16 simple ways to save money in the kitchen
Renters and home owners who want to save money have many opportunities to pinch pennies, without scrimping on too many luxuries.
ASIC's Money Smart estimates that a couple without children will spend $207 a week on food and drinks, as well as a further $41 on alcohol.
That's not to mention cleaning and power costs for all the food you cook at home.
This makes the culinary experience one of the biggest household expenses after housing itself ($360 a week).
Here are 16 ways to claw back some of that hard-earned cash in the kitchen, to ensure the 'heart of the home' doesn't become a drain on your income.
1. Grow your own
If you've got a green thumb and a bit of time, consider trying to plant and grow your own herbs and vegetables. Use old egg cartons as seed planters and ask neighbours and friends for spare seeds or plants to start your garden on the cheap.
2. Skip the paper towels
If you're a regular user of paper towels to clean up and dry in the kitchen, decide instead to opt for reusable cloths. These can be made from re-purposed old clothes or material. Have a bag in your kitchen to keep the cloths in and wash them in the laundry with your clothes.
3. Use a hotpot
A hotpot, or a slow cooker, is the ultimate cheapskate's dream in the kitchen. With a comparatively lower electricity bill compared to a standard electric cooker – even over the eight hours it may be on for – hotpots can help you pinch pennies on the bills. Opt for a version with a timer attached to it. They will save you time and effort, and because they work well with cheap vegetables (and leftovers in the fridge can be added) you will also save money on ingredients. If you opt to cook with a standard pan, don't forget to keep the lid on to keep the heat in and speed up the cooking process.
4. Sign up for a co-op
If you join a food co-op, you will save money on high quality produce and goods. Signing up will usually cost you a small joining fee, but offers you a membership discount on all products. Co-op volunteers are given a bigger discount.
5. Keep your freezer full
If you have a half-empty freezer, it will be using more electricity to keep it cold. Give it a helping hand by filling it up either with products that you need, or with plastic bottles of water. This philosophy also applies to the fridge and the dishwasher, which is best used when it is full.
6. Silicone scrapers
Buy yourself a silicone bowl scraper and get into the habit of using it whenever you're serving food. Great for both liquids and solids, a silicone scraper ensures you'll leave minimal scraps in pans, blenders or mixing bowls. You can also use them to get remnants from jars to use in cooking, leaving you less to throw away and clean out afterwards. These utensils can be bought at dollar shops and are also called "rubber feet" or spatulas. (Baking trays are another silicone speciality.)
7. Keep your containers
When you finish a jar or high-quality plastic container, clean it, remove the labels, sterilise it and keep it. This cheap storage solution is perfect for shaking up homemade marinades, pickling or even storing herbs that need smaller airtight containers. You can also try reusing tough plastic ziplock bags by washing and drying them for other purposes.
Renowned green chef Matt Stone says hanging on to jars saves on food wastage and forking out for sandwich bags and cling wrap, which will end up in the garbage. "I have a very eclectic bunch of jars in the house, I don't throw anything away," he says.
8. Use up your leftovers
Plan your meals in advance and ensure you have plans to use up any of your leftovers. This may be by taking them for lunch or re-purposing them into dinner the next day. Aim to eat all the food you cook and never throw it out. Consider rotating your pantry and fridge so anything that needs using soon is in clear view.
9. Shop online
When grocery shopping in a major supermarket it can be easy to lose track of the budget and to put extra items in your trolley. Online shopping can quickly cut back on your bills and can cut back on any travel costs to get to the shop and any extra costs you may have from being tempted at the shopping mall.
There is often a small outlay on the shipping, though many offer discounts for having wider time brackets for delivery or for delivering mid-week if someone is home. You can always take items out of your virtual cart when you get to the checkout if the cost is too high. Bonus – Some companies throw in free samples for online customers.
10. Save your scraps
Many people throw out the skins of onions, potato, garlic and carrot, as well as orange peel and squeezed lemons. If you have a compost bin, or are keen to start one, this can be a great place for uncooked organic waste (coffee grounds and used tea leaves can go in the compost too).
Another option is to keep the vegetable scraps frozen until you have a full bag. Boil them up in water and allow to simmer with the pan covered for 45 minutes. Freeze it in small portions (use a muffin tin) for a quick vitamin-filled addition to stocks. With fruit scraps, they can also be saved for boiling into fruit vinegars, or even used to add flavour to mulled wine.
11. Embrace coupons
The trick with special offers and vouchers is to ensure you don't use them to buy things you wouldn't normally purchase. Check websites and always Google before making any larger online purchases – you might just find a code for free shipping.
Use a spare email to sign up to coupon mailing lists and newsletters from companies you commonly buy from and keep a close eye on any coupons that come out. Don't forget to take any store loyalty cards with you that may offer savings when you head in.
12. Lucky Iron Fish
To get more health benefits out of your food, consider investing in a Lucky Iron Fish. Literally a piece of iron, designed to reduce iron deficiency in Cambodia, when you purchase one the company will send one to a family in need. Simply add it to pots of soup and liquid foods and allow it to boil in the pot to give your foods an added iron boost. A Lucky Iron Fish can last for five years. Ensure you speak to your medical professional before reducing any recommended supplements.
13. Make it yourself
You may find yourself opting for frozen meals or pre-made items, but you can make high-quality items yourself on the cheap. Look up free recipes online for tips on how to simply and quickly make household favourites such as lasagne, burgers, pies and other pricey items, including sweet treats like banana bread. Adventurous DIYers may also consider home brewing their favourite alcoholic drink and even making preserves or pickling their own vegetables.
Another option is making your own kitchen cleaners, which not only help you save money but also reduce the number of strong chemicals in your home.
Hot tip: Instead of going out for meals with friends, host dinner parties or even pot lucks to keep your expenses to a minimum without ruining your social life.
14. Invest in a wooden chopping board
Stone, of Victorian restaurant Oakridge, says a good chopping board is one of the first things a chef looks for.
"Firstly, it looks great and secondly, a wooden chopping board has antibacterial properties in it, which saves on chemical detergents," he says.
15. Use cleaning products free from nasties
Everything used in the kitchen is rinsed and properties end down the sink, and then in the ocean, says Stone, who swears by sustainable cooking. He says that as well as being bad for the environment, chemical products also ruin kitchen surfaces.
"If you are investing in a beautiful marble or granite bench, by spraying nasties on it, it shortens the life of it," he says.
He recommends using chemical-free products such as those which last for years and don't transfer anything unwanted into your food.
16. Buy in bulk
Get out your phone and use your calculator while you shop, particularly when looking for bargain deals in bulk. Make sure you consider direct comparisons.
Don't forget to look for budget brands, such as the store's own label, as well as end-of-the-day discounts. The best trick for saving money is learning how to store bulk foods, particularly if you're buying fruit and vegetables when they are ripe. While it's best to opt for items that do not go out of date too quickly (for instance, dried or canned goods), research how to safely keep foods. Soft bananas, for instance, can be frozen in bulk – as can most vegetables – and later added to smoothies or banana breads.
Written by Jennifer Duke. First appeared on Domain.com.au.