Writer and speaker Niki Bezzant shares seven top tips for cutting your weekly food bill without compromising on taste or nutrition.
The cost of living is top of mind for many at the moment, no matter where you live or what your weekly food budget. With prices on the rise, it’s always great to have some economical, tasty and healthy meals up your sleeve.
Incorporating one or two of these into the weekly recipe repertoire could help keep that food bill a little more under control.
Star budget ingredient: cabbage
This Japanese pancake/fritter hybrid is a filling and delicious meal that can incorporate small amounts of cooked chicken, meat, prawns or tofu. It’s got lots of fibre and a good amount of protein. Make a simple batter with eggs and flour, add ginger, sliced cabbage and other crunchy veggies and cook in large patties over a low heat. Serve the Japanese way with Kupi mayonnaise, barbecue sauce and shaved bonito on top. Or use whatever sauce you have.
Try this recipe (replace the bagged coleslaw with thinly-sliced cabbage and grated carrots).
Star budget ingredient: frozen corn kernels
Fritters are a family favourite and can be made with an almost infinite number of budget-friendly ingredients. Corn fritters are a classic; take the flavour in many directions just by changing the spice and herb combination and the extras you add such as cheese, capsicum or bacon. Corn fritters with a salad or fresh salsa are packed with nutrients: protein, fibre, carbohydrate and plenty of antioxidants.
Other ingredients to try in your fritters: carrots, frozen peas, frozen edamame, zucchini, kumara, potato, canned fish.
Chickpea and vegetable curry
Star budget ingredient: canned chickpeas
Chickpeas are a well-worn item on many a budget-busting list, and with good reason. The dried version is super cheap, but so are the convenient canned ones, too. And they’re a brilliant base for so many meals. I like roasting cooked or canned ones them until crispy in a hot oven, and adding them to lunch bowls, salads, soup and pasta dishes. They contain both carbohydrate and protein, and a good whack of fibre to fill you up. A chickpea curry is a classic, warming and economical dish that can feed a crowd easily.
Don’t forget: Like canned superstar lentils, chickpeas can be used to stretch out a meat dish and add nutrition and texture. Try adding a can to your next Bolognese sauce or lamb casserole.
Star budget ingredient: smoked fish
Smoked fish is a secret superstar for a budget-conscious cook. It’s often far cheaper than fresh fish, and its tasty flavour means you don’t need a lot to make a meal. And it has all the nutrition of fresh fish with protein and omega-3. Kedgeree is a classic smoked fish dish that – while traditionally eaten for breakfast – makes a satisfying meal at any time of day. Boost the nutrition by adding extra veggies (here’s one with cauliflower and kumara) and that other star ingredient, eggs.
Other ways to use smoked fish: Fish cakes are always delicious (see fritters, above) and so is a creamy, heart-warming chowder.
Star budget ingredient: eggs
As the old saying goes, when there’s an egg in the house, there’s a meal in the house. Eggs often work out to be less than 50 cents each, which makes them a bit of a no-brainer if you’re looking to stretch the food budget. Again, egg-based meals are almost infinite. But there’s something about the flavours in Shakshuka – eggs poached gently in an aromatic tomato-based sauce – that makes for a budget dish that feels like a feast. You can definitely up the nutrition by adding legumes like our old friends lentils and chickpeas. And vary the spices however you like, from Moroccan to Mexican.
Find more egg-spiration: See our selection of egg-based meals
Star budget ingredient: dried pearl barley
Barley is an underrated grain that deserves more attention; not least because it’s way cheaper than its flashier cousins such as quinoa. You can pick up a pack for a little over $1, and that will make a nutritious base for many interesting dishes, including those you might normally make with rice such as risotto and pilaf. Barley is a wholegrain carbohydrate that’s high in fibre and has a lot more protein than brown rice.
Use it to whip up this tasty baked pilaf with chicken drumsticks.
Another barley option: Who could resist a barley and blue cheese risotto?
Kumara fish cakes
Star ingredient: kumara/sweet potato
Of course, potatoes are budget-friendly stars that are endlessly versatile. So are their pantry-mates, kumara or sweet potato. They’re useful carbohydrates that also have vitamin C and other micronutrients. And they’re quick and easy to cook into many, many dishes. There’s something about their silky-soft flesh in a fish cake that I really love. These kumara and pea fish cakes are a great example to try, with their contrasting crispy crumb coating.
Don’t forget: Kumara is also a wonderful topping for cottage and shepherd’s pie when mashed, adding sweet flavour and colour.