What To Eat On A Post-Christmas Budget

Here we are. January. And while we may be rich in a festive flush of Aesop goodies, fancy candles and Christmas gift vouchers, most of us will also be going for seriously broke until that end-of-the-month paycheque turns up.
Still, a bleak January is the perfect time for a booze detox and a few hygge-style nights in. You’ve still got to eat though, so here are a few tips on how to do that cheaply but deliciously.
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Shop Smart

Before we get going here, you need to accept this is going to take a bit of a shopping plan and perhaps a closer relationship with your cooker.

Let’s start in the supermarket. First, cut down on pricier meat and fish choices (maybe even give them a miss altogether?) and stock up on plenty of chickpeas, lentils and beans to deliver your protein hit. If you can’t face a flesh-free month, buy cheaper options like minced beef or turkey and smoked mackerel or tinned tuna. Shop seasonal fresh fruit and vegetables where you can but don’t dismiss frozen choices. They’re far cheaper, nutritionally as good (sometimes better) and you only use as much as you need, cutting down on waste. Say hello to budget ranges in the supermarket. You really won’t notice the difference on basics like rice, pasta, potatoes and tins of tomatoes. Some may taste even better than your regular buys.

Get ready for a bit of DIY. Expensive convenience buys – that’s everything from porridge sachets and ready meals to pre-prepared sandwiches and snacks – are out this month. Instead, invest in flexible foods like porridge oats. As well as providing a healthy breakfast bowl, try toasting a cup of oats in the oven for a few minutes, mix with some chopped dried apple, raisins, nuts and seeds and there you go, your very own muesli. More delicious and cheaper than anything you’ll find in the supermarket. You can also add oats to a breakfast smoothie or use in baked goodies (see last slide).
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Spice It Up

Spices, herbs, and a little citrus in the mix go such a long way to boost a whole bunch of dishes. Where would money-saving mince be without a few spices to perk it into a fiery chilli for some seriously flavoursome meatballs? And want to make a stir-fry really sing? Just throw in some fresh grated ginger and a star anise to add instant fragrance and taste. They’re not expensive but investing in a jar of harissa, fennel seeds or some smoked paprika could really lift a simple meal.

Dinner doesn’t come much more cost-effective than a spice-rich curry. It’s a dish that adapts to just about every kind of dietary requirement, most recipes can be made ahead and the flavours only get better the next day. They freeze well too, which means an hour or two spent knocking up a pot of lentil dhal or a chicken dopiaza will stand you in good stead for meal solutions the rest of the month.

As well as the more obvious uses, spices and herbs can also tweak and lift an everyday snack or meal. Roast potatoes with turmeric or some ground cumin. Try adding a few chilli flakes with the juice and zest of a lime to a tin of drained tuna. Mix in a little mayo, team with some crisp leaves and seasoning and you have a punchy filling for a baked potato or wrap.
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Bakes Are Brilliant

I’ve never met a bake I didn’t like. From the ubiquitous mac and cheese (load with roast cherry tomatoes, cauliflower and kale to make it taste great and go further) to a tray of simple seasonal root veg roasted with lemon wedges and rosemary. They are the super easy way to eat well on the cheap. Low maintenance, apart from a little initial chopping, they’re perfect for feeding friends too.

There are some very tasty bake recipes out there that take minimal effort and deliver a delicious result, and one of my favourites is the Greek veggie roast bake, briam. Just chop a red and a yellow pepper (buy the cheap misshapen ones; they taste the same but cost less), two large potatoes, one carrot, one fennel bulb, one large red onion and one leek into chunky slices. Put into a large baking tray and add a pack of cherry tomatoes (halved), 3-4 fat cloves of garlic (sliced), a pinch of chilli flakes, one teaspoon of dried oregano, and a generous handful of fresh parsley and basil. Pour in 75ml of olive oil, 200ml of veggie stock and a slug of white wine (optional). Season and put into an oven at 180°C (350°F) for about 30 minutes. Turn oven up to 190°C (375°F). Crumble a little feta and zest of a lemon over the top of the briam and drizzle over a teaspoon of oil. Bake for another 10-20 minutes and serve. This tastes marvellous the next day and freezes beautifully, too.
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The Usual Suspects

There are of course our go-to foods that we like to eat, are quick to prepare and are great with budgets in mind. Eggs are a cheap and easy way to a decent protein hit, are incredibly versatile and suit absolutely any mealtime. But when it comes to a cheap dinner for one, you just can’t beat a baked potato. Even on a budget you can take a BP to the next level. While your spud is cooking in the oven or microwave, gently fry a chopped leek in a little oil for five to 10 minutes. Then add a couple of chopped mushrooms and some chopped kale. When potato is cooked, scoop filling into a bowl and mix with a little butter and the leek, mushroom and kale mix. Season, grate in some cheddar and then pile back into the potato shells. Top with more grated cheese and a good pinch of smoked paprika and return to the oven until cheese is golden.

Beans on toast is a classic of course and cheap to buy, but it’s so easy and tastier to make your own. Just finely chop half a red onion and two cloves of garlic and fry in a little oil. Add one tin of cannellini beans (rinsed and drained) and a tin of tomatoes. Add one teaspoon of tomato puree, one teaspoon of smoked paprika, 1/2 teaspoon of sugar and seasoning. Cook gently for 20 minutes. Throw in some chopped fresh parsley and serve with toast. This makes enough for two generous portions and freezes well.
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There's Got To Be Chocolate

Our regular coffee shop buys or sweet treats are often first to fall when budgets are stretched. But there’s no need to miss out. Chocolate chip cookies are so simple to make, the perfect way to cheer a dreary winter day, and you can knock out about a dozen for around the same price as one bloated coffee store fancy. They freeze well too. All you have to do is beat 75g butter with 75g caster sugar and 75g light muscovado sugar in a bowl. Add an egg, then fold in 150g plain flour, one teaspoon of baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, a pinch of salt and 25g of fine oatmeal (you can easily make fine oatmeal by whizzing up some porridge oats in the blender). Stir in 100g of decent milk or plain chocolate (I use Lindt), roughly chopped. Spoon dollops of the mixture onto a greased baking tray and bake at 180°C (350° F) for 10-12 minutes until a pale golden brown. Cool in tray and then on a rack.

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