According to MoneySmart.gov.au, a single person under 35 in Australia spends an average of $104 per week on 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.
Saving Money in Your Food Budget: Start with Value for Money Staples
The first step on your journey to cheap and delicious eats is to source the best ingredients. This is way easier than it looks, as many staples 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. At the same time, squash, corn and beans make great accompaniments. Brown rice is cheap and nutritious, and mushrooms are a versatile and affordable ingredient that suits any meal. Fry them up with some eggs for breakfast or lunch or sauté and stir through with some pasta for dinner. Not only that, but mushrooms are packed with fibre, protein, and umami flavour – what more could you want!
Save Money on Food: Use Seasonal Ingredients
Buying fruit and vegetables out of season not only costs you more, but it also 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.
Cheap Eats: Make Cooking Social
Preparing meals as a group is a great way to stretch a dollar and ensure everyone has a great time. Involving the whole family in meal preparation will teach everyone the fundamentals of cooking and lighten the load! Inviting friends and family round also means you can cook extra and divide up the meal for everybody to take a plate home. You can even host a potluck party where everybody brings a plate of something – and that means less work for you in the kitchen!
Cheap, Great Value and Budget Friendly: Source Great Recipes
You need to walk before you can run, as the saying goes. Fortunately, you can learn how to cook from the comfort of your own home thanks to the internet! There are heaps of recipe and resources out there to get you started. Here's are a few of our favourites:
Save Money: Avoid Junk Food
Cutting back on junk food is good advice regardless of your budget! While packaged meals and processed foods might tempt you, dollar-for-dollar, there’s simply no better way to stay healthy and save money than 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.
Take Advantage of Cheap Cuts of Meat: Start Slow Cooking
Making the most of modern cooking methods means you don’t need to be bent over the stove for hours to achieve succulent, slow-cooked success. Investing in a slow cooker or crockpot 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 meal is done when you get home in the evening. Check out The Simple Dollar for some great slow cooker recipes and 5 ingredient crockpot meals.
Cheap Protein: Make the Most of Plant Based Protein
Going vegetarian is a fantastic way to eat healthy on a budget. Still, 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 – but for example there are 63 beef slow cooker recipes in this collection. While that might be too far 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. For instance, you can:
- 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 made of cheap cuts could last you all week and feed your entire family, making this much better value than buying high-quality cuts.
Cheap Recipe Ideas: Jacket Potatoes and Homemade Beans
Ready to take the plunge into eating cheap and healthy? This hearty staple recipe combines the comfort of baked potatoes with the nutrition of beans and vegetables – and it only needs 10 minutes to prepare! 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 of 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 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 gentle heat 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, let cool, cut them open and spoon on the filling.
- Add chives and cheese as a tasty garnish.
Cheap eating doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice quality. With a bit of effort and creativity, you will be cooking up a storm in no time, and your wallet will thank you.
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