Tips for low energy, low cost meals

We asked our friend Cass Bailey who blogs at Diary of a Frugal Family how she manages to save money and energy in the kitchen.

Here's some of her amazing tips on how you can do just that:

Tips for low energy, low cost meals

Whenever I’m asked what my biggest tips are for saving money or energy, I always recommend starting in the kitchen because that’s where you’ll see results quickest in my opinion.

The cost of cooking amounts to around 4% of your annual energy bill according to USwitch and I would imagine the cost of the food your family eats amounts to a significant proportion of your monthly household budget.

Saving money is generally my first priority, as will yours be I imagine, but it’s important to remember that doing this in a way that also saves energy will help your family become more energy efficient which in turn will save you even more money and reduce your spend on energy bills too.  

Meal planning

The first thing to do, if you don’t already, is to start planning your meals in advance which I do by sitting down on a Sunday and making a quick list of what I have in already. I then make as many meals as I can out of what I already have, plan the other meals we’ll be eating the following week and write a shopping list which I stick to as much as I can.

That one change will save you more than you think – for starters, there’ll be no more trips to the shop through the week where you plan to only buy something to eat for tea but inevitably end up spending so much more as other non-essentials ‘fall’ into your basket. And you’ll find that you spend less when you do go to the shops because you have a shopping list to stick to so you are literally just buying what you need.

Energy saving in the kitchen

Personally, I use my slow cooker a lot for cooking because it helps me to cook energy efficient recipes as it uses less energy than a traditional oven. Using less energy makes it cheaper to run but that’s not the only reason I love my slow cooker, I love that I just literally add the ingredients to it on a morning before work and when I come home, I have a meal ready to serve.  

As much as I love my slow cooker, I know they’re not for everyone so if you don’t own one, don’t worry as you can still be energy efficient when you’re using your oven to cook meals.  My top tip for energy efficient cooking with your oven is to turn your oven off ten minutes before the end of the cooking time – you won’t notice the difference, honestly! Also, you can help your oven do its job more efficiently by not opening the oven door where possible throughout the cooking process and if you have a fan assisted option, use it!  

Energy efficient cooking, or batch cooking as you might know it, is definitely the way forward when it comes to saving energy and money in the kitchen. I often cook double portions in the slow cooker so I have enough left over to freeze for another meal – things like chili, spaghetti bolognese, casseroles and sauces are great to cook in the slow cooker for batch cooking purposes.

When I’m going to use one of my batch cooked freezer meals, I simply get them out of the freezer the night before and reheat them the following day for tea. This saves energy as you’re not cooking a whole meal from scratch. It also saves you time because you’re just reheating something rather than planning and cooking a whole new meal. It’s a win win situation.  

Energy efficient meals

As well as using my freezer to store my batch cooked meals, I also like to use it to store what I call my meal building blocks. This includes things like frozen mixed veg which saves me time on meal prep and means that I always have veg in the house to serve but also things like frozen rice portions and batches of my homemade tomato sauce which turns so many things into a meal.

I tend to cook my homemade tomato sauce in big batches in the slow cooker and freeze it into portions which I then use for things like homemade pizzas, as a pasta sauce, a sauce for chicken wrapped in cheese and bacon, simply spooned on a jacket potato with some cheese, or even as a the tomato layer in veggie lasagne or with spaghetti and meatballs.

The beauty of it is that it’s so so simple to make:

Homemade Tomato Sauce

  • 1 finely onion chopped

  • 2-3 cloves of garlic

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

  • 3 tins chopped tomatoes

  • 2 teaspoons sugar

  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar ( don't worry if you don’t have any in – it’s almost as nice without any)

  • 1 tablespoon dried basil

 

You just add everything into your slow cooker and leave it to cook away on the low heat setting for 6-8 hours – it’s ready after 6 but only gets better if you leave it that little bit longer.  I generally give this a stir half way through but I’ve left it all day when I’ve been at work before and had no issues. Sometimes I add in some chilli and cumin if I want a bit of a kick but mostly I just cook it as it is and add the extra flavours in when I reheat it.

Again, for anyone without a slow cooker, this is still a great recipe and almost as easy.  When I make a batch of this on the hob, I gently saute the onion and garlic in the olive oil and then add in the rest of the ingredients. I just let it simmer away on a medium to low heat until the sauce reduced a little which is normally around 25 minutes. If I have fresh basil then I leave out the dried basil when I’m cooking it this way and I’ll just add a handful of torn basil leaves a couple of minutes before the end of the cooking time.

Honestly, it’s amazing and so versatile and you wouldn’t believe how simple it is to make and how cheap it is when you taste it!

Extra tips

There are so many other ways you can save money and energy in the kitchen that I’d be writing a novel rather than a blog post if I shared them all with you today but if you just remember one thing that my Nana taught me then you won’t go far wrong.  

She always taught me not to waste a single thing which is a saying that translates really well into saving money and energy in the kitchen – whether it’s not filling the kettle with more water than you need for your cuppa, not running the dishwasher until you have a full load ready to go or even leaving your oven door open to heat the kitchen as it cools after you’ve used it. By making sure that you don’t waste energy, you’re going to save money in the long run so get the family on board, make some changes and then sit back and enjoy the results.

Read more money saving tips from my good friend Becky - who's also a blogger - on how you can be a more energy efficient family here.  

Happy Saving!

 

For more helpful tips and tricks on being energy efficent across your entire house, visit our energy efficiency home page

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