Eating doesn't have to break the bank. To "Uber it" has almost become a verb in some circles. My Food Bag and lookalike services have become the expensive norm for people rather than a treat.
Yes we all want to eat well and for most of us it's a chore to cook. Yet good food doesn't need to cost a lot. In fact avoiding just one or two conveniences a week can save thousands of dollars over a year. A stop, think and cook approach is vital.
Set a figure for food and don't exceed it
Pick a sum you want to spend and stop shopping for food when you've reached your weekly limit. That figure should include takeaways, lunches, and other snacking to avoid cheating.
Love Food Hate Waste
Eat up the contents of your fridge, freezer and cupboards. New Zealanders throw out 86kgs of usable food every year according to the Love Food Hate Waste campaign's research. That's over $550 a year, or as much as $36,000 over a working life if invested in KiwiSaver.
Prep your meals
If you do this once a week you'll be a lot less likely to be tempted to get takeaways. I've been watching a friend of my daughter's who is determined to save a house deposit. Once or twice a week he has a massive cook-up for dinners and lunches. It's all cooked from basic ingredients and he says he spends $50 a week on food, which includes generous portions of meat. Cooking dinner with lunch in mind is a great way to save as well. Educate yourself about the relative cost of protein you eat and the carbohydrates.
I've also learned to consider meat, dairy and eggs to be luxury items to be savoured, not everyday food.
Take cooking lessons
GeneNow Financial Literacy Trust founder Jessica Niemack offers cooking workshops around Auckland and says one exercise she does often surprises participants. That is to cook five different, but yummy things from canned chickpeas. These protein-packed legumes can be turned into crunchy snacks, hummus, curries and even desserts. The liquid from the can, which is also known as aquafaba contains protein and can be whipped like egg whites into mouse, or used in cakes. The point is to show that some quite simple ingredients can produce amazing meals if you know how. Search YouTube for "how to cook" videos.
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Have a shop-free week
The single best tip I picked up from Niemack was to have a grocery shop free week once a month. The idea is that we all have lots of going to waste because we don't get around to using it. One week a month with no shopping forces us to be resourceful.
The other week I wanted to buy a vanilla pod for mulled wine, but refused to pay $11.99 at the supermarket for a pack of Mrs Rogers vanilla beans. The neighbours didn't have any so I used natural vanilla essence and no-one noticed the difference. You can substitute almost any ingredient with the assistance of Google. Whoever knew that miso could replace fish sauce? Something I found out when cooking for vegans.
Just don't Uber it
Niemack says the big change in how younger people cook and eat in the past decade has been as a result of My Food Bag and Uber Eats. Neither is cheap, although if you're wasteful with ingredients then the former helps in that sense.
Love Food Hate Waste found in its research that younger people were bigger food wasters. Is there bread in the freezer and a can of baked beans lurking in the back of the cupboard for those "can't be bothered" eating nights?
Use your local community
Share home-grown fruit, veg and herbs with the neighbours. Many communities have local food pantries now where you can drop off excess fresh and packaged food. Personally I couldn't bring myself to take anything, but Niemack assures me I'm being silly. That's what it's there for, as a community resource, not just for the poor. Sharing meals with the community, neighbours or friends can save money providing you don't feel you need to buy MasterChef-style ingredients.
Use your freezer
I freeze everything from in-season fruit to cubes of leftover tomato paste. Ice cube trays are great for fresh herbs, lemon juice and other ingredients. Freezers are great for throwing in leftover meals for no-cook nights. The great thing about spending less on food, is that for most people it means a healthier diet as well as wallet.