Fuel, electricity, gas and even SALAD prices are spiraling out of control in Australia as inflation bites, so it’s time to pinch your pennies and Pedestrian resident Babcia Aleksandra Bliszczyk is here to help. Everyone knows that things like pulses and potatoes are cheap, of course, but folks, I have so much more to teach you about cooking and eating on a budget.
I’m going to tell you some hard truths, so please take this with a grain of salt. You do what is best for you. Anyway, here’s what I do.
Stop ordering takeout
My first tip for reducing your meal budget is obvious: cook more. You have the time, you have the knowledge, you have the skills.
If you think waiting for delivery is faster than cooking, you’re wrong. If you think you don’t have time, well ok maybe some of you don’t, but some of you absolutely do.
Want to be better at cooking? More takeaways for you. it’s winter so take the time to focus on food. What do you like to eat ? Try cooking it yourself.
Markets and groceries > supermarkets
Disclaimer: This is a box of supermarket shame.
Supermarkets were invented in 1930s America for convenience. Instead of going to four stores to get your groceries, you just had to visit one! Wow! Everything was self-serve and pre-packaged or grab-and-go portions. What a thrill. But this convenience comes at a price.
Everything is more expensive in supermarkets than in your local market, halal butcher, Indian grocer, Italian delicatessen, etc., etc. Not to mention that supermarkets have the longest and least reliable supply chains.
Australia’s capital cities are so wonderfully diverse and if you are lucky enough to live in one of them, especially one of the larger ones, you can find some lovely fresh produce and small business dry goods in n’ any high street for half the supermarket price.
Explore your suburb. Start looking for plastic door curtains, neon signs, and color-contrasting graphics, then come in and browse. You may notice that you are becoming more interested and excited about the ingredients.
Avoid convenience items (i.e. packaged goods)
Pre-cooked rice, bad. Pre-chopped vegetables, bad. Frozen foods, usually bad (some things like peas are much cheaper frozen than fresh). Did you know you can make your own muesli bars? And if you’re craving potatoes for $5 a pound, try roasting potatoes for $3 a kilo instead.
Packaging is obviously bad for the planet but I’m not here to talk about it.
The sensory connection to your food is crucial to enjoying cooking and even eating it. Touch it, squeeze it, notice the texture of the skin, the roots, the leaves, the dirt. That’s food.
Studies have shown that very young children who are brought up with food in packages are much more likely to become picky eaters later on. The key to being a good cook is to be a good eater, interested and involved in what you eat.
Yes, some things need to be wrapped, but think about all the food you buy: is the plastic wrap necessary? Is it there for convenience? Is there another way to sell food?
Buy in bulk
And no, I’m not talking about Costco. Buy your non-perishables in bulk and save gas by going to the stores all the time.
1 kg bags of rice? You dream, 5kgs minimum. It does not turn off. Same for the flour. I keep all mine in bins under the sink.
I buy all my legumes dried, NOT CANNED (why do you pay for the water girl, it’s free), and keep them in big glass jars in my laundry. I can get 2 kg of chickpeas for around $5. A can of kidney beans at the supermarket costs about 80 cents.
Ok listen to this: a 2kg bag of dried chickpeas equals about 20 BOXES. SAVINGS. If cooking time is a factor, because these beans take a while, cook them in bulk and freeze them cooked, ready to use.
You can even buy perishables in bulk. I get 5kg or even 10kg bags of onions and potatoes and store them next to my fridge.
Potatoes cost around $3 a kilo in the supermarket, but a 5 kg bag from my local market costs me $8.
A 500g tub of Woolies brand plain yoghurt costs $3. But I just bought a 2kg jar from an Indian grocer for $7.50.
Yogurt and potatoes last a long time, I promise. And if you’re not going through your bulk perishables fast enough, start looking for recipes that use them: Masterchef mystery box style. Potato curry, rice and raita, for example.
Do things from scratch
Ok, that’s a mid-level tip to keep costs down, but once you start doing it and realize how much money you’re saving and how many goodies you’re earning, you’ll never go back.
Say I want to make paneer curry. I already have all the dry spices at home, I just need to buy some fresh tomatoes, onion, garlic, ginger, maybe some cream and some paneer. The paneer is by far the most expensive item. Even at an affordable independent grocer, a 300g block will cost at least $5 or $6. But understand this: a 2 liter bottle of milk only costs about $2.50. I’m going to take it a step further and say that if you buy milk at a discount because it’s nearing its expiration date, you can take it home and make your own block of paneer for like…a dollar. Here is a recipe.
The same goes for other very simple cheeses like ricotta. And save the whey! It can be used instead of milk or water in baking or in most recipes. I love making pancakes with leftover whey instead of milk. This bottle of milk lasted a long time… whey…
Other wonderful things to learn to do from scratch are raw pasta, pancake, curry pastes, pickles, vinaigrette, stir-fry sauces and the perfect starter: red pasta sauce. A can of tomatoes and an onion is a fraction of the price of something jarred.
Eat your leftovers
It may seem obvious, but stop throwing away edible things.
Use your nose to determine if something is wrong and not safe to eat, that’s what it’s there for.
Think about every vegetable or piece of meat you buy and how you can use it everything. Buying shrimp for a special occasion? Well, what can you do with seashells? You can sizzle them in neutral cooking oil for 20 minutes, strain and you have delicious shrimp oil that won’t go out and can be used to make amazing fkn fried rice. Start thinking outside the box.
On that note, save all of your leftover vegetables, corn on the cob, cheese crusts, leftover meat and bones and bag them in your freezer. When the bag is too big, throw them all in a saucepan, cover with water and simmer over low heat for a few hours. Filter and there you have free stock.
And don’t even get me started on how good a vegetable patch is.
I could go on and on, so for more cooking and gardening inspiration, you can follow Alex on Instagram.