How to cook great food on £16 per week
By Limahl Asmall (follow Limahl on Twitter: @peelandquarter)
London’s come a long way since the days of jellied eel and leathery roast beef, (although the rest of Europe might need convincing of that). We’ve got our fair share of great restaurants and a serious street food scene bursting with flavour at decent prices. But for most of us there’s not much money left after rent, bills and transport. So what happens when even Street Food is beyond your budget?
Well the good news is that you don’t need to spend a small fortune on food in London. Sure, eating out is going to burn a hole in your wallet, but on the flip side, with access to great veg markets and plenty of superstores, you can create mouth-watering meals at a fraction of the price. In fact, with a basic kitchen and a little planning, you can eat tasty breakfast, lunch and dinners for as little as £16 per person per week. Don’t believe it? Read on.
You can also check this beginner’s cooking guide for more info.
4 Reasons you should Plan Meals
Meal planning is a smart way to eat well and save money. It takes a small amount of practice, but the rewards are worth it. Here are some of the benefits.
A little planning really goes a long way. Spending 15-20 minutes outlining what to cook each week will free up your evenings and reduce those daily ‘what should we eat’ conversations.
Waste less food
Instead of abandoning all those loose bits of veg in the fridge, create a meal plan that uses up the ingredients you already have. You’ll find your shopping list becomes shorter as you throw away less food.
Sure, the occasional take-away never harmed anyone, but are those dry, half-filled sandwiches and lunch time meal-deals really worth it? By following your meal plan you can eat a variety of balanced, healthy meals every day without blowing your budget.
All of the above will save you money. Less ordering of take-aways when you can’t decide what to cook, less food waste and more lunchtime variety at a cheaper price, that’s win-win.
How to cook great food on tiny budget
There are some proven tricks to eating well on a budget; this list is just the beginning. Have a look at the other guides on Broke in London for more information.
Buy big flavours
Budget cooking is all about the clever use of ingredients. It’s a game of flavour combinations, where the addition of certain ‘big flavours’ can transform recipes from mundane to mouth watering. A good tip is to identify the big flavours that you like. Make a list and start adding these ingredients into recipes. If you cook like this, expensive meat doesn’t have to be the centre of a meal. You can use less and still eat well.
Here’s a suggested list of cheap Big Flavours that can transform meals.
Feel free to download this template and write down your own big flavours.
Know where to shop
Money often dictates where to shop and large Supermarkets often (but not always) offer cheaper prices. In cities, local veg markets can offer amazing value for money, and ethnic shops are cheaper for herbs and specialty ingredients. Have a look at this guide to shopping at local markets.
Buy own brand
Turn your shopping trip into modern bargain hunting, and don’t be ashamed to buy own brand. Often the only difference between basic and premium food is the packaging and marketing budgets! If you’re unsure, compare the ingredients label and try to stay away from the one with added sugar, sweeteners and e-numbers. Check out this guide.
Make meat go further
Fancy a Sunday roast? No problem! But before you throw away the leftovers, consider that the chicken carcass can be boiled to make a highly nutritious bone broth. Find a big pot and fill it with water, throw in 1 tbsp gravy granules, a stock cube, an onion, a couple cloves garlic and 1 tsp herbs. Gently boil for an hour or two, remove the bits with a sieve and put the liquid back into the pot. Add in a handful of shredded chicken and any leftover roast potatoes, carrots and stuffing. Heat through and Voila, another tasty meal made on a budget.
Take a flexible approach
Meal planning should be a flexible guide to what you’re going to eat each week, not a fixed routine. You’ll probably find that some days your plans change. That’s ok, go with the flow. Freeze meals if necessary and plan them into your next week.
Learn how to swap ingredients
Do you find recipes you want to cook and then realise you don’t have some of the ingredients? Then consider learning which ingredients you can swap, and tailor the recipe to the contents of your fridge. There’s a budget cookbook called ‘Eat Delicious’ which lists the original recipe’s ingredients and a clever swappable ingredients section. This is a good place to start practising.
How to create a weekly meal plan
Check the weather and visualise your week
You wouldn’t want to plan a week of fresh salads only to find it is cold and raining, (this is London after all). So the first place to start is by checking the weather and planning accordingly. Secondly, try to visualise your week. Are there events taking place? Do you have guests coming over? Sketch out your schedule and build you plan around your life.
List the ingredients you already have
A simple way to save money and waste less is to eat what you already have. Make a list of your available ingredients and use that as the foundation of your meal plan.
Cook once, eat twice
That’s a good motto for budget cooking. It simply means the evening’s cooking effort gives you dinner and the next day’s lunch. Do this Monday to Friday and you’ll have saved yourself from cooking five additional meals. It’s a million times better than that meal-deal sandwich and is cheaper and healthier.
Start with the dinners and the lunches will follow
When building your meal plan, a good place to start is with dinner. Leave the fancy lunches for the weekend and focus on the evening meals. So really, in a one week meal plan all you have to think about are 7 breakfasts, 7 dinners and 2 weekend lunches.
Let the ingredients inform the next recipe
Decide on the meals you know you want to cook and then use that as the basis to fill in the blanks. For example if you know you want to eat baked chicken w/ sweet potato and sundried tomato, you will most likely have leftover sweet potatoes in the packet. So the logical step is to use sweet potato for the base of another meal, (a soup for example).
Select recipes from budget cookbooks or your own recipe list
Spend some time flipping through cookbooks and recipe websites and start collating a selection of recipes. If you don’t already have a go-to list, try searching online for budget recipes. Keep a file of the ones you like and refer to this list when planning your meals.
Fill out a meal plan template and create a shopping list
Grab a pencil and eraser and fill out your meal plan template. It’s good to remember that creating meal plans is a bit of an art, but definitely worth the effort! Here’s a free meal planning template you can download and print off as many times as you like.
Shop once per week and store ingredients properly
Find your biggest, nearest supermarket and head there with a shopping list. Don’t go shopping on an empty stomach and only buy the things you need.
Example meal plan for two people at £16.38 per person /week
Feel free to follow this meal plan if you like the sound of the meals. The recipes will be available in a free cookbook which aims to help people eat delicious food on a tiny budget. (See end of article for link).
Recipe of the week: Lucky Chicken Bake
The recipes for this meal plan are available from a new cookbook ‘Eat Delicious’ by Limahl Asmall and Tiphaine Cheveau. They’re building a movement to create healthy, happier lives for anyone affected by low income and food poverty. The following is a delicious recipe from their one week meal plan. More recipes and a free budget cookbook available at http://www.tinybudgetcooking.com
Limahl Asmall lives in London. He’s writing a cookbook about great cooking on a tiny budget.