What foods do you turn to when you want to eat well for less? Our writer Joanna Blythman shares her kitchen cupboard staples and what to buy on a budget
I’d be at a total loss if I couldn’t fall back on my old, best friends in the kitchen – supremely nutritious and democratically cheap, even if you buy organic (£1.60- £2.40 for six). When a thrifty, carb-centric meal needs an injection of high-quality protein, think eggs.
Combine budget-conscious recipes with a shot of health benefits and try out our healthy egg collection.
A bargain – it costs as little as 60p. I like to poach celery in stock and then thicken with cream. Sautéed in butter and puréed, it makes a fine soup that tastes reminiscent of expensive salsify. Stripping the strings with a potato peeler makes all the difference.
Try this herby celery & bulghar salad.
Italian short-grain organic brown rice
All good wholefood shops stock these pearly smooth grains. Greatly superior to the starchy, long-grain sort – I love the smooth texture. This rice is wonderfully satisfying at only 40p for a serving.
If you buy basic tomatoes, you can ripen them up for a week or until they turn deep red. I then halve and season them (salt, pepper, herbs, olive oil) and slowly dry them in a low oven. Full of umami savouriness, I use them to tart up bland, low-cost ingredients.
Fresh tomatoes brighten up any meal, so check out how to use them in our tomato collection.
Reliably cheap, and super-healthy because it is fermented. I combine it with some potatoes and a couple of ham ribs or smoked sausage to make the poor woman’s answer to the Alsatian choucroute garnie. It also pads out cold cuts in sandwiches – but don't forget the mustard!
Try this simple sauerkraut recipe.
Loaded with healthy fish oils. I mash mine with red wine vinegar and serve on toast. Beautifully filleted, sustainably fished Cornish ones from the Pilchard Works (around £1.89 for a can) are suave enough to add to salads, and perfect for a simple Sicilian pasta con le sarde.
Turn your tinned sardines into something special with our Spanish sardines on toast.
Dessert apples are doggedly cheap, but who wants to chomp through an autumnal fruit once Christmas is past? That’s when I peel and cut them into segments, then fry with a teaspoon of butter and brown sugar to make a warm to toffee-sauced apple dessert. A spoonful of cream adds the finishing touch.
Treat yourself to something sweet or savoury from our apple collection.
A silvery, fresh herring fillet costs around £1.50 and makes for a real treat when fried in oatmeal. Outside of herring season (early summer), I fall back on the pickled variety. They work brilliantly with celeriac remoulade or sliced thinly in a Scandinavian-style potato salad.
Lightly toasted or snowy white, I use desiccated coconut to bring another dimension to boring-but-affordable muesli that’s short on nuts – or to add texture and interest to overnight-soaked oats or fruit crumble topping. Combined with leftover egg whites, you can use it to make fast, easy and inexpensive macaroons.
Try a sweet treat and mix up your own coconut & chocolate macaroons.
A 500g bag (which costs as little as £2) makes a creative, low-cost alternative to pricey fresh berries. As berries develop a potent fruitiness when frozen, a small amount packs a vivid punch to liven up your breakfast porridge, muesli or yogurt, or any potentially frugal dessert.
Need some recipe inspiration? Get the most from your cheap ingredients with our cheap eats collection.
We also have a guide packed with tips for budget cooking that won't hurt your pocket or your waistline.
What are your tips for food buying on a budget? Let us know in the comments section below...