Category Archives: Tips

Organising the freezer

I know it doesn’t sound the most fun – but I spent a quality half hour reorganising my freezer (but, er, not defrosting it, as you can see) at the weekend- rounding up the random items that were lurking and bagging them together to stop stuff being forgotten – and thought it was worth a post since I’ve not written about the freezer for a while.

I don’t have a massive freezer – it’s alright for a fridge-freezer, but I don’t have a second one lying about my tiny flat that I can keep half a pig in or anything.  But even if you have a really small freezer you will find that it helps you if you use it efficiently.  It’s great for taking advantage of good deals, cheap ingredients and bulk-cooking.  I find that if you’re not organised, random items tend to get lost in the back and then slowly succumb to freezer burn, so it is worth keeping an eye on what’s in there.

So what do I keep in there?

photo (31)

To help give you some ideas, I’ve listed below what’s currently in my freezer, as of tonight.  Luckily I’d taken the half a lime drizzle cake out last night so it all looks pretty healthy 😉

Vegetables & Fruit

photo (28)

I don’t like frozen carrots, broccoli or cauliflower, so tend to avoid mixed bags, but I do keep other frozen veg in stock:

  • Peas and sweetcorn – the basics that I always have.
  • Mini corn on the cobs – a new revelation for me.  So handy, especially since the fresh ones seem to go off really quickly, and I find these mini ones are a better size too.
  • Spinach – I’m a recent convert to frozen spinach, which I now love for chucking into all kinds of cooked dishes.  Saves that end bit of the fresh bag going to waste and it’s A LOT cheaper too.
  • Green beans – I’m not 100% sure about these because I think fresh are nicer.  But the fresh ones I’ve been buying lately seem to go off in a day or two which was really annoying me, so I’ve switched to frozen to avoid that.
  • Homemade baked beans – I made a batch of these in the pressure cooker and frozen in one tin size bags, tucking these all into one big bag to keep them together
  • Several frozen bananas – perfect for milkshakes, or you can use them to make banana bread/muffins too
  • Tub of mixed summer fruit berries – much cheaper to buy frozen and perfect for milkshakes or baking too

Meat & fish

photo (27)

  • Bacon – it’s cheaper to buy bacon in bigger packs, so I open the packs when I buy them and freeze in 4 rasher bags for Dave’s weekend bacon rolls.
  • Smoked sausagechorizo, and sliced pepperoni – whenever I buy this kind of thing and use half, I freeze the rest to avoid waste.  All kinds of cooked meat freeze well in my experience.
  • Pate – I picked up a couple of packs reduced to 9p each the other week and stashed them away.
  • Beef brisket – half the joint I bought last week to make goulash with.
  • Chicken drumsticks x2 – all that’s left of my last whole chicken
  • Salmon fillets x5 – the four I bought at the weekend plus one I’d bought already frozen
  • Smoked haddock – two fillets I’d bought reduced to half price a couple of weeks ago
  • Cooked ham – from a whole gammon joint I cooked up and sliced; enough to do Dave sandwiches for the next few weeks (he has them 2-3x a week) plus some extra scraps for chucking in a chicken pie or soup

Pulses

One of my favourite tricks is to cook up a big batch of beans in my pressure cooker and freeze in tin-sized portions for ease.  Right now I have chickpeas x3butter beans x1, cannelini beans x1, black eye beans x1 and pinto beans x2.  If you do this, you can either defrost the beans before using or just throw into a soup or stew to heat through from frozen.

photo (29)

Bread

Because I mostly eat homemade bread, it doesn’t keep long once made.  I tend to store it in the freezer and at the moment have 2/3 of a homemade seeded loaf, a couple of homemade brown rolls, three homemade brown wraps, one shop-bought part-baked loaf and a couple of shop-bought mini naans.

photo (34)

Pre-made meals and ingredients

  • beef goulash – two portions left from the meal I made last week
  • concentrated ham stock x2 – two tubs of strong ham stock
  • chicken stock – homemade from the bones of the last chicken I’d bought
  • arrabiata sauce x2 – leftover from a previous week
  • breadcrumbs – all whizzed up and ready for coating chicken and fish or adding to burgers or nut roasts.
  • potato scones – a batch I made with some leftover potatoes a while back and froze
  • ginger – a peeled ‘thumb’ of fresh ginger, ready to grate straight into curries and stir-fries

Apart from some ice, that’s about it at the moment!  I do usually keep some icecream and home baking in there too but haven’t got any at the moment.  Soup is another thing that’s great to freeze but I’m all out at the moment – kind of feeling into salads for lunch lately.

