We are all feeling the pinch as the cost of living crisis deepens, and so trying to save money when it comes to cooking can make a huge difference.
By shopping and cooking cleverly, the average family in the UK could save around £720 a year1, waste less food but still eat healthily.
Asian cooking can work particularly well when trying to be frugal. Think big flavours on small budgets with minimal food waste. Having lived in Japan and travelled across Asia, I learned that you can make really exciting dishes with just a few store cupboard staples and whatever happens to be in the fridge.
In Japan, for example, it’s common practice to use dinner leftovers or ‘nokorimono’ in Japanese, for meals the following day. The Japanese consider leftovers a treasure to have, as the flavours develop making them even tastier the next day. During my homestay experience as a student in Japan, dinner leftovers were often used for breakfast the following morning.
Later, while working as an English teacher in a Japanese Junior High School, I saw the importance of food education as part of the curriculum, and with an emphasis on reducing food waste. School children are encouraged to record and present food waste in a graph each month and if they don’t like something served for lunch on a given day, they are encouraged to trade it with another student with a game of ‘rock paper scissors.’ It really is amazing!
Between my experiences in Asia, as a mother and cook, I have compiled my Top Tips to help you save money and waste less food, BUT still eating well.
1. Plan Ahead
When it comes to reducing food waste and getting the most value out of your food, it’s all in the planning. So before you shop, think about recipes you’ll cook for the next few days, how you’ll use the leftovers and make a shopping list in line with your meal plan. Then, commit to buying what’s on your list and avoid expensive impulse buys and unnecessary two-for-one offers.
2. Take A Shelfie
Didn’t have time to make a list? Take some quick ‘shelfies’/photos of what you already have in the cupboards, fridge and freezer – this is such a simple way to avoid buying what you may already have at home.
3. First In, First Out
This simple rule means to use up what you’ve bought, before you buy extra or use fresher ingredients. It’s so easy to put older food to the back of the fridge when adding new groceries. An effective hack is to label a ‘Use Me First’ box or tupperware in your fridge. Put things that look less than fresh in this box and make it your first port of call when making a meal. The trick here is flexible cooking; if a recipe calls for broccoli and you have green beans in your ‘Use Me First’ bin, then use those in instead.
4. Go Veggie
Going vegetarian, vegan or even pescatarian for a couple of meals per week can save up to a third off your food bill. However, shopping smart is still essential, as branded ready meals and meat and dairy alternatives can be expensive. Prioritise cooking from scratch using budget-friendly basics like beans, chickpeas, lentils, and add frozen edamame for a protein-packed stir-fry.
5. Stock Up Your Store Cupboard & Freezer
Dried, bottled and tinned goods won’t spoil quickly and are an affordable way to make healthy, flavoursome meals quickly. Frozen veg is cheap and just as nutritious as its fresh counterparts. For Asian cooking, staples like soy sauce, dried rice, tinned lentils and beans, and coconut milk form the basis of so many delicious recipes. With these to hand, you can make a meal from the leftover meat and fresh, frozen or cooked veg you may have.
6. Cook Once, Eat All Week
You can save money on food and energy bills by batch-cooking a few components to use as building blocks for a week’s worth of meals. For example, roast a whole chicken, use half for dinner, add to a Thai chicken salad for lunch the next day, and glaze the thighs with a sticky honey soy sauce. Curries and soups are perfect for batch cooking. You can also make a double or triple batch and freeze it in portions for those weeks.
WHATEVER-YOU-HAVE-IN-THE-FRIDGE FRIED RICE RECIPE
I can guarantee you that whatever you have in your fridge and kitchen cupboards right now can probably make a bowl of delicious fried rice. I have divided the ingredients into ‘must haves’ and ‘flexible,’ so you can use whatever you already have at home to help you save money. Leftover roast chicken, diced bacon, slightly wilted veg, frozen peas, half-empty bottles of fish sauce – whatever you’ve got, make the most of it with this fantastic budget-friendly recipe.
Time: 30 minutes
- 1 tbsp preferred oil
- 2 portions freshly cooked or leftover rice
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
Flexible Ingredients: optional; use some or all depending on what you have
- 1 egg, beaten
- 2 portions of protein of choice: fresh meat, leftover cooked meat, seafood or fish (fresh or frozen), tofu, chopped into bite-sized pieces, or serve with a fried egg on top.
- 2 portions vegetables, fresh or frozen, chopped into bite-sized pieces
- 1 tsp garlic, fresh, frozen or ground
- 1 tsp ginger, fresh, frozen or ground
- 1 tsp chilli, freshly chopped or chilli flakes
- 1 spring onion, or onion, shallot, leek
- 1 tbsp fish sauce, to add umami flavor
- 1 tbsp rice wine, lemon or lime juice, to add acidic flavor
- ½ tbsp sesame oil, to add finishing taste
- Heat oil on a non-stick wok/frying pan on medium-high heat.
- If using an egg, add to the wok. Cook until just scrambled. Set aside.
- In the same wok, stir garlic, chilli, ginger, spring onions – whatever you have.
- Next, if you have uncooked meat, add these now, searing in the hot seasoned pan.
- Add the chopped mixed vegetables. Stir fry until cooked.
- Add the seasoning sauces you have; fish sauce, rice wine, or lemon juice.
- Add the cooked rice and scrambled egg to the wok, tossing with the rest of the ingredients you heat it through.
- Finally, add the soy sauce and cooked meat. Mix everything together.
- To serve, divide fried rice into two bowls, topped with fried eggs if you have them. If desired, add more soy sauce, hot sauce, chilli oil or chilli flakes to taste.