If you find yourself frequently reaching for Uber Eats to order your dinner, getting into the habit of making your own can save you a heap.
Knowing how to cook is an invaluable life skill. As well as making meals much more healthy and enjoyable, it can be incredibly cost effective, with a wide range of chefs tailoring recipes to home cooks on tight budgets.
We spoke to four professional chefs and home cooks to find out what they are doing to beat food inflation, along with their tips for getting started. They’ve also told us their favourite recipes to cook on a budget.
Each recipe below contains a summary of the total costs if you were to shop for the ingredients at the supermarket chain Morrisons.
Also included are the savings compared to the average cost of takeaways in the UK, which was £7.45 per meal in April 2021 – just under £30 in total for a family of four – according to research carried out by NetVoucherCodes.
However, this figure is likely to be even higher now due to the effects of surging inflation on business costs such as ingredients, transport and energy.
With some of the recipes below costing less than £5 to feed four people, you could save about £25 by hitting the hob instead of the takeaway.
Ella: ‘Use whole vegetables and invest in high quality ingredients’
Ella, 24, works for a tech company in Dublin, and runs a food blog, @ellasveganplate on Instagram. Here are her best tips for cooking on a budget.
How to make harissa tomato soup (serves four)
“Having a small handful of high quality ingredients can elevate your pantry staples, like tinned tomatoes,” Ella explains.
“This recipe uses tinned beans and tomatoes for a soup but it’s the rose harissa and tahini that make the dish so special.”
- 2 cans of chopped tomatoes (98p)
- 1 can of cannellini beans (79p)
- 60 grams of runny tahini (£1.80)
- 175 ml of water
- 1 tablespoon of sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar (£1.99 for a bottle)
- A tablespoon of agave syrup (£2.50 for a bottle)
- Rose harissa or regular harissa (1 tablespoon) (£2 for a jar)
- 1 handful of cashews (optional) (£2.49)
- 1 bulb of garlic (65p)
Preheat your oven to 200 degrees celsius, or 400 degrees fahrenheit, and cut the top off the garlic head. Slather some olive oil on it, then wrap it in tinfoil and put it in the oven for 35 minutes. Meanwhile, dice a medium white or yellow onion and measure out the remaining ingredients in advance.
If you like a bit of spice, heat the olive oil (use chilli oil if you’d like some heat) in a dutch oven or casserole over medium heat. Let it heat up until you feel the warmth when hovering your hand over. Add the onion, then stir frequently for 5 minutes. Add the harissa and stir for five minutes.
Pour in two cans of chopped tomatoes, vinegar and then 3/4 cup of water. If your blender isn’t strong, add cashews now. Bring to a boil and then down to a simmer, uncovered. Let it cook for fifteen minutes. Next, add the beans.
Add salt and pepper, then place the mixture in a blender along with the tahini, agave syrup and cashews (if you haven’t already). Add the roasted garlic and blend, blend, blend.
Taste the soup and see how you like the thickness – add more water if it’s a bit too thick, plus salt & pepper to taste.
Top with extra tahini, flaked almonds, and purple basil. You can even add microgreens, Oatly crème fraîche or pickled onions!
The maths. If you’re buying everything from scratch, the total cost of these ingredients comes to £13.20. This works out at £3.30 per serving for a family of four, a saving of over £4 per person compared to your average takeaway.
However, the real cost of this dish is much lower, because for the most part you’re only using a fraction of what you’ve bought. This means you can make this soup over and over again, just topping up a couple of ingredients, which will seriously lower the cost.
Alice: ‘Buy versatile ingredients and stock up on seasonings’
“For me, cooking is all about being food-smart,” says Alice, 25. “It’s thinking about where you’re buying your food; what you’re cooking with; and how you’re cooking it.”
Here are some of her top money-saving tips.
- Buy ingredients that can be used in multiple ways. For example, carrots could be used in a bolognese, a stir fry, a roast, or as a snack with hummus. If you are buying multi-purpose ingredients and planning your meals, you are sure to make your food go much further.
