Photo: Svetlana Foote
A few years ago, my idea of a home-cooked meal was flinging a slice of cheese into a bowl of steaming hot instant noodles. These days, I wouldn’t exactly call myself a good cook, but I’ve at least learnt how to be economical in the kitchen without resorting to MSG-laden convenience foods.
While most Singaporeans view cooking at home as a way to save money, if you buy supermarket items indiscriminately and let half the items in your fridge go to waste, you are going to start asking yourself why you are paying so much when you can just eat at the hawker centre every day at half the price.
Here are some food hacks I’ve started using this year that have made it a lot cheaper and more convenient to cook at home.
Frozen meat over fresh meat
If you’re serious about saving money on food, you’ll reduce your meat intake. But okay, we understand not everyone wants to have a slender figure completely devoid of muscles.
If you have to buy meat, stay away from the deli counter as that’s where it’s most expensive. But don’t always assume the fresh meat is necessarily cheaper than than frozen, either.
Many people think frozen meat is somehow less nutritious than fresh meat, but it’s not really true. As the freezing locks in nutrients instantly, it can actually be even fresher than produce that has had to travel over long distances to get to the supermarket.
But what you really care about is the price, right? Well, a huge 300g slab of salmon at NTUC Fairprice costs $6.95. If you have any experience buying fresh salmon at NTUC, you’ll know it’s very hard to find even a small salmon steak for under $9.
Make soups in bulk and then freeze them
If it were so easy to freeze everything that came out of your kitchen, we’d be thawing frozen fried rice and Hokkien mee in the microwave. Unfortunately, some foods are just disgusting when frozen, which also means you can’t make them in bulk at the start of the month and expect them to be edible on those days when you’re too tired to cook.
Soup, on the other hand, is almost always fine to freeze. Whether you make them in the slow cooker, the blender or just boil the hell out of them, soups are super convenient to store. Just pour them into plastic containers and then place them in the freezer.
So the next time you make soup, don’t just make enough for that night. These things can last forever (or at least more than a month), so if you make big batches of different types of soup you’ll eventually have a big menu of instant meal options in your freezer.
When you’re hungry, remove them the way you would an ice cube (you might have to let them thaw for a few minutes first, then they’ll slip out), place them in a pot and turn up the heat. Faster than instant noodles and more satisfying if you actually care about your health.
Challenge yourself to use all leftovers
Seriously, some people don’t even try to use their leftovers. You might have bought a carton of coconut cream to add to your homemade laksa, but after making the dish it just slowly dies in your fridge until it finally has to be thrown out.
You’re definitely not going to use your leftovers if you leave things to chance. You have to deliberately plan to do so.
Also read: Make a burger using leftover fried rice
Every week or so (more often if you cook daily), declare a “leftovers day” on which you will attempt to use up all the leftovers in your fridge.
It’s really not that hard as virtually everything, even stale bread, can be made use of, so long as it’s not completely rancid. (In case you’e wondering, stale bread can be used to make meatballs.)
Bring snacks when you go out so you don’t get hungry and eat out
You might have planned a beautiful menu for tonight, complete with dessert and candles. But all it takes is an MRT breakdown that leaves you stranded for an hour or another of those 6pm requests from your boss to ruin your grand plans.
When your stomach is threatening to self-digest, it takes an iron will not to succumb to the lure of eating out. And let’s face it, after a gruelling day at the office/on the MRT, you barely have the will to live, let alone to cook.
That’s why it’s always a good idea to have some emergency food in your bag whenever you go out. It could be a bagel from the supermarket, a packet of Tao Kae Noi or a bag of Tong Garden almonds.
Whatever it is, you’ll thank yourself when you’re not starving to death at the bus stop, wishing the haze would just kill you.
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