If you're looking for a way to save some money on your food shopping bill, these nifty food hacks, tips and tricks are sure to help. From cheat's ice cream to two-ingredient pizza dough.
We're in the midst of a cost of living crisis, and need to do everything we can to drive down our spending while food prices continue to rise. And who doesn't love a good food hack to help, especially one you've never thought of before? Perfect if you're on a mission to create cheap family meals (opens in new tab) like us.
“Food and fuel prices are at an all-time high now and likely to rise further, so it is important to take a minute to work out how to drive down those costs," says food blogger Caroline Blight from The Happy Food Kitchen, where she shares easy, budget family recipes. "Reducing food waste is the best way to save money. Throwing away food is literally throwing away money. Some people find a meal planner the best way to do this, others buy online to prevent impulse purchases, personally, I like to shop the offers in the supermarket before deciding on our meals so I can buy at the lowest price."
Caroline continues; "Plus, it can actually be fun to have a ‘random’ or ‘use up’ meal every week with all the bits that need eating – bits of cheese or the odd slice of ham and the end of a bag of oven chips put together with jars of pickles and crackers can make a meal in itself.” Here are the best food hacks to help you in the kitchen, and help you save money on food, including how to make one dinner into another, how to make easy cheat's ice cream at home, and how to keep a cake fresh for longer.
Food hacks to save money
1. Make two-ingredient pizza dough
Bet you never thought you could turn that leftover tub of yogurt at the back of the fridge into a pizza. All you need is Greek yogurt and some self-raising flour from the cupboard, and you've got yourself a pizza dough. Just top it with passata (the rest of which can be used for pasta sauce) and rip over some mozzarella.
Buying a pizza is no longer needed, and you'll be saving yourself a good couple of pounds too when compared to purchasing a readymade Margherita from Pizza Express at £5.50 from Ocado.
Watch: How to make two-ingredient pizza dough (opens in new tab)
2. Make your own ‘posh’ drinks
“Drinks like iced coffees and bubble teas are all premium cost drinks but can be made at home for considerably less and are in most cases quicker to make than go out and buy or order in!" says Caroline. "To make authentic iced coffee, just use ice, milk of your choice, and a coffee syrup rather than boiling the kettle to make a short coffee (saving on electricity too!)
I have found Camp coffee, old-school chicory, and coffee syrup gives the most authentic taste. It is also great for people sensitive to caffeine. You can buy the tapioca pearls for bubble tea in Asian supermarkets to rehydrate and add to drinks at home."
3. Use up taco leftovers to make quesadillas
“After a Mexican dinner, you might find you have little bits and bobs left but not enough for a whole meal. But that bit of chilli, a couple of guacamole spoons, a handful of grated cheese, and a few rough jalapenos will stretch further if you make them into quesadillas," says Caroline.
Essentially a flat toasted sandwich from Mexico, Caroline says the best way to make one is to place your wrap/soft taco in a dry frying pan, add your cheese and a thin layer of chilli, cover with another flatbread and cook on a low heat until the bottom is brown and the cheese melted, then flip over and repeat on the other side. Smear with a little guac and you have a delicious lunch.
4. Use leftover mash to make a meal
It might not feel like it's worth saving, but that potato left behind from your bangers and mash is a thing of versatility. “It can be really hard to work out how much mash you need for a meal but even if there are only a few spoonfuls leftover, they can be used as the base for another dish," says Caroline.
"White potato mash is perfect with a tin of tuna or some ready-cooked mackerel to make fish cakes. If you have sweet potato mash, then use it to make savoury or sweet pancakes – delicious and with an added nutritional kick from the sweet potato.” And while we're on the subject of mash, the perfect way to make creamy, lump-free mashed potato every time.
5. Batch bake and freeze lunch box treats
“Pre-packaged lunchbox treats are really expensive but convenient. Make a cheaper and more delicious version of the treat box in your freezer. Make brownies, flapjacks, cookies, and Rice Krispie cakes and portion when cool before wrapping and freezing. Then the night before – or even in the morning – take one out and pop it into the lunch bag.