- Embrace frozen fruit and veg. They’re a much cheaper alternative and have a much longer storage life.
- Stock up on spices and seasonings. You can make the cheapest ingredients taste delicious if you have things to flavour them with, even frozen veg.
My favourite seasonings which I think can transform any meal are: garam masala, Chinese five spice, smoked paprika, dried herbs like oregano, black peppercorns (buy them like this and you can keep topping up your grinder instead of buying a new jar each time), cumin, chilli flakes and sea salt. I also always have soy sauce, sesame oil and fish sauce.
How to make a lentil dahl (serves four)
“This recipe is a standard dhal recipe that never fails. It is ridiculously cheap and super delicious, plus easy to make in bulk and freeze.
“Also, the best thing about it is you can add extra elements to make it more impressive (for instance, if you’re hosting a dinner), whilst still keeping it super low cost by using similar ingredients.”
- Lentils (£2)
- Chopped tomatoes (98p)
- Coconut milk (£1)
- Spinach (£1.15)
- Large white onion (53p)
- Garlic (65p)
- Ginger (99p)
- Chilli (powder or fresh) (55p)
- Vegetable or chicken stock cube (89p)
- Garam masala (89p)
- Cumin (99p)
- Curry powder (£1.95)
- Star anise (99p)
- Lemon (25p)
- Rice (£1.29)
- Coriander (£1.35)
Cook your rice according to instructions. In a medium-sized pot, add oil and when it’s sizzling hot, toss in the chopped onions, garlic, ginger, chill and salt and cook for five to seven minutes or until the onion pieces are translucent.
While this is cooking, make your stock, then add your spices and cook for one minute. Add your lentils and stir until they are fully coated. Add your chopped tomatoes, stock and coconut milk to the pan and bring to the boil. Use more or less chopped tomatoes and coconut milk depending on how creamy or tomato-heavy you want it.
Once boiled, bring to a simmer and add the juice of one lemon and a clove of star anise. Put the lid on the pan and let it simmer for approximately 10 to 15 minutes, or until the lentils are cooked.
When almost done, add your spinach plus any additional seasonings, such as salt, pepper and lemon. Serve with rice and any extras, such as a slice of lemon and some fresh coriander.”
The maths. The total cost of this dish, if you’re buying everything from scratch, comes to £16.45, a cost of just over £4 per person. This saves a total of around £13.50 compared to a takeaway for four.
However, you’ll have a heap of ingredients leftover including an impressive array of spices, making it much cheaper to make this dish again in the future.
David: ‘Shop at markets and skip the ready meals‘
“I grew up in a household that loved cooking,” explains David, a 25-year-old professional chef based in Amsterdam.
“My father, originally from Portugal, came to work and train in Michelin starred kitchens. Dinner was the occasion at the end of the day that brought all the family together.
“Cooking was a journey I started only after leaving home for university, and I would try to recreate the flavours and meals that had been so lovingly prepared for me when I was younger. Often, these initial experiments were a disaster that would only improve following a couple of phone calls home.
“I’m currently working as a chef in a modern fine dining restaurant in Amsterdam whilst studying for my final exams to become a lawyer. A passion for food has become a way to support myself.”
Here are David’s favourite ways to save money while cooking:
- Try to buy food at markets and independent, specialised shops. Prices tend to be fairer, as at the supermarket you pay for the convenience of everything being in one place.
Markets and independent shops also offer much higher quality, and people who work with the produce every day can advise you on what to go for.
- Use leftover fruit and veg that is reaching its expiry date. A lot of recipes call for overly ripe fruit that is on the cusp of being bad, a good way to make healthy smoothies or fill out dinners with vegetables that would otherwise go to waste.
Fermentation and pickling are also a great way to ensure zero food waste and will add life to any dish.
