Have you noticed a lot more articles popping up about food waste and frugal living and the effects it can have on healthy eating? Me too....so I today figured I’d share my thoughts on eating well on a budget. It is possible!
Being thrifty doesn’t mean we need to compromise on health or taste. Often, frugality means not splurging on organic groceries and choosing the home brand when it comes to stocking up on necessities because their organic counterparts are jaw-droppingly expensive. But, eating well shouldn’t be expensive or difficult. Food is part of our everyday lives so it’s important to make eating well as easy and enjoyable as possible!
Whether you’re a meat-eater, flexitarian, keto lover, paleo, vegetarian, vegan or somewhere in between, there is a way that healthy eating can work for everyone.
So, how do we begin?
Let’s start in the kitchen, by supercharging your pantry, fridge and freezer!
Every Sunday morning, I take stock of what I have in my kitchen. I then make a list of the ingredients I need to buy so I can use up what’s already in there. If you're on a budget it helps to do a quick price comparison and check the prices at your supermarket or local grocer and think about bulk options that are available in your area.
With the busy lives that most of us lead, we tend to do many of our tasks online. We catch up with our friends online, shop for clothes online, order products online, and now, we can do our groceries online!
Sometimes, online grocery shopping can be even cheaper than your usual store and as an added bonus, it's delivered straight to your door. How easy is that? For busy people, (working moms and dads I’m looking at you!) switching over to online shopping means you'll also avoid the hustle and bustle of the supermarket. Plus, online stores often have special offers so keep an eye out for them.
Depending on how often you cook and how many people you're food shopping and prepping for, you might find it worthwhile to invest in an annual membership at stores such as Sprout Market which allow you to buy natural groceries at cheaper prices. Who doesn’t love a bargain?
When I'm cooking, I like to cook simple recipes from scratch and use natural foods, herbs and a range of oils such as olive and avocado which are great for seasoning a variety of foods. When you cook yourself, you avoid buying ready-made foods which can often be loaded with unwanted ingredients and lacking in taste. So the trick to economise is, supercharge your pantry and use economically-friendly ingredients, then choose simple recipes that make meals last the distance. To get into this flow, all it takes is a little upfront planning. Today I'm going to share four recipes that really go the distance from my eBook The Renewable Table, a way of eating that produces less food waste, saves money and is healthier than the average convenience meal. I call it continuum cooking.
Like good wine and cheese, some foods only get better with age (but not too much age!). Foods that improve with taste the following day have an important commonality; they consist of a multitude of herbs, spices and ingredients that add loads of flavour to a dish – think onions, garlic and peppers! Yum!
Here is how I like to supercharge my pantry fridge and freezer with the basics so I always have options on hand to create quick, easy and affordable meals.
Herbs and spices
Keep a wide range of herbs and spices lined up in your pantry to lend a punch of flavours to your dishes. Adding an alluring blend of your favourite herbs and spices will ensure your dishes taste even better a day or even three after you’ve prepared them.
The herbs and spices you keep on hand will depend upon your particular tastes and preferences. Start by looking through the recipes that spark your interest and check to see which flavours you’ll need. They all add a delicious aroma to your meal in addition to loading your dish up with health- promoting properties. These are some of my favourite herbs and spices:
Always stock some good quality sea salt or pink Himalayan salt, which you’ll find packed full of minerals to add even more nutrition and great flavour to your cooking.
Onions and garlic both from the Allium family are two of my favourite flavour accompaniments to use in cooking. Onions and garlic don’t just play an important culinary role; they also contain a plethora of health benefits.
When you start by sautéing onion or garlic at the beginning of your cooking, you’ll find they’ll unleash a powerful flavour that lends itself to releasing the aromas of other ingredients in your dish.
When continuum cooking, this is a really important first step, as the strong flavour combinations will only increase the longer you wait to eat it. This is perfect for renewable dishes you plan on reheating in a few days’ time.
Both onions and garlic can play a vital role in protecting your immune system and keeping you feeling strong and well. Onions can reduce the symptoms of bronchitis and the common cold. Garlic has antibacterial and antifungal properties that can strengthen your immune system overall, making you less vulnerable to contracting infections.
Some of my favourite flavour providers:
Grains and Staples
An absolute staple, grains, are one of the most affordable ingredients you can add to any meal of the day. Use grains and seeds such as brown rice, quinoa, and quinoa flakes to create hearty and nourishing dishes.
Each one of these grains and seeds is versatile, budget- friendly and last for months, sealed in a jar in your pantry, alleviating the need for excess waste.
When reheating renewable meals, add some brown or green rice to bulk up the dish, allowing it to serve a larger group of people whilst at the same time, becoming even more affordable. Both brown and green rice are full of fibre and a great way to satisfy your tummy when you’re famished or in need of an injection of B vitamins.
Re-purposing last night’s roast meat or vegetables into a fried rice is super-fast and makes for a tasty and convenient work lunch.
Quinoa has become more popular over the last few years and is one of the more affordable and versatile ‘powerfoods’ of today. One of my favourite renewable sequences that you’ll enjoy going on a culinary adventure with is my garlic and lemony chicken roast, and then the following day, turning the uneaten portions into a chicken quinoa meal with roast vegetables.
Supercharged Tip: Be sure to soak your quinoa the night before. This century-old process of soaking helps to break down the anti-nutrients and hard-to-digest components of the seed to avoid tummy upsets or bloating.
Buckwheat is another grain that has become popular in recent times and is a scrumptious alternative to rice or made into porridge for a warming winter breakfast. Diets that contain buckwheat have been linked to lowered risk of developing high cholesterol and high blood pressure. If you’re feeling adventurous, try scattering some activated buckwheat grains over your berries or yoghurt to add to your daily nutrient needs and for added texture.
On a cold winter’s morning, creating porridge with oats is a perfect way to start the day. Affordable, tasty and tremendously satisfying, oats are high in fibre and a perfect way to ensure the family are ready and alert for an energised day ahead.
If you’re gluten intolerant, you may find discomfort with ordinary oats, so look for the gluten-free oats or use organic quinoa flakes, to ensure your tummy has a pleasured experience and not an excruciating one.
From pasta sauces, to vegetable bakes, soups to casseroles, there’s no limit to what trusted tinned tomatoes can do for your kitchen.
Adding a richness of flavour to your meal, tinned tomatoes are a versatile and low-calorie product imperative to have on hand in your pantry.
When transforming a roast into a stew, or converting unused vegetables into pasta, tinned tomatoes and tomato puree are essential for simple and budget-friendly continuum cooking.
Dressings, oils and vinegars
Wheat free tamari is a thicker, less salty, fermented soy sauce and can be used in Asian and non-Asian cooking to add a full, savoury, umami flavour to your dishes.
Originally used as a food preservative, vinegar is a must-have condiment in your kitchen to add flavour and an acidic balance to your dish. Apple cider vinegar, different to apple cider is delicious as a marinade or salad dressing, and is known for its vast list of medicinal benefits, including balancing blood sugar levels, promoting heart health, aiding weight loss, supporting digestion and providing an energy boost.
Try adding two tbsp of apple cider vinegar to 1⁄4 cup extra virgin olive oil, crushed garlic and pinch of sea salt as a delightful dressing to drizzle over your next salad or vegetable dish.
Extra virgin olive oil is a necessity in a renewable kitchen and you may find yourself using this tasty condiment daily.
The “extra virgin” refers to the oil being of the highest quality and usually has to pass a large number of tests and meet a range of strict standards to be classed as extra virgin. It should be produced by olives that are disease-free, harvested at the right time and processed immediately.
Extra virgin olive oil is completely natural, very high in antioxidants and contains anti-inflammatory qualities, making it a nutritious addition to your dish. Plus it tastes so rich and charming; no wonder the Italians add it to everything!
Other Dressings and Oils I'm loving at the moment include:
- Hemp Seed Oil!
- This low-calorie dressing of Olive Oil, Apple Cider Vinegar and yummy herbs
- Coconut Vinegar
- Coconut Liquid Aminos
Seeds and nuts
Nuts and seeds are some of the most versatile ingredients, adding a rich flavour to your sweet or savoury recipe. When creating a renewable table, the addition of nuts or seeds can transform the texture of your next meal while adding a boost of nutrients to help you meet your daily nutrition quota. They also taste great on their own as a cheeky little nibble.
Keep on hand almonds, hazelnuts, cashews, pecans, walnuts, pine nuts and pistachios. Each of these nuts contain essential good fats that promote skin and heart health and are a good source of plant-based protein.
If you haven’t experimented much with seeds, try chia and flax seeds. Sprinkle chia seeds over your breakfast parfait, or simply scatter over a fruit salad for some added protein and fibre.
When handling flax seeds (sometimes referred to as linseeds) you can eat them whole, sprinkling over your breakfast or using them to create homemade muesli bars – a great afternoon snack for the kids.
Another way to consume flaxseeds is by blending them into a meal, or you can buy the flaxseed meal already blended at your local supermarket or health food store; this is a handy grain-free ingredient for creating breads and muffins.
Nut and seed butters are becoming more popular and are a tasty and nutritious spread to add to biscuits or for dipping vegetable sticks. A favourite of mine is tahini, which is made from ground sesame seeds. You can purchase hulled or unhulled tahini; however the unhulled version is more nutrient-rich, with more than ten times the amount of calcium.
Other nuts and seeds I'm loving:
- Hemp seeds (of course)
- Cacao nibs
- Super Seed Sprinkles
- Pumpkin Spice Peanut Butter with Choc Chips
- Super Smooth Peanut Butter
- ABC Nut butter
For those who are dairy intolerant or looking to reduce dairy intake, start celebrating for the vast selection of non-dairy milks now available. A natural nut milk or oat milk is a delightful non-dairy option to add to your breakfast muesli or porridge. If you want an extra treat, I'm going nuts over hazelnut chocolate milk and the almond-chocolate milk. If you’re extra handy in the kitchen, make your own!
An alternative to refined sugar or artificial sweeteners, natural sweeteners like rice malt syrup or raw honey, are the perfect solution to satisfy your sweet tooth whilst protecting your waistline.
Creating fun recipes like my Coconut Banana Bread will enable you to stay on track and avoid binge eating or ice cream remorse that can often accompany a overdose of processed sweet stuff.
After a natural sweetener with zero calories? Try stevia, which is a sugar substitute extracted from the leaves of the plant species stevia. Add a pinch of stevia to your tea or in place of other sweeteners while creating sweet treats. As stevia is much sweeter than natural sugar, you only need to use a fraction of stevia. For example, for every tsp of sugar, you only need a pinch of stevia. Taste as you go, and then add more according to your liking. If stevia's not your thing, coconut sugar and coconut syrup are a great alternative.
Fresh vs. Frozen
Contrary to popular belief, 'fresh produce' doesn’t always necessarily mean it’s really fresh. The fresh fruits and vegetables you buy at your local supermarket may already be a week old by the time they put on display. If you don’t have access to a farmer’s market nearby, it’s not a bad idea to opt for frozen. Whilst the texture might not be the greatest, frozen produce might sometimes be even healthier because they are frozen immediately which locks in all the essential nutrients.
You get home from work hungry and tired, and there are no fresh ingredients in the refrigerator but you want to eat something right away. Your first thought might be what’s the number to order in?
The perfect solution is to have a couple of packets of snap frozen vegetables in your freezer. Stock up on edamame peas, spinach, broccoli and green beans. They’ll come in handy when you need a quick healthy bite.
Then all you need to do is fling open the doors of your pantry and add your choice of pulses and tinned tomatoes or a pre-made sauce, and voila! You have everything you need to create a nutritious dinner that takes just minutes to prepare.
A final must-have for your freezer is frozen berries. Anti-oxidant rich berries assist with aiding weight loss, diabetes management, and lowering blood pressure. Loaded with vitamin C, berries can protect with health of collagen, promote radiant skin and healthy hair, and may reduce the risk of cataracts, arthritis and macular degeneration.
Apart from the extensive list of health benefits, you’ll find yourself eating berries simply because they taste so sweet and satisfying.
Fresh berries are delicious, however if you know you have a busy week and may run the risk of wasting those sweet fruits, keeping frozen berries on hand gives you that sense of security knowing you won’t have a wastage situation on your hands.
Frozen berries are a convenient solution for an uplifting smoothie or a refreshing breakfast idea, scattering berries over a granola or yogurt. Try mixing frozen berries in your next sweet dessert recipe,
So, now we've stocked the cupboards, what's next?
It's cooking time!
I know you’re probably taking out your phone and about to open your favourite delivery app because cooking your own food every day sounds like a hard task but listen up! It can actually be easier AND cheaper to go from takeaway meals to homemade meals.
This may sound like a hard task but when we replace the convenience of buying store bought meals in a bid to be savvy and eat healthy, food choices don’t need to be a challenge.
I have come up with four recipes that are part of a renewable table. This means that we can use base ingredients to create four (yes you heard that right, four!) meals over four days. Have a cooking day on a Sunday and you'll save yourself a lot of time through the week.
Recipe A: Chickpea Curry
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 brown onion, finely chopped
- 2 garlic clove, crushed
- 2 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tablespoon brown mustard seeds
- 1 tsp ground turmeric
- 1 tsp ground cardamom
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 2 cups home-made vegetable stock
- 1 tin diced tomatoes
- 3 x 400g canned chickpeas, drained, rinsed
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Cooked brown rice and steamed green vegetables to serve, enough for 4 people
- Heat olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add chopped onion and cook for 2-3 minutes until onions slightly sweat.
- Add the garlic and spices, cooking for a further 2 – 3 minutes.
- Add vegetable stock and tomato, and then bring to the boil and let simmer for 5 minutes.
- Add chickpeas and let simmer for a further 5 minutes.
- Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Split the mixture into 2 portions, setting aside half to be used for the remainder of recipes in this sequence. Store as per instructions below.
- Add the cooked brown rice to 4 serving bowls, and top with 1/4 of the chickpea curry in each. Add steamed vegetables and serve.
Once the unused portion of curry has cooled to room temperature, place in a sealed glass container and store in the refrigerator. Curry will last for 4 days in the fridge.
Recipe B: Gourmet Sandwich with Indian-spiced Hummus
Makes 4 sandwiches
Leftover curry from Recipe A above (half of the original curry recipe)
- 8 slices of gluten free bread or bread of choice
- 20 slices of eggplant, grilled (setting aside 12 slices for future recipes in the sequence.)
- 8 cos lettuce leaves
- 1 large tomato slice.
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Separate the chickpeas from curry liquid. Place chickpeas into a high-speed blender and all other hummus ingredients.
- Blend until smooth and combined.
- (Note: save the remainder of the curry liquid as a nourishing drink or as a base for your next curry or stew by storing in a jar and leaving in the refrigerator for up to 4 days, or freezing for up to 2 months).
- Set aside 2/3 of the prepared hummus for Recipe C and D of this sequence by storing in a tightly sealed bowl and refrigerating for up to 4 days.
- Prepare sandwiches by laying out 4 slices of bread, spreading hummus evenly across each slice, and then adding 2 slices of eggplant, 2 lettuce leaves and ¼ of the sliced tomato across each slice. Season with salt and pepper, then cover with partnering slice of bread.
Recipe C: Mezze Plate
Place all of the below recipes onto your mezze plate.
- ½ of the leftover hummus from Recipe B, with the remaining portion for Recipe D below
- Drizzle extra virgin olive oil
- Sprinkle paprika
Parsley, goat’s feta and pine nut dip
(Tip: Make a batch of this on your cooking day to save you time later)
- 2 bunches of parsley, without stems
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- ½ cup pine nuts
- 200g goat’s feta (reserve 100 gms for Recipe D)
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- Juice of 1 lemon
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Extra pine nuts and parsley leaves to garnish
(Tip: Make a batch of this on your continuum cooking day to save you time later!)
- 70g quinoa, rinsed
- 80g flat-leaf parsley, chopped
- 1 handful mint, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- ½ tsp sea salt
- 80ml lemon juice
- 1 tsp lemon zest
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 small Lebanese cucumber, diced
- 4 vine-ripened tomatoes, diced
- 3 spring onions, sliced
- Add leftover hummus to a serving bowl and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.
- Sprinkle with paprika.
- Chop 4 slices eggplant into squares and sprinkle with sea salt.
Parsley, goat’s feta and pine nut dip
- Combine all ingredients in a blender and mix until combined.
- Place into a serving bowl and sprinkle with extra pine nuts and parsley leaves to garnish.
- Cook the quinoa in a saucepan of simmering water until tender, about 15 minutes. Set aside to cool.
- In a bowl, place the parsley, mint, garlic, salt, lemon juice and zest, olive oil, cucumber, tomatoes and spring onion, mixing all ingredients until well combined.
- Season with freshly ground black pepper.
- Stir through the quinoa and mix thoroughly.
- Place 2/3 of the mixture into a bowl to serve. With the remaining 1/3, set aside for Recipe D below, placing into a sealed container and storing in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
Recipe D: Baked Falafel Burgers with Tabouleh and Spicy Hummus
This the perfect mid-week dinner, or a mouth-watering lunch meal that’s easy to store and take to work. With most the elements already prepared, you’ll effortlessly create this gourmet burger with plenty of time to sit and enjoy.
Makes 4 burgers
- 75g sunflower seeds
- 80g cashews
- 1 tbsp organic nut butter, softened
- 2 tbsp basil leaves, chopped
- ½ tsp ground cumin
- 2 tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
- 1 tsp chopped coriander leaves
- 2 tbsp chopped red capsicum
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- ¼ shallot, chopped
- Pinch sea salt
- 40g toasted sesame seeds, for coating
- 8 x slices of gluten free bread/quinoa bread/rosemary and flaxseed bread to make 4 burgers
- Leftover Hummus
- Leftover tabbouleh
- Leftover eggplant slices
- 8 crispy lettuce leaves
- 100 gms leftover goat’s feta
- Pinch of sea salt to taste
- Preheat oven to 220 degrees Celsius and line a baking tray with baking paper.
- Place all falafel ingredients, except sesame seeds, in a food processor and pulse until thoroughly blended.
- Use a spoon to form 4 falafel balls, flattening out the ball to form patty shapes.
- Coat in the sesame seeds, transfer to the baking tray and bake for 15 minutes until crispy.
- To build burger, heat each slice of bread under a grill for a few minutes to slightly heat and colour the top.
- Lay out 4 slices and spread hummus on each.
- Stack the 2 slices of eggplant, goat’s feta and falafel patty on top, place crispy lettuce on the plate and spoon in some tabouleh. Top sandwich with the second piece of bread to form the burger.
I hope this has given you a few ideas to supercharge your kitchen and meals!