My daughter, who is at university and on an extremely tight budget, is a very good cook. She also has a good understanding of nutrition. I am happy to take credit for this, as I always encouraged her and her sisters to cook and bake from an early age. Hopefully this means that she won’t come back looking too pale and under nourished! I think everyone living on a budget should learn to cook and here is why.
Six reasons everyone on a budget should learn to cook
Cooking from scratch is cheaper
The most obvious reason to learn to cook is that it’s cheaper than buying ready made. I’m not saying you have to cook everything from scratch. Who has the time? However, you can whip up a pasta sauce for the price of a can of tomatoes, a few dried herbs, a clove of two of garlic and an onion.
You can get creative with basic ingredients
Once you have learned a few basic skills, you can have a look at what you have – or what you can afford – and make tasty dishes from whatever is in the cupboard. Curries, the aforementioned pasta sauces, casseroles, soups, omelettes and risottos can be made as cheaply as fish fingers and beans and are much more interesting.
You can make dishes that are more nutritious
If you like the taste of meat but can’t afford it, dishes like cheesy pasta with leeks, peas and bacon or smoky chicken with chick peas can help stretch the rations. Generally speaking, most dishes that you make yourself won’t contain too much sugar, salt and additives and will therefore be healthier.
You can batch cook to save time and money
If you can cook basic dishes such as a tomato sauce, you can make a ton of it and freeze some. Then you can use it mixed with mince or vegetables as a pasta sauce, for lasagne or in a chilli.
You can buy lots of vegetables cheaply in season or at the end of the day at the market and batch cook soup. We grow some of our own vegetables, which makes batch cooked soup making even cheaper.
Having some ready made meals in the freezer saves so much time, and helps prevent the temptation to go for an expensive take away when you are tired at the end of a busy day.
I frequently make double quantities of meals I know will freeze well, such as Bolognese and casseroles. You don’t have to cook huge batches at a time.
You can entertain at home rather than eating out
If a restaurant meal is likely to stretch your budget too far, you can entertain friends by cooking at home much more cheaply. You are then likely to get return invitations and free dinners in exchange!
You can also organise a pot luck supper and confidently take a dish good enough to share.
Once you can cook, I think you get fussier about the meals you will pay for out. They have to be better than I can make for me to spend the money, although it is nice not to have the washing up once in a while.
You can make treats on a budget
If you learn to bake, you can make treats such as farmhouse fruit cake or flapjacks. You can whip up a batch of chocolate brownies or a nice fruit fool. Treats should feature in a budget menu, after all!
When you get really confident, you can make indulgent birthday and other celebration cakes, saving yourself a small fortune.
Bonus reason: it is fun!
These are just some of the reasons everyone on a budget should learn to cook. There is also the fun of it. As I wrote in this post, it is a fun way to entertain children, as well as giving them an important life skill.
Sadly, cooking is no longer taught in any coherent way in schools, which I think is a grave mistake. Understanding food and nutrition would make us all much more healthy.
If you want to learn some good basic cooking skills, Delia Smith has a good section on her website here.
For more of my favourite frugal recipes, have a look here.