What do you keep in your freezer?  I’m thinking about making up some ice lollies in the optimistic hope that it’ll get warm round here!

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How much does it cost to get protein in your diet?

cooked chicken

I decided to try out a new recipe from Cheap Family Recipes today – the red pepper tart (with a couple of changes but not too many).  It was delicious but extremely low in protein and thus not overly filling – I suspect it’s low in protein as a way of cutting cost because, in general, the protein is going to be the most expensive bit of your meal.

It got me thinking about how best to fill your protein requirements on a low income.  I used Tesco online for prices and protein contents to keep everything standard (obviously the food could cost more or less depending where you shop).  For an average woman (i.e. me) the government recommendation is 45g of protein a day (men need more, people who work out a lot need more).  How much would this cost me and how much food would this be?

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Eggs & dairy

  • 1 egg = 7g protein at 16p (Tesco free range medium eggs, £1.95 for 12)
  • 200ml whole milk = 6g protein at 9p (Tesco, £1/2.272 litres)
  • 50g feta-type cheese = 9g protein at 19p (Tesco Everyday Value, 75p / 200g)
  • 50g cheddar = 13g protein at 28p (Tesco Everyday Value, £5.60 / kg)

Grains

  • 50g porridge oats = 5g protein at 4p (Tesco Everyday Value, 75p/kg)
  • 2 slices wholemeal bread = 8g protein at 5p (Tesco Everyday Value, 45p – assumed 18 slices)
  • 75g basmati rice = 6g protein at 11p (Tesco Everyday Value, £1.40)

Beans & lentils

  • 1/2 can red kidney beans = 8g protein at 15p (Tesco Everyday Value, 30p per can)
  • 50g red lentils = 12g protein at 8p (Indus, £2.99 / 2kg)
  • 1/2 can baked beans = 7g protein at 12p (Tesco Everyday Value, 24p per can)
  • 100g tofu = 8g protein at 40p (Cauldron, £1.60 / 396g)

Nuts

  • 40g almonds = 8g protein at 46p (Tesco, £1.15 / 100g)
  • 30g peanut butter = 7g protein at 5p (Tesco Everyday Value – 62p / 340g jar)
  • 25g pumpkin seeds = 7g protein at 22p (Tesco, 85p / 100g)

Meat & fish

  • 125g beef mince = 23g protein at 50p (Tesco, £4 / kg)
  • 125g chicken breast = 29g protein at 83p (Tesco, £6.67 / kg)
  • 125g free range chicken breast = 29g protein at £1.88 (Tesco Finest, £15/kg)
  • 125g salmon fillet = 24g protein at £1.37 (Tesco Everyday Value, £10.97/kg)
  • 1/2 can tinned tuna = 15g protein at 43p (Tesco Everyday Value, 86p/tin)
  • 2 rashers bacon = 13g protein at 50p (Tesco, £4 / 16 rashers)
  • 2 sausages = 14g protein at 50p (Tesco Butcher’s Choice, £1.99 / 8 sausages)

Vegetables

  • 80g frozen peas = 5g protein at 8p (Tesco Everyday Value at £1 / kg)

butternut squash and feta spaghetti 2

Sample Meal Plan Ideas

Here’s some reasonably-priced meal-plans using the info above to get you to your total protein limit (not a complete meal-plan – obviously you’d need to eat other things throughout the day, and this isn’t included in the costs.  Bear in mind that these other foods do contain some protein too.  Even veg contains small amounts):

  • 50g porridge oats made with 200ml whole milk (13p) – 11g protein
  • Salad with 50g feta cheese and 25g pumpkin seeds (41p) – 16g protein
  • Curry with 50g red lentils served with 75g basmati rice – 18g protein (19p)

TOTAL = 45g protein, 73p

  • 1/2 can baked beans with 2 slices wholemeal toast (17p) – 15g protein
  • Salad with 1/2 can tuna (43p) – 15g protein
  • 2 sausages with 80g peas (58p) – 19g protein

TOTAL = 49g protein, £1.21

  • Sandwich with 2 slices wholemeal bread and 50g cheese (33p) = 21g protein
  • 125g chicken breast (83p) – 29g protein

TOTAL = 50g protein, £1.16

chickpeas 2

So what does this tell us?  Unsurprisingly it’s easier for meat-eaters to get their protein requirements – 1 small chicken breast is over half of a woman’s protein requirements (and a large one could be almost all of it).  Non meat-eaters have to try a little harder, especially there are few sources of plant protein that are ‘complete proteins’, so they need to mix and match different sources of protein to get all of the amino acids required.  However, since meat and fish are the most expensive sources of protein, it is possible to get your requirements more cheaply on a vegetarian diet.

