Sunday, August 18, 2013

Review: My Ten Favourite Money Saving Foods

A couple of days ago I wrote a review about various ways of saving money on your food budget. This post is about my 15 favourite foods to buy when on a budget, in order to stay healthy, full, and in the money.

First of all, the starches are a man's best friend, so my first three favourites are carb heavy:
1) Pasta- 39p per 500g from Sainsburys (Basics pasta shapes and Basics spaghetti)
Pasta is a lifesaver, and a student staple, because of it's ability to fill you up, the easiness of preparation, and that fact you can add almost anything to it to make a meal. Basics pasta, with a tin of tomatoes, jazzed up with a stock cube and a pinch of mixed herbs, is one of the easiest cheapest meals that i prepare regularly. Also, if you end up cooking too much of it, you can mix it with a dressing/other ingredients and turn that into a nifty pasta salad packed lunch. Also, cooked pasta can be mixed with various leftovers, topped with breadcrumbs and turned into a quick pasta bake. The options are endless! Couscous, it's smaller cousin, at 71p per 500g, is also great for packed lunches, and very quick to prepare, just requiring a bowl and some boiling water.

2) Rice- 40p per 1kg from Sainsburys (Basic long grain white rice)
Rice, even cheaper than pasta, is another carb heavy staple, that is very versatile. I often use it on the side of numerous meals- particularly curries and tagines. It can of course, also be made into rice salads for packed lunches- as well as working as a thickener for sauces and soups (add a tbsp of dry rice during the cooking process to aid thickening). Main meals can be made using rice and a few other ingredients also- such as Indian biryani, Paella, and Chinese fried rice dishes.

3) Potatoes- £2.40 per 2.5kg (Bagged Sainsburys white potatoes)

A bit more expensive than the dried staples, but an essential part of budget cooking. The phrase "cheap as chips" was created for a reason- potatoes are very cheap, versatile, filling, and also unpeeled are very high in vitamin C. Used in soups to thicken, mashed, boiled, roasted- you name it! Leftover mash can be made into all sorts of things too- try mixing with an egg and some leftover vegetables/ diced onions, form into cakes, and fry a few minutes each side- and you've got bubble and squeak cakes, a very economical and tasty dish. I have heard from blogs that the cheapest way to go with potatoes is to get canned potatoes- i have never tried them, but checking online, they do seem much cheaper than the fresh variety (43p per kg rather than 96p per kg).

Now onto our fruit and veg. In the majority of cases, fruit and vegetables are cheaper than meat, so when cooking meals, so it's good to choose recipes with plenty of veg, pulses and starchy carbohydrates, whilst using a small amount of meat. In fact, it's economical, and fairly healthy, to have at least 1 "meat free day" a week. When it comes to fresh produce on a budget, steer clear of chillies, peppers, fresh herbs, salads, berries (except strawberries, they are fairly cheap in the summer) exotic mushrooms (e.g shitake) and exotic fruits (e.g. fresh figs).

4) Broccoli- £2.50 per kilogram (Sainsburys, loose)
Broccoli is one of the cheapest dark green vegetables you can buy, and is one of Britains most popular vegetables also. I think everyone (apart from fussy children i suppose) loves broccoli, and as well as making a great veg to put in recipes, it seems to go very well as a side dish for the majority of main meals, with a little butter. Broccoli Cheese (Broccoli with a basic cheese sauce on top, gratinated in the oven) is a favourite cheap eat of mine, which i tend to have with buttered white bread- not the healthiest/most well balanced meals I know, but it fills a hole. I'm not sure of the per kg price, but savoy cabbage can end up lasting for ages- put a quarter in a soup, quarter in a curry, quarter steamed with butter as a side, and maybe 1/4 for a posh coleslaw packed lunch salad- bobs your uncle. For some reason in Sainsburys their organic savoy cabbages are the same price as their "normal ones"- but the organic ones are much bigger- so i always buy them, weird huh?

5) Large White Onions- 90p per kg (Sainsburys loose)
Onions definitely have to be on the list, because as many of us cooks know, onions are the base for any good recipe. Soups, sauces, curries- everything. In fact tonight, because i have a bag of onions in the fridge and not much else, i'll be making a french onion soup, and serve it with some reduced bread i'll get from the co-op in a minute. All i need is onions, bit of leftover booze (got some cider from last night), butter, garlic, stock, and any dried herbs I have in the cupboards. Dinner sorted! Garlic is also very important in bringing out the flavours of basic dishes- fresh is fairly pricey, but a jar of garlic granules are cheap and will last you a while.

6) Apples- £1.30 per kg (Sainsburys loose)
When it comes to getting your 5 a day, in this country apples are one of the cheapest fruits you can buy. I normally have them as snacks or a couple for breakfast. Apples can be put into main meals/savoury dishes too- I often chuck 1 or 2 into a vegetable soup or casserole, theyre nice diced up and added to salads, and if you have a load of them (we're talking about kilograms) you can make them very economically into a load of chutney, which'll last for years if made properly.

7) Bananas- 12p per kg (Sainsburys loose)
Filling, awesome as a snack, cheap, and a good source of  potassium fibre- a bunch of bananas is one of my regular weekly purchase, along with my milk and fruit juice. Sometimes i wonder why bananas are so cheap- surely all of em are imported from foreign countries, so you would have thought they'd be pricier than english fruits like apples and pears. Eh- i'm not complaining! Over-ripe bananas can also be blitzed up into smoothies and used for baking.

