tip
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