Beat the £500 food hike AND eat like a king… with the best tips from our CANNY COOK

Food magazine editor Eleanor Maidment (pictured) offered creative and cost-cutting tips to make it easier to get food on the table

laughedsinging food prices – along with all of our other bills – were hard to stomach. Experts warned last week that the cost of preparing meals on the table is set to rise by more than £500 a year for the typical household.

However, with smart product exchanges and creative cooking, you can still cut costs and eat well. You just need to know where to start. And once you adjust to new cooking methods and shopping habits, you’ll find that many of them are positive long-term changes.

Here, Eleanor Maidment, editor of You magazine, whose weekly column The Canny Cook is full of brilliant money-saving ideas, lists her favorite tips to help keep your bills down.

1. EAT MEAT, BUT LESS

Fresh poultry and meat can drive up supermarket bills, but rather than buying lower-quality options or cutting them out altogether, try consuming a little less.

When making burgers or meatballs, halve the amount of ground meat and add an equal amount of cooked quinoa. Or add lentils to a bolognese – the result is a little lighter, but just as delicious.

Alternatively, try serving one leg of chicken per person and filling the dish with white beans or whole grains, or choose a good quality 250g steak to share between two people and be sure to serve plenty of roasted vegetables .

With salty, heavily flavored meats like chorizo ​​or pancetta, only use a small amount to season dishes. Many supermarkets sell small packets of finely diced chorizo, always handy to have in the fridge.

2. BE LESS BRAND LOYALTY

Apparently the big brands pay extra for eye-level positioning on the shelves, so it’s best to be smart and weigh all the options.

In almost all cases, supermarket own brands are offered at much lower prices, and in many taste tests consumers cannot tell the difference.

I have often been told from a good source that items such as soy sauce, yogurt and biscuits are often made by the same major brands for supermarkets so the products are very similar.

The current trades that impress me the most are baked beans from Lidl, tomato ketchup from Sainsbury’s and washing up liquid from Aldi.

When making burgers or meatballs, halve the amount of ground meat and add an equal amount of cooked quinoa.  Or add lentils to a bolognese - the result is a little lighter, but just as delicious

When making burgers or meatballs, halve the amount of ground meat and add an equal amount of cooked quinoa. Or add lentils to a bolognese – the result is a little lighter, but just as delicious

3. HEAD TO THE FREEZER AISLE

Frozen fruits and vegetables are generally much cheaper than fresh and may even contain more nutrients. It is often picked at its peak and frozen, retaining its qualities, rather than lying around in transport or on the supermarket shelf – then in your fridge – before eating. Once picked, peas lose half of their vitamin C in 48 hours.

4. DON’T WASTE, DON’T WANT

One of the simplest and happiest no-waste tips I’ve learned is to use strawberry tops to infuse water. Add them (including the leaves) to a large carafe of water with a handful of mint and a few slices of cucumber, then let sit for a few hours before adding ice cubes to serve. It is a wonderful summer drink.

Other ways to use things we consider waste are to add tomato vines to the pan when making a sauce because they contain intense tomato flavor, or to make pesto from lettuce leaves or evergreen carrots.

FREEZER WALK: Frozen fruits and vegetables are usually much cheaper than fresh and may even contain more nutrients.

FREEZER WALK: Frozen fruits and vegetables are usually much cheaper than fresh and may even contain more nutrients.

5. MAKE TASTY EXCHANGES

If pasta makes as regular an appearance on your weekly menu as it does on mine, then consider swapping your parmigiano reggiano (the official name for what we tend to call parmesan cheese) for grana padano.

They are usually found side by side in supermarkets as they are a similar style Italian hard cheese.

While Parmigiano Reggiano is aged, nutty and considered the king of cheeses, Grana Padano is softer, less crumbly and comes at a much lower price. Both are great for grating over pasta and, especially when cooking, you’ll be hard pressed to notice the difference.

6. STAY NUTRITIOUS

The NHS recommends adults eat two servings of fish a week, including a fatty variety. It’s a good source of protein and vitamins, while oily fish also contains omega-3s, which are believed to keep the heart healthy.

But these benefits don’t just apply to fresh fish. Smoked mackerel or trout are great value options and add flavor to dishes. Canned tuna and sardines are also common items to have in the cupboard.

Learning new cooking skills can help cut costs.  Buying a whole chicken and cutting it up is definitely the most cost effective way to eat chicken, plus you can use the carcass for broth

Learning new cooking skills can help cut costs. Buying a whole chicken and cutting it up is definitely the most cost effective way to eat chicken, plus you can use the carcass for broth

7. EAT LIKE THE ITALIANS

Many of Italy’s greatest dishes come from humblest roots, as this is a country where the enjoyment of food has never required great wealth.

This is the simplest pasta I find myself cooking on repeat at the moment: spaghetti aglio, olio e peperoncino, a joyful dish requiring a little more than garlic, olive oil and flakes pepper from the cupboard.

Other summer favorites such as panzanella (a Tuscan salad of tomatoes, onions and stale bread) and risi e bisi (Venetian rice and peas) show Italian ingenuity in creating recipes treasured at from very little.

8. IMPROVE YOUR SKILLS

Learning new cooking skills can help cut costs. Buying a whole chicken and cutting it up is definitely the most cost effective way to eat chicken, plus you can use the carcass as broth.

In fact, having good knife skills (and a good chef’s knife) in general will mean you can rely less on pre-cut fruits and vegetables.

Baking bread and cakes from scratch is also often cheaper than ready-to-wear. And mastering the art of preserving and pickling fruits and vegetables is a great way to use up leftover fresh produce to enjoy in the months to come.

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