As someone who enjoys cooking and who has been brought up with a mindset that home-cooking is the healthiest and cheapest approach to food, I naturally plunged into self-catering from week one of first year. After having survived one year without making a huge economic loss (or weight gain), I realised my methods must be at least partially effective. Obviously not everyone is lucky enough to have kitchen access, but if you do, don’t let yourself just eat in hall or eat microwave meals as it’s so easy to eat well without having to spend lots or waste time. So here’s a few of my cheat approaches that I’m hoping will help if you’re stuck how to eat fast on a budget.
I very rarely make one meal at once. Normally I will find a day in my schedule when I’m home a lot, perhaps when I know I’ll need distractions from my essay, and buy the ingredients with a view to cooking something that will last me a few days to a week. I will then use it as a break in my work to enable me to return refreshed and well fed. Equally, I often pick meals that will take a while, for example, a slow-cooked pork shoulder, so I can have multiple trips to the kitchen. By bulk cooking less of my time is used up cooking and less of my money goes into each meal as it’s much cheaper to shop for one type of meal in quantity than to shop for multiple different meals. Also, this is a really sociable thing to do as you can cook for you and your friends and split the costs, making it cost effective for lots of you and an excuse to get together.
Freeze freeze freeze
So you’ve just bulk cooked something but you don’t want to eat curry for seven days straight: nor do I. So instead, I will make maybe eight portions of something and keep two in the fridge and six in the freezer. Obviously, again this is a luxury that many don’t have, but if you do, don’t waste it! You could even make three different meals in noughth week and freeze those and then on the days you’re super busy you’ll have something quick, healthy and tasty ready to go. If you’re short on space, you don’t have to freeze things in plastic tubs (although these are more environmentally friendly) – you can freeze portions in freezer or zip-lock bags (you can sometimes wash these up and reuse them).
Always add veg
Vegetables are one of the cheapest things to buy and are super healthy, but also you can really hide them in dishes which most people don’t realise. For example, you could make bolognaise with mince and chopped tomatoes and not need much veg, but I always put in carrots, mushrooms, lots of onions, and sometimes even potatoes which means you need less mince per portion which is the most expensive aspect so then it’s much cheaper. Equally, if you’re making something with a meat in, try substituting it with veg as the main thing–vegetables like butternut squash or aubergine work well for this–as it’s more environmentally friendly, cheaper and still very tasty!
Pick your meat carefully
Some meats are much cheaper than other so really compare the meats in the supermarket. My favourite choices when wanting to bulk cook are a whole chicken or a whole pork shoulder as these are so easy to cook but also cost next to nothing per portion. Yesterday I saw a whole chicken on offer for £2.50; now even if I were to buy vegetables and things to stuff the chicken with or cook it alongside, using this I would probably be able to make eight to twelve portions of food for about £10–such a bargain. Once you’ve cooked your meat, you can then make say a curry and a pasta sauce and freeze portions of that, or freeze some plain so you can whip up a stir fry or whatever other dish you fancy if you are in need of food. Chicken breasts cost quite a lot more, but are not necessarily any better in taste, especially chopped up in a dish, so don’t always leap to these. Conversely, chicken thighs are much cheaper but it can be time consuming to debone them so sometimes the pennies saved is not worth it.
Invest in the important things
A meal will never taste good unless you add lots of flavour, so why should anyone expect a meal that contains meat and veg to taste amazing without anything else? Spices and stock may seem like an unnecessary expense, but disregarding these things in a recipe changes a wonderful meal to something boring and bland. Therefore, these are often good investments as they can be used in so many different dishes and keep for ages, so make sure you get your salt, pepper, fresh garlic, and whatever other spices take your fancy so that you can easily whip up something smelling and tasting amazing.
These are just a few of the approaches I’ve used that have helped me, but try experimenting with recipes, ingredients and methods to work out what works best for you and what saves you the money you want to save. Cooking can be much easier than people make out, so I hope these tips encourage you to have a go in the kitchen!
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