We have all felt the pinch whenever we get to the supermarket checkout lately. Food Consultant Ankie Niesing gives us 20 food hacks to shrink our food bill.
Although we can’t do much about inflation, we can adapt and look at our spending habits. I have asked my IG followers, friends, and family for their top hacks to save money and have researched how to save our precious rands and not spend all of it on food.
Eating healthy does not have to equate to being expensive, but you should only buy some of the latest potions, supplements, protein bars, etc., or stock up on everything vegan, gluten or sugar-free. Often these foods are very much processed with long lists of artificial ingredients.
- Shop around
We have lovely supermarkets in South Africa, but making Woolworths your place to go shopping will not save you money. Not that you can’t get specials and reasonable offers at Woolies. But I can’t bring myself to pay R45 for a tub of blueberries when I know I can get it for R13 at the greengrocer. A friend on a tight budget gets all the supermarkets in her area’s weekly discount flyers and compares prices. She has to drive around for all the deals, saving them substantial money. And some weeks her main shopping is from Woolworths because she buys all the deals. I shop at a few shops every week, it is a pain, but if I had to shop just at the supermarket, we would not be able to eat so well and be able to create recipes using more expensive ingredients. I mostly like to shop at Carreira centre, Farm Table, and Unwrapped.co, Faithfull to nature, Checkers, Woolworths
- Make a weekly meal plan and shopping list
According to my IG followers, planning is most important to plan your weekly meals. This way you reduce your wastage and you buy according to a plan. This stops impulse buying. I have written another blog post, 15 Ways to meal plan better, on the blog. I use my Meal planner pad weekly to help keep me organised. First, take stock of what is still in the fridge and pantry and then plan accordingly. Make a list and stick to it!
- Cook most of your meals
For a lot of people, this is a challenge. Especially for full-time working parents. Try to keep this simple. Batch cook a large batch of bolognese sauce, eat it with rice, in a wrap toasted with cheese, in a nacho bowl with avocado and beans, with jacket potatoes, or make a quick Baby marrow lasagne. Add salads, fruit, or vegetables to every meal. This will also work for making and using shredded chicken the same way. For breakfast, make overnight oats or chia puddings. In the summer, eat a lot of salads. In the winter batch, cook soups and stews and freeze them.
- Money savings apps
Download the Snapnsave app and your phone. Get cash back whenever you snap you’re till slip. Another app that can save you money for weekend dining out meals is The Entertainer app. You can also get the app through your E-Bucks account. It works well, and there are a lot of buy-one-get-one-free offers.
- Buy Seasonally
We may think avocados are in season all year, but they are not. And when they are not in season, they are costly. So start to eat according to the seasons. Here is an excellent downloadable South African seasonal calender from Eat out.
- Buy in bulk
Buying in bulk will save you money. If you have space to store extras, this is great. I don’t always have space, so I don’t do this as often as I want to. You could also buy in bulk with friends and family and then split the bill under each other.
Buy meat in bulk from a local farmer or butcher and freeze it in smaller portions. Buying a whole lamb will cost R90 p/kg, depending on the market. Buying individual packets from the supermarket may set you back to even R180 p/kg.
- Avoid fancy ingredients & learn to swop ingredients
If a recipe calls for a particular element – perhaps saffron, a spice mix or produce that isn’t in season, or something that would require a trip to a speciality shop – try and think of a substitute (or Google it)!
If fresh herbs or spice blends are expensive (or you only need a small amount for one dish), consider buying individual dried herbs instead. If a recipe calls for cream or coconut milk, use a few tablespoons of full-cream yoghurt instead. Don’t buy ready-made spice mixes. Make sure you have a basic set of spices and blend your own.
Buying salmon fillets is very expensive, but you could buy salmon trimmings or offcuts for a fraction of the price and make delicious salmon rice bowls, egg and salmon frittatas or salmon pasta.
- Shop online
Doing your weekly shopping online allows you to track your total spending and remove any items from your cart before you get to the checkout if you’re trying to stick to a budget.
Checking your supermarket app or website each week can also be a great way to keep an eye on the top new specials rather than looking through every aisle. Woolies Dash, Checkers sixty60, and Pick an online pay shopping are great options but are unavailable in small towns.
- Compare the unit price of different products
When comparing products from different brands, compare the price per unit rather than the overall price. This is often in a smaller print and shows the price per 100g. The total cost of a product from brand A might be more expensive than brand B, but the value per 100g might be lower – meaning better value for money
- Grow and make your own
Suppose you have a garden and can grow some of your vegetables! You could grow fresh herbs or sprouts only with a small balcony.
Look at your shopping list and see if there’s anything you could save money on by making yourself. This could be hummus, dips, stock, jam, bread, and baking. Of course, not everyone has the time to do this (and it’s not always cheaper), but it’s something to consider, especially if you enjoy spending time in the kitchen
- Include more vegan or plant-based meals
Meat and animal products are costly. Reduce your meat intake by eating a few vegan or plant-based meals weekly. It can be just as delicious, and protein sources like lentils and beans are cheap, healthy, and full of fibre. We created this Vegan Meal plan guide with 20 recipes to inspire you to eat more plant-based meals.
- Stop buying individual items for lunchboxes
I think this one is a considerable expense for many people because we are sucked into buying individual and character-branded yoghurts, snack bars, cheese, crackers, etc. Instead, invest in a Crunch lunchbox. It is a once-off expense that will save a surprising amount of money in the long run. This lunchbox lasts and lasts. It just does not break or crack. We have had ours for four years; even the stickers look brand new. Because of the compartments, it is so easy to pack lunches without buying individual items. This is how I use it:
- Buy 1 l full-fat plain yoghurt, and add honey or berry chia jam. Add a spoon. I promise it does not leak. Hummus, nut butter, and guacamole could also be added as dips.
- Add carrots, cherry tomatoes, peppers, olives, cucumber slices, oranges, tangerines, apples, kiwis, grapes etc.
- Bake just once a week, and add homemade muffins or nutbars
- Buy large rice cakes and dip them in melted chocolate-put in the fridge to set
- Make your sandwiches with tuna mayo, egg, and mayo, or ham and cheese
- Gluten-free: rice crackers or Triggz chips are great options
- Add ham, cheese, biltong, and roasted chickpeas as protein options
- Add dried fruit, nuts, and seeds
- When my pantry is empty, I quickly make some popcorn in the morning
- Add a boiled egg as a protein option instead of protein bars
- Buy a good quality water bottle that keeps water cold, and don’t buy juice, milk, or energy drinks for lunch boxes.
- Save on breakfast
Buying five different sugary processed boxes of cereals every month will add up. Rather make porridge, overnight oats, chia puddings, egg on toast, or homemade smoothies.
- Make use of reward cards
They don’t always feel like a significant saving, but using supermarket reward cards does save you money. So get them and use them.
- Stock up on frozen fruit and vegetables
Fruit and vegetables are snap frozen and retain their nutrients. They are a great option to keep in your freezer. Compared to fresh fruit and vegetables, they can be a lot cheaper.
- Store food correctly
Knowing how to store your food properly can make it last longer and reduce the amount you throw away. Here are some storage tips to help you get more out of your weekly shop:
- Keep open packets in airtight containers
- Store fruit and veg in bags in the produce section of your fridge
- Store carrots in containers of water
- Put spring onions in the refrigerator in a jar or vase of water like flowers
- Keep ripe avocados in water in the fridge. It stops them from getting overripe.
- Freeze meat, produce, and leftovers that you won’t eat for a while
- If buying in bulk, put any food you want to set aside for later in the freezer on the date of purchase. Just remember to write the date on it, so you remember when to use it by
- Put a paper towel inside bags of opened salad to absorb moisture and prevent wilting
- Keep half the onions, half tomatoes, and avocados in one container in the fridge and use them as soon as possible.
- Store potatoes in a dark, cool place
- Store dry ingredients in jars or containers.
- Flour can be kept in containers or jars and out of the light. It could also be stored in the fridge or freezer if you have space to kill mites or pests.
- Pick the best time to shop
Not shopping when you’re hungry can make a huge difference, and another clever trick is to ask the supermarket staff what days or times they restock the shelves so you can plan your trips for the times when you’ll have the most choice.
When the shelves are bare, and the discounted items are already sold out, you leave empty-handed or are forced to buy at whatever price.
Some supermarkets also mark down items on certain days and times to ensure they sell before passing their sell-by date. Ask or try to figure out when they have marked-down prices.
- Stop buying all the cleaning products
First, many cleaning products have a hefty toxic load you don’t want to use in your home.
Start making your cleaning products or rely more on lemons, vinegar, and bicarbonate of soda on your cleaning needs. I wrote a blog post about our zero-waste journey and some great, cheaper, and healthier options we have been using. One of my favourite switches we have made is making my dishwasher tablets. It saves us a lot of money!
- Include more whole grains and the humble potato
Potatoes, brown rice, oats, barley, polenta, etc., are a cheap way to bulk up meals and can be included in many recipes. Try this Lentil curry and baked polenta
- Family traditions
For many, Fridays or the weekends are a time for take-out meals or eating out. This can set you back quite significantly. Instead, come up with family traditions of trying to make something new or special over the weekend, cooking food from different cultures, and spending a bit more money on the ingredients. Doing this lets you spend time together as a family, learning new skills and saving money.
Follow Ankie Niesing on her delicious blog and social media platforms for more @wooden_spoon_kitchen
I am Ankie Niesing. I studied Home Economics at University and spent ten years in London teaching, travelling and learning an extraordinary amount about food and different cultures and attending cooking courses at Ashburton cookery school and Leith’s school of food and wine. , founder of Wooden Spoon Kitchen, an online food blog for those who can, can’t and won’t cook.