Next are the proteins, very important as part of a balanced diet. As mentioned earlier, i try not to eat meat at least once a week, which I usually manage, but the South African boyfriend is a little more fussy- i made a chickpea and veg curry with rice the other day, and he went out to get a kebab because "today I really really need some meat"- silly boy, he didn't know what he was missing!

8) Dried Pulses- Price Varies (£1.10-£2.18 per kg)
It is better value to get bags of dried pulses than to get pre-cooked ones in tins generally- but that's if you actually have the time to cook them. Cheapest dried pulse I found from Sainsburys was split peas, which was £1.10 per kg (which is funny actually, i seem to remember my local Co-Op have better prices for pulses) but most dried pulses (kidney beans/butter beans) were £2.18 per kg. Basic tinned kidney beans in salted water were 88p per kilo, but of course you must remember how much the dried beans will swell up when cooked, and therefore they are much better value.

9) Chicken- Sainsburys Whole Basics Chicken (£2.50 per kg) Basics Chicken Legs (£2.24 per kg) Basics Chicken Drumsticks (£2.65 per kg) Basics Skinless Chicken Breasts (£9 per kg)
Chicken is my meat of choice generally. It is cheaper than beef, lamb, or pork, and basically goes with everything- it being a delicious, but also a neautral flavour. You have noticed chicken breasts are much more expensive- but you have to think that a large part of the per kg price on whole chickens/legs/drumsticks is made up of the bone, which of course, we don't eat- whilst when you cook breasts, you eat all of it. Basically, once you've cooked it all and removed the bones, legs/drumsticks are the same price as breasts. Buying a whole chicken however, is definitely the cheapest way to go- if you have the time and energy to roast it, and cleverly use the leftovers (1st night roast dinner, 2nd night curry/stew, 3rd night fried rice/pasta dish, 4th night soup made with stock from the bones). I don't tend to buy Basic chicken, because i have ethical issues regarding battery farming, but at the moment Sainsburys large whole free range chicken (2kg) is the same £2.50 per kilo price than the basics range. And usually, all the time, they have a deal- buy 3 x 1.35kg chickens for £10 (£3.33 per kilo)- just buy one and put two in the freezer for later.

10) Beef Mince- £3.65 per kilo (Sainsburys Basic 400g)
Mince is a family staple, can be made into numerous recipes (trust me, you can buy books with titles such as "1000 ways with mince"), from Italian spag bol, to Indian Keema curries, to English shepherds pie. Mince goes a long way, and freezes well. Beef mince is generally the cheapest, although pork can be fairly cheap also- the cheapest mince i have found other than the basics beef (which i havent tried actually, but it sounds allright) is Sainsburys basic frozen pork+beef mince. If you are concerned with animal welfare, their "free range" 500g beef mince packs only £6 per kilo.

11) Eggs- 18p each (Basics x18 box) or 21p each (Free Range x15 box)
Everyone knows, eggs are cheap. I struggle a bit with eggs to be honest- i don't like omelettes, fried eggs, poached eggs or boiled eggs- the only way i like them is well-scrambled, or used in main course (egg fried rice, or in burgers/patties of some sort, or in baked items like cakes/cookies). A few scrambled eggs, with a little bit of butter, on a couple of slices of toast, is one of the cheapest breakfasts/lunches I can make. I would reccomend you guys to buy free range if your budget can handle it- they are only 3p more per egg, and free range are so much nicer! Again, as mentioned in a previous post, buying the eggs in bulk (15 or 18, not 6) are a much cheaper way of buying them. Beaten eggs are also very easily frozen, and then defrosted to use for scrambled eggs/baking).

12) Tinned Chopped Tomatoes- 88p per kg (Sainsburys Basic 400g carton)
A tin (or carton) of tomatoes can be used in almosr any dish to bulk it up and add flavour. It can also be used to make the quickest of dishes, add some herbs and a stock cube to make a pasta sauce, or add some cooked chicken and vegetables, and serve with couscous or rice.

13) Stock Cubes- £2 per kilogram (Sainsburys Basic 10x10 stock cubes)

Premade stock cubes is the quickest and easiest way of adding flavour to dishes, without having to use various expensive herbs, spices, and sauces in order to create a tasty sauce.

14) Dried Mixed Herbs- £23 per kilogram (Sainsburys basic 13g mixed herbs)
Yes I know, look at the price tag, it's mental! Herbs and spices are expensive, but i think as long as you have stock cubes, mixed herbs, and the spices below, you can create such an array of dishes. You don't want your cooking to be boring now do you?? However, with the price tag in mind, i reccomend you find out whether you have any mates with gardens that herbs are growing in. We know how expensive fresh and dried herbs are, so if you can possibly get it for free- go for it! Also, many hedges in this country are often made of bay trees. OK, i'm not saying go chop down bushes, but hedges won't miss a couple of bay leaves missing, and thats free to you isn't it? Why not ey?

15) Curry Powder- £12 per kilogram (Sainsburys basic 80g Medium Curry Powder)
Not only for use in curries, but mix it in with your roast vegetables, add to your casseroles and soups to give depth and warmth. Expensive, but flavourful, and in my house i would say neccessary! You may find, if you have an asian shop near you, that curry powders or garam masala can be bought in bulk for cheaper- but i don't have a big asian store near me to check this.

I hope you guys found this all interesting, and useful- over the years I have included some fairly expensive recipes, and i'm sure there will be more to come too, but 80/90% of the time i am eating on a budget, using these ingredients!

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