- Avoid buying ready meals. The individual components of them are often incredibly cheap, and the cost of one is better spent on whole ingredients to make a dish that can last for days. A big batch can be frozen for the future.
How to make Ethiopian lentil stew (serves four)
“This dish uses a simple clarified butter to add all the flavour and heat. It is hearty and makes use of cheap red lentils with essential cupboard ingredients.”
- 500g of butter (£2.59)
- Rice (£1.29)
- Coriander (£1.35)
- Dried red lentils (£1.35)
- Two onions (58p)
- Garlic (65p)
- Cinnamon stick (99p)
- Cardamom pods (99p)
- Cumin (99p)
- Oregano (99p)
- Smoked paprika (99p)
- Fenugreek (99p)
- Ginger (99p)
- Tomato paste (45p)
- Nutmeg (99p)
- Basil leaves (£1.49)
- Berbere spice mix or Ras El Hanout (99p)
- Vegetable stock cube (89p)
First, you’ll need to make the clarified butter.
Melt the butter over a low heat. Add half of an onion, not sliced, with two cloves of crushed garlic. Stir occasionally until the onion is translucent.
Next add a cinnamon stick, the contents of eight cardamom pods, two teaspoons of cumin, two teaspoons of oregano, a teaspoon of smoked paprika, a teaspoon of fenugreek, a thumb of ginger, half a teaspoon of ground nutmeg and a handful of basil leaves.
Leave to cook on a low heat, stirring occasionally for twenty minutes. Strain through a sieve and add the content to a glass jar. You only need to use a bit of this clarified butter for this recipe, but it will keep for a long time and can be used in a wide range of recipes to add flavour.
Soak a cup of dried red lentils for about two hours, then pour the water out and wash the lentils one more time through a sieve with running water.
Chop up an onion and a clove of garlic, then cook using three tablespoons of the clarified butter for about three minutes. Add a tablespoon of Berbere spice mix or Ras El Hanout, a thumb of chopped ginger and a tablespoon of smoked paprika. Mix well with a spoon.
After another two minutes, add the soaked lentils and a tablespoon of tomato paste. Cook for another three minutes.
Add vegetable stock to cover the mixture, bring to the boil and then to a low simmer.
The lentils will thicken into a sauce in about 25 minutes at this heat with occasional stirring. Once you have the desired consistency, turn off the heat and leave to sit for 15 minutes. Serve with rice and coriander. Freeze any leftover batches.
The maths. This is another spice heavy recipe, which will leave you well equipped to make this dish and many others in the future. You’ll also have a jar of clarified butter after cooking this, which can be used in all sorts of other recipes.
If you’re making this from scratch, this will cost you about £19, or just under £5 each in a family of four, saving you around £2.50 per person compared to a takeaway. But after you’ve got all the spices and the clarified butter, you’ll only need to pay for rice, lentils and fresh basil. That’s a grand total of £4.13 to feed four!
Kai: ‘Find low-cost substitutes and grow your own vegetables’
“I grew up from the age of about 11 mostly with my dad who lacks a sense of smell due to nasal polyps, and generally is not that fussed about experimenting with food. We didn’t even have olive oil,” Kai, 25, explains.
“Because of this I started making a lot of my own meals at 14 or 15, and had experimented with a lot of food.”
Here are Kai’s top tips to save money while cooking:
- Find cheap substitutions. Meat can be swapped for lentils, mushrooms and potatoes. Old bread (one of the most wasted food items) also works amazingly in stews. You could even just use stock to get the meat flavour. Red wine can be used instead of pomegranate molasses. My mum used to put fish fingers into sushi!
- Microwaving food is not defeatism. It uses 80% less energy than an oven. I had a nifty gadget called a steam roaster which mimics the oven’s heat dispersion, saving me money.
- Grow your own, or volunteer at a local allotment. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to grow my own vegetables through my volunteer work at a care home in West London. I didn’t need to buy a single courgette all summer.
