20 clever kitchen hacks to save money and time

posted by in Saving money

Most of us would love to find easy ways to save both time and money in the kitchen, but just how easily can it be done?

Sometimes it seems like we’re just destined to waste food, and unless you keep a mental tally of every available morsel, there’s just nothing you can do to prevent it…or is there?

Tackling food waste on stuff we eat and drink on a daily basis might be easier than you think. All it takes is a bit of culinary craftiness…

1. No more chicken dinner kerfuffles

Buy chicken breasts in bulk if possible, then put each chicken breast in its own resealable freezer bag with some marinade. All those beautiful flavours will soak into the meat, meaning that you can have delicious chicken whenever you want. Clucking good value (sorry)!

2. No more rock-hard ice cream

Few things make my heart sink