Costbusters: Save money with menu planning
FOOD is among the top three biggest expenses in life, behind housing and transport.
A simple Google search on cutting back on grocery shop spending will flush out countless ideas, from growing your own vegetables to not letting supermarket "specials" con you.
The hottest tip 4 Ingredients cookbook co-founder Kim McCosker swears by is to plan your weekly menu and shop once a week.
But this is not something most Australians do.
According to AusVeg's Project Harvest research for 2015, the weekly shop is dead and the average person grocery shops two to three times a week.
Only about a third of people shopped once a week, the figures showed.
But Ms McCosker said planning a weekly menu and shopping once a week for only the needed ingredients would help you to save enough money to pay the electricity bill or save for a holiday.
She said for every $100 spent on groceries, on average $20 would go to waste.
"Most people don't have a plan and just go in and are guided by what's on sale," she said.
Ms McCosker said this was not cost effective, and that spontaneously-bought items were prone to being placed inside the pantry and forgotten about until past their use-by date.
Her second tip for cost saving was to keep it simple; if you have ingredients to make a quick, easy meal at home, you're less likely to waste money on takeaway.
Growing your own veggie garden can be cheaper in the long run, if you have time to upkeep it.
But if you don't, having a few small pots with hassle-free herbs could save you money too.
Ms McCosker said it was important to have a star flavour when cooking with limited ingredients and self-grown herbs were cheap, natural and healthy.
Her tip? Grow mint - it doesn't require much care.
Buying meat in bulk can also cut down the grocery bill because it means your freezer will always be stacked with core ingredients, and Ms McCosker also suggested keeping mince and eggs on hand at all times because they were staple ingredients for many recipes.
And try not to buy into the "specials" at supermarkets unless it's what you actually need.
"I'm sucked into that," Ms McCosker admitted.
"I think, wow, a bag of onions, 16 for $2… but what on earth am I going to use 16 onions for?"
The average Australian spends:
- About $200 a week on food and drinks
- About $20 a week on bakery products
- About $32 a week at restaurants
- About $11.7 billion a year on meat
- About $14.1 billion a year on alcohol
About three-quarters of people buy frozen vegetables.
THE COSTBUSTERS CHALLENGE
THE CHALLENGE: Cook a dish to eat down the pantry/fridge
THE PROCESS: I had about a dozen eggs, heaps of milk, two drawers of unused veggies, tuna crowding my pantry and a holiday that was fast approaching. I had to eat down my shelves.
When making the meal, I used the browning broccoli and capsicum, but still avoided the slimy lettuce and mushy avocadoes - they've gone to waste, sadly.
I chopped up the veggies and added some onion, threw in some cheese and crushed up some Weet-Bix to help it go further (a trick my Mum taught me). Add the tuna, eggs and milk and top it off with pineapple and breadcrumbs and you're right to go.
Not sure if casserole is the right word for the concoction: it could also pass for a heavy quiche, minus the pastry.
It took a while to cook (about 45 minutes) and was slightly overdone but, meh, it's not like I was competing in Masterchef.
THE RESULT: While my cat preferred the likes of prime fillet of chicken in a tin for dinner, the casserole did the job; it filled my tummy for three meals and used up ingredients I would have thrown out otherwise.