The price of food and fuel is rising, but there are a few ways that we can save money while cooking and buying food. These small savings can really add up at the end of the year, which is something I particularly noticed while running professional kitchens.
In the 1980s Irish households spent over a quarter of their income on food, whereas by 2016 that fell to about 14%. As the household spend on food has decreased the average spend on housing greatly increased over the same time. The cost of a mortgage or rent is fixed so when food prices, and the costs of cooking that food begin to rise again, the housing costs stay high, and people quickly begin to feel the pinch.
A lot of household energy is used in the kitchen, so little changes can help alleviate the pinch. Some suggestions might seem obvious, but they are things perhaps we forget, like popping a lid on a saucepan, or not opening the oven door while roasting. Others less so, such as checking the base of your saucepans to see if they have warped or defrosting your freezer on a regular basis.
Saving on fuel while cooking or storing food also has the added bonus of, not just being good for your wallet, but being good for the environment at the same time.
1. Most supermarkets do quite a good selection of own-brand products, many items are very similar to the more expensive versions.
2. Making a list is generally a good idea as it keeps you on track - and I know in my own case, it is never a good idea to shop while hungry.
3. Be very wary of two-for-one or special offers unless they are on goods with a long shelf life, and you have space to store them. A lot of the time they are a false economy and benefit the shop more than the customer.
4. Unit or per kilo prices give you a much better idea of value as packaging sizes can often be misleading.
5. Frozen berries are much cheaper and are usually frozen while fresh, and in season, so are a little kinder to the environment as well. Generally, fresh fruit and vegetables are better value in season.
6. Modern slow cookers consume as little as 150 watts per hour at a low setting. That works out at less than €0.07 per hour of cooking, which is a very cost-effective way to make dinner.
7. Whether electric-powered or stovetop, tiered steamers are also highly efficient. You are effectively cooking two or three dishes for the “price” of one. It has the added bonus of being a very nutritious way to prepare food, as steaming helps to retain more nutrients than other forms of cooking. You can always toss the steamed veg in a knob of butter, or better yet some flavoured butter, to give them that extra burst of taste — garlic and sundried tomato butter or anchovy butter both work nicely.
8. Adding a dahl or a lentil shepherd’s pie to your cooking repertoire will be good for your health, the planet and your pocket. Pulses are generally quite cheap to buy and once you have nailed a good recipe, they can be very tasty and efficient. Making dahls or curries in bulk is also a fuel saver. You can then either reheat them in the coming days or pop them into a freezer.
9. Embrace your leftovers to reduce food waste and also save money.
10. Growing some herbs and lettuces will save on salads and give you something nice to look at all summer long. You can trim the outer leaves of a head of lettuce for a salad and leave the head growing in the pot or ground, so you get a few weeks growth out of each plant.
11. If you have green fingers applying for an allotment or joining a community garden can provide you with plenty of vegetables and fruit at certain times of the year. It is difficult for people in cities to grow enough to sustain a family, but communal urban spaces can be used very cleverly. It provides green space and adds to the biodiversity in our towns and cities. It’s also a nice way to get to meet the neighbours.
12. When using a hob, it is advisable to make sure you have the right size saucepan for the right ring. Mismatched sizes cause heat to escape or take longer to get to the desired temperature.
13. Warped pans and saucepan bases are not ideal if you want to save money, they are inefficient as they are not in full contact with the heat.
14. Using lids on your saucepans will help your food to heat quicker and will keep the temperature up while cooking. In fact, boiling water in a kettle before adding it to, potatoes, rice or pasta will save a little energy, and using just enough water to safely cover your food while it cooks also reduces the amount of heat needed.
15. Turn off the heat a couple of minutes before your food is fully cooked – particularly if you have an electric hob, they take a bit of time to cool down and will continue to cook your food.
16. When using your oven try not to open the door when you are baking or roasting as it releases a huge amount of the heat, and the oven has to work harder to bring itself back up to the original temperature.
17. A fan-assisted oven is more efficient than a conventional one as it uses the fan to circulate heat around the food as it cooks.
18. When you are using your oven, you could try and roast a few things at once, particularly trays of vegetables. When making dinner you can roast some extra root vegetables tossed in curry powder and then blitz them up with some stock or coconut milk to make a soup for the next day.
19. One-pot meals also make good use of the energy that your oven uses as everything cooks together at the same time, saving on washing up as well.
20. It is worth looking at replacing oven door seals if they are worn or damaged as this can decrease the efficiency of your oven.
21. If you cover your oven racks in tin foil it stops the airflow, it is this airflow that helps to provide optimal heat. The same goes for leaving baking trays in the oven when you do not need them for cooking.
22. Meals ready to go in the freezer can be cheaper than a takeaway or shop-bought ready meals. It is not always easy to find the time to prepare, but batch cooking is a good way to cut time and save money.
23. When defrosting your meals try and remember to take them out early in the day and pop them into the fridge to defrost. This saves quite a lot of cooking time.
24. It is advisable to defrost your fridge and freezer once or twice a year to ensure they run efficiently. According to most manufacturers there should be less than 5mm of frost build-up in your freezer.
25. It is always a good idea to let hot food cool down before putting it into your freezer. Otherwise, the machine has to work hard to keep a low temperature.