So here, as promised, are my tips for eating cheaply and well – without resorting to buying any of those “budget” processed meals that prioritise the profits of their supplier over the quality of your dinner.
1. Shop carefully. Only fall for the ‘3 for 2’ or ‘2 for £5’ offers when you know that you can freeze the extras if you don’t need them for one meal.
2. If you have a vegetable market locally, use it. The produce is much better value than in a supermarket. In the market you may buy 3 avocados for £1.00. In the supermarket you will pay that much for each one – with no guarantee they will be any better. I have opened many an expensive Waitrose avocado to find it rotten in the middle. For the best bargains, swing by your market near the end of the day. Try delicious roasted vegetables as an accompaniment to fish, meat or Spanish tortilla (see below). Take a look at Jamie Oliver’s simple recipe.
3. If you buy whole loaves of bread, the larger ones are better value than the small ones. If you fear it will go stale before you finish it, cut your loaf in half and freeze one half for another day.
If you do end up with stale (but not mouldy) bread, put it through your food processor for breadcrumbs which you can freeze and use in puddings (eg treacle tart) or on goujons of fish or chicken.
4. Buy salmon from your fishmonger and ask for a whole salmon instead of individual fillets. Ask the fishmonger to cut it into fillets for you and freeze these as individual portions at home. This normally works out much cheaper than buying a few measly fillets from the supermarket. My husband fillets and portions his own fish, and we also freeze the head and skeleton for later use in fish stock or soup.
5. Be open to cheap cuts of meat. If you are not averse to offal, a chicken liver risotto is a very cheap supper (with chicken livers costing about £2.00 for a tub from your butcher). Try this BBC recipe for inspiration.
6. Spanish tortilla is a super cheap meal – and you can make it as big as you like, depending on the size of your frying pan and the number of people you want to feed. I use guesswork – chopping enough onions and potatoes to fill my pan, and then whisking up eggs to fill all the gaps and cover the vegetables. But here is a good little recipe from Delia Smith.
7. Make your own burgers! They are so easy and inexpensive. My friend’s mother used to bulk hers out with porridge oats. But I see Jamie Oliver uses Jacob’s Crackers. Try his recipe here.
8. For a vegetarian variation on the burger theme, you can’t beat felafel - and it’s extremely cheap and nutritious, made from a basis of chickpeas. Try Nigella’s recipe here.
9. Home made lasagne is far more substantial and satisfying than a cheap one from a packet – and you know whether or not you’ve popped a bit of horse into it! We all have our own recipes, and I use a rich tomatoey bolognaise sauce, and make a very big lasagne which I cut into single portions and cling film for the freezer. Try here for a few other sauce ideas.
10. Open your eyes to foreign dishes – they’re often uncomplicated to make, and inexpensive too. I love dahl and tabouleh. They’re both great accompaniments for fish, meat or vegetable dishes – but can also be eaten alone with some nice flat bread and a salad of tomatoes, cucumber and onions. I cook dal with the orange lentils, onion, garlic, ginger, curry paste and vegetable stock until they’re the consistency I like (fairly thick and completely mushy). But for more specific advice check here.
Steve’s tabouleh uses bulgar wheat, tomato paste, spices, herbs, nuts and pomegranate seeds. But find other ideas here.