Tasty, budget-stretching recipes to warm up winter

Winter weather has arrived, bringing with it the urge to get cosy and indulge in some serious comfort food. The good news in this time of inflation and sky-high food costs is that, in addition to being delicious, stick-to-your-ribs soups and stews can also be healthful and cost effective. In fact, the most affordable ingredients often benefit from just the type of low, slow cooking that winter warmers are well known for. Here are a handful of tips, tricks and recipes to try this winter.

Rethink meat
Buying more cost-effective of meat is a reliable way to reduce food costs. Generally, the more processed something is, the more it costs – so chicken cut into strips for stir-fries costs more per 100 grams than a boneless, skinless chicken breast, which costs more than a bone-in, skin-on chicken breast, which costs more than a whole chicken. You save money (if not time) by doing the processing work yourself.

Of course, not everyone is up for roasting whole chickens on the regular. That’s OK! There are lots of other ways to save.

Learn to love legumes
Another cost-reducing option is to make meat a “sometimes food” rather than a daily menu item. And you’re not just cutting costs when you replace meat with affordable protein sources such as beans and lentils, you’re also increasing the amount of fibre and other beneficial nutrients that you consume. Legumes are also environmentally friendly, so it’s a win-win-win proposition.

Lentils and beans are culinary staples around the world, so this winter, why not do some dining-table travelling by trying recipes from different cultures? The Italian soup pasta e fagioli is a classic for cold winter days, and so is colourful, flavourful Indian dal.

Shop locally and eat in season
Believe it or not, there’s something to be found at farmers’ markets even in the depths of winter. This is the time of year to become an expert on different ways to prepare and enjoy hardy vegetables such as winter squash (try it in gnocchi), turnip and kale. Even better, when you shop at the farmers’ market you’re supporting local producers – not billion-dollar corporations – and you’re buying food grown close to home, without the environmental impact of something that was flown halfway around the world.

Embrace life in the slow lane
When it comes to getting the best out of more affordable cuts of meat or dried beans and legumes, it’s hard to beat the Dutch oven, slow-cooker or Instant Pot. Low, slow cooking is just the ticket for cuts of meat that may be less tender or contain more gristle – a long braise tenderizes the tissues and turns that budget cut into something that is melt-in-your-mouth delicious. Try this beef stew for a start.

Rethink how you use leftovers
Another bonus to buying less processed cuts of meat is the ability to use (and re-use) your leftovers. If you roast a whole chicken, you can package the leftovers to use in dinners and lunches throughout the week, then combine the carcass with leftover veggie peels to make stock to use for soup or stew. This also applies to other bone-in meats, like roasts of beef, pork or lamb.

But the “take leftovers and roll with them” school of thought doesn’t stop with making stock for soup. Have leftover rice? Make arancini, fried rice or rice pudding. Leftover spaghetti noodles? Use them as a “crust” for spaghetti pie! A bit of creative thinking can go a long way to make leftovers something you look forward to.

Buy in bulk and use your freezer
If you’re not up for the “cook a whole chicken” school of menu planning, consider buying in bulk when an item is on sale and freezing what you won’t use right away. Just make sure to keep tabs on what’s in your freezer to ensure you use them in a timely manner (and so that you have records in case you need to make an insurance claim following a long power outage).

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