Money saving, waste reducing

A-Z of money saving, waste reducing ideas

best before dates    I take these with a very large tub of salt, and try to use my eyes, nose and mouth to help me decide whether food is safe to eat - just like our grandmothers did before Best Before dates were invented. And scraping off a little mould from around the top of homemade jam, cutting out the slightly rotten bit of an apple or sprucing up sad vegetables in a casserole or soup has not harmed me, but saved me many pennies.  I would like to qualify that I am very strict when it comes to meat and fish.  

bread            We make all our own bread, using a breadmaker.  I am sure some one will tell me the energy used to make the bread is neither cost effective nor environmentally friendly. All I can say is that we escape all the plastic wrapping of shop bought loaves, we do not have to worry about popping into a shop when we run out (and inevitably spending money on things we weren't planning to buy....), it is low salt and low sugar, and waking up to the smell of freshly made bread is heaven. Definitely worth the £80 we spent on it, and the five minutes a night Mrs Doubtfire spends bunging the ingredients into the maker.  My friend buys bread, slices it, freezes it and then takes out the slices as she needs them.  

breadcrumbs  Our homemade bread goes off quicker than shop bought - I guess this is because of the absence of preservatives.  No worries. I slice the stale remnants thin, then put in a baking tray at a very low heat for several hours till I have zapped any moisture from it.  Put in magimix and hey presto, there are my breadcrumbs needed for loads of recipes. These can be stored for months in an airtight container.  The only problem is I need to get to the stale bread before Mrs Doubtfire does and throws it away...

buy in bulk    Over the years, I have slowly taken over the cupboard under the stairs, which now stores large (5kg) bags of pasta and rice from the supermarket and huge tins of olive oil. I decant them as needed into glass jars in the kitchen.  The price per kg falls dramatically when you buy large sizes, and the amount of packaging reduces too. I know that I am lucky in having the space to do this.  

children's brands    If it is branded for children or babies, you can bet that it is far more expensive.  As a treat over the summer I said I would buy the children those little strawberry shaped yoghurt pots for a picnic. I didn't actually buy them when I discovered that the price per gram was DOUBLE for this compared to the large family pots we usually buy. And there is a lot more packaging which ends up in the bin. So we siphoned out the strawberry yoghurt into our little tupperware pots and everyone was just as happy. I am not buying into the children's brands! 

cling film        I never buy this. I use an old plastic bag that fruit/ veg has been wrapped in if you need to cover food like pastry. For left overs, I put them in a bowl or plate and cover with another bowl or plate as appropriate.

foil                I do buy this occasionally but use it with a great deal of suspicion.  Most of the time I think we can get away with not using it, by covering things with plates, bowls, oven trays.  On the rare occasion we do use it, I wash and dry it afterwards to reuse and eventually recycle.  

fridge            Recently, I have started to plan for a weekly spontaneous meal, although I realise what an oxymoron this seems.  I reach behind all the fresh and appealing things in the fridge, right to the back, where the tired, the old and the about to retire food stuffs lurk.  I think about all the lovely dishes I have enjoyed in the past, that I have cooked or enjoyed at friends houses or in restaurants. And I think how I can use the sad ingredients to recreate something interesting and cheery.  

herbs            We live in town and have a tiny patio. But I grew a small bay tree, rosemary, thyme and mint.  These are pretty much most of the herbs that I use in my cooking.  Coriander and basil are hard to grow so I tend to buy the living pots that last for ages. If I do buy them in a packet, I try to freeze what I don't need before it goes off, and then add to cooking as needed.  Not as good as the fresh stuff, but better than nothing.

improvise        If I want to cook a dish and I don't have an ingredient it lists, I don't necessarily rush out to buy it, because I know I am likely to come home with a host of other things too.  Improvising to see if another herb (substitute thyme for basil), another vegetable (use spinach rather than spring greens) or even another piece of protein (use chickpeas rather than lentil; or chicken rather than pork in a stir fry) would work has saved me time, money and used up food that might have gone off otherwise.    Don't be a slave to the recipe, but let the recipe work for you.  The only time I do slave to recipes is when baking is called for: I am not a confident baker and so would never be confident that any improvisations would work. 

larder            Once a month I try to do the same rummage in the larder that I do in the fridge and see what lovely meal I could recreate with tins, packets, jars that are nearing their best before date (or often that have exceeded their best before date by quite sometime - always looking, smelling and tasting to check they are not bad).  

lemons         Never ever cut open a fresh lemon or lime without first checking there isn't a half used one already hanging around somewhere. The older and sadder they look, the more cooking they need, so clearly if I had friends over for a G&T I would want a nice fresh one with pert flesh. But if there is a limp slightly dry corner lurking in the fridge, use it to squeeze into a dressing, a sauce or find something to do with it.  

onion            Since I have bought a handy onion container, I often only use half an onion and store the other half in the fridge, without stinking the kitchen out.  It saves on foil and cling film and means the onion lasts longer and we spend less.

spices            I keep spices for ever and ever and ever. Commonly used ones such as cumin, coriander seeds, turmeric etc are bought regularly because they get used up. The cardamon pods I have in my cupboard have been there for years.  Possibly since Mrs Doubtfire and I went to India on our honeymoon, and that was over a decade ago.  I used them in a rice pudding recipe recently and the flavour was strong and we are all still alive and well. Ergo: keep spices for ever and ever and ever.

stock               Sunday roasts are good in so many ways. One benefit is by making a stock by boiling up the bones, and giblets etc in a large pan of water with a bay leaf, any old vegetables on their way out and some seasoning and herbs. The stock is great for risottos, soups, casseroles.  Keep in the fridge or freeze.  Family legend has it that my great aunt Rosebud (for that is who she was to me) used to keep the water that she cooked her vegetables in as vegetable stock.  The ultimate Dinner Lady. 

tea                I read somewhere that using loose tea was more environmentally friendly - it saves on packaging and on the amount of tea leaves consumed (I guess on the presumption that we tend to use one tea bag per person).  We try to use loose tea and love making a pot, particularly in the morning, when there is time to let one spoonful of tea leaves brew.  You can also make yummy blends of tea this way. But when in a hurry, a bag is definitely necessary, although I have now started to leave a ramekin next to the kettle to put the bag so it can be used - I can get a couple of cups out of one bag this way, although by the end I am definitely doing a lot of squeezing!  Mrs Doubtfire, who was very skeptical about reusing tea bags, has never spotted the difference in the blind tea tasting challenges I have set him. 

timer            Invest in a little timer if your cooker doesn't have one. So often I have let food burn when I have been a little preoccupied and this is such an unnecessary waste! When I am feeling particularly dappy, I try to get into the habit of putting the timer on even when I am about so I don't forget about the onions browning gently or the potatoes boiling....otherwise I remember them when there is an intense smell of burning. Luckily I have never actually had to dial 999
vegetables    Although we have a tiny patio, we still managed to grow runner beans in a pot and a courgette plant that looked rather jurassic and took over somewhat. Potatoes in a bag were also successful. These provided enough veg for many many meals. What could be more local or seasonal than that? Next summer I will experiment with more.  

wine                I never ever throw wine away, even when it has gone off. It can be used in loads of recipes.

Copyright: Dinner Lady 2011