Fuel, electricity, gas and even LETTUCE prices are getting out of control in Australia as inflation bites so it’s time to pinch ye pennies and Pedestrian’s resident Babcia Aleksandra Bliszczyk is here to help. Everyone knows things like legumes and potatoes are cheap, sure, but friends I have so much more to teach you about cooking and eating on a budget.
I’m going to lay some hard truths on you so please take this with a grain of salt. You do what’s best for you. Anyway here’s what I do.
Stop ordering takeaway
My first tip to shrink your meal budget is obvious: cook more. You have the time, you have the knowledge, you have the skills.
If you think waiting for delivery is faster than cooking you’re wrong. If you think you don’t have time, well ok maybe some of you don’t, but some of you definitely do.
You want to be better at cooking? No more takeaway for you. It’s winter so make time to focus on food. What do you love to eat? Try cooking it yourself.
Markets and grocers > supermarkets
Supermarkets were invented in 1930s America for convenience. Instead of travelling to four shops to buy groceries, you only needed to visit one! Wow! Everything was self-serve and pre-packed or portioned to grab and move on. What a thrill. But that convenience comes at a price.
Everything is more expensive at supermarkets than it is at your local market, Halal butcher, Indian grocer, Italian deli etc etc etc.
Not to mention supermarkets have the longest and least reliable supply chains.
Australian capital cities are so wonderfully diverse and if you’re lucky enough to live in one, especially one of the big ones, you can find beautiful fresh produce and dry goods from small businesses on any high street for half the price of the supermarket.
Explore your suburb. Starting looking out for plastic strip door curtains, neon signs and graphic design in clashing colours and just walk in and have a browse. You might just notice yourself getting more interested and excited about ingredients. That’s good.
Avoid convenience items (ie packaged produce)
Pre-cooked rice, bad. Pre-chopped veggies, bad. Frozen food, mostly bad (some things like peas are much cheaper frozen than fresh). Did you know you can make your own muesli bars? And if you’re craving potato gems for $5 per 500 grams, trying roasting some $3 per kilo potatoes instead.
Packaging is obviously bad for the planet but I’m not here to talk about that.
Sensory connection to your food is crucial to enjoying cooking and even eating it. Touch it, squeeze it, notice the texture of the skin, the roots, the leaves, the dirt. That’s what food is.
Studies have shown very young children who are raised on food in packages are far more likely to become so-called fussy eaters later. The key to being a good cook is to be a good eater who’s interested and engaged with what you eat.
Yes some things have to come in packaging but have a think about all the foods you buy: is the plastic wrap necessary? Is it there for convenience? Is there another way that food can be sold?
Buy in bulk
And no I don’t mean Costco. Buy your non-perishables in bulk and save yourself petrol on going to the shops all the time.
1kg bags of rice? You’re dreaming, 5kgs minimum. It doesn’t go off. Same goes for flour. I keep all mine in tubs under the sink.
I buy all my legumes dried, NOT TINNED (why you paying for water girl, it’s free), and keep them in big glass jars in my laundry. I can get 2kgs of chickpeas for about $5. One tin of chickpeas at the supermarket is about 80 cents.
Ok listen to this: a 2kg bag of dried chickpeas is equivalent to about 20 TINS. THE SAVINGS. If cooking time is a factor, ‘cos those beans do take a while, cook them in bulk and freeze them cooked, ready to use.
You can even buy perishables in bulk. I get 5kg or even 10kg bags of onions and potatoes and store them next to my fridge. They last months.
Potatoes are around $3 per kilo at the supermarket, which seems cheap enough, but a 5kg bag from my local market sets me back $8.
A 500g tub of Woolies-brand natural yoghurt is $3. But I just bought a 2kg tub from an Indian grocer for $7.50. Yoghurt and potatoes last ages, I promise.
And if you’re not getting through your bulk perishables fast enough, start looking up recipes that use them up: Masterchef mystery box style. Potato curry, rice and raita, for example.
Make things from scratch
Ok this could be seen as an intermediate-level cost-cutting tip but once you start doing it and realising how much money you save and deliciousness you gain, you’ll never go back.
Say I want to make a paneer curry. I already have all the dry spices at home, I just need to buy some fresh tomatoes, onion, garlic, ginger, maybe some cream and paneer. The paneer is easily the most expensive item. Even at an affordable independent grocers a 300g block will cost at least $5 or $6. But get this: a 2L bottle of milk is only about $2.50. I’ll go one step further and say if you buy milk that’s discounted because it’s nearing its expiry date you can take it home and make your own block of paneer for like… a buck. Here’s a recipe. Same goes for other really simple cheeses like ricotta.
And save the whey! It can be used in place of milk or water in baking or tbh most recipes. I love making crepes with leftover whey instead of milk. That bottle of milk just went a long …whey…
Some other wonderful things to learn how to make from scratch are pasta dough, flatbread, curry pastes, pickles, salad dressing, sauces for stir fries and the perfect one for beginners: red sauce for pasta. A tin of tomatoes and an onion is a fraction of the price of something jarred.
Eat your scraps
This may sound obvious but stop throwing edible things way.
Use your nose to determine if something’s off and unsafe to eat, that’s what it’s there for.
Think about each vegetable or piece of meat you buy and how you can use it all. Are you buying prawns for a special occasion? Well, what can you do with the shells? You can sizzle them in neutral cooking oil for 20 minutes, strain and you have delicious prawn oil that won’t go off and can be used to make some fkn amazing fried rice. Maybe you can use that prawn oil instead of buying shrimp paste next time a recipe calls for it. Start thinking outside the box.
On that note, save all your veg offcuts, corn cobs, cheese rinds, meat offcuts and bones and stick them in a bag in your freezer. When the bag’s too big, empty it into a pot, cover with water and let it simmer on a low heat for two hours. Strain and you have free stock to make soups, risotto, to cook those dried chickpeas in — you name it.
And don’t even get me started on how good a veggie patch can be.
I could go on and on so for more cooking and gardening inspo you can follow Aleks on Instagram.