How to keep your meals cheap but tasty

We are probably frugal to a fault with our grocery budget. We’re a family of four (although our kids are only preschoolers) and our grocery bill averages around $150 a week (yes it’s gone down since I last mentioned it). That’s including everything you buy at the supermarket, so not just food. That’s laundry powder, toilet paper, deodorant, toothpaste, paracetamol, the whole nine yards.

I’ve done supermarket hacks before, so I thought I’d focus this post specifically on things we do when cooking our main meal of the day. Dinners are definitely more expensive to do that breakfasts or lunches, but you can do them on a budget and keep them delicious at the same time.

Chorizo

Chorizo is a wonderful thing. Particularly in pasta. Love making spaghetti bolognese? Instead of spending $6-8 on chicken breast or $9-10 on mince, buy a chorizo sausage and dice it. One chorizo sausage is about $3-4.

Bonus: If doing a pasta bake is more your thing, instead of land-based meat, use a can of tuna. Everyone loves a good tuna bake 🙂

Bulk cheese

At Countdown (at least in our town), you can get regular ol’ mild cheese from the cheese island thingy in the deli. It seems to be priced at roughly $1 per 100g and they have all sorts of weights available because they’ve just cut a huge block of cheese into random small pieces. Where we used to buy a kilo of cheese every week or two, use way more than necessary to garnish our meals and use the rest in sandwiches, we now just buy the exact amount of cheese we need for a meal. Good for our wallets and our waistlines!

Cook for leftovers

It’s a perk of having small kids perhaps (I doubt we’ll be able to sustain it when they’re teenagers) but all our meals last two nights. Making three larger meals is inherently cheaper than making six smaller ones because you’re buying fewer ingredients in larger quantities and for some reason even though in the end you’re getting more or less exactly the same amount of stuff in pure weight terms, the universe charges you less for it.

Use different cuts

Everyone buys chicken breast. That’s why it’s expensive. Is there any reason you can’t have a chicken leg on the side of your curry, or even use thighs? For that matter, you can get a frozen chicken for not much more than the price of a couple of chicken breasts, difference being you get the legs, thighs, wings and tenderloins thrown in there as well!

Try frozen veges

If the vegetable you want to buy is out of season, chances are you can find it in the freezer for way less. Now there are arguments both ways about what’s fresher and more nutritious (although that also has a lot to do with how you cook them), but frozen veges are often cheaper than their fresh counterparts, and as a bonus they’re pre-cut!

Or just stick to buying seasonal veges only.

Use common sense when buying special ingredients

We all like to be adventurous and try new recipes from time to time. But inevitably you find yourself buying some random, expensive ingredient that only comes in a quantity way more than you need but which you may never use again. This is bad for food waste and for your wallet! Consider whether the ingredient is really essential to the meal, or if it is, can you put some other meals into your plan for the week that would utilise the same ingredient?

Plan your meals

Relating to the above, plan your meals! Don’t go to the supermarket without a list. I’m probably the hundredth person to tell you, but think about it: If we are planning to have a meal we know is more on the expensive side, e.g. lasagna or nachos, then we will plan our other meals for the week to be cheaper meals to keep our overall grocery budget in balance. If you plan your meals when you get to the supermarket you will have no control over this. Our ingrained human laziness means it’s much easier to put things into the trolley than to take them out if we change our minds.

That’s some of our meal hacks for supermarket shopping. Do you have any to add?

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