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Strapped for Cash? How to Cook like a Chef on a Shoe String Budget?

Strapped for Cash? How to Cook like a Chef on a Shoe String Budget?

Sometimes there are certain months in a year that a person is a little strapped for cash. I think we all kind of feeling it these days. Cost of living doesn’t stop increasing and it is not by a little, it is A LOT.! I actually noticed, after 3 weeks of being away, on my return, I saw how food prices had just increased. JUST in 3 WEEKS! We are all tightening our belts and cutting back on our spending. If it is because of the rise of cost of living, or looking at changing your lifestyle, cutting back on luxuries, saving up for a new car, or a down payment of a new house or a fantastic overseas trip, I have some great tips for you today. So don’t go anywhere!

Whatever your reasons are for tightening up your belt, it normally means one thing; cutting back on the things we love most – FOOD! And normally when you associate the word ‘budgeting’, the next thing that pops in your mind immediately is budget meals. 🤢 We all know what that means… bland, boring and repetitive meals for dinner. The fun of dinners and cooking is now gone! But does it have to be? Yes, boozy friends, you can totally cutback but still eat like a chef on a budget.

balancing the food budget

But My Boozy Kitchen how is it possible? Our budget is really tight and we can no longer afford those luxury ingredients? Well friends,never fear when Abby is near! Today I will share some great tips in how you can cook like a chef, and eat on a shoe string budget.

Budget Tip# 1: Shop Wisely

Before Shopping:

First things first – create a menu and a meal plan that you want to cook for the week. Decide on what you going to eat for breakfast, lunch, supper and include a few snacks (cheap and healthy).

It may sound like a long and tedious task however, this way, it will help you to get organised and spend less money. The internet is full of inspirational ideas of how you can cook tasty meals on a budget. Take a pen and paper and make a list of all your ideas and ingredients.

Creating a shopping list and meal plan

What do I do when something calls for an “exotic/expensive” ingredient?

When working through your meal plan. Be aware of trying out new recipes that has millions of ingredients that you possibly do not have in stock. Items like truffle oil, saffron, misho, or anchovies fillets in oil, does not come cheap. What would the chances be that you will use that item again?

Try to build your recipes on items that you do have in stock. And if you really want that special ingredient ask yourself these four questions:

  • What does it cost?
  • How much is in the package, is it a lot or little?
  • How long does it stay fresh before I will use it again?
  • Will I only use this ingredient once or can I use it in my everyday cooking?

If it is an expensive ingredient and you only going to use once, it will not be worth the expense. Just leave it out, find a cheaper replacement or re-look at your menu.

Once you have your collection of recipes it is now time to create your meal plan.

Second Step – Go to your pantry and see what ingredients you have and what you will need. Create your shopping list. And when I say create – write down only what you will need for the week (Remember to take your shopping list with you. This is more a note to self) Do your utmost to strictly stick to your shopping list!

At the Shops:

shopping on a budget

Never shop on an empty tummy! When hungry you are more tempted to purchase items that are not necessary. Set a goal of going to the shop once a week only. By going to the shops several times in one week you are more tempted to purchase items you don’t need!

Get in and get out. Make sure your list is detailed and purchase items that are ONLY on your list. Do your purchasing at a store that you know. Why? Because you spend less time shopping and walking up and down isles looking for items, you may also get tempted to purchase additional items that are not important.

Shop with a calculator, so you know exactly how much you are spending and if you are on track with your spending plan. Know when the Supermarkets have specials and purchase only the specials you need.

supermarkets discounts

I personally, find as a little added bonus, between Pick n Pay and Checkers, you will find food items that are marked down by 50%. (Hint: Mondays and Wednesdays)

If there are items on sale, don’t buy them for the sake of it being on sale. Buy only if it is something you will use or eat. Name brands are more expensive and if you are on a budget, there is nothing wrong with using house brands.

My other handy little tip is if you purchase weekly, I highly recommend supporting your local fruit/veg street vendor. Ok, so it is not a “so called supermarket” quality, but then again, it is like 10 times cheaper.

These guys purchase directly from farmers, and charge much less than supermarkets. For example; my vendor sells a butternut for like R8, a bag of tomatoes for R5, a gorgeous ripe pineapple for R10, a punnet of mushrooms for R13, a bag of super fresh garlic (you can smell it!) for R10.

If the quality bugs you a little or the veg looks wilted, well find out what day is their market day. Our vendor has his every Tuesdays and Thursdays. Now I know I will have a fresh supply of local and seasonal produce. Yes you are supporting local, because 90% of the time it is local farmers in the Breede River Valley or Ceres.

You are supporting the man on the street, putting food on his table. Secondly I buy 2 shopping bags full of fruit and veg for less than R100. If you don’t call that a saving, then I don’t know what is.

I am sorry, I am NOT prepared to pay R25 for a mingy looking broccoli at a Supermarket, when I can buy a broccoli three times the size for about R12 – R15!

In the end, every cents counts and adds up. If you build a good relationship with these vendors, sometimes they might even throw in something extra for free! 🙂 Double Score!!

After shopping:

after shopping budget tips

Got any left overs? No problem, pack it away for either lunch for tomorrow (saves you from purchasing lunch) or freeze it for another evening meal.

Make sure your pantry/grocery cupboard is organised. This way it makes it easy for you to find ingredients. No point purchasing duplicated ingredients all because you couldn’t find it when making your shopping list.

If you purchased bulk items/fresh produce, just watch the expiry dates and make sure you use them soon. This limits you throwing away items you could have eaten/used.

Spend one day a week pre-cooking, cutting, and washing vegetables. One you have snacks ready. Two if you know you got food ready at home the chances of you eating out is limited, especially on those lazy days. Three it also speeds up dinner time meaning not only you saved money but time to do something else.

Budget Tip #2: Meatless Monday and Cheaper Cuts

go meatless monday or cheaper cuts of meat

If your family allows it – try to opt for a meatless day. Meat is rather expensive and this will help cut down on cost. Unfortunately, the closest I can get to a meatless day is using bacon or Bangers. 🤦‍♀️🤣 So my next best option is to purchase those really cheap (and extremely tasty) cuts of meat.

You know… like chuck, brisket and shin. (R69.99 per kilo compared to R149.99…I would say that is a massive score) The only thing about these jammed packed pockets of flavour cuts of meat, is that they do take a long time to cook. And you have to cook them slow. But… here you can also bulk it up (adding veggies, legumes and beans too make it stretch) and have enough left overs for another dinner. Score! Night off and you save on extra cash! 

Budget Tip 3: Invest in Spices!

invest in spices to make budget food taste good

Guys if this is the only thing you take home with you to day and it is this: Invest in having a good selection of spices. Ideally whole spices, if you can ground it yourself even better. Do you know how many added stuff they add into ground spices? Next time read the label and if they say anything about allergies Gluten then you know they have added stuff to fill up the spice. Lekker skelm ne!

Ok, so if you add spices to a meal I promise you are taking things to the nextest of next levels. Just think for a moment… making butternut with freshly grated nutmeg and brown sugar hmmm delicious right? Now think butternut with a hint of chili, cumin, ginger, and a dash of smoked paprika with a sprinkle of fresh coriander and a squeeze of lemon juice? Right now we talking gourmet meal and it most likely didn’t even cost you more than R20!

Let me tell you a little secret. Don’t buy your spices at the local supermarket. One – they are hellish expensive and two most of it is full of additives. Go to your local Muslim/Indian spice shop on the street corner. One they are far cheaper. Two the quality is just way way better. My ground cardamon, you can see the threads from the pods. Something you will never see at a supermarket. Three you will find a massive selection of all types of spices including some exotic like sumac, black onion seeds, tamarind or even black sesame seeds and who knows what else.

I was delighted and super thrilled to learn that Worcester has the nicest little spice shop! The sweetiest little Oomie will even go out of his way to find ingredients you may need that they don’t have in stock. I normally feel like a kid in a candy store.

Budget Tip #4: Don’t be Shy on the Herbs

using herbs also adds flavour to budget food

If better use the freshest of fresh herbs, straight from your boozy garden! Fresh herbs adds flavour, freshness and colour to any dish from salads to curries. You can make pesto’s or even better for the pocket; pistou, (no nuts or cheese) vinaigrettes, sauces and even a little sprinkling over a meal really helps to elevate and look fancy.

Right so again lets think mash right… now from a plain boring mash you add a little dill, chives or parsley. Now this might sound absolutely simple but I promise you serve this – your family will think they eating at the most rah-rah restaurant.

Take sweet potatoes, add a pinch of salt and boil. Once cooked, you mash and now for the secret – a good handful of freshly chopped coriander. That is all. Stir it in! I can’t believe how the simplicity and the cheapness of this recipe takes your meal up a notch!

Yes and it is possible to grow your own herbs. Even if you live in a flat. As long as you got a window sill, a little bit of sunlight, and water you can have a simple supply of herbs. In the very near future I will be doing an article on how to start a herb garden from scratch!

Budget Tip #5: Season, Season and for Pete’s Sake SEASON!

season with salt

First thing that comes to mind when you think of budget food is what. BLAND!!!! Guys cheap food doesn’t have to taste bland. For heavens sake salt is not expensive. Don’t forget to add salt to your pasta water or boiled potatoes. Add a little salt just helps to add flavour. There are tons of different types of salts and lets not talk about seasoned salts. My favourite is the ones that is infused with wine! Heehee!

Budget Tip #6: Booze/Stock Instead of Water

cook with stock and wine for extra flavour on budget food

Ever ate a fantastic pasta at a restaurant and wondered what they did? Can I let you in on their secret? They cook the pasta in broth instead of water. Want to know the secret to a great stew – add some wine instead of water. Hey making a plain pasta with bacon or left over chicken with a white sauce? Well add some white wine, a little garlic and fresh herbs – you are now eating star quality food. Having sweet potatoes? Add a drop of Rum – fantastic!

If you looking at making your own stock – let me give you a great saving tip especially if it is Chicken stock. I know this might not sound very appealing but the amount of flavour you get vs price? It is crazy!

For R15 you can buy a packet of chicken feet (cleaned) at Pick n Pay. This is a great way to make fantastic stock and if you have dogs – you can give them the feet to chew on.

I discovered this by chance, someone mentioned I should by chicken feet for my dogs. It is extremely good for them. I didn’t want to give it to them raw, as I don’t want them to kill birds! Especially because my goal is to get chickens… eventually (old wives tale – don’t know, but my dogs are boerboels and they are pretty good hunters!) So I very briefly cooked and I mean boiled it for 15 minutes. Added nothing else!

The house smelt like delicious rich chicken soup. After 15 minutes turned the heat off, went to work, came back, and the chicken feet was in a bowl of gelatine and flavour! Let me tell you, the dogs LOVED it! The smell was nothing like cooking ofval, kidneys or liver!

Budget Tip #7: The biggest secret weapon on budget or not!

This is my secret weapon, taking a plain and simple dish to the next level. A quick squeeze of lemon juice or zest! Oh my word – just try it next time. I promise you, a squeeze of lemon is as pretty much the same as adding salt.

How does it work? Well lemon juice and zest gets along with everyone – they play nicely with bitterness, sweetness, spicy, and umami, helping them reach their full potential.

whether on budget or not this is an excellent kitchen tip.

Don’t believe me? Ok next time you making a very plain and simple mash? Just do a squeeze of lemon juice, and taste? Making greens like broccoli, spinach or beans – again, do that squeeze! A tomato smoor? Again the complexity this dish will give with that magic squeeze.

Don’t be shy to use the zest either. Making something sweet like a pie? Add a little lemon zest in the pastry! This was a trick I learned from a Chef and I have never looked back. This little magic trick makes your mouth water, the acid cuts through the fattiness, giving food a fresh, bright and clean taste. You basic dish transforms into a Michelin star!

There are so many other budget ways to either save on shopping or cooking on budget but star quality food. These are my tips for the evening and what we have time for. Perhaps one day I will do a follow up article. But know I will be sharing with you a few fantastic recipes that will help stretch and these are tasty!

Need a few budget friendly recipes to get you started – click here for a bonus sunrise! Just something small to say thank you.

What are your grocery budget tips and how do you make a meal on budget. Please feel free to comment below – we would love to hear from you!

Until next time chow chow!!

Budget Imageby Steve Buissinne from Pixabay
Shopping List Image by Michael Sylvester from Pixabay
Supermarket Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay
Kermit Shopping Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay
Grocery Bag Image by Hans Braxmeier from Pixabay
Butcher Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay
Chicken Stock Image by Pexels from Pixabay
Lemon Image by Ulrike Leone from Pixabay

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