We have landed in 2019. Happy New Year!
‘Tis now the season of goals and plans and good intentions - many of them around scaling back on the eating, drinking and spending of the festive season. So, with this in mind, here are 5 tips for ‘frugal food’; stretching the January budget without compromising taste or health.
Tip 1: Swap animal protein for legumes.
Meat and fish are among the most expensive items in the food budget, but swapping in pulses like chickpeas, lentils, split peas and beans (such as pinto, mung and blackeye) provide taste, texture and protein in a meal for a fraction of the price. These members of the legume family are low in fat, high in fibre and research suggests they help lower cholesterol and blood pressure. They are also a source of complex carbohydrate (releasing their sugar slowly for sustained energy).
Pulses are filling and nutritious, but if you are not embracing ‘veganuary’ you could swap in a portion of lentils or beans and just use less meat or fish in a dish.
Pulses in their dried form will keep in the cupboard for up to a year, and years more if they are tinned. Once cooked they will sit happily in the fridge for up to three days and in the freezer for up to six months.
Here is a recipe for a very low cost but comforting and hearty meal; ‘Butternut Squash, Red Lentil and White Bean Stew’ taken from Dale Pinnock’s ‘Eat, Shop, Save’ cookbook:
1 large red onion finely chopped
2 garlic cloves finely chopped
1 small butternut squash, skin on, diced
180g dry red lentils
600ml vegetable stock
1 x 400g can of butter beans, drained
2 handfuls of baby spinach
Salt to taste
In a pan, sauté the onion and garlic in a little olive oil along with a good pinch of salt until the onion has softened.
Add the butternut squash and the lentils and enough stock to just cover everything in the pan.
Simmer for around 20-25 minutes, stirring frequently, until all the lentils have almost completely broken down and created a thick stew and the squash is soft. You may need additional stock through the cooking process. You should end up with a porridge-like texture.
Add the butter beans and then the baby spinach and allow it to wilt before serving.
Tip Number 2: Organise your fridge
Don’t let fruit and vegetables languish at the back of your fridge! Have a couple of containers that you can collect odd items in – a small carrot here and half a pepper there will quickly add up to extra ingredients for a stir fry, curry or soup. A few berries or slice of pineapple can go in a smoothie. You need to be able to see these items though, so a glass bowl would be ideal. Collect them at the front of the shelf so you’ll see them when you open the door. Just about any vegetable can be stir-fried so if you have lettuce you need to use up and don’t fancy a salad, shred it for a stir-fry.
Tip Number 3: Is there a more cost-effective frozen alternative?
It can be cheaper to buy ingredients like prawns, berries and some vegetables frozen rather than fresh, and then just take out the amount you need for a meal.
The freezer can extend the life of sliced bread or rolls - they freeze well and it doesn’t take long for a few slices or rolls to defrost.
Also use the freezer to make herbs go further:
If you don’t use all your parsley or coriander at one go, wash and dry it, cut it up and put into a bag in the freezer. You then just need take out a tablespoon or two for the next recipe or garnish.
Root ginger can also be frozen – peel and cut into tiny pieces, then freeze portions in ice cube trays and pop out the individual cubes into a container or bag until you need them.
Tip Number 4: Be confident and creative when following recipes!
It’s great to try new flavours and experiment with food, but not cost-effective if you’re left with most of the contents of a jar of anchovies, all but 10 capers and a half bottle of fish sauce you’ve no idea when you’ll use again. Be confident to add these into another recipe, or substitute something you already have in the cupboard instead of buying a new ingredient. You can use another sauce, like Worcestershire instead of fish sauce and dried instead of fresh herbs (you will need less dried) or try a different herb altogether. Be brave – you will create an equally tasty meal.
Don’t rush to buy ready-made sauces, you can easily make your own; hearty casseroles happily sit in a base of water and herbs, lighter sauces can be made with olive oil and lemon juice, robust curry pastes can be created from minced garlic, ginger, coriander and chilli pepper.
Tip 5: Are you getting the most from every ingredient?
Make sure you are looking in the right place in the supermarket! Sometimes you will find the same ingredient at a different cost on a different shelf. A small quantity of spice in ‘home cooking’ could be found by the bag-full for much less in ‘world foods’.
If you regularly use ingredients like almonds, seeds and dried fruit you can buy these in bigger quantities and more cheaply from a shop like the health food shop ‘Grape Tree’.
When you are preparing food, be mindful about what you are using and what you are discarding. Could those bread crusts be up cycled into tasty croutons or run through your food processor with some cheese and herbs to create a tasty breadcrumb crust? If you are juicing a lemon (preferably unwaxed…), why not zest it first so you have some lemon flavour for another meal. If you have time to make a home-made stock, you could use some of your vegetable peelings.
I hope that keeps a few extra pounds in your pocket even if you are trying to lose a few from your waistline this month…
Natural Health Practitioner