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Friday, 23 June 2017

Frugal Fooding

Have you ever tried being an adult? It's a truly terrible idea and I recommend that you stay a teenager for as long as possible. It's great to know everything!

But one horrible day you'll realise that you sort of need to adult. Generally when you realise that if you don't organise dinner, no one else will do it for you.

When I first moved out of home the part of my budget I felt the most unprepared for was the groceries. I'd lived alone for a week or two before, either while my parents were on holidays of when I was housesitting. I'd made food. I'd done some token grocery shopping.

What I hadn't done was be consistently responsible for stocking my fridge for weeks on end, and making sure I ate a healthy balanced diet. But thankfully it seems I obey most of the rules placed down by the internet food and finance gurus.

How to feed yourself

Kick the coffee habit

Take a breath, sip your latte and try not to lynch me. I'm not going to tell you to give up caffeine. That would be madness, society would collapse and we'd all revert back to living in caves because we just couldn't function. But, do you need to get a fancy coffee from that expensive café down the road from work every day? I used to buy a coffee every time I left the house. I've gone through various loyalty programs, love affairs with flavoured coffees and walked an extra 5 minutes to flirt with the nice barista.

The cafés within walking distance of my workplace charge between $3 and $5 for a coffee. In some cases they charge more, but $5 is the most I'm willing to pay. When I was getting a coffee almost every day, I was spending roughly $20 p/week on coffee. Here's some cheaper choices:
  • Instant coffee - it tastes like mud, but it comes with caffeine
  • Buy a coffee machine - a cheap one can cost less than $50. I get coffee beans for $14 for 500g that generally lasts 2 or 3 weeks at least 3 coffees a day. You'll need to pick up a travel mug for five or ten dollars. There is a bit of initial outlay, but after six weeks you'll be ahead and paying cents for coffee, rather than dollars. And if you make it yourself, it'll probably taste better.
See how that list doesn't include pod coffee? That stuff is the devil. It doesn't taste much better than instant, it's ridiculously overpriced, and the amount of rubbish created makes me physically ill. Avoid it like the plague that it is.

Eat less meat

Probably not a popular or exciting suggestion, and one I struggle to get past my boyfriend but meat is the most expensive part of your grocery bill. Unless you are buying nasty pre-packaged frozen meals. Be honest, they taste like cardboard and cost twice as much. Step away.

I try to keep my meat bill as low as possible, with most of the magic tricks the internet suggests. These ideas are great, because not only do you save money, but they actually make your food taste better.
  • Mince and veg. - whatever kind of mince you buy and whatever you intend to use it for it will taste better with vegetables. My two favourite uses for mince would be burgers and pasta. Buy half that mince you normally would, toss it in the blender with onion, capsicum, carrots, onion, garlic and blend until it's one smooth and delicious. Add herbs if you're feeling inventive. If you are making burgers you probably want to toss in a couple of loaves of stale or toasted bread, and viola. Cheap, delicious and healthier than plain mince.
  • Buy direct from the butcher - Every time products change hands, you pay more. If the supermarket buys from the butcher who buys from the farmer, you are paying all of their price hikes. Buying from the butcher is cheaper. Buying from a store connected to the processing factory is even better.
  • Beans. Draw some inspiration from vegetarians and get your protein from beans. You can completely replace the meat in pasta recipes with beans, or you can mix meat with beans. Chicken and red lentils go really well in a cheese sauce pasta.
  • Meatless Mondays - I think this is a great idea for coming up with more inventive ways to eat fruit and veg. My boyfriend thinks it's a terrible idea. Three years down and we still don't do meatless Mondays. Unless I just don't tell him ;)

Buy in bulk

I know this is a hard thing to start doing when you are on a shoestring budget but rice, flour, dry beans and toilet paper can be bought in 3 month supplies. I bought 90kg of kitty litter back in February and I'm only half way through it. Buying in bulk is always cheaper, you save yourself the trouble of buying more every week and less packing is environmentally friendly. Assuming you have somewhere to put 5kg of rice. I currently have 10 kg in my pantry. I pray every day that I don't get mice or pantry moths.

Don't pay for packaging

This follows on from buying in bulk. If you buy 5kgs of rice, you pay for one big bag. If you buy 1kg you pay for five small bags. Paying for packaging is just another one of paying for garbage.

Paying for packaging of rice or flour makes sense though. You can't exactly hold it in your hands, and most supermarkets frown on your pouring things into your own Tupperware containers, unless you live in Berlin.

Supermarkets are designed for convenience though. They like to sucker you in with things in shiny packages and cheerful stickers. Loose mushrooms consistently sell for $10 p/kg. Or you can buy them packaged and sliced from the shelf above, for $18 p/kg. An extra $8 a kilo! That entire mark-up is for the foam tray, the shrink wrap plastic (garbage and garbage) and for a machine slicing up your mushrooms. Buy a knife, sheesh.

Don't impulse buy

This is hard for me, and will probably be worse when I move out. But make plans of what you need to buy, and buy those things. Every time I have bought something because "That's great, I need that!" it generally goes to waste. Food rots, and things gather dust. I try to look at things three or four times before I buy them. Foods I balance up how many uses I have for it, versus how long it takes to rot.

