Save money and eat well

The authors Michael Van de Elzen and Ganesh Raj. Photos: supplied
The authors Michael Van de Elzen and Ganesh Raj. Photos: supplied
Helping people make better food choices without breaking the bank is the aim of chef Michael Van de Elzen and restaurateur Ganesh Raj’s latest book.

Following their recently screened television series Eat Well for Less, the co-presenters have released a cookbook of the same name, featuring recipes shown in the programme as well as follow-up interviews with some of the families that took part.

They also share some of their tips and tricks on saving money, alternative protein choices, reducing waste and how to pick the good from the bad - all targeted at some of the common problems families have: a lack of time, fussy eaters and buying out-of-season vegetables and expensive snacks.

Here are their tips for keeping costs down:

The No 1 problem we saw with so many of our Eat Well For Less families was going to the supermarket without a list.

Again and again, they’d buy stuff they already had plenty of. Sometimes, even when they did have a list, they’d have the kids with them, picking all sorts of unhealthy treats off the shelves.

In both scenarios, our families spent a lot more than they should have. So, our advice is to check what you have in the fridge and pantry already, make a list of the things you actually do need, and stick to buying just what's on that list. And if you can, leave the kids at home!

Online shopping can be really helpful here. Here’s what mum Hina from Season 2 said:

"I like online shopping because I don’t really have to worry about taking the kids into the shop, and it saves me time as well. And if my shop is going over budget I can just cut out a few items from there easily."

Buying specials without a real purpose for them is a downfall for many people. Shopping online means you won’t be tempted to pick up any you don’t need when walking along the aisles.

There’s nothing wrong with specials if you can swap them for something else you planned, or store them in the freezer for next week, but don’t just buy them because they’re a good deal. If you have time to check specials online ahead of your shop, you can plan them into your weekly menu.

Another costly habit is buying named brands and so many of our families were really keen on their brands! But when we did our taste tests, most of them found nothing wrong with the cheaper supermarket own-brand versions, and almost all of our swaps worked out fine. So do try own brands and see how much you save.

There are all sorts of other tips for saving money when shopping or cooking:

Don’t shop when hungry. It tends to make you buy more, or buy snacks you don’t need.

Spices and dried herbs are reasonably cheap, keep well and make meals way more interesting. They are an affordable way to add interest to your cooking.

Look for fruit and veg that are in season. When they are in season they are at their most plentiful, so they are also at their most affordable. I look at what’s in season and then plan meals around those items.

Frozen veges are also great. You use only what you need without waste, and can use seasonal veges when they’re at their cheapest.

Try growing your own fresh herbs in pots on the windowsill or on the deck. Garden pests don’t seem to attack herbs as much as they do veges, and fresh herbs can really jazz up a meal. It’s something the kids can enjoy doing, too.

Bulk bins in supermarkets can be pricier than buying the same thing in a packet, but it’s worth considering if you only want a small amount or if you can use your own containers.

Add legumes or extra veges to meat dishes to help them go further. For example, add lentils or grated carrot to mince bolognaise or lasagne, and put kidney beans in nacho toppings and chickpeas in stews.

If you are using the oven, plan to cook more than one thing at a time pop in extra veges or meat for the next day, or cook a dessert or sweet treat.

Equipment tips

There are some pieces of equipment that will help you to get on the road to eating well for less.

They don’t have to cost the earth (and watch out for sales!), they just make your life easier in the kitchen and should also give you a tastier meal.

Slow cooker. Simply add in all the ingredients, turn on and walk away. They allow you to cook more affordable cuts of meat like shanks, hocks and silversides over a longer period of time, leaving you with more time and a super tasty meal.

Blender. These can be a really useful tool in the kitchen. Use them for breakfast smoothies (a great use for any leftover fruit), soups or making a quick pesto for your pasta.

Cast-iron pot or frying pan. Forget the fancy and overpriced ones. Just go cast-iron and they will last you a lifetime.

Load your pantry up with some basic herbs, spices and Thai and curry pastes. This will encourage you to use them and in turn you (and the family) will learn to enjoy a broader range of flavours.

