15 thrifty ways to spend less on food and fuel

With bills and prices rising at an alarming rate, many people are asking: how can we shop and cook well on a budget? We draw on advice from experts known for their money-saving wisdom and share our tried-and-tested tips for how to spend less on food and fuel.

For more budget ideas in the kitchen check out our low cost recipes, from cheese and onion pasties to sardine linguine.

15 thrifty ways to spend less on food and fuel

1. Buy in bulk

We’re not talking fresh stuff that spoils easily and ends up getting thrown away; we mean products that don’t require fridge/freezer space such as rice, pasta, noodles, dried pulses, nuts, oils and seasonings. Buy in larger quantities and they’re significantly cheaper per gram. Our article about the best online shops for regional ingredients is useful as these shops often sell goods in bulk for a lot less than big-store prices. The ‘World Food’ aisle in supermarkets is good, too – look on the bottom shelf for the biggest, cheapest packets. Stocking up on long-life essentials (ketchup, tea, sugar, tinned foods) when they’re on offer saves money in the long run.

pulse

2. Invest in energy-saving gadgets
Pressure cookers and air fryers might be pricey up front, but they pay you back in reduced energy bills. Pressure cookers drastically reduce the time needed to cook slow-cook meaty casseroles, beans and lentils, for example, and air fryers save on oil and energy costs. You can cook chips in an air fryer in 10 minutes, and fillets of fish are done in 4. Not to mention your kitchen won’t smell like a greasy spoon.

3. Opt for no-cook meals
Using the oven and hob eats up fuel, so while the weather’s warm plan to make perhaps two meals a week without heat: salads, dips and fridge desserts. Check our our collection here to explore a range of fuel-less recipes.

4. Use the whole vegetable
Don’t throw away the trimmings – make stock by boiling veg peel/ends (celeriac peel and celery/leek ends are particularly good for this) in water with salt, bay leaves and peppercorns, then portion and freeze.

5. Make soup!
Ramp up the flavour of on-the-turn veg by roasting them with seasoning and spice before whizzing into soup with veg stock. Simmer this on the hob with a parmesan rind to impart bucketloads of savoury depth (stash rinds in the freezer for this purpose whenever you come to the end of a wedge).

Soup

6. Prolong the life of herbs
Larger packets are less £ per gram, but they need careful storing: wrap tightly in tin foil or sit in a jar of water in the fridge. After a week, whizz and freeze leftovers.

Herbs

7. Put a lid on it
When bringing water to the boil on the hob, cover the pan as it significantly reduces the heating-up time and therefore saves energy. Incidentally, it costs less to boil water in a kettle than on the hob.

8. Make friends with your freezer
As Shivi Ramoutar states in her book The Ice Kitchen, “Freezers are the way forward for making your shopping cost-effective, as you can buy produce in bulk… and cook larger batches of meals to freeze, making the cost per meal cheaper.” If you only have small pans and ovenproof dishes, it’s worth investing in a couple of bigger vessels so you have the capacity to bulk-cook.

Freezer

9. Tackle food waste
Employ your freezer to prolong the life of surplus food, too. Oranges, lemons and over-ripe (peeled) bananas can all be bagged and frozen whole for future cake making. Or slice citrus fruit and open-freeze, then bag up for using in drinks straight from the freezer. Herbs on their last legs? Whizz up, freeze in ice cube trays, then pop out, bag up and use in soups, sauces and casseroles straight from the freezer. Stale bread? Whizz to breadcrumbs, bag up or box and freeze. Ginger freezes really well, too – but peel it first and cut into usable portions.

10. Embrace your microwave
It costs less per kWh to reheat leftovers in the microwave than in the oven, but cover with an ajar lid to preserve texture and flavour. Fancy a jacket potato? Save fuel costs by cooking for 6-8 minutes in the microwave, then crisp up the skin in a hot oven (the smaller top oven if you have one) or air fryer for a few minutes.

11. Fill the oven
Throw an extra dish/pudding/baking potato in the oven when it’s already in use to make the most of the energy and get your money’s worth.

12. Bulk it out
Adding pulses to meat dishes means you can use less meat, which saves money, plus pulses are a great way of filling people up, says Ian Burnsall, aka The Skint Roofer (finalist on Channel 4’s Great Cookbook Challenge): “Bulk out a chilli con carne using more kidney beans than you normally would – you can pick up a 400g can for as little as 40p.”

Chilli

13. Don’t be scared of cheaper ingredients
Bestselling author Jack Monroe (famed for her expertise in writing about poverty issues): “Sunflower oil makes a fine salad dressing, and you can make a perfectly passable risotto with 45p/1kg broken long-grain rice.” No one is going to notice you used chopped mixed nuts in your pesto instead of fiendishly expensive pine nuts.

14. Get sorting
Organise your fridge and cupboard so things that need using are at the front, then plan meals around what you have that needs using. Similarly…

15. Do a stocktake Jack Monroe says: “One of my best tips for keeping the food shop down to £20 a week is to do a full stocktake every now and then… I get an A4 sheet of lined paper and divide it into 4 vertical columns: proteins, carbohydrates, fruit & veg, then the end column is split into two – flavours and snacks. I go through the fridge, freezer and cupboard and note down every single thing. When I’m feeling extra meticulous I weigh it all, but usually I estimate the number of units or portions. It’s revolutionised the way I cook and shop and reduces impulse purchasing of things I don’t need, reduces food waste and keeps the food bill low.”

Check out our 10 family dinner ideas for under £10.

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