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Eat well, spend less: Portion control

Tips for saving money by controlling portion size.

I am fundamentally a greedy girl, I always want the biggest piece of whatever is going, but every now and then, when my curves start stretching the limits of lycra I have to take an honest look at my serving sizes.

A recipe that says it serves six should serve six. If you are only getting 4 serves then it is costing too much to make, your serving sizes are too big and someone is getting more than their fair share!

Portion control is a really useful tool. Preparing dishes to serve or store in individual casings or containers is an excellent technique for limiting portion size and making a little of something go a long way. Plus there is a particular delight in being presented with a meal cooked especially as an individual serving. Parcels, pies, pots and the like just look so appealing.

Some foods naturally come already packaged in perfect portion controlled sizes: apples, pears, bananas, potatoes, eggs and a boneless chicken thigh. Most foods have to be apportioned at some stage between buying and eating. While the idea of a serving being the size of your palm is a good rough guide, it doesn’t stop us going back for more than we actually need. Think about the big dish of cottage pie with all those lovely golden crispy bits around the edge – who can resist? Serve it instead as individual pies, storing extras in the freezer out of range and you simply can’t sneak back for more later.

So if you want to spend less on main meals, make them go further and get your portion sizes under control, try these ideas:

  • Pastry cases: Small pies are infinitely appealing and pie tins are not essential; try Curried vegetable puff tarts, for example. Puff tarts are suitable for all sorts of sweet or savoury fillings. Cooked puff tarts can be frozen and eaten hot or cold.
  • Foil bake bags: Easy, all-in-together meals that produce one serving including meat, rice, vegetables and seasoning. Try Bake bag dinner for one: Five spice chicken, for example. Note that bake bags cannot be frozen.
  • Ramekins: Small heatproof pots or a stoneware teacup will suffice. Fill with prepared stews or casseroles, curries or leftovers. A topping will make the dish more substantial and more visually appealing. Try a vege mash, sliced veg, grated cheese and fresh breadcrumbs or a circle of puff or short crust pastry. Ramekins can be frozen but should be fully defrosted before reheating.
  • Crepes: Thin pancakes can be made in bulk and frozen with a slip of paper between each one to prevent sticking. Defrost as required. Suitable for fillings such as chicken casserole, leftover pasta sauces and toppings, vegetable casseroles and ratatouille. Crepes, when filled, can be topped with a little cheese sauce and grilled, topped with a pasta sauce and baked like cannelloni or served as they are.
  • Filo Parcels: Filo pastry contains no fat but its tissue-thin sheets are usually layered together with melted butter. Filo makes wonderfully flaky, crispy parcels of almost anything: substitute olive oil for butter, and try brushing alternate layers with egg white. Use a sheet of filo as a topping for ramekins by simply crumpling it up and gently placing it on. Spray with cooking spray and cook until filo is golden and filling is hot.
  • Leaves: Most cuisines include a leaf parcel of some description; sushi is wrapped in dried seaweed, dolmades are in grape leaves, Eastern Europeans use cabbage leaves, lettuce leaves are used in many cuisines, Mexico’s tamales are stuffed cornhusks, and the French use leaves of paper. Banana leaves are particularly good for cooking as they have a delicate fragrance that enhances the flavour of the food as it cooks.

Last night’s leftover casserole may look like just enough for lunch for one. But you can turn it into a meal for two:

  • The simple addition of a wrapping, casing or topping of some description adds substance to what may seem like a meagre serving.
  • Add some cooked vegetables to the mixture, diced potato, mixed veg, peas – great for the 5+ a day and also good extenders.
  • Add some beans (chickpeas, kidney beans, lentils); brilliant for protein, iron and fibre and low in fat. Red lentils are particularly good in tomato type sauces, and chickpeas work well in curries and casseroles. You’ll improve the nutritional content of the dish while making it go further.
  • Serve accompaniments – spiced kumara wedges, a slice of bread, plenty of veges, a fresh chopped sauce like pesto or salsa.

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