Rejina Sabur-Cross offers her money saving tips for creating delicious dinners on a budget.
How often do you go into a shop, pick up an overpriced fruit salad, add up the unripe cubes of melon, the meagre, mushy strawberries and the distinct whiff of rip off and realise you could do a far better job for a fraction of the price?
If you're anything like me you'll find yourself sat in front of the telly on a Sunday night chopping gargantuan piles of pineapples and peaches into Tupperware in order to have a fresh fruit salad for the week ahead without resorting to remortgaging the flat.
Convenient they may be, but sandwiches, smoothies and salads are all bought with the greatest reluctance, knowing how much better my own would be. I've been known to carry around a Thermos of green tea rather than cough up for an overpriced cup with an inferior teabag. And I'd much rather make my own soup, seasoned just the way I like it, than fork out for a bland, homogenous, under-seasoned shop-bought version any day.
Those titchy pots of edamame beans that cost the same as a proper bag of frozen ones (usually about four times bigger) are guaranteed to get my goat, as is overpriced sushi made with old fish and bad rice. Yes, it takes a bit longer, but life is definitely not too short. Not when you sit down and actually work out how much it costs long term and the appalling profit margins being marked up on some cheese and pickle sarnies and bottles of fruit juice.
It's not just about frugality. There's something intrinsically satisfying about knowing exactly what you're consuming. So much about eating well on a budget is in the planning. Making lists of what you already have in the kitchen and the meals they can be transformed into, making friends with your freezer, working out what you're going to eat depending on when things will go off, getting creative with leftovers - these are all ways of avoiding the dreaded telephone call to the local pizza place after a hard day in the office.
Letting meat be the flavour and allowing vegetables to take centre stage means you can stretch out cheap cuts and do yourself a world of good in the process. It's a massive error to think that being thrifty equals rubbish grub. If anything, with a little imagination it can often be quite the opposite - it's all about perception.
That old loaf isn't stale ciabatta, but the makings of panzanella. It's not leftover chicken but with a few extras, the basis of a roast chicken garden salad. Those carrots and onions are in fact the backbone of a hearty miso soup and that slowly softening beetroot is the perfect pairing with a bar of dark chocolate for some decadent brownie goodness.
So what tips do you have for saving the pennies but still eating well? And which pre-packaged meals wind you up the most?
Share your ideas for cheap eats below, or for more inspiration tuck into more of our recipe ideas.