Kathrine Lynch, founder of meal planning service The Daily Menu, shares a range of budget tips and recipes for cutting your grocery bill and food waste.
One of her biggest tips is to buy in bulk and cook in batches so you can freeze half for later.
Her meals have worked out to be about $2.60 a plate – which she contributes frozen vegetables, buying meats on special and staples with consistent prices like rice and pasta.
“You have to prioritize wanting to save money or wanting to make your money or food go a little bit further,” Lynch tells Kathryn Ryan.
“I say to people basically before you even set foot in the supermarket to have a look at what you already have at home because you’d be surprised at what you can actually make out of just a handful of ingredients.”
Another tip from Lynch is don’t step foot into the supermarket without a grocery list.
“So you work out some meals around those [ingredients in your kitchen already] and then you really plan what you’re going to be buying. …stick to that list and stick to your budget.
“And then shop for specials as much as you can, especially when it comes to buying meat because when I do the dinner recipes it’s always the most expensive ingredient, so where you can bulk buy your meat.
“Then look at what vegetables and fruit are on special, if there’s not a lot … it’s [about] looking at alternatives say for school lunchboxes or for your dinners. And for your dinners, your frozen vegetables, like you say, they’re always really consistent low-cost and it’s a great way to add extra nutrients into your meals.”
There’s nothing wrong with buying the prepped healthy meal bases or sauces at the supermarket if it means you end up saving, she says.
“When somebody gets a hold of me and they’ve never cooked before, which is quite often the case, I’ll to them make a stir fry; use a stir fry sauce, use some chicken breasts, use some rice or some 2-minute noodles, which are usually a really good price, and of course your frozen veggies.
“That’s a really easy way for people have success in the kitchen and to actually get their confidence up to have a go at cooking.”
You can cut back on spices or herbs that you’ll only ever use once by looking at recipes that share ingredients and making your own seasoning bases, Lynch says.
“I buy say chicken stock powder, garlic powder, onion powder, dried parsley, that’s the base basically for all of my chicken recipes, and from there I look to add in different flavours.
“So if it’s an Indian dish, I might buy tomatoes that have got Indian spices already added to them … so you’re actually looking at how you can overlap, how you can make the generic seasonings and then just add a few bits and pieces to change the flavors up.”
Her key to successful batch cooking is to plan around schedule needs but also not getting too far ahead.
“There’s nothing worse than filling your freezer up with all these meals with the right intentions of getting through them, but if you’re not going to eat them in the next month or so, you’re sort of adding more and more things to the freezer that you’re not actually working your way through.
“In the end, if you haven’t dated it and you’re not sure if it’s safe to eat and you end up throwing it out, well you’ve just wasted your time and your money.”
Although her meals are designed to be freeze-able, she advises that frozen veggies in meals don’t need to be cooked ahead and re-frozen.
“So spaghetti Bolognese, you’re just doing the mince and the pasta and then freezing it and then you could just cook up some fresh vegetables to have with it or have a side salad.
“Because sometimes [frozen vegetables] don’t always reheat that well, they can get a little bit of water content which makes your food a little bit runny. So it’s best to look at ways of how you can manage it so when you reheat the meal it’s tasting just as good as it was fresh cooked.”
For that reason, she has avoided potatoes in her recipes and opted for mashed kumara in the country chicken casserole and smoked fish pie.
“I’ve found that especially like the casserole, which has quite a lot of vegetables in it so again it can get a little bit watery when you reheat it, you just mix the kumara through the sauce and it just thickens it up and honestly it tastes exactly the same as if you were to cook it sort of on the same days.”
Freezing vegetables is also a good way to preserve the seasonal ones that you buy on special but don’t use often, Lynch says.
“I’ve been buying whole celery, slicing it up, and then freezing it in a snap lock bag or in a container and when it’s been winter, [for] soups and casseroles, just grab out a handful or whatever you need and you just pop it in and it’s just the same as using it fresh.
“The same thing in summer is using capsicums, so once they’re on special, slice them up and you can just freeze them in an oven tray, so they’re free flowing, and then add them to a snap lock bag or a container and again you can grab a handful and put it into your pans or on top of a pizza.”
Lentils and chickpeas can go a long way in bulking up a meal, especially if you’re looking to cut down on meat, she says.
“What I do is I blend up the can of lentils with a little bit of beef stock and then add that into a cottage pie or into spaghetti Bolognese.
“It bumps up the protein, it makes them a bit more filling and adds in a lot of flavor as well.”