You can give your kids much healthier treats this way – like brownies made with old bananas and oat cookies. It's a much cheaper, more creative way to have treats especially when you compare to a pack of triple-loaded chocolate brownies from Tesco at £3.35, or Graze oat square bites at £2.50 for four in Sainsbury's. Making your own snacks, in bulk are much cheaper in the long run.
6. Freeze sandwiches
Don't let bread go to waste, and the same goes for cheese, ham, or chicken that may not have much life left. “Seen a loaf of reduced bread but you don’t need any bread right now? Turn it into ready-prepped sandwiches. Did you know if you are making plain sarnies they can be frozen? Cheese, jam and peanut butter, ham or chicken sandwiches can all be pre-made on buttered bread and frozen. Although you can’t add mayo or salad, mustard, chutney, and pickle will all work well," says Caroline.
"Wrap and label them before freezing then they can be placed in a lunchbox the night before they are needed or even first thing in the morning. The cheese version can be used for toasting straight from the freezer too.”
7. Make double and freeze half
“Batch cooking can seem really time-consuming and also overwhelming, but cooking everything at once saves on fuel use so is a great money saver. Make it easier by getting into the habit of just cooking double what you need, which usually doesn’t mean too much more time chopping," says Caroline.
"Things like Bolognese, stews, curries, and pies freeze brilliantly so ‘eat one, freeze one' and soon you will have a wealth of choices in your freezer. This is also great for busy days as you can simply shop your freezer rather than the order in takeaway or buy a ready meal. Or even just have the extra meal the next day with different sides to mix it up.”
8. Always fill your oven
“Never use your oven with one item in it - always plan to fill it. So if you are using two or three shelves to cook dinner, perhaps bake a tray of flapjacks or roast some veg for tomorrow at the same time. Using all the space to cook dishes for more than one meal means you turn your oven on less, saving on fuel costs,” says Caroline.
9. Grate chocolate with a potato peeler
Make that chocolate in the fridge go way further than simply scoffing it whole (a tough ask, we know). Grating chocolate with a potato peeler is a nifty little hack, that curls your choc and means you can add it to ice cream, stir it into bakes, decorate cakes and stir it into milkshakes or other sweet treats.
Watch: How to grate chocolate with a potato peeler (opens in new tab)
10. Peel ginger with a spoon
Are you guilty of losing half the ginger and the rind when you cut it off? Get more for less the next time you add ginger to your curry, by peeling it with a spoon – it's so much easier than using a knife and way less wasteful. One of our favourite food hacks.
Watch: How to peel ginger with a spoon (opens in new tab)
11. Make your own buttermilk
No need to be spending your cash on buttermilk from the supermarket every time you bake anymore. This nifty hack shows you how simple it really is to make buttermilk at home. All you need is milk and lemon juice, and it's a great chance to use up both things before they go off, so no waste.
Watch: How to make buttermilk (opens in new tab)
12. Make hot chocolate with real chocolate
No need to be spending your hard-earned cash on cocoa powder, when the real thing is a much tastier option. Take your favourite chocolate bar and turn it into a warm, luxurious hot chocolate, and turning it into a fully-loaded hot chocolate worthy will save you ££s on what you'd pay in a cafe (it'll set you back £3.45 a time in Costa Coffee, quite the spend if it's a regular habit).
"Use a flavoured syrup (which lasts for ages) and squirty cream on your hot chocolate before topping with a biscuit for a luxurious treat which will cost around a fifth of the price of one in a takeaway,” says Caroline.
13. Make cheat’s ice cream
Next on our food hacks list. Save money on all those trips to the ice cream van and stop buying stashes of lollies for the freezer, by making your own simple ice cream pops. Greek yogurt, a packet of Maltesers, and a drizzle of honey are all you need, and the kids can get involved with making them (and eating them, obviously) too.
If you want a healthier option, swap the Maltesers for fruit. When you think that a pack of three is £2.75 at Morrisons – and a whole lot pricier from the corner shop or cafe – it's quite a saving.
Watch: How to make cheat's ice cream (opens in new tab)
14. Make milk and cookies ice cubes
Use up the milk before it goes off, and give your kids the summer alternative to warm milk and cookies before bed. They're also perfect for popping into milkshakes to keep them cool without watering them down, as an ice cube would. Little cubes of genius.