Either way, it doesn’t have to be expensive or difficult to meet your protein needs.  I could have made that tart more filling by scattering some cheese on the top or serving a bean salad on the side, and neither would have cost too much (probably not even as much as the bag of crisps Dave had later to fill up).  Although it was pretty tasty as it was so it’d also make a nice meal on a day when you’re getting

So do you ever think about how much protein you’re eating, or do you not give it a second thought?  How do you make sure you get enough protein without breaking the bank?

Couch to 5K

Like healthy eating, exercise can be one of the things cut when a person’s on a budget. It feels like a luxury, or maybe the budget’s just a bit of an excuse – a way to justify not getting fit. Either way, it’s true that fancy exercise gear and gym memberships can cost a lot. To my mind, if you have a bit of spare cash, they’re worth the investment, too. Your health is important and I don’t think anybody needs convincing that regular exercise is a massive part of that.  I’m a member of my local council gyms and also spend money going wall climbing most weeks, and it’s not something I want to give up even though I’m trying to save money.

Exercise machines (284617740)

Exercise machines (284617740) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you really don’t have the budget to join the gym or head along to an exercise class, running is a great way to get fit at low cost, get out in the fresh air and enjoy some of your local scenery.  All you really need is a pair of trainers (which I’m guessing most people already own) and some kind of vaguely exercise appropriate wear (shorts, vest tops, leggings, maybe a zip up hoodie or similar – you don’t need to spend a lot when you’re starting out).

I’ve just finished the Couch to 5K plan, which aims to get beginners running for 30 minutes three times a week within nine weeks, and I totally loved it.  As well as the gear listed above, you’ll need something to play the podcasts on (I downloaded the ones from the NHS website for free) plus earphones. You can just use your normal iPod or phone or any generic mp3 player really.

English: 3G iPod with included dock, earphones...

English: 3G iPod with included dock, earphones, and beltclip carrying case. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It took me ten weeks to finish the plan because I had a couple of weeks where I could only run twice, and to my amazement, it totally worked. I can’t run 5K yet because despite the name the programme focuses on time, not distance, but I know I’ll end up getting there eventually. The programme is set up for total beginners and for the first few weeks, you run for short bursts mixed in with walking intervals to help you recover. In week one, I found it difficult to run for 60 seconds at a time – I could never have imagined that only 5 weeks later I’d be running a whole 20 minutes without stopping and even (shock horror) enjoying it!

So if you want to try getting fit for less, why not try out Couch to 5K?

PS This is not a sponsored post and I haven’t been paid anything to write it; I’m just so happy that I can now run that I wanted to let other people know about the programme 🙂

Eating healthily on a budget

It’s a topic I’ve discussed before – but one which I am really interested in – how much is it possible to eat a healthy diet when also saving money?

I suppose it does depend on your definition of ‘healthy’ and definition of ‘budget’.  I do believe it’s possible to eat well and healthily for less than what most people spend.  There’s no reason to live on ready meals and processed food, because cooking from scratch can be lots cheaper.

banana milkshake

For me, the most important thing in a healthy diet is to eat plenty of fruit and veg.  It’s the number one thing I’d never let my budget stop me from doing.  Even if you can’t afford fresh blueberries and sprouted seeds, you can get your five a day – a banana at breakfast, tinned fruit as a snack, carrot sticks with your lunch and peas and cabbage with your dinner are all really cheap and just as good for you.

But obviously eating fruit and veg isn’t the be all and end all of a healthy diet.  I’m not a dietician or a doctor and I think that everyone needs to make their own mind up about what constitutes a healthy diet, but I think we can all agree that most people in the UK eat too much.  Cutting portions sizes could help you lose weight and save money – suddenly your pack of pasta does six instead of five portions, a pack of mince makes extra pasta sauce for the freezer and that’s another dinner sorted.

apple salad

Cutting down on processed snacks like crisps, biscuits and chocolate is also a good way to save money and you don’t need me to tell you that they aren’t doing you any good.  Plus, if you drink fizzy drinks you could save a fortune by switching to tap water – healthy and free.

