Simple ways to cook more cheaply
Written by Green Rosie
Simple ways to reduce energy expenditure when cooking and reduce the cost of the ingredients you use without compromising on quality. Please note that the term energy can mean gas, electricity or solid fuel.
Reducing the gas/electricity/solid fuel you use
Pan lids ON - Unless the recipe expressly says not to, always cook with the lid on.
Boil only what you need - When boiling water in the kettle or in a pan, only boil the amount you’ll need.
Use the smallest ring possible - Once something is boiling move the pan to the smallest ring and lowest setting to maintain the desired temperature. Never put a small pan on a large ring, you’re just wasting energy.
Oven pre-heating - When cooking something like a roast and other dishes that are in the oven for a long time, there is no need to pre-heat the oven, it’ll catch up. An exception to this rule is breads, cakes and pastries that need to be at the correct temperature to start cooking.
Switching off the oven - Switch the oven off 10mins before the end of cooking time and it will retain the necessary heat (But don’t open the door until the 10mins are up). Electric rings can also be turned off a few minutes before the end of cooking time.
Keep the oven door shut - Don't open the oven door to take a peek at what's cooking inside. Instead, keep the oven window clean and look through it to check on progress. Opening the oven door lowers the temperature inside - by as much as 25 degrees - which increases cooking time and is not energy efficient.
One pot meals - Look to cook one pot meals where the whole dish is on one ring – stews, pot roasts etc
Fill up that oven - If the oven is on for one dish but there is space for more inside, bung something else in to fill the gap, either another of the same as I said before or something different that likes the same temperature.
Quick cooking recipes - Look for quick cooking recipes – a search on the web will give lots of inspiration but if you still prefer to leaf through a book your local library should have a suitable book.
Cook from scratch – home-made meals taste nicer and when you add up the raw ingredients and cooking costs they will invariably still be cheaper than buying ready-made.
Woodburners - if you have a woodburner that has a cooking plate, use it both to boil the kettle and cook meals. If you are thinking about buying a woodburner consider one which you can also cook on.
Fridges and freezers
Keep your fridge and freezer full – this way they work at their most economical and less cold air is lost when the door is opened in a filled refrigerator because the food helps retain the cold. However, in a fridge leave enough space for the cold air to circulate.
Cool food before putting in the fridge/freezer - Allow foods to cool before placing them in the fridge/freezer. It takes more energy to cool hot food. For added savings, cover foods and liquids. The moisture that is released by uncovered containers increases energy use during the fridge’s defrost cycle.
Defrosting – Thaw frozen food in the fridge to help keep the temperature down.
Energy Saving Utensils
There are plenty of kitchen utensils that can be used top reduce energy in the kitchen. However, most are expensive so it will not save you money if you rush out and buy them all today and then they sit unused in your cupboards because you didn’t get on with them. If you can, borrow one from a friend before buying and then if you feel you’ll use the gadget lots see if you can get one by any of the following means:
Try your local Freecycle/Freegle etc
Look on Ebay (or leboncoin if you are in France)
Try bartering for one
Search the small ads of your local paper
If however, you have to buy new do go for quality as this is often cheaper in the long run. This also goes for pans – when you need to replace you cooking pots and pans go for the best quality you can afford and also chose those best suited to your cooker.
So, what gadgets could save you energy?
A pressure cooker – great for one pot meals and stocks that normally take a long time to cook.
A slow cooker – again, one pot meals cooked slowly this time but with minimal energy
A wok – high temperature cooking but very fast.
A steamer – all you veg etc on one ring.
And dare I say it a microwave – loved by as many who hate them but they do reduce energy, especially for re-heating food.
Also, when the time comes when you need to replace any of your cooker/fridge – go for the most energy efficient one you can afford – you may pay a little more initially but it will save you far more in the future.
How many times have you got in late, there’s nothing in the fridge and it’s all too easy to ring for an expensive take-away. With a little forward planning this problem can be eliminated.
Careful planning - Plan a week’s worth of meals in advance and if there is the chance you may be home late or tired, have something already prepared in the fridge.
