I hate the word frugal.
It screams of penny-pinching, meanness, and settling for second (or third) best. It goes against my nature, especially when it comes to food. The crux of the matter is this.
I like to eat nice things.
My husband is the KING of frugality, and we spent the first few years of our marriage quibbling about thermostats and light switches. My dreams of weekly date nights at the pricey gastropub in the next village and indulgent bottles of French red were shattered. But slowly, his thriftiness began to rub off on me. The idea of getting something quality for less money began to appeal, and the premise of not wasting valuable resources began to make sense. And I’m pleased to say, a few of my penchants rubbed off on my husband too. He started to appreciate specialty coffee, no longer preferring good old instant (sacrilege, I know) and developed a taste for the occasional lunch date at a local tearoom (he, like me, has a thing for cream teas).
Compromise won out and equilibrium was restored.
If you’re like me and by nature like to spend and find it difficult to compromise on quality, these are my three, minimal effort tips for saving money on quality food. I’ll be posting more comprehensive, slightly more time consuming methods of being food-shop savvy in coming months, but this trio is really for the beginner, introducing gentle ways of being economical with your food.
Use Your Freezer (your BEST friend)
I can hear a resounding “DUH” coming from most of you who have an inch of common sense. Most of us know to store batch made meals or meat bought in bulk, but you can freeze almost anything if you do a bit of research on the best and safest ways to do so. Buy premium bread, hard cheese, fish or meat in the discount aisle and stash in the freezer for future recipes, store fresh herbs about to go ‘out of date’ (chop, then freeze in an ice cube tray with a little water), bag up bread ends and freeze for future recipes that may require breadcrumbs. Egg whites, cooked rice, flour, garlic, nuts, wine and grapes all freeze well, which might surprise even the most seasoned of frugal cooks. Another boon is that most of these items can be stored with minimal prep too (who wants to spend ages chopping garlic for portioned trays when you can just pop the whole cloves in a freezer bag and take out when required?).
2. Take the downshift challenge
If you’ve ever caught the BBC’s ‘Eat well for less’ (basically Gregg Wallace nosing around a family’s kitchen and dissecting the economy of the groceries in the cupboards) you’ll know there are generally four different price levels that supermarkets stock of any given product: premium, branded, supermarket own and basic. Why not try shifting down just one level for a week for products you regularly buy to see if you can taste the difference, or if indeed you believe it’s worth paying a little bit extra for your routine buys. I get through a looooot of tea and coffee each week (don’t judge- I have a baby and a toddler and need caffeine like oxygen) and I recently made the jump from Yorkshire tea to Aldi’s own gold blend, which is of a very similar quality. I couldn’t make the same jump with coffee as the supermarket offerings just don’t match up to the specialty coffee I buy direct from the roasters. You have to be willing to have a trial and error approach and pull away from brand loyalty, but it’s not much effort to chuck Sainsburys’ own cornflakes in the trolley rather than Kelloggs to see if you can make a saving.
3. Use your common sense
There are certain caveats to this tip, one being to ensure you have a reasonable sense of smell and can recognise putrid meat, but generally, there is a *bit* of leeway with ‘use by’ and a LOT with ‘best before’ dates. Any product that has a best before date will be generally safe to eat if done so after the stated date, though may have declined in quality a tad. I found a load of old herbs and spices at the back of my cupboard the other day, and whilst I may need to use more of the said ingredient to get the same culinary effect, they will be perfectly safe. Dried goods can last for years, as will most canned goods. Of course, with products that are fresh, and have ‘use by’ dates I can NEVER officially advocate eating them past their date, but I have been known to eat meat and fish a day or two over, and eggs and yogurts weeks past. You can tell when meat or fish is ‘off’ (give it a sniff) and generally even dairy products that smell ‘on the turn’ will be safe to consume (use slightly sour milk in cake batter or scones to emulate buttermilk). Smoked, cured, pickled and highly spiced foods will often stay safe months after their ‘use by’ date, as, low and behold, these methods of culinary manipulation were used in the past to preserve food.
I hope these tips help you find easy ways to start making some savings on food. I’m off to devise my next post over a cup of (Aldi) tea and an out of date yogurt…