January is a time for careful spending and budget cooking and recipes. Cookery Editor, Sue, shares some of her money-saving food  ideas.

Cheesy pasta bake

Our cookery feature in this week’s issue (22nd January – out now) of Woman’s Weekly is recipes for under £2 per person. If you’re a regularly reader of Woman’s Weekly you many know that a couple of years ago I had baby daughter, and I took a year off work. Although our company is very good with maternity pay, some of my time off was unpaid and it made me think carefully about how much I was spending on food as it was one area in which I could make savings.

Budget cooking tip #1 – Use that freezer

The thing that I found most helpful was having a freezer, but rather than filling it up with bulky non-essentials like bread, I filled it with main meals. I would take advantage of special offers on ingredients like mince or chicken and then make up several meals with it, have one fresh and then freeze the rest. Make sure you label the foods that you put in it.  You may think it will always be obvious what something is, but once frozen it’s often difficult to tell.

Budget cooking tip #2 – Cook in bulk

It takes a bit longer to cook a bulk quantity, but if you’ve got the oven or hob on then it’s easy to cook a bit more, then for the subsequent meals it’s just a matter of reheating.  This is particularly true in the case of casseroles when you may have the oven on for several hours, so you might as well get it as full as possible.

Budget cooking tip #3 – Choose the right container

To begin with I was freezing meals in foil containers, but those worked out expensive, so I bought some rectangular glass dishes that were suitable for both freezer and oven use, and being rectangular I can pack more into the freezer than if I was using round dishes.

Budget cooking tip #4 – Be flexible with ingredients

One of our family favourites is Cheese-topped-pasta bake, which I make roughly based on the recipe, but I tend to vary it slightly each time depending what’s on offer or what I have in the fridge that needs using up.  I often substitute carrots for the celery as carrots are usually cheaper, and if mushrooms are reasonably priced, then I add some of them too.  I often buy the packs of irregular-size mushrooms which are usually cheaper than the uniform size ones because when they’re sliced up it doesn’t really matter.

Budget cooking tip #5 – Shop online

Another thing that I found helped me to keep my budget down was to shop online, because not only did it save me time (and it’s much easier than taking a baby to a supermarket), but it also meant that I don’t get tempted to buy extra things.  I take out an annual delivery pass, which for Ocado is currently £109.99 for 12 months – so just over £2 per week and if I wanted to then I could have deliveries almost every day (except over Christmas) without having to pay additional delivery charges (although each order does have to be a minimum of £40). So although I do find it a lot to pay out at once, over the year it does save me money both in car expenses and saving on not buying unnecessary impulse purchases.

Budget cooking tip #6 – Don’t buy more that you’ll eat

Because no matter how much of a bargain something is, if you end up throwing it away then it wasn’t such a bargain.

Budget cooking tip #7 – Look out for vouchers

Look out for money-off vouchers, and make the most of deals from loyality cards.  I’ve had several holidays where both the flights and hotel have been paid for in full from the points that I’ve saved from using a loyality card, and all from things that I would have bought anyway. The deals with points don’t seem to be quite as good now as they used to be, but it’s still a way of getting a little extra for money that you’d be spending in that store anyway.