18 July 2014

Making Meals Cheaper

Classic cottage pie - leftover mashed potato, cooked mince, peas, carrot, onion and gravy

How do you make meals cheaper? If you follow a recipe exactly it can really blow your food budget right out of the black and into the red, often with just one meal.

I've seen the ads on television for $10 family dinners and I can tell you that not only are they over-priced but my budget runs to $5 per dinner, $3 per lunch and $2 per breakfast per day. I don't include the cost of the vegetables we grow; I actually take the cost of the seeds from my mad money, gardening really is something I enjoy and see as relaxing so that is free food.

These days I automatically make recipes fit my budget. That means they must be cheap. They must be nutritious. They must be quick and easy to prepare. And they must pass the Family Approval Test.

So how do I make meals cheaper without starving Wayne and the kids?

Portion control - if a recipe says "serves 6" then I make sure I get six serves and put the "spare" in the freezer for a freezer meal.

Measure accurately - when a recipe says half a cup or one tablespoon that's what I use. When it says to use a pinch of something then a pinch is what I use - a pinch being the amount I can pick up between my thumb and index finger. When it says 700g meat - I weigh out 700g and use it. Measure accurately and your recipes will be a success and you won't be wasting ingredients.

Pic of measuring cups and spoons

I buy meat in bulk. Real bulk - a minimum of 10 kilos chicken fillets/mince/steak/chops/sausages/roasts at a time and I only ever buy when it is on sale - I never, ever pay full price for meat.

I always pull the tenderloins off chicken fillets to use them in another meal. They make great skewers, can be diced for enchiladas, crumbed and baked whole, minced to make pie filling, poached and shredded to make chicken salad - you are limited only by your imagination and recipe collection.

For my family of five I use two chicken breast fillets per recipe for cassseroles/enchiladas/pies/stir fries/apricot chicken/cacciatore etc. That is plenty of meat for the five of us, with two small fillets weighing around 400g - 500g. If the fillets are large I use one fillet and two tenderloins.

Those chicken fillets are diced into small chunks. Chunks go much further than serving a whole breast per person.

For chicken schnitzels a breast fillet is sliced through to make two portions and then pressed out with my fingers. If it's a larger fillet I get three schnitzels from it. And they are easier to slice if they are partly frozen.

A mince based meal is 750g of mince and bulked out with more vegetables, pasta, rice, fresh or dried silverbeet, minced mushrooms or rolled oats.

Leftovers are always planned, never an accident. They are used for another family dinner, as the base of a new family dinner or for freezer meals on an MCBB night.

A roast chicken is used for tea on Sunday night, a stir-fry or pies or enchiladas later in the week and the frame is then used to make soup or stock. If it's a big chicken there may be enough meat left to make chicken salad for sandwiches too.

Roast lamb or beef is similar. Tea on Sunday night (we always have a roast on a Sunday), then the rest of the meat is sliced for another dinner and the scraps are diced into a curry or a French Shepherds Pie and the bones (if any) used for soup and stock.

Because we grow most of our vegetables there is very little to waste. Tonight for example I ran outside and picked a Chinese cabbage, a red capsicum and some spring onions for the stir-fry (and we're having the sloppy joes that were on the menu next month).

Sauce bottles are rinsed with a little water, cream, milk or vinegar depending on the type of sauce to get every drop out.

Bread ends are used for stuffings and to make dried bread crumbs.

Veggie peelings go into stock, to the worms or to the compost bin.

Bones are composted in the Bokashi bucket after all the meat has been pulled from them and they have made stock.

And of course I use my favourite spatulas to scrape out jars, cans and bottles. Scraping the peanut butter jar provides enough spread for two more sandwiches! The Vegemite jar is rinsed with warm water (not hot, it will explode) and used to make a rich gravy. Jam jars get rinsed with milk to make yummy milk shakes.

These are just a few of the ways I make a recipe cheaper. They work for my family and they certainly work for our grocery budget. This year the aim is $80 a week for the five of us and so far we are on track.



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