15. Use frozen fruit as ice cubes
Turn fruit into ice cubes with this simple food hack, that makes sure none of your fruit goes to waste. Perfect for keeping drinks cool without diluting them – using grapes is particularly perfect for wine, because who wants their wine watered down? Not us. Also, work as a snack for the kids in the summer months.
16. Ripen your fruit more quickly
Did you know you can ripen bananas in the oven? It's quick, simple, and a great way to speed up the ripening process without making your bananas taste any different. Pop them on a baking tray on low heat in the oven and keep an eye on them as they slowly turn brown.
If you've bought an avocado that needs a little help ripening, place it in a paper bag at room temperature and leave it for a day or two. To speed up the process even further, add an apple to the bag too.
And, at the opposite end of the scale, once your fruit is overripe, there's no need to bin it. “They may look terrible but black bananas have the best flavour," says Caroline. "If you don’t like banana bread, then try banana pancakes or freeze the banana before blending with cocoa powder and a splash of milk for a delicious healthy chocolate ice cream. Or blend with berries and other fruits with some water for a cold, thick smoothie.”
17. Stop sugar clumping
You know the way it all sticks together in the bowl and you think it might need to be binned and replaced with a new bag? It does not. A clever way to stop this from happening is to add a slice of bread to the container. This will absorb any moisture that the sugar contains and stop it from sticking together.
Alternatively, help brown sugar stay soft by putting a piece of orange peel with it in an airtight container. Or, for a quick fix, microwave brown sugar next to a small glass of water, where the moisture will help break up the block.
18. Grate soft cheese to make it go further
Sure, we've been doing this forever with our cheddar, but we bet you've never thought of doing it with semi-soft cheeses such as fontina and fresh mozzarella. The top tip for how to do this is to freeze it for about 30 minutes first. This hardens it up, making it easier to grate, and means it goes a whole lot further on your pizza topping than just breaking it up into chunks do so you won't have to buy it again in your next food shop. One of our great food hacks.
19. Decrystallize honey
How many jars of honey have you lost when it goes all crystallized? Not any more. Your favourite cereal or toast topping can be brought back to life and go on to grace your breakfast table for another day. How? By placing the container in a bowl of hot water for 10 minutes.
20. Keep cake fresh for days
Dug into a cake and not finished the whole thing? That isn't just great news for your dentist. You can save it for another day by stopping it from drying out. How do you ask? By securing a slice of bread to the exposed portions with toothpicks. The bread holds in the cake’s moisture, you see. It's a great hack for stopping food waste - and it means you get to enjoy moist cake for days after it's opened or been baked.
21. Save fresh herbs for later
Whenever does a packet of fresh herbs all get used before it goes past its best? Almost never. But they can be frozen to flavour your food of the future. Use an ice cube tray, and chop them up in a mix of water or stock, then you can pop one in the pot for flavour the next time you see fit.
22. Make citrus fruits even juicier
You know when your lemons get older and the juice extraction is far from satisfactory? We have a good hack for you. To get the most juice out of it, stick it in the fridge for a few hours, then microwave it for 20 seconds. Using a pair of tongs to squeeze it works a treat too. One of our favourite food hacks.
23. Keep your fruit and veg fresher for longer
One of the best ways to keep asparagus fresh is by cutting off the ends (at the base of course – not the spears) and popping them into a jar of water like you would a bunch of flowers. They'll last much longer than being kept in the fridge. And did you know that storing apples with potatoes can keep them from sprouting? Find out more about how to keep fruit and veg fresher for longer with our nifty guide.
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Lara Kilner is a writer and editor with two decades of experience in national newspapers, magazines, and websites. She writes about food, lifestyle, travel, health and wellness, and entertainment, and regularly interviews celebrities and people with interesting life stories and experiences. Her foodie content has included interviews with Jamie Oliver, Rick Stein, Queer Eye’s food expert Antoni Porowski, the Hairy Bikers, Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, Raymond Blanc, Andi Oliver, Paul Hollywood, Prue Leith, and Nadiya Hussain.
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