Weekly meal preparation - Some people like to cook all their meals for the week at the week-end and freeze them. Some dishes, like quiche are best cooked from frozen so if you are caught out I reckon you could have a quiche, re-heated from frozen and on the table before a take-away could get to you.
Batch cooking - Like me you may not that organised so batch cooking may help. If the oven is on for one lasagne then make a couple more to freeze, especially as a full freezer is more energy efficient than an empty one. Cakes and bread are perfect for batch cooking but there are lots of other dishes that freeze really well. Get a book from the library and see what suits you best.
Freezer log book - If you have a freezer, keep a freezer logbook so you know what’s in there and don’t end up with items lurking uneaten at the bottom for several years.
Well stocked kitchen - Try to have a well stocked cupboard of basic ingredients so you can always throw something together quickly rather than being tempted by a take-away.
Meals from left-overs - Get savvy at making meals out of left-overs. These are often my favourite dinners – e.g. that left over roast meat can be minced and topped with left-over mash potatoes you boiled up for the easiest, quickest and cheapest of shepherd’s pies.
Cook Extra – try and cook more than you need so you have ingredients cooked ready for another meal at no extra energy cost – e.g. extra potatoes for a tortilla or extra pasta for a salad (stir in a little olive oil to prevent it going sticky).
Portion control - If you find making meals from left-overs is not for you then get good at preparing meals of exactly the right portion so there is no waste.
Look in that fridge/cupboard – There is often a meal lurking in the ingredients in your fridge/cupboard but it just needs a bit of imagination (or a search online) to work out what it is. Get imaginative and don’t be afraid to try something new.
Buying good quality but low cost food is not as difficult as it sounds if you follow a few simple rules and tricks.
Meat - by all means buy expensive cuts of meat but just do this less often. For other meals learn how to cook cheaper cuts of meat (more often available from a local butcher than supermarket) and with other meat dishes make them go further with the addition of cheaper vegetables and pulses.
Shopping List – Write what you need and stick to it. If you do buy something on offer/reduced then either take something out of your trolley or freeze it for use later.
Buy big - Buying bigger packs of food is usually cheaper but do check prices as this is not always the case (especially if you happen to live in France)
Buy in bulk - Bulk buying is almost always cheaper. If the amounts are too much for you, look to group together with friends and family and jointly reduce your food costs.
Buy loose products – often cheaper than ready-bagged.
Buy Direct – buy direct from the farmer/producer is usually cheaper than supermarkets. If you have a freezer why not consider buying a half or whole pig to keep costs down?
Markets - If you have a local market go at the end of trading as many traders will sell off produce at greatly reduced prices.
Haggle - Even if you can’t go at the end of the day, if you buy enough give haggling a go. You may be surprised at how much you can reduce your food bill. Getting to know your market traders is useful and regular customers will often find a little extra thrown into their bags as a free gift.
BOGOF’s (Buy one get one free) – these are great but only if you buy something that you are actually going to use and that you take something else out of your trolley. If you really don’t think you can get through 2 huge bags of apples and end up throwing half of them out that is a terrible waste and you have saved nothing. But a quick search for recipes will give you some great ideas for easy cheap puddings that will save you money. Also have a quick price comparison before you go for a BOGOF – sometimes expensive branded items are on offer but equally good non-branded products may still be cheaper even without the offer.
The reduced shelves – some supermarkets are very generous with their nearly out of date reductions – learn when they tend to make these reductions and be there to have the pick of the bargains. But again – if you buy something reduced for immediate use, take something out of your trolley that you now don’t need. Otherwise freeze it for later use. (And check it really is a bargain – 10p off an item that is 30p more expensive than a similar alternative is not saving you any money)
Seasonal and local – buying locally produced, fresh produce that is in season will often be the cheapest and best quality food that you can bring home.
Grow your own – from a pot of herbs on the window sill to a full blown allotment/veg garden – this is the cheapest you can get. When you get an excess of something try swapping with neighbours or bartering. You’ll be surprised how much some people will swap for a few of your fresh beans/courgettes.
Swap and barter – great ways to use up your excesses
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