Jan Bilton: 10 ways to control your grocery budget (+recipes)

By Jan Bilton

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Lentils and chickpeas provide cheap protein and carbohydrate power.
Lentils and chickpeas provide cheap protein and carbohydrate power.

I know I'm not the only one guilty of impulse buying.

Did I really need that pink chocolate crammed with hundreds and thousands and enticingly displayed near the checkout yesterday?

It could have blown the budget (and the calorie intake) for the week. I noted a colleague falling into the same trap.

Flatmates and young marrieds often ask me how they can keep their weekly food bill in check.

Here are 10 ideas.

(1) Planning meals well in advance eliminates the need to purchase last minute quick-to-prepare but more expensive convenience foods.

(2) Make a rough meal plan starting with dinners followed by breakfasts and lunches. Take into account the number of people at each meal, their ages, gender and the amount of energy they expend during a day.

(3) Save fuel by planning some meals to be cooked in your electric frypan, crockpot or microwave oven, all of which use less power than conventional ovens and hobs.

(4) Choose seasonal foods - they're always lower priced than out of season goodies. Grow your own fruit and vegetables where possible.

(5) Make a shopping list and stick to it. Check the pantry to ensure you're not buying an item you already have.

(6) Try to plan menus around weekly supermarket specials.

(7) Check the labels on the packets for "use buy" and "best before" dates. It's uneconomic to buy an item that will be out of date before you have used the entire amount.

(8) Buy only what you require, especially with fresh produce. For example, it's pointless buying bananas just because they are on special at $3 for two kilograms, they are not going to be consumed before they go black and mushy.

(9) Try to cook one evening meal that will last two nights. Stews, casseroles and crockpots are perfect examples.

(10) Avoid those tempting displays in your supermarket - just buy what's on your list.


Recipes

Curried Lentils & Kumara

Lentils and chickpeas provide cheap protein and carbohydrate power. Serves 4.

• 2 Tbsp canola oil
• 1 red onion, diced
• 1 tsp each: cumin seeds, mustard seeds
• 1-2 tsp curry powder
• 1/2 cup red lentils
• 400g orange kumara, peeled and cut into 3cm pieces
• 2 cups vegetable stock
• 400g can diced tomatoes
• 390g can chickpeas, drained
• 3-4 Tbsp chopped coriander or parsley

1. Heat oil in a large saucepan. Saute onion, until softened.

2. Add spices. Stir and cook for 1 minute. Add lentils, kumara, stock and tomatoes. Cover and simmer on low heat for 20 minutes. Add chickpeas and coriander and heat through.

3. Great topped with extra coriander or parsley and served with plain yoghurt.


Sausage Nibbles with Spinach and Pasta

Choose well-flavoured fresh sausages for this recipe, for example minty lamb or Italian. Serves 4.

• 2 cups dried pasta curls or macaroni
• 1 Tbsp canola oil
• 500g well-flavoured sausages
• 3 cloves garlic, crushed
• 400g can diced tomatoes
• pinch chilli flakes
• 2 cups finely sliced spinach

1. Cook pasta according to packet instructions.

2. Meanwhile, heat oil in a non-stick frying pan. Squeeze sausage meat out of skins, making about 4 pieces from each. Roll into rough little balls. Pan-fry balls in oil for 6-7 minutes, shaking the pan so they cook evenly.

3. Add garlic, tomatoes and chilli flakes. Cover and simmer for about 5 minutes. Add spinach and cook until limp. Serve over pasta.


Spicy Rice with Smoked Fish

Tip: Cook double the amount of rice you need and store the surplus in the freezer to use in stir-fries. Or reheat and serve as an accompaniment. Serves 4.

• 1 & 3/4 cups long grain rice
• 2 Tbsp canola oil
• 1 medium onion, diced
• 2 cloves garlic, crushed
• 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
• Pinch cayenne pepper
• 210g can smoked pink salmon
• 1/4 cup chopped parsley
• 4 eggs

1. Cook rice according to packet instructions. Wash under hot water and drain well.

2. Meanwhile, heat oil in a non-stick frying pan. Saute onion, until soft. Add garlic and saute for 1 minute. Stir in spices and well-drained rice. Fry for 1 minute.

3. Drain fish and break into chunks. Add with parsley to the rice and heat through.

4. Meanwhile, lightly poach eggs. Serve rice in 4 shallow bowls, topped with eggs.

5. Great served with lemon wedges and a salad or steamed greens.


Catalan Cauliflower

One small cauliflower with leaves and stalks weighs about 600g and will provide about 350g florets. Serves 4.

• 1 Tbsp olive oil
• 1 medium onion, diced
• 250g lean minced beef
• Pinch chilli flakes
• Salt and pepper to taste
• 1 & 1/2 cups (625g) tomato pasta sauce or diced tomatoes
• 3 cups (350g) chunky cauliflower florets
• 1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs
• 1/4 cup shopped parsley

1. Heat oil in a frying pan. Add onion and saute until soft. Stir in beef, breaking it up with a fork. Cook, stirring, until browned.

2. Add seasonings and pasta sauce. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes, adding a little water if too thick.

3. Meanwhile, steam cauliflower until crisp-tender. Place in an 18-20cm baking dish. Cover with meat sauce, then sprinkle with breadcrumbs and parsley.

4. The top can be grilled, if preferred.

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