Talking about other aspects of diet gets tricky.  Should you cut down on meat, carbs or both?  Is dairy bad for you?  Wheat?  Or is it OK as long as you’re eating whole grains?

I try not to get too complicated with this and my general rule is that I’m happy to eat it as long as it’s homemade and not processed.  I don’t eat too much meat (and this saves me money), but that’s more down to personal preference than anything else.  I do try to make sure there’s a decent source of protein with each meal now, but that’s often beans and lentils, which are cheap, or nuts, which you only use in small quantities anyway.

ratatouille

Carbs like pasta, bread and rice are the cheapest way to fill up, much cheaper than meat and veg, which is one reason that eating better can cost more – it’s not very healthy to fill up on lots of carbs.  By cutting down on waste, mealplanning and dropping brands, you can have extra money leftover to allocate to good quality meat and fish and fresh veg.  If the pennies are really tight, think about using pulses and cheap veg like onions and carrots to bulk out meals instead of too many carbs.

So what do you do to make sure you’re eating healthily without breaking the bank? Leave any suggestions in the comments!

Adjusting the meal plan – mackerel and creme fraiche pasta

mackerel pasta

I might not have said this before, but when you make your meal plan, you want to ensure there’s a bit of flexibility in there.  A bit of wiggle room in case your plans change.

Only you know how often your plans will change – some people like to be more spontaneous, or have more hectic jobs – but for me, I find that it’s a rare week one of my meals doesn’t change.  Maybe this doesn’t come across well in my weekly meal planning posts, but most weeks I’ll be unexpectedly invited out to dinner one night, or will have a busy night and need to make something faster, or Dave will be working late and I’ll be eating alone.

In this case, it was the latter – Dave had to work a ‘sleepover’ shift to cover someone being off sick (it’s pretty rare he does these now), so he’ll eat at work.  Meanwhile, I look at the meal plan and decide if I still want the original planned meal – usually not, because I like to take advantage of Dave being away to make things he doesn’t like.  This week, I had a couple of days notice, so decided to shift the meals around and have the stroganoff on Tuesday and skip the fish fingers.

The reason this works is because I always plan at least one meal where we won’t be wasting fresh ingredients if we don’;t have it.  E.g. spag bol or stew, where the sauce is already in the freezer, or something store-cupboardy, like lentil dhal.  Most of the components of the homemade fish fingers were already frozen and the potatoes will keep, so no big deal to miss it out this week.

I had two thirds of a tub of crème fraîche to use up and Dave hates creamy pasta sauce, so I kind of had pasta in mind.  Since I was going for a run, I’d be home late, so wanted something super quick, and mackerel pasta definitely fit that.

(In case you’re wondering, yes, I do already have a mackerel and pea pasta recipe on the blog.  Clearly mackerel and peas are my go-to thing when I need fast, tasty nutrition.  This one is different, promise.)

mackerel pasta 2

Mackerel and crème fraîche pasta (serves one at £1.44)

  • 75g pasta 5p
  • 1 tin mackerel, drained (mine was in oil – don’t use the one in tomato sauce) 89p
  • 80g frozen peas 8p
  • 1/3 tub small crème fraîche (or whatever you have left really) 39p
  • 1 tsp wholegrain mustard 3p

Bring a pan of salted water to the boil and add the pasta.  Boil until only a couple of minutes away from being cooked to your liking (mine were in for about 9 minutes at this stage).

Meanwhile, mix the crème fraîche, mustard and drained mackerel in a bowl.  Season with pepper.

When the pasta is a couple of minutes away from being done, add the peas and continue to cool until the peas and pasta are both just tender with a little bite.

Drain, add to the mackerel mix and stir through. Serve with salad if you want (I did).

Rules for banana milkshakes

banana milkshake

Blueberry and banana milkshake

This isn’t really a recipe, but I wanted to share a few ideas for the breakfast milkshakes I have most weekends.

I’m not brave enough to go down the ‘green smoothies’ route, but I do like fruit smoothies and milkshakes.  My love of milkshakes stems from childhood – my mum used to make banana milkshakes for my sister and I as a way to get more milk into us.  She only put bananas and whole milk in them, so they were a healthy source of fruit, protein and calcium.

