On a Budget
There is a myth that eating local or British food is more expensive,, but this need not be the case. Below are general tips and advice on shopping and cooking on a budget:
- Buy British and seasonal. If you buy strawberries in December from California you will be paying more for them. When food is in season there is usually an abundance of supply and therefore seasonal produce is often on special offer. To download our What’s in Season When document, please click here.
- In the supermarkets. Most supermarkets all have great British ranges – you just need to know what to look for. Check the label for the product’s ‘origin’.
- Look around. Supermarkets are convenient, but it can be cheaper to shop for other ingredients elsewhere. If you live near a street market or small independent shops it may be cheaper to buy from them. For the best deals, shop often and look for reduced produce or end-of-the-day specials.
- Buy loose ingredients rather than pre-packed. A couple of loose carrots cost around 10p but a pre-pack can cost up to 90p!
- Waste not, want not! If you have fruit, veg or herbs in the house that’s due to expire, cut it up and put in a zip-lock in the freezer for using later.
- Can it. Canned fruit and vegetables count towards your 5 A DAY and can potentially be cheaper than fresh varieties.
- Buy it whole. Joints or full carcasses of meat and use all of it imaginatively. Buy a whole chicken rather than chicken breasts - use the bones to make stock for soups and the left-over meat in sandwiches, curries and stews. And remember, the brown chicken meat is as delicious as the white.
- Community Food Co-ops. There are Community Food Co-operative Programmes across Britain providing quality, affordable fruit and vegetables to communities through sustainable local food distribution networks. For information on food co-ops, click here.
- Pasta sauce. Use a can of tinned tomatoes as a pasta sauce base opposed to pre-made sauce as it is not only cheaper but also healthier.
- Potatoes. King Edward potatoes are the only variety you’ll need. They do everything from chips to mash, and they’re easy to find in the shops.
- Become a Feastarian. Feastarians only eat meat or fish as a treat or a 'feast' two to three times a week. Eating this way means you can save money (as meat tends to be more expensive) and focus on the quality of food you are eating.
- Buy together. If you're living in student accommodation think about communally shopping some, if not all, your weekly food. Bigger packs last longer and cost a lot less when shared and it also means you can make the most of offers such as ‘Buy two get one free’ without feeling as if you're spending a fortune.
- Plan ahead! If you only have the ingredients for meals you plan on making, you'll throw less away.
- Batch it up. Making your food in batches at the start of the week is cheap and convenient. If you cook Sunday night's pasta dish for three, you can save and store two for later in the week. Not only is a jar of sauce for three cheaper than three individual ones, but you won't spend unnecessarily on lunch if it's already made.
- Make a list. Shopping lists are essential for avoiding costly and unnecessary purchases when in the shop.
- Make sure you use up your leftovers! That stale loaf of bread could be used to make bread and butter pudding, the beef from your Sunday Roast could be used to make cottage pie and the leftover roast potatoes can make gnocchi.
Below are tips and advice on eating out on a budget
- Be savvy. Never order fish on a Monday as there's no market on Sunday and the fish will have been sitting in the fridge all weekend. Moreover, when ordering beef opt for the rib-eye (instead of fillet) as it has the best value for money and the best flavour.
- Order expensive. Cheaper dishes are overpriced! Chefs pay the most for expensive items (e.g. venison) however for fear of appearing too expensive they often do not pass on the resulting price hike. It's the vegetarian dishes, side orders and desserts that they make the money on.
- Beware of extras. Some places can charge £5 a coffee because it is served with chocolate. Check how much a cup of coffee is, if they charge for bread, if you can have free tap water etc. before you order.
- If you eat fast food, eat it right. Some outlets are much better at being honest about the provenance of their food than others. For instance wherever McDonald's goes, it buys all its ingredients locally - which here means 60% from the UK and 40% from Ireland.
- Use money off vouchers. They come in all shapes and sizes e.g. 2 for 1’s or percentage discount. Major chains and independent restaurants use vouchers to keep customers coming through the door. Make sure it is valid for the day you want to use it and present it upon arrival.
- Eat early. If you are able, head out for dinner a bit early as restaurant often offer early-bird discounts to help fill seats in the quieter period between lunch and dinner (usually between about 4-7pm).
- Work out if it's cheaper to share if you're with friends. Going halves on a large pizza is probably going to save you more than two individuals.
- Explore the area. Don't just stick to the well-known high-street restaurant; there might be a just-as-good cheaper alternative hiding down a back street.
- Eat In. Instead of spending a fortune eating out why not try eating in with a group of friends? Try a ‘Come Dine with Me’ theme - each member learns one recipe e.g. Shepherds Pie, a great Curry, Fish Pie etc. and takes it in turns to cook for the others. For recipe ideas see below.
- The Beyond Baked Beans website is written by previous students for current students on budget cooking. It goes through leftover tips, cooking tips, shopping tips and healthy recipes.
- Top tips on how to get your 5 A DAY on a budget from the NHS.
- For some useful links to recipes, tips and articles, be sure to follow foodie fans on Twitter and Facebook.
- Don't know what to do with what you have left in the cupboard? Use a recipe maker like the Supercook website where you can search a combination of ingredients to come up with something tasty.