Jacket potatoes are good (and cheap)
You can have them with so many different toppings
1/When in doubt, make soup. Soup will save the world. Make a big batch of your favourite veggie soup, then do something different to it each time you serve it - blend in some curry spices, add tomatoes, throw in some lentils, top with bacon, serve with grilled garlicky bread. (They were all different options, but you could do them all at once if you were really hungry).
2/ Self-preservation. There is growing interest in the gentle arts of home preserving, baking, curing, brewing, sausage-making. So make like a squirrel or a grasshopper, and sock away provisions for the dark times ahead. A cupboard under the stairs full of home-made strawberry jams, chutneys and pickles is better than money in the bank. (In many countries, SO MUCH BETTER than money in the bank).
3/ Listen to your grandmother: turn off taps when you’re done, save string, re-use bags and bottles, put lids on your saucepans (saves 20% energy, and speeds everything up), and cut out waste. Think twice before you toss anything out, it may be the best part. Greeks cook beetroot greens and toss in olive oil, Turks stew broad beans pods and serve with yoghurt and dill, Chinese dry mandarin peel and add to stews for fragrance and flavour.
4/ G-Y-O. Funny how we’re turning back to growing our own fruit and veg. The friend trying to get rid of a glut of apples, corn, tomatoes or even silver beet is now in demand, not to be avoided. Even if it’s just a pot or two of herbs you can keep on the windowsill of a flat, you will suddenly feel completely self-sufficient.
5/ Eat with the seasons. It just makes sense. Because it’s in season, it’s more abundant, because it’s more abundant it should be cheaper. Even if it isn’t, it’s better value because it’s fresher and tastier. It also means the producers haven’t had to find new ways of preserving shelf life and storage.
6/ Send the food processors broke. Not the ones you plug in and whiz, but the middlemen who buy fresh unprocessed foods and do things to them, offering them to you with extra flavours you don’t want or need. Instead, buy the fresh, unprocessed food yourself and keep your own ‘processing’ to a minimum, eg buy whole fish and whole chicken rather than fillets and pieces - you’ll get better quality, and learn how to fillet and joint like a telly chef. Whole lettuces last longer than bags of mixed leaves, and unwashed is cheaper than washed. Don’t buy ready-made vinaigrette, breadcrumbs, pre-chopped vegetables or pre-grated cheese. It’s money down the drain, when you can do it yourself and save.
7/ Love your leftovers. I’ve started cooking more food rather than less, so I have more sizeable leftovers for the next day. Throwing food out is throwing money out because you then have to start again with something new. Who knew that leftover paella rice would be so good the next night as chorizo-studded rice balls? (And don't let the post-dinner snackers into the kitchen - that chicken leg is your office lunch).
8/ Steak. Get over it. A plateful of veggies and pulses with a little bit of meat is a lot cheaper than a plate of meat with a little veg and a lentil. Striking a better balance is better for your pocket and for your overall health. Make fish, chicken and meat go further by adding beans, lentils, chickpeas and rice. Turn your meal-planning around so that the most expensive ingredient is the ‘flavouring’ rather than the main event.
Use eggs and cheese for protein, nuts and seeds for fibre and crunch, and yoghurt and avo for richness. And return something as beautiful as a great steak-and-red-wine dinner to the special status it deserves…crave it, look forward to it, and enjoy the hell out of it. Just not every second day.
9/Cook your own ‘take-away’. Love pizzas? Learn to make your own, or use pita breads as the bases, and get some help from the kids with doing the toppings so everyone has their own. More of a burger person? Try cooking salmon burgers, chicken burgers, or normal burgers with a bit less meat and a lot more beetroot, haloumi, avocado, tomato, whatever. Craving Greek/Lebanese? Cover the table with little dishes of dips, breads, raw vegetables, herbed rice, and skewers of home-made lamb or tuna souvlaki.
10/ Freeze. Fresh isn’t always best, because it isn’t always fresh and it isn’t always to hand. It’s a fabulous feeling knowing you have tubs of chicken stock, pumpkin soup, chicken curry, Bolognese sauce, good bread, etc in the freezer. Frozen bananas make a great instant ice-cream - just soften and whiz (but remember to peel them before freezing).
11/ Buy ten, get one free! Beware of supermarket bonus offers, which often tempt you into buying two for one of something you didn’t really want in the first place. But in the spirit of getting something for nothing, here’s an eleventh suggestion: never ignore your own cupboards. I’ve dubbed Sunday night Cupboard Night, setting myself the challenge of creating tea from what’s in my fridge and cupboards already. (How can any one household have so many different bags of rice? And I’m not looking forward to the tin of mackerel in tomato sauce from Malaysia, but hey. At least I can have rice with it).
Okay, I feel like my own gran now, so it’s your turn to get preachy. Any good tips on how to munch your way through the credit crunch? (And please, no recipes for any meatloaf containing cornflakes, times aren’t that tough).