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Top 10 tips for saving money on food and drink

Blog • March 13th 2012

Cook your own food from scratch

Supermarkets tell us that we are 'time-poor/cash-rich', and encourage us to buy their ready-made convenience foods. These foods are generally joyless to eat, and particularly poor value for money. Most of what you are paying for is packaging and marketing. When you do your own cooking, not only will you vastly improve the flavour, taste and nutritional quality of what you eat, you will save a significant amount. Eat home-made food, have more pleasure and be quids in.

Don't fall for supermarket promotional offers

If you are in the habit on doing a one-stop, weekly shop, it's dangerously easy to buy more than you really need. The purpose of deals and promotional offers, such as 3 for 2, multisavers, get-one-buy-one-free, and the like, is to get you to spend more than you intended. When these offers are on chilled or fresh foods, the danger is that you pick up more than you need and can't get through it. A promotional deal isn't a bargain if you end up throwing it in the bin.

Stick with meat from free-range animals but make the most of economical cuts

Rather than switching to factory-farmed meat to cut cost, look beyond the well-known, more expensive 'prime cuts', such as breast and loin, and go for the less familiar, but wonderfully tasty cheaper cuts, such as shin of beef, pork cheeks or ribs, duck legs and neck of lamb. These deliver a fantastic, meaty flavour for a fraction of the price.

Take lunch to work

It's all too easy to spend a fiver a day just picking up lunch at the takeaway. And for what? A chilly sandwich made with industrial bread, rubbery cheese, watery prawns, or factory farmed meat, a bag of salty crisps and a sugary bite perhaps? Not great for the pocket, the palate or the waistline. If you make your own pack lunch, then for a fraction of the price, you can feast on well-made bread, humanely-reared meats, and your pick of handmade cheeses. And remember, last night's dinner often tastes even better cold for lunch the next day. Things like cold meats, roast vegetables, cubes of artisan cheese left over from the cheeseboard and a handful of salad leaves or cherry tomatoes, are a lot healthier and more delicious than floppy sarnies and ice-cold salads made in distant factories.

Be adventurous at the fishmonger's

Many of our favourite fish species have been overfished, and this is why they have become expensive. If you go for the less popular species, there are some great fish to choose from and they are likely to be more sustainably caught. Ignore the pricy cod and tuna, head for pollock, megrim, coley, rockfish, mackerel, herring, sprats, sardines and mussels.

Buy seasonal food

Choose fruits and vegetables- British, for preference- when they are in abundance, and at the peak of their season, rather than buying the same products year-round, irrespective of season. This is when they are at their cheapest, so you can afford to feast on them until they are coming out of your ears. Not only do seasonal fruits and vegetables taste at their very best, they are also at their nutritional peak.

Use up every little bit of food you buy and cut waste

Never bin food that could still be perfectly wholesome. You can use eggs that are past their 'use-by' date, for instance, in recipes where they will be well-cooked, such as cakes, egg mayonnaise, Spanish omelette. Make stale bread into breadcrumbs in the food processor then freeze, ready for using as a crunchy gratin topping, for the traditional 'Mollica' crumbs in Sicilian dishes, or for making a crispy crumb coating around rissoles made from leftover cooked roasts.

Natural animal fats are great from frying and should never be chucked out. Try roast beef dripping on hot sourdough toast with parsley or watercress, use goose and duck fat to make fabulous roast potatoes or croutons.

Drink tap water

Not only is bottled water an environmental disaster with all those plastic bottles stacking up in landfill sites, it costs a small fortune, anything from 500-900 times more than tap. Give up this little habit and you'll instantly be awash with money. If you don't like the taste of tap and worry about its purity, get a jug filter, or make a one-off investment in a plumbed-in one. Chill the water if you like and serve with lemon slices.

Grow any little bit of food that you can and forage enthusiastically

Even if it's just a few herb plants on the window ledge, a grow-bag in a sunny room with cherry tomatoes or chillies, some cut-and-come-again salad leaves in a small planter on your balcony, or some apples from an old but still productive tree in the garden, a little home-grown food can really breath vitality and freshness into your dishes and save you a significant amount of money. Sniff out wild garlic leaves in woods in spring, pick blackberries from city green spaces and roadside thickets. Check out the coastline for samphire and sea buckthorn. Get your revenge on the ground elder in your garden by eating it.

Cook once, eat twice, or even thrice

Cook once, and expect to eat whatever it is at least twice, but in different forms. A good free-range chicken, for instance, can be eaten roasted first, then meat picked from the carcase can be used for pack lunch or risotto, while the stripped carcase is simmered gently with odds and ends of vegetables and herbs to make a stock that will form the base for a cheap soup. This way, you get a really rich return from every bit of food you buy.