I feel like I'm so on top of my food shopping and cooking choices lately. I know, that sounds super smug, but sometimes it's nice to feel smug, right? Anyway, I'm at that point of smugness that I think everyone should be as great as me, so I've put together some tips. I am the BEST.
In all seriousness, I know so many people who struggle with their food shop. It's easy to go a bit mad every week, and get to the end of the month and realise you've spent a few hundred quid just for you and your significant other. And it definitely doesn't have to be like that. I spend less than £100 a month on food for Matt and I, and as hopefully my latest blog posts attest to, we eat damn well.
1. Know what you have in the cupboard
I have an advantage in that I've just moved house, so my cupboards are still super organised and I know exactly what's in them. But if you don't, set aside an hour or two to have a sort out. Throw out that dodgy jar of gherkins that went off in 2012 and implement an organised system to make sure you know what you have and where it is. And if there are items that you use a lot, stock up on them. Knowing what you have will stop you buying the same thing every time you go to the shops - for me, it's pasta. I found about four bags... but at least now I know I have them.
2. Do a fridge & freezer inventory
Every couple of days, I check the fridge and the freezer to see what we have and then I decide what to cook around those items. Right now, I know that our fridge contains a lot of cheese from the flat-warming we had at the weekend, plenty of salad, some salsa, some houmous... and loads of beer (I don't have many tips for cooking with that I'm afraid). And our freezer has some chicken breasts, some bacon medallions, some cooked BBQ chicken, a pork shoulder joint, a pack of beef mince and a few portions of frozen meals like Butternut Squash Lasagne.
3. Plan your meals based on what you have alreadyI covered this a little in no 2, but it's a solid tip. There's loads of meals I could make around the contents of the fridge and freezer, and I'm focused on using it up before I buy more. And don't worry if you have something that you're not sure what to do with - head over to Pinterest and type it into the search bar. That's how I started planning to make smoked gouda quesadillas, and why I made a couscous and goat's cheese salad a couple of nights ago.
4. Stock up when it's cheap
I always scour the discount section of the supermarket for bargain meat, and hardly ever buy it full price any more. I buy it when I see it, rather than waiting for a day when I'm planning to make something with it. The luxury we have over the supermarkets is that if something is about to go off, we can pop it in the freezer, and that's what I do. And remember you can freeze bread, milk, butter, cheese, vegetables, potatoes (I recommend cooking them as wedges first and freezing in individual portions) and even a lot of things that say no freezing, like ready meals (Innocent pots, for instance, are fine). Here's a handy list.
5. Make sure you have the essentials
I'm planning a post in the future on my store cupboard essentials, but this one from Lil is great, in the meantime. I always make sure I have loads of spices, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, sweet chilli sauce, passata, chopped tomatoes, mushroom soup and cream cheese as you can make several different sauces from those ingredients. I always have dried pasta and rice, and my freezer always has bacon and chicken, plus frozen veg. This means that quite often all I need to buy to make a meal is some fresh vegetables to throw in and for the side.
6. Have zero brand loyalty
I work next to a Tesco, Matt works next to an Asda. There's a Morrison's, Sainsbury's and an Iceland within a five minute drive of our flat, plus a Lidl on my way home and an Aldi on Matt's. Sometimes it's about convenience, occasionally it's about preference (Sainsbury's blackcurrant and apple squash is just better than everyone else's) but often it's about where the offers are. I really don't think there's much difference in most of the food in these supermarkets, so I don't care where it's from. Set aside those preconceptions and snobberies and start saving money.
7. Give less of a damn about brand names
There aren't many things that I think taste any different if they're own brand or not. So far all I can think of is Diet Coke (and Sainsbury's squash). Caring less makes a difference to your pocket, if you're still struggling, head to Aldi and Lidl, who actively try to mimic big brands for a fraction of the cost.
8. Be savvy about bulk buying
We have a Costco card, which I was incredibly excited about, but both times we've gone we've only spent around £30. Some things are cheaper but some things really aren't, so don't assume. It's the same with 3 for 2 deals and the like. If it's going to take you six months to use up that tub of butter, is it really worth buying another one and saving 10p? It's only recently I've taught myself this and it's a good tip. It's also one to bear in mind when buying what I think of as luxury items like fizzy drinks and ice cream - if I have it, I'm going to eat or drink it, but if I don't have it, I won't miss it. So if the saving isn't ridiculous, just buy one.
9. Modify recipes
Within reason, obviously, but if you have vegetables to use up, then there are very few recipes that they won't go in. Chuck 'em in. And start looking more into substitutions - onions and leeks are pretty interchangeable, for instance, and if a recipe calls for fresh parsley and you only have coriander, chances are you'll be fine.
10. Batch cook
I know, I'm a broken record. But this really is the easiest way to save money and time when you cook. If you don't have much time to cook, it's so worth it when you realise you've just made 8 portions of something that would have taken the same amount of time to make a meal for one. We always have some meals saved in our freezer for busy or lazy evenings, which means we're less likely to get ready meals or takeaways. I wrote a whole post about why I'm a batch cooking champion - and the best thing is, it doesn't matter if you're cooking for just you or your whole family. It's an excellent habit to get into.
I hope if you are a food overspender this post helped you - it's not brain surgery but all these things are second nature to me now, and it's a good feeling knowing that I'm not throwing away lots of food or spending a fortune on it. If you have any other tips though, I'd love to hear them - hit me up in the comments or on Twitter!