20 smart ways to save money on your food bill
When you’re counting the pennies, cutting down on your favourite food seems a tough call. But get familiar with these basic strategies and there’ll be no shortage of comfort and good eats…
1 Get a pen and paper
Even if you do nothing else, meal planning will guarantee reduced bills: you won’t waste as much food. A clear head is essential when shopping, says Miguel Barclay, author of Storecupboard One Pound Meals (Headline Home). “Check what you have in the fridge and freezer. Then buy the extra ingredients you need to turn them into meals.” Simple but effective.
2 Factor leftovers into your plan
We reckon most of you are pretty good at being creative with leftovers. According to Love Food Hate Waste, a family of four can save £60 a month by using up leftovers instead of throwing them away. Incorporate them into your meal plan (ie roast chicken pilaf on Monday to use up the Sunday roast).
3 Love your simple staples
Freezing straight after harvesting helps preserve vegetables’ nutrients, and frozen peas + stock = 5-min soup. Throw in some broccoli stalks, mint leaves, wilting spring onions or a swirl of cream and your soup is starting to get interesting.
4 Check before you chuck
Last nub of cheddar looking gnarly? Don’t give up on it. Grate, then freeze it. Sprinkle it over pasta or homemade pizza straight from the freezer. Fellow ‘I didn’t know you could freeze that’ foods include soft herbs (in ice-cube trays), lemon slices, yogurt, milk, bacon and eggs (cracked into a container first).
5 Say ‘welcome back’ to the tin
Tinned food is inexpensive, versatile and nutritious (beans and canned fruit, for example, count towards your five-a-day). If it makes you think granny rather than gourmet, seek inspiration from cookbooks Take One Tin by Lola Milne (Kyle Books) or Tin Can Cook by Jack Monroe (Bluebird).
6 Form your own consortium
Team up with friends to start a food buying group. When you order from a co-operative like Suma (suma.coop), which sells bulk quantities of everything from Fairtrade coffee to tinned tomatoes, you’ll get wholesale prices.
7 Clear a cupboard for storage
Buy certain items in bulk to save money. Pick up a 5kg bag of rice from the world foods section of major supermarkets, or an online Asian grocer.
8 Have your finger on the pulse
Use beans and lentils to pad out meat dishes: try a 50-50 mix of meat and green lentils in a ragù, or white beans in homemade beef burgers. Dried pulses go even further than tinned (a 400g tin of chickpeas works out at 27.5p a serving; a 500g bag of dried chickpeas at 9p a serving*).
9 Introduce your eyes to your stomach
We’ve all done it: chucked rice or pasta into the pot without measuring it first (erring on the side of too much). Use the portion calculator on lovefoodhatewaste.com or invest in an spaghetti measure. After you weigh out quantities a couple of times you’ll soon get to know what the right amount looks like.
10 Learn chicken econimics
Buy a whole chicken instead of pieces. Two free-range chicken breasts plus a packet of thighs and drumsticks from a leading supermarket comes to around £9.01. A 1.5kg chicken from the same store costs £8.25, and that doesn’t factor in the wings and stock. Another easy win from Miguel Barclay: “Cut the legs off to create a crown and save the legs (uncooked) for another day. A beautiful chicken-leg supreme doesn’t feel like leftovers.” Learn how to joint a chicken here.
11 Get the knives out
What’s true for chicken is true for any ready-prepped food: when supermarkets do the work for you, you pay more. Think chopped veg, grated cheese, diced meat. Wouldn’t you rather spend 5 minutes on prep and keep the money?
12 Create a herb garden on your sill
Grabbing a plastic packet of herbs may seem more convenient than growing your own, but supermarkets sell potted herbs for around the same price – and you won’t have to stock up as often. “To make them last, divide the plant at the roots into a few sections, then re-pot in slightly larger planters with some extra soil. Keep them on your windowsill, water regularly and they’ll last for ages,” says food writer Amy Sheppard. Woody herbs like rosemary, thyme and bay leaves all dry well too and taste close to fresh.
13 Get deli deals online
A scout around online will uncover some surprising gourmet bargains. Thea, our digital producer, is a fan of marcoalimentari.com, where you can bulk-buy pantry items such as Maldon Sea Salt (£11.95/1.4kg), Greek olive oil (£17.95/5 litres), pine nuts and spices.
14 Shop smart at the farmers’ market
The best thing about farmers’ markets is the mix of premium, quality goods and genuine bargains. “Look out for wonky carrots, pullet eggs (smaller eggs from young chickens) or grade-2 fruit, which are all sold at lower prices,” says Mark Handley of London Farmers’ Markets. “Follow your local market on social media for details of special offers,” says Claire Thwaites of Deddington Farmers Market in Oxfordshire. Shop in the last hour and you may find stalls reduce prices.
15 Break up with brands
Do you always buy the same brand of ketchup or mayo? “There’s a sliding price scale of supermarket products. Luxury supermarket lines are the priciest, closely followed by branded items, mid-range own brand, then the budget ranges,” says Amy Sheppard. Drop down a level for a few brands. “The taste or quality difference will be minimal, but the price difference over the whole shop can be significant,” says Sheppard.
16 Sideline the meat
You may not want to cut out expensive meat, but try using it as a flavouring or accent rather than the main ingredient. Add a little of something special and flavour-packed to make the meat go further: lardons in a sauce, nuggets of chorizo in a bean stew, or shredded roast ham in a hash or soup.
17 Steal a vegan hack
Think about alternative, less costly ways to add flavour. One popular vegan trick: a teaspoon of smoked paprika tastes like chorizo in a veg soup or stew. Sprinkle it over aubergine slices
or coconut chips (if you have some in your cupboard) to make vegan ‘bacon’ too.
18 Turn throwaways into takeaways
Download the Too Good to Go app and you’ll be able to pick up unsold food at knock-down prices from restaurants and shops near you. Saving cash and fighting the war on food waste too. Win-win.
19 Get the heads-up on bargains
Both Aldi and Lidl preview their weekly fruit, veg and meat deals on their websites, so you can plan meals and build your shopping list around them.
20 Keep berries on tap
Don’t put smoothies and fruity porridge toppings on hold until summer. Bags of frozen berries, peaches and nectarines from the freezer aisle are good value compared with fresh. Or snap up fresh ones on offer (or pick your own in season) whenever you can, then freeze.
Check out our collection of budget recipes to help you meal plan your way to reduced bills.