When we were young, my mum occasionally made strawberry milkshakes but we weren’t that keen, and since strawberries are more acidic, we added sugar to them.  I’ve experimented with different fruit combinations since then and have learned a few basic rules:

  • To make a large basic banana milkshake for one (makes 1 pint), you need two bananas and 1/2 pint milk.  Stick in a blender and blitz until smooth (a stick blender doesn’t work that well for this in my experience).
  • It works best if one or both bananas is frozen as it chills and thickens it, like icecream has been added.  I freeze them whole in their skins, then just cut the skiins off when I’m cutting into chunks as I make the milkshake – but you can peel and cut up first if you prefer.
  • You can substitute 80g of pretty much any berry for one of the bananas, but not both – you need the banana to make it sweet enough without adding sugar.  My favourite is blueberry, but raspberry and strawberry both work well.  Or you could use a mix of two or more berries.
  • Even better, use frozen berries – either freeze your own (works well if you can get them reduced) or buy the ready frpozen ones, that cost up to half the amount of fresh.
  • You can swap the milk for water or apple juice (or other fruit juice) with a a couple of spoonfuls of natural yoghurt added in, to make a yoghurt smoothie instead.   Or skip the yoghurt to make a plain smoothie.
  • You can also experiment with different fruits in place of the berries and/or banana but keep it simple and use fruits that work well together.  The worst thing I made was a melon, pear and apple juice smoothie (just because my melon and pears needed used up) – it just tasted terrible for some reason!  A good combo could be mango, banana and orange juice with honey, for example.
  • Optional – in either case, you can add a spoonful of honey.
  • Even more optional and considerably less healthy – you can use one less banana and some vanilla or other icecream instead – maybe not for breakfast though!

So do you make milkshakes or smoothies?  My favourite combo is banana, blueberry and milk, but I’m also a sucker for the plain banana milkshake.  Are you brave enough to try green or vegetable based smoothies?

More experiments with my pressure cooker

pressure cooker

Regular readers will remember that I got a pressure cooker from my lovely sister for my recent birthday.  All I can say is  – it’s amazing.  If you haven’t got one, go and order one right now!

Seriously, before I got it, I was SO nervous about using it (all I’d read online was how scary they are and how it sounds like they might explode and my kitchen is just so small that if it did explode I’d die.  So you can imagine the fear.), but it’s just not that scary.

Maybe it’s because mine is a new one and by all accounts they’ve improved over time, but it’s not even that noisy and it just didn’t seem likely to explode.  So, yay.

No only is it totally unscary, but I’ve already used it a few times and I’ve had it less than three weeks.  You might remember that I successfully made soup with it when I first got it.  Last weekend I decided to try something different and cook both my ham and chicken in it.

ham

First up, I did the ham.  I basically made it this way (boiling then glazing and roasting) but instead of boiling in a normal pan, I did it for 15 minutes under pressure, which was so much quicker and left me with a lovely stock to use (I made lentil soup to use this up – so tasty!).  The ham did us for dinner and then there was enough sliced and frozen for 15 sandwiches – icovering Dave’s lunches for about a month!

After the ham was done, I used the pressure cooker to poach a whole chicken, which I’ve never done before.  I was inspired by Economy Gastronomy (another birthday present), because one of the ‘basics’ they use as the building block for several meals is a whole poached chicken.  In the book they make a pie, coronation chicken and then a spicy Asian broth, and while I didn’t want to use all their recipes this time, the basic idea is clearly brilliant.

I followed the directions in the pressure cooker manual which suggested cooking whole chickens for 5 mins per 450g, and the meat was just perfect.  After picking everything off the carcass, I had a pot of stock (which I reduced down to really concentrate) and around 650g meat – enough for at least 3 meals for the two of us, so not bad at all!

chicken pie 4

I used about 2/3 of it to make a pie, along with some sliced mushrooms and sweetcorn, and, since we only ate half of it, the other half is in the freezer for another day, along with the remaining 1/3 of the meat (I’ll probably stick this in some curry or a pasta sauce, or I might try the coronation chicken recipe from the book).  Not only that, but I still have the bones (also frozen) which I can make another pot of stock with.  Since it was a free range chicken it cost about £6 even though it was on offer – makes me feel a bit better that we’ve got so much eating out of it though!

I could have done both of these without the pressure cooker, but they saved so much time – bearing in mind that I was making bread, soup and other stuff at the same time, it was great to get pots off the hob much more quickly.  So let me know your pressure cooker experiments – and any suggestions for the next thing I can try welcome in the comments!