- Make your own stock. I love making stock so much that my friends refer to one holiday in Greece as stock gate. Keeping leftover bones and fat in the fridge then boiling it with lots of veg is a great way to make tasty, healthy broth. A chicken can last you the whole week if you need it to, bones and all.
How to make cheap pesto (serves four)
This is an easy pesto that you can make with some very common ingredients.
- Greens. You don’t have to use purely basil for this or at all. I used mostly my freely grown garden greens, which gave it a spicy rocket taste. Check the reduced-price section in supermarkets for cheap greens such as rocket or spinach at the end of the day (£0 to £1.49, depending on what you buy)
- Cheese. Parmesan is expensive. Feel free to use any tangy cheese (between £2 and £3 depending on what you buy)
- Oil. Mix olive oil with sunflower oil/other cheap oil (£2 to £3 if you don’t have any in)
- Herbs. Mix and match, don’t be a purist (up to £2)
- Nuts. Pine nuts are super expensive. Go for peanuts, or sunflower seeds if you have nut allergies. Blend the nuts separately (up to £2)
Blend everything with a food processor or hand mixer. You can even chop the ingredients finely and stir if you don’t have either. Add it to pasta, rice, mushrooms or any bulky food to make a hearty, healthy meal.
The maths. If you’re buying everything from scratch, this dish can cost up to £13, depending on what you buy. However, if you make cheap substitutions along the way, or look for reductions, it can come to no more than £5.
This means the dish costs a maximum of £3.25 per person, but can also be just over a pound. This means you’ll save at least £4.20 per person compared to your average takeaway.
More tips for getting started with cooking on a budget
Along with the tips from the chefs above, there are plenty of other ways to cut costs and make getting started with cooking less daunting.
1. Get the right equipment. It might seem like a major expense, but a decent knife, a chopping board, a saucepan, a frying pan, a wooden spoon and a colander are all you need to get started – supermarkets and Amazon sell these at low prices.
2. Get onboard with TikTok and Instagram recipes. Lots of chefs have taken to social media to show off their recipes, and plenty are targeted at those cooking on a budget.
You can find recipes for practically anything on these platforms, so if you’ve got a particular hankering for something, search for it. When recipes are suggested to you, save them to your account, then pull them up when you get hungry.
3. Borrow recipe books from friends and family, and scour the internet. Everybody has old recipe books that they were given for Christmas, often barely touched. The internet is also a phenomenal resource for ideas and recipes.
4. Cook enough for more than you are serving at one meal and keep the extra helpings in the fridge or freeze them. It’s much less effort to cook double what you need and keep it in some Tupperware than cooking a new meal from scratch later on.
If you’re cooking for two, scale up the recipe to feed six. If you’re freezing food, portion it out and add it to separate sandwich bags beforehand – that way you won’t defrost more than you need.
5. Find out what vegetables are in season to get them when they’re cheapest. This means that you can adapt your dishes around the most affordable ingredients. The National Trust’s website lists what fruits and vegetables are in season during each month of the year .
6. Use food processors and slow cookers for easy meals. A rice cooker means you’re less likely to reach for the phone to order a takeaway because it’s so easy, while a food processor is cheap and makes preparing soup a breeze. Throw some meat, vegetables and herbs into a slow cooker for a few hours and you’ve got the easiest stew going.
7. Use an app to avoid food waste. SuperCook is one of many apps that shows you a range of recipes you can make with what you’ve got in the pantry.
8. Find out when your local supermarket makes reductions on fresh food. We’ve listed the times when the major supermarkets reduce the prices of their perishable goods. If you don’t know what to make, see what’s on offer at the specified time and use SuperCook to see what you can concoct.
9. If you live with housemates, take turns cooking or do it together. As well as being cost effective, it can be a lot of fun to cook and try out new recipes with others.
If you’re looking for ways to save in the supermarket amid rising prices, see our 17 ways to cut the cost of your food bill.