Food is one of the clearest markers of our financial well-being. Feeling flush, we barely think about what we eat, but once our budget shrinks, cost becomes a primary focus as soaring energy prices put some long cooks out of reach. Treats once purchased with reckless abandon now become rarities, if affordable at all.
Many brilliant chefs, recipe writers and bloggers are working to help people make the most from ingredients, both sourcing good food inexpensively, as well as sharing the most cost-effective ways to cook and make the most of ingredients. Our Cook Smart campaign (see page 62) also aims to lower the cost of cooking with clever tips and tricks to bring a meal in at £1.50* per serving or less. Here, we’ve compiled advice from cooks and bloggers on the most effective ways to reduce food costs.
1. Jacqueline Meldrum
Scottish food blogger Jacqueline Meldrum doesn’t necessarily create recipes from a low-budget standpoint, but her easy-to-follow dishes are quick and include simple ingredients that are either vegetarian or vegan — which end up being cheaper if you’re on a budget. Dishes such as the 10-minute spicy bean burgers and her chip shop series are winners. You can find Jacqueline on Instagram @tinnedtoms.
Jacqueline’s top tip is to “plan meals, then you’ll only buy what you need. It takes the stress out of the week, too.”
2. Renu Bhardway
Combining fresh and healthy ingredients in clever ways, Renu’s recipes are no-nonsense flavour bombs. Her food is vegetarian, and she shares ideas on how to prep meals on a budget — with greats way to shop and cook to avoid added costs. One plan includes her smashed burger wrap and spicy Lebanese sweet potatoes. Her meals are also quick to prepare, so you won’t spend loads on gas and electric. You can find Renu on Instagram @hey_renu.
Renu’s top tip is “meal prep is key! Any leftovers can be used to create another meal or frozen for another time.”
3. Sarah Howells
Cheeseburger pasta? Cacio e pepe gnocchi? Sarah Howells creates beautiful recipes that are gluten-free, delicious and cost-effective. She combines inspiration from different cuisines and influences around the world, culminating in mouth-watering dishes that keep dinner interesting and inexpensive. A lot of them are quick to make, too, meaning you won’t be racking up high energy bills to make them. Her Instagram is @gfblogger.
Sarah’s top tip is to “make friends with your freezer. Buying ingredients in bulk to batch-cook always works out cheaper. It means you won’t buy expensive ready-meals or takeaways when you’re pressed for time, because your freezer will be full of delicious meals.”
4. Liam Barker
Known as Chef Liam online, Liam Barker is a food educator as well as chef. His Caribbean roots mean he’s a master of flavour, with sustainability at the heart of everything he does. Liam’s videos feature recipes such as cauliflower leaf kimchi and a video showing how to use every part of the beetroot — ideas intrinsic to some African and Caribbean diets, but less well-known here in the UK.
While Liam’s food isn’t about cooking on a budget, his recipes feature a naturally diverse array of ingredients that can sometimes be sourced more cheaply than those in supermarkets. You can find out more on Instagram @chef.liam.
Liam’s top tip is to “dedicate a basket in your fridge to the oldest food items and leftovers, then just search online for two of the ingredients, plus the word ‘recipe’. It’s that easy to minimise waste.”
This charity redistributes surplus food to other charities to be turned into meals, tackling food waste. Since they started, they’ve prevented more than 50,000 tonnes of food going to landfill and donated 130 million meals to vulnerable people. As well as the work they do on the ground, Fareshare’s website is also a recipe resource, utilising everyday ingredients to make delicious meals. It’s also worth checking out the websites of local Fareshare branches, too, as they each have their own recipe pages. fareshare.org.uk/recipes.
6. Suzanne Mulholland
Also known as the Batch Lady, Suzanne is a batch-cooking pro. As well as cooking in bulk, she cooks several dishes at once that share the same ingredients. The dishes are then frozen, ready to defrost at a later date. Bulk-buying saves money and time, and although you might spend a bit of time cooking the different dishes, you save it in the long run by having meals ready to eat at home. Her Instagram is @thebatchlady.
Suzanne’s top tip is to “plan before you shop, stick to the list and if you can, always double up on meals, adding one for the freezer as you go. This will save you money and time.”
7. Martyn Odell
Martyn operates under the name Lagom Chef. The Swedish word ‘lagom’, which means just the right amount, or to operate without excess, is exactly what Martyn does with his cooking.
A professional chef, Martyn has appeared on Jamie Oliver’s The Great Cookbook Challenge. He wants people to have more confidence in the kitchen so they’re inspired to be creative, and to use recipes as inspiration – to build on them and swap ingredients – rather than following them to the letter. He hopes this will help home cooks to use up any ingredients they have in the house, too, rather than buying extras. His social media is a wild ride of creativity and imagination, such as seeing him experiment with making onion powder from the skins and stalks. It might not be cooking to a budget exactly, but he certainly encourages us to look at food differently – especially what we throw away. His Instagram and other social medias are @lagomchef.
Martyn’s top tip is to “explore and enjoy your dry store. Pulses, lentils, grains and beans are cheap, versatile and bulk out meals. Buy fresh ingredients when you need them for specific dishes to reduce the pressure of food going unused and being wasted.”