Maintaining a healthy balance in our food is even more critical in the current climate, as we can often sacrifice this in search of cheaper meals. In this article we will look at long-life foodstuffs that can be turned into delicious, balanced meals whilst pinching those pennies so hard that they will cry!

So let’s start with pasta. Pasta is a reasonably complex carb made from wheat but most of us are buying the refined white pasta. The wholewheat stuff will offer a much higher source of fibre and a slower release of energy. It will also keep you fuller for longer. There are also a variety of other pastas available that will be a high source of protein too. Lentil and chickpea pastas are readily available in most good supermarkets now and are gluten-free as an added bonus. It might be worth considering adding some of these to your basket. But let’s be honest, what you are putting on top of the pasta is really what will influence the nutritional value of the meal.

Speaking of chickpeas. Rethink where you are shopping.

Thanks to the wonderful diversity that makes up our tiny island, there are a wealth of ethnic shops a stone’s throw from many of us. 

Whether they are Asian, Middle Eastern, or Eastern European there are bargains to be had outside of the large supermarkets. Most of them sell three cans of chickpeas for circa £1. They will also have a large range of other pulses in cans at a much cheaper price than Sainsbury’s or even Lidl. So hunt out your kidney and pinto beans there.

These types of shops are a goldmine for dried pulses too. Half a kilo of red lentils goes for about 99p, along with the brown and green varieties, as do chickpeas, a plethora of dried beans and dahl. They also tend to have a great variety of fruit and veg, often with more exotic options on the shelves. I know that where I live, in Bethnal Green, my favourite grocer sells the most incredible, massive and gorgeous beetroot bunches with their full leaves for £1.79 (I have to have at least four recipes at the ready to use them up as they are so big). Aubergines are £1.99 a kilo and the crowning glory - three (yes three!) avocados for a £1. Take that Aldi.

Don’t be scared that these shops can be tightly-packed, often disorganised and seemingly overwhelming.

You will be amazed what you can find and generally the staff are really helpful. 

I often find myself picking up an odd-looking vegetable and asking what it is and how to cook it. Root out your spices here too. 100g of cumin (or generally most staple spices) is 99p vs £1 for 40g of Sainsbury’s own brand or £2.15 for 37g of Schwarz! You will never look back. 

The Oriental supermarkets offer fantastic deals on all kinds of noodles, from egg to soba, udon to long bean. Half a kilo of rice noodles is circa £1.50 vs 200g for the same price for a supermarket brand. They also offer fantastic deals on frozen seafood as well as fresh tofu and oriental veg. If you buy extra firm tofu, it’s easier to toss about in pans and freezes well. Just ensure you drain and compress any excess liquid from it before cooking.  Not to mention that soy, oyster, sriracha and black bean sauces are all nearly a third of the price that the supermarkets offer.

Similarly, rediscover your local butcher, fishmonger and food markets. Often the meat’s provenance is known, with a shorter supply chain and just as cheap if not cheaper than the supermarkets.

The deals to be had from the barrow boys are a steal and it is great to support local traders.

Often the freshness in the fish from the local guy makes the supermarkets’ pale in comparison.

You could invest some time in making your own stock. Fresh stock is so much more delicious than cubes or powder. I find that my butcher will sell me a kilo of chicken carcass for 50p. Grab two and start boiling away with some carrots, onions, leeks, celery, garlic and thyme in four litres of water to make around two litres when you are done. Freeze in half litre portions to add to stews and soups. You can even combine half and half with stock cubes when cooking to stretch it further. You could also keep a bag in the freezer of old veg that is on its last legs. Drop in carrots, celery, leeks, onions, fennel, tomatoes, mushrooms, parsnips as you go and when you have around a kilo, throw it in a stock pot with parsley, thyme, peppercorns and a bay leaf and boil it up for vegetable stock. Again, better than powder and a great way to make your old veg go further than the bin.

When you do cook these kinds of long-life foodstuffs, it is often the same work to make a large batch than to cook a family-sized dinner. This is great for freezer stuffing and also when you fancy different meals from each other. Portioning up means everyone is happy! Balance is really key when making these meals. Try to ensure that there is a good dollop of the key macronutrients in each one: fat (healthy unsaturated), protein and complex carbs.

Here are some lovely balanced recipes to feed four that will tickle your taste buds and won’t break the bank. I have worked out the cost using Tesco prices for own brands and standard ranges, so they could be made even cheaper by shopping in the places mentioned above. I have also accounted for absolutely everything (assuming an empty store cupboard except salt and pepper), so you will probably have some of the ingredients in your cupboards already, for no extra outlay.

- Red Cabbage, Pearl Barley and Smoked Bacon Broth 94p per head

- Beetloaf with a Hoisin Glaze and Green Beans £1.43 per head

- Balti Chicken with Dhal and Leeks 73p per head

- Aubergine Jambalaya 95p per head

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Recipe image courtesy of The Naked Diet by
Tess Ward