Celeb Chef Ben O’Donoghue Reveals How You Can Save Cash On Food!

From what we spend too much on, which food to buy in bulk and the best dishes for those who are time poor or less confident cooks!

Chef Ben O’Donoghue might be a dab hand in the kitchen, and owner of three award-winning restaurants but he told 9Saver that hosting new show Eat Well For Less has helped him see the ways he can make positive changes to the way he shops and eats with his family.

“(It) made me really think twice about the practices we employ at home,” O’Donoghue said.

The show, which the chef co-hosts with journalist, Leila McKinnon, sees the pair help out families, couples and groups of friends who are overspending on their food and not making the most of what they do buy.

If you need some help saving money in the kitchen, the supermarket or just want to refresh your good habits, the foodie expert has shared his top tips for saving money on your food shop, meals that are quick and easy and food swaps for popular items!

9SAVER: On the show, you talk about average household spend on groceries being $13,900 annually and $156 weekly. What is a good budget to aim for?

O’DONOGHUE: In an ideal world to try and aim for that household average. I know that as a household of five — as three children and two adults. We spend between $220 and $250 a week, and that’s keeping it pretty tight. Whatever the maths are, I’m sure we could even tighten our belt. We try to. Making sure we avoid going out, doing those lazy take aways when you could make something nutritious.

9SAVER: What are three simple ways Aussies can cut costs on their food?

O’DONOGHUE: Firstly, take stock of what you have on hand, and when you go to the supermarket, definitely make a list so you’re not doing double purchases. Use up what you’ve got before you go shopping, make the best of leftovers. We try and avoid taking our children shopping because it’s a distraction isn’t it, and the potential to lead you into impulse purchases and things you don’t necessarily need. That’s not always easy to do when you have two working parents and you don’t have childcare options!

9SAVER: What foods are we spending too much on?

O’DONOGHUE: We always pay more for packaged foods. There’s packaging costs, and labour costs in terms of putting things into packages. So where you can, buy loose vegetables. In terms of small goods, go to the deli counter where people can buy quite often the same products sliced. It’s quite a few cents cheaper, if not dollars cheaper than what you pay for packaged food. One of the things we focus on in the show is brand loyalty. Do you have to have the Kellogs cereal, can you eat and put up with the home brand? Quite often some of the supermarkets are emulating some of those brands very closely, and they’re considerably cheaper.

9SAVER: One of the families on the show was buying a huge number of different cheeses! How can we avoid that kind of thing?

O’DONOGHUE: I would say you have to be disciplined. You can sometimes go to delis and buy (things like cheese) in larger pieces and save more money. Instead of having a multitude or a variety, concentrate on one or two of the particular cheeses that you love, and buy those in larger amounts.

9SAVER: When we’re shopping, which items should we bulk buy?

O’DONOGHUE: If you can, things like rice and pasta, you can save money buying those in larger quantities. They don’t go off so they can stay in your cupboard for longer. Your dried goods you can buy in bulk. Sometimes savings can be made if you buy larger cuts of meat and cut them down. I think the key is not to just shop in one place, and go to places that are cheaper for certain things. In Brisbane we have a super butcher. You could buy a whole shoulder of lamb for example, which might be on special. Always look for specials. And then you can cut it up, dice it, mince it, freeze it and use it as you need. Also, vegetables — buying frozen vegetables as opposed to fresh. You can buy frozen cauliflower, frozen broccoli and obviously peas are wonderful frozen — so they don’t go off in the fridge. They only need a quick re-heat and you only need to pull out what you need any everything else goes in the freezer. Nutritionally they’re perfectly good, flavour’s fine.

9SAVER: Seasonal fruit and veggies can be more affordable — which ones should we be buying going in winter?

O’DONOGHUE: In terms of fruit — apples and pears are all coming into season. Look for those. Also, pumpkins, the autumnal vegetables. Brussel sprouts are good, and cabbages so you could make kimchi and sauerkraut, if you’re that way inclined. So you can buy things at their cheapest and make them last for longer.