Pumpkin Cupcakes

Makes 8

1 tsp baking powder

¾ cup standard flour

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp baking soda

½ cup raw sugar

2 eggs

½ cup vegetable oil

2 cups grated pumpkin

½ cup chopped walnuts or hazelnuts

2 Tbsp raisins

2 Tbsp pumpkin seeds for decoration


juice of 1 lemon

1 Tbsp butter, softened

100g cream cheese, softened

2 Tbsp icing sugar


Preheat oven to 190degC.

Combine all dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add eggs and oil, and mix until just combined. Add grated pumpkin, nuts and raisins and fold in.

Divide mixture evenly between lightly greased cupcake moulds or muffin tins. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Allow to cool in tin for 5 minutes, then turn out on to a wire rack to cool completely before icing.

For the icing, beat together lemon juice, butter and cream cheese. Add icing sugar and continue to beat until smooth. Ice the tops of the cooled cupcakes and decorate with pumpkin seeds.

Lamb & Pumpkin Sausage Rolls with Butter Bean Hummus

Serves 6

Sausage rolls

1 Tbsp vegetable oil

1 small onion, finely sliced

2 cups grated peeled pumpkin, squeezed dry in a tea towel

500g lamb mince

2 tsp salt

cracked pepper

1 Tbsp chopped rosemary leaves

½ cup breadcrumbs

3 large soft wraps

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 Tbsp poppy seeds

1 Tbsp sunflower seeds

Butter bean hummus

1 x 400g can butter beans, drained

1 Tbsp tahini

1 Tbsp oil (any oil apart from extra virgin olive will work)

juice of ½ lemon

½ tsp salt

1 Tbsp water


Preheat oven to 170degC. Line a baking tray with baking paper.

Heat oil in a small frying pan over a medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring regularly, for 5 minutes or until caramelised.

Allow the onion to cool before combining with pumpkin, lamb mince, salt, pepper, rosemary and breadcrumbs in a large bowl. Mix well and divide mixture into three portions.

Lay out wraps and spread one-third of the lamb mix across the middle of each wrap. Fold wraps in half away from you, then roll in half again so there is a double layer of wrap at the base of the roll.

Use beaten egg to glue each roll closed. Brush tops of rolls with remaining egg, then sprinkle each with a different seed, or a mixture. Place on baking tray and cook for 30 minutes.

To make the butter bean hummus, simply place all the ingredients in a food processor and blitz until smooth.

Cut the sausage rolls in half and serve with butter bean hummus on the side.

Famous Chicken Pie

Makes 1 family pie

1 cooked free-range chicken

3 Tbsp vegetable oil

pinch each of salt and black pepper

1 leek

50g butter

4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

50g standard flour

300ml milk

1 cup frozen peas

1 Tbsp Dijon mustard

2 sheets puff pastry, thawed

1 egg

1 Tbsp milk


Preheat oven to 180degC.

Start by picking all the meat off the bird, and set it aside. (Keep the chicken carcass to make stock.)

Thinly slice the leek, place in a colander and rinse thoroughly. Once the leek is well drained, gently heat the oil in a large pot. Add in the leek, salt and pepper, and cook, stirring regularly, until soft. Remove from the pot and set aside.

Add butter to the pot, then add garlic and cook gently, stirring, until soft. Stir in flour and cook, stirring, over a medium heat for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and gradually add first measure of milk, stirring well between additions. Once all the milk has been added, return to the heat and cook for a further 12 minutes, stirring, until the sauce thickens. Add the leek, chicken meat, peas and mustard and stir well to combine.

Spray a family-size pie dish with cooking spray and place one sheet of pastry in the bottom. Spoon in the chicken mix. Lay the second sheet of pastry over the top. With your fingers, press the two sheets of pastry together around the edges and then trim any excess.

Whisk together egg and second measure of milk to make egg wash. Prick the top sheet of pastry with a fork and brush with egg wash. Bake pie for 25-30 minutes.

Delicious served with homemade tomato relish and baby spinach leaves.




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