Is your food bill getting fatter by the week? With three hungry teens to feed I know your pain. My focus is on feeding them nutritionally. Yet I could cut the cost by half if I really had to - without starving anyone.

It would take radical steps.
But first the boring stuff.
There are some pretty basic cost-cutting measures, says budget adviser Kate Henderson of the New Zealand Federation of Family Budgeting Services.

That includes cooking extra dinner to cover tomorrow's lunch, finding ways to eat everything up, sticking to the list, buying up large on staples when they're on sale, skipping the takeaways, shopping once a week only to avoid spur-of-the-moment purchases and shopping online for much the same reason.

I'd add to that list beware of basics creep, where an erstwhile luxury such as sundried tomato in my case became a "staple".


There are more radical ways to tame the food bill:

Understand the big picture
I honestly can't tell you if the instant noodles I buy for emergencies are cheap or expensive when plugged into to the price versus nutritional value matrix.

Some people believe they'll become malnourished if they don't have half the plate covered with protein. Yet much of that expensive meat could be replaced easily with something cheaper such as chickpeas, says Dr Miranda Mirosa of the University of Otago's food science department.

Plant-based foods can be delicious and just as nutritious if you educate yourself on how to cook them. Her research digging through Kiwis' rubbish for the Love Food Hate Waste campaign found families throw away the equivalent of three trolleys full of food each year.

Start with a figure and work back
Price and plan your meals to fit the amount you want to spend. It's amazing what foods aren't essentials.

Price your protein
Henderson puts a $3.50 ceiling on the cost per person of protein for the evening meal. Sometimes she goes above that, but balances it with something cheaper the next night, such as an omelette.

Cutting out meat in total saves big-time. For reasons not related to money, the protein on plates in our house is often tofu or beans/chickpeas/lentils, which often costs no more than $3 for all five adult-sized people. Price per plate or meal limits can also be set for vegetables, carbohydrates and all the other ingredients.

Beware of supermarkets
We assume supermarkets are cheap. An awful lot of foods cost far less elsewhere, however. That includes meat, fresh fruit and vegetables, which are often much cheaper at large butcheries and fruit and vege shops.


Last Sunday I dropped into Bin Inn Takanini and came away with amazing, and yet full-price bargains. I use small quantities of yeast flakes to flavour sauces. It costs $3.89 for 100g at Bin Inn or $11.49 for the same quantity at Countdown.

In our family we're great fans of Bin Inn grind-your-own peanut butter, which tastes just as amazing as Pic's or The Nut Brothers' mouth-watering products. But at $7.90kg the Bin Inn peanut butter is less than half the price and 10 times the fun if you have children in tow. Likewise, Bin Inn's rye flour was $2.99 for 750g compared to $4.99 for the same quantity at Countdown.

Go ethnic
If you really want to save money on food check out the Chinese and Indian supermarkets in your vicinity. The savings are phenomenal on rice, beans, noodles, fresh fish, soy sauce, oils, tofu and hundreds of other items.

For example, I pay $1.50 a block for fresh tofu at Tai Ping Wairau Valley. The same quantity is $3.99 at PAK'nSAVE on the same road. I always stock up on lentils, spices, rice and much more if I'm passing the Mt Roskill Lotus Supermarket.

Almonds, for example, are $15/kg compared to $24.90/kg at New World. My eyes nearly popped out of my head this week when I compared the price of garam masala. It was $15kg loose at Lotus and the equivalent of $68kg at Countdown.

Make your own
I'm simply too cheap to buy most (admittedly yummy) ready-made foods that seem to multiply like bacteria on supermarket shelves.

Mirosa points out that much of the cost is packaging and branding. Whenever I take a plate it's often homemade crackers and dip from basic ingredients. Homemade pasta held together with aquafaba instead of eggs costs cents. And breadmaker loaves are a fraction of the price of artisan brands.

A by-product of this skinflint approach is that it does my foodie cred no end of good when I'm really a fraud.

Of course, there's an app for all this, Mirosa points out. Meal planning apps that help you buy just what you need, plan the cost of meals and ultimately save money.