9SAVER: For people are a bit less confident in the kitchen — but are trying to save money, what are some easy recipes they can try that are more affordable than packaged skills?

O’DONOGHUE: Making your own tomato sugos (sauce). You can go to a farmers market and get a big box of tomatoes really cheaply for $7 a box — whereas you might pay $12 a kilo in a supermarket. It’s really easy to find recipes with this wonderful tool called Google. Keep some jars instead of throwing them away, boil them and let them dry and make your tomato sauces — which is so simple. It’s just garlic, olive oil, maybe a bit of chill, dried basil, put all your tomatoes in and cook until it’s soupy. Make sure it tastes nice. While it’s hot put it into jars and seal them up, boil the jars for maybe 20 mins or so, let them cool down and they will be preserved for months to come. So if you want to make your own pasta sauce, you’ve got your tomato sauce in the cupboard. And you can also save money by giving them as gifts!

9SAVER: People order food because they are time poor — what are some quick dishes to make dinner when strapped for time?

O’DONOGHUE: A perfect example is last Sunday, me and my wife worked, busy day for us at the restaurant on Sundays, so we get home at 5pm. We were erring on the takeaway, then my wife and I said let’s eat what we can from cupboard. We are lucky because our kids like Asian food, so we just made a bit of a noodle soup. We don’t make stock, we keep stock cubes in the cupboard, so we’ll make the stock base and then I’ll season it up with a bit of ginger, grated garlic, little bit of sesame oil, a bit of soy sauce. We always have noodles, whether they be packaged egg noodles or something. We heap some noodles up, and then we might have some vegetables from the fridge that we chop up and put in there. In ten minutes you’ve got a pretty nutritious meal, that probably cost us $10 instead of spending $60 on a takeaway meal.

Making a menu plan and giving yourself direction through the week in terms of what you’re going to cook. Quite often when my wife or I go shopping we’ve started going to Aldi because of the show, buy some larger packs of mince. We’ll prep all that, chop all our vegetables and make a Bolognese mix and then we’ll freeze them in sandwich containers.

9SAVER: What are some great alternatives to expensive kids’ snacks?

O’DONOGHUE: We’ve got three kids and they’re all different — we can put carrot sticks in on kid’s lunchbox and apples and stuff and he’ll eat it and the others don’t Nothing wrong with the old cheese cracker! A few crackers and few slices of cheddar cheese, and put those in there. If kids are hungry, they will eat. The appetite is the best thing for trying new foods! One of the families on the show loved those little yoghurt pockets with tippers, and when you look at how much they cost — buying a 1 litre tub of similar natural yoghurts, and make your own granola or buy some you like. Put in little Tupperware containers and do your own. They do taste great!

9SAVER: Ben, can you give us some swaps for this popular foods?

Packaged lasagne:
O’DONOGHUE: I would say — make your own. Make it in bulk and freeze it down. It’s so quick to make. You might spend 45 mins making a big one and then you can just cut it down and put it in the freezer. And when you are time poor you have those choices right there.

Branded soft drinks
O’DONOGHUE: In an ideal world you’d want to cut them out because of sugar. But buying a soda stream is by the most affordable way to save money if you like your fizzy drinks. Just on soda water alone, it’s like 60cents for a soda stream or $1-2 dollars for a home brand soda water. You can buy the syrups or make your own syrups if you want.

Premium brand cereals
O’DONOGHUE: Make your own granola. It’s the easiest thing in the world to make. Sarah Wilson has a awesome recipe for a really low sugar one. Can you make with barley malt or something similar. In granola, what costs the most are the nuts and seeds – at wholesale they’re $23 a kilo. That’s expensive. So if you make your own, that’s the best option.

9SAVER: Finally, what is your number one top tip for saving money on food and cooking?

O’DONOGHUE: Plan ahead. I need to practice what I preach, because we don’t always. But it is a surefire way of saving money and not wasting food. Make a menu plan and go to the shop with a list. We have friends who do it and they’re always saying how much money they’ve saved. And just be disciplined with yourself. When you’re feeling lazy and want to have takeaway, get off your arse and use your leftovers!

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