According to MoneySmart, a single person under 35 in Australia spends an average of $104 per week on general food and drink. This can add up to be a lot of money, particularly if you’re a student with a limited budget. Luckily, you don’t have to be a masterchef to create cheap and simple meals. Healthy and delicious food is within anyone’s reach, it just takes a little practice and planning. Not sure where to start? This guide will have you creating affordable and delicious meals in no time.
Start with value for money ingredients
The first step on your journey to cheap and delicious eats is to source the best ingredients. This is a lot easier than it looks, as there are a number of staples that are not only packed full of nutrition but offer great value for your dollar.
Sweet potato, lentils and eggs are all ingredients every home chef on a budget needs in their pantry, while squash, corn and beans make great accompaniments. Brown rice is cheap and nutritious, and mushrooms are a versatile and affordable ingredient that suit any meal. Fry them up with some eggs for breakfast or lunch, or sauté and stir through with some pasta for dinner.
Use seasonal ingredients
Buying fruit and vegetables out of season not only costs you more, it also means the produce probably won’t taste as good. Can you imagine eating mangos in winter? Apply the same principles to all your grocery shopping and you’ll eat happy and healthy every time. Check the labels and stickers on fresh produce as you purchase it to make sure it’s grown locally.
Make cooking social
Preparing meals as a group is a great way to stretch a dollar and ensure everyone eats the right kinds of food. Involving the whole family in meal preparation will teach everyone the fundamentals of cooking and lighten the load, while inviting friends and family round means you can divide up the meals.
Source great recipes
You need to walk before you can run, as the saying goes. Fortunately, the internet is here to save the day. There are numerous resources out there to get you started. Here’s are a few of our favourites:
- Student Recipes
- Budget Bytes
- Feast on the Cheap
- Seven nights of healthy budget eating (BBC)
Avoid junk food
Cutting back on the junk food is good advice regardless of budget, but leaving the chocolate out of the shopping basket is a surefire way to ensure you stay healthy and save money.
While packaged meals and processed foods might tempt you as cheap and easy replacements for cooking yourself, dollar for dollar, there’s simply no better way to stay healthy and save money than sourcing your own ingredients and cooking your own meals. It might take a little bit of practice to become a capable cook, but stick with it because the rewards are worth it.
Start slow cooking
Making the most of modern cooking methods means you don’t need to be bent over the pot for hours on end to achieve succulent, slow cooking success.
Investing in a slow cooker or crock pot will not only help you create great meals on a budget, but it will ‘automate’ a lot of the work for you. Just place the ingredients in the slow cooker before you head off to work and voila, your hearty mean is done when you get home in the evening. Check out The Simple Dollar for some great slow cooker recipes and 5 ingredient crock pot meals.
Make the most of your protein
Going vegetarian is a great way to eat healthy on a budget, but for many of us it can be hard to meet our nutritional requirements without meat.
Meat can be much more versatile than we are perhaps used to, however. Aussie blogger CheapHealthyGood managed to create 17 healthy meals using a single chicken (it cost less than $30). While that might be too far of a stretch for some of us, there are things you can do to ensure you’re still meeting your daily protein requirements while living on a budget.
- Buy from the butcher – Supporting your local business is great, but buying from the butcher also allows you to buy according to weight, meaning no excess or waste. Butchers can also suggest recipes and cooking instructions, and the quality of meat is bound to be better than supermarket varieties.
- Cheap cuts are great for slow cooking – Talk to your butcher about grabbing some cheap cuts of meat. They might not be great on the barbecue, but delicious stews and sauces benefit from the fat and flavours of cheaper cuts. A single stew could last you all week, or feed and entire family, making them much better value than high quality cuts.
Getting started: Jacket potatoes and homemade beans
Ready to take your first plunge into eating cheap and healthy? This hearty staple recipe combines the comfort of baked potatoes with the nutrition of beans and vegetables. It’s easy to make and takes 10 minutes to prepare, though you will need about 90 minutes cooking time for the potatoes.
If you don’t want to use the oven, cover the potatoes with aluminium foil and cook them on a covered barbecue instead.
- 4 baking potatoes
- 1 tbsp sunflower oil
- 1 diced carrot
- 1 diced celery stalk
- 400g can cannellini beans
- 2 chopped tomatoes
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tbsp chopped chives
- Heat oven to 200 (fan) / 180 (gas) Celsius.
- While the oven is preheating scrub four jacket potatoes thoroughly and prick them a few times with a fork.
- When the oven is ready place directly on the oven tray and bake for about 90 minutes or until they feel soft when squeezed.
- While they are cooking dice celery, carrot and tomatoes. Drain 400g of cannellini beans.
- Heat a pan with oil and cook the carrot and celery on a gentle best for about 10 minutes. Add the beans, tomatoes and one teaspoon of paprika. Cook for 5 more minutes. Stir in 100ml of water and a teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce, cook for 5 more minutes then cover to keep warm.
- When the potatoes are done slice them open and spoon on the filling. Add chives as a tasty garnish.
Cheap eating doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice on quality. With a little effort and creativity you will be cooking up a storm in no time, and your wallet will thank you.