Things in a supermarket are intentionally inconveniently placed to make you run back and forth. The idea is that you will either A. walk down every aisle to make sure you don't miss anything, or B. find yourself constantly doubling back because you looked for honey in baking goods, but actually it's located with the spreads. Supermarkets do this on purpose to make you spend more time there. More time spent means you are more likely to grab crap you don't need.

The concept of shopping the perimeter of a supermarket is a little shaky. Most of what you need is there, but you also need to duck into the aisles to pick up pasta, flour, toiletries, jam, vegemite, etc. Still, it is a good recommendation that most of what you grab should come from the bakery, deli and fruit and veg section. Personally I just avoid the chips, chocolate and coke aisle. That is where the big expensive impulse buys are for me, and generally I don't enjoy it anyway. I can spend $5+ on coke and a chocolate bar, or I can buy more bacon. Simple choice really.

Meal plan the weird things

Another massive pain for cooking is things like celery. Look at every single recipe you have the needs celery and I doubt you'll find one that needs more than 2 - 3 sticks of celery. But you can't buy celery in such small amounts (unless you want to pay some of the craziest mark-ups). 

Instead do things like meal plan around celery. If you're going to buy half a celery, you can make minestrone soup, jambalaya, chow mein and chicken noodle soup (great for winter!). With just one ingredient you can make the plans to feed yourself for 2 - 3 weeks, significantly cutting down on food waste and on your brain drain.

Sale Sale Sale!

Things should always be bought on sale. Avoid the brands that you actively dislike, but if you need to buy pasta packets buy the brand that is on sale. Actually I love dry pasta packets (milk + microwave + frozen veg = meal) because they are almost always on sale and if they aren't on sale, I don't buy them.

This goes double for making snacks, and triple for making muffins. Choc chips should cost me $4.20 a packet, but last time I made muffins they were 2 for $6, which is a huge saving for my hip pocket.

Grow your own food

I was collecting this many tomatoes every
week for 3 months
Last year I got over 5 kgs of tomatoes off one tomato vine that I grew accidentally in the chicken pen. I assume they had missed a seed when they were eating the tomato scraps. I haven't bought eggs in six years because I have pet chickens, that cost less than $15 a month to feed, and clean up all my kitchen scraps.

I have a silver beet plant that I woefully neglect, yet is always bursting out of the pot. My raspberry cane looked dead for over a year, and now produces fruit from December through to April. I grew beans over winter to attempt to revive the soil and nearly drowned in them. As a conservative guess I would say we went through 10kg in 3 months.

Right now we're heading into winter and my entire garden is overwhelmed with a wild cherry tomato vine. I go out every couple of weeks, lift 6 foot vines off the ground and drape them over the trellis and harvest what I can. The ground under the vine is absolutely covered in tomatoes that have fallen off the vine so I'm confident that next year we'll have another crop. Salsa anyone?

Eat leftovers!

I dated a guy once who wouldn't eat leftovers. I remember thinking "This bites, when we live together we are going to waste so much food. And we'll have to cook every night. Ugh". I did one better than cooking every night, I went and got a better boyfriend! Mr. FIRE is just as much of a fan of leftovers as I am.

Leftovers have got to be the best tasting food on this planet. Mostly because you don't actually have to cook them. Any pre-prepared food that takes a few minutes in the microwave/frying-pan/oven is my favourite. Especially in winter when my diet is mostly comprised of soup, stew and pasta.\

Avoid take-out like the plague, because it will kill you

I am quite proud of my take-out track record. I haven't visited a Hungry Jacks, KFC or McDonalds in 5 years. I don't miss it. I worked in fast food for five years, I'm happy to say that. It might be convenient, but it never really filled me up. It's addictive toxic junk that can kill you.

Nowadays I walk past and the smell makes my mouth water, but then I think about biting into that cheap nasty offal thrown together by a greasy teenager and I feel a little sick. I can actually tell you the exact last time I ate fast food from one of the big chains - late 2012 I needed a quick snack before the try-outs for roller derby. I skipped half of the practice test puking my guts up, but thankfully I still passed the real test!

Of course when I say avoid take-out like the plague, I am only referring to the cheap stuff. I still enjoy having someone else cook for me. I love trying out boutique burger stores (You should try Burger Foundry, they are a-mazing) and I'll happily eat pizza and Chinese. Occasionally. We can make much better pizza than that at home for a third of the price, and I get to hang in the kitchen with my boyfriend.

Before I moved out I had a bad habit of eating single-lady food. I once had grilled onion, tomato and capsicum on muffins for dinner three nights in a row. I ate way too many eggs and I was super reliant on pasta packets.

After three years of being the main food cooker (Mr. FIRE does all the cleaning, and sometimes he makes pizza) I feel like I have this food gig down. I make tortillas and salad dressings from scratch. I once threw together a ceaser salad from scratch (including the dressing) just from things in my cupboard / fridge without looking at a recipe. I've learned to keep 'panic' food in the house (frozen sausages and dried pasta anyone?) but I generally have a safe supply of pre-cooked delicious things.

I very rarely panic that there is no food in the house. But I'm still getting real tired of being a proper adult. Who wants to cook me dinner?

1 comment:

  1. I add a tin of brown lentils to mince (along with the vegetables). It's good as it has a similar texture to the mince so it's not so noticeable.


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