Dinner time | Strategies to eat better for less

Deciding what to cook for the family each night can be tricky. If you’re not contending with fussy eaters or allergies, it can be timing around sports practices and wide ranging age groups with differing tastes. And now, thanks to rising costs, we also have diminishing value for money. So those frozen boxes of wonderful looking pre-made delights and far-to-easy to gobble down sliced meats, are off the menu.

The rising cost of food is hitting Kiwi families hard, with more than two-thirds seeing their food bills soar by $50 to $149. To cope with the increased expenses, a staggering 95% of parents reported cutting back on their grocery spending, and 63% had to change their lifestyle.

To navigate these challenges, families are adopting several strategies to make their grocery dollars stretch further:

1. Plan Your Meals: Take an inventory of the items you already have in your fridge and pantry, then plan your meals for the week based on what you have. Create a detailed shopping list of the ingredients you’re missing. As a bonus tip, consider ordering groceries for delivery to avoid impulse buys and to save time.

2. Buy in Bulk: Purchasing non-perishable items in bulk often results in decent savings. Items like rice, pasta, and canned goods could be stored and used over time, lowering the overall cost per meal. You may need extra storage for this, so be sure to keep track of what you’ve got in stock.

3. Embrace Seasonal Produce: Seasonal fruits and vegetables are not only fresher but also cheaper. While some seasonal produce might not be the family favourite, try and find recipes to make them work (think chicken and pumpkin soup, parsnip chips and baked sweet leeks) Checkout our seasonal produce guide!

4. Use leftovers wisely: Instead of letting leftovers go to waste, repurpose them into new meals. A roast dinner one night could become a hearty soup, meat pie or a tasty sandwich filling the next day. This also means you get out of the habit of overeating unnecessarily because the food is, well, just sitting there. Set it aside from the get-go.

5. Cook in batches: Preparing large quantities of food and freezing portions for later can help save time and money. This way, you’ll always have a home-cooked meal ready, reducing the temptation to order expensive takeout.

6. Shop smart: Keep an eye out for sales and discounts, and stock up on frequently used items when they were on sale, as great bargains can be found on fresh fish, meat cuts and other expensive protein options. Be sure to sign up to loyalty programs to earn rewards and savings.

7. Grow your own: Even a small vegetable garden or a few herb pots could make a difference. Fresh, home-grown produce can add flavour and nutrition to meals at a fraction of the cost. Easy and very healthy vegetables to grow are spinach, silverbeet, lettuce, spring onions, beets and chilli.

8. Use canned foods: Canned vegetables, beans, and fish are affordable, long-lasting, and versatile. They can be used in a variety of dishes, providing a quick and economical way to add nutrients to meals. A helpful suggestion is to incorporate canned lentils into mince-based meals for an additional boost of fibre protein, and sustenance. This simple addition enhances the nutritional content of the dish at a low price point and it won’t affect the flavour of the dish too much.

9. Incorporate more plant-based meals: Shifting towards a plant-based diet can significantly reduce grocery bills. Beans, lentils, and grains are less expensive than meat and can be the foundation for many nutritious and satisfying meals.

10. Choose pre-packaged convenience foods wisely: While pre-packaged options may save time, they often come with a higher price tag. Opting to prepare meals from scratch not only helps save money but also tends to promote healthier eating habits. However, it’s important to note that there are exceptions to this rule. For example, certain pre-made items like frozen pizzas and soup can sometimes be cheaper than buying all the ingredients separately, though they may also lack some of the nutritional benefits.

11. Utilise store brands: Many store brands offer the same quality as name brands but at a lower cost. Switching to store brands for staples like flour, sugar, and dairy products can result in significant savings over time.

12. Buy frozen vegetables: Frozen veggies are often cheaper than fresh and just as nutritious. They have a longer shelf life, reducing waste, and can be easily incorporated into a variety of dishes.

13. Make use of discount stores: Discount and wholesale stores often have lower prices on bulk items and staples. You’ll also sometimes find that produce stores have better deals on seasonal produce than the big chain grocery stores.

14. Prepare simple, nutritious meals: Focusing on simple recipes with fewer ingredients can help save money. Dishes like soups, stews, and casseroles are cost-effective and can be made in large batches to feed the family for several meals. Slow cooking promotes extra flavour, and easy-to-grow herbs like rosemary, mint and thyme can be useful across a wide range of dishes.

15. Make use of a hot oven: If you are heating up your oven for just one tray, consider pre preparing tomorrow night’s dinner ahead of time, or adding a cake or pudding. This way you will be saving money on power usage, and saving time cooking dinner another night.

Need some recipe inspiration? Check out our food section here

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