How to save money on food


Anyone who has ever been forced by their gran to chow down a plate of cold, soggy veg will know that a generation ago, wasting food was just not an option. Today, that’s no longer the case.

According to the charity Love Food Hate Waste, each month the average family throws away almost £60 of good food that’s been bought but not eaten. That’s a worrying amount, especially in this harsh economic climate – imagine what you could get with that extra £720 a year!

Luckily, there are simple changes you can do to really cut down on waste and save money on food – while doing a little bit for the environment in the process.

Understand food standards

Food will be labelled with different dates, but they don’t necessarily all mean the same thing. Many of us see a date on a packet and instantly assume the food’s no good past that date. Wrong! Here’s what the different labels mean, according to guidelines from the National Health Services:

Best before refers to the quality of the food during that time period, rather than how safe it is to eat. You can still eat food past its ‘best before’ date, but it might not taste as good as when it was fresh.

Use-by dates refer to the safety of the food. Food should not be eaten after the end of this date, even if it looks and smells fine.

Display until/sell by can be ignored as they’re for the shop staff, not the shoppers.

Know your fridge and freezers

How often have you shoved a couple of food items in the back of your fridge, only to rediscover them two weeks passed their use-by date? It’s really easy to do, especially if you have a big family.

Keeping on top of what’s in your fridge is a great way to catch things before they go off. If you find something that’s near the end of its useful life, you can freeze it, and it’ll keep for longer. Be wary that the length you can keep the food will vary depending on what it is, and that once defrosted you should always eat it within 24 hours or as specified on the labelling, according to the NHS. You can read their full guidelines here.

Get your portions right

Getting portion sizes right is not only good for our health, but will help you save money on food. Even if you only bin a little bit of food after each meal, over time this will build up, and will end up costing you a pretty large sum. This is especially true for carbs, which we often over portion, as they’re quite cheap.

You can control your portions in a number of ways. Many foods will have a recommended serving size on the label, which you can stick to using a simple set of scales. It’s fair to say that weighing out everything you eat can get a bit tedious, so you could also familiarise yourself with rough portion sizes. For example, a mug of rice should be enough for four people and a serving of protein should be about the size of a deck of cards.

Plan ahead

People say never go food shopping when hungry, because you’ll buy too much. For the same reason, you should also never go shopping without a list. It’s easy to forget what you already have and to buy on impulse, leading down the line to a lot of waste.

Before you go shopping, take stock of what’s in your fridge, freezer and cupboards to get an idea of what you’re missing. Having meals planned out for the week so you know exactly what to get is an easy way to eliminate waste and save money on food.

If you have a big family, try using an app to help make your list. There are loads of options out there now which allow you to invite family members to collaborate on the list, making it easier to get everything people need.

Get creative with your leftovers

Certain meals like soups, curries or stews are easy to store and eat later. Other leftovers may not be so appetising to store and heat up again as full meals, so you’ll have to get a little creative.

For example, stale bread is no longer fit for a sandwich, but you can blitz it up with some salt, pepper and a bit of parmesan to make a delicious topping for macaroni cheese. You can do the same with cheese that’s gone hard, freezing it and adding straight to cheese sauces.

Certain dishes also lend themselves to using up leftovers. The British classic is of course bubble & squeak, which traditionally is the leftover potato and veg from a Sunday roast, mushed up into a patty and fried. For something a bit different, you could also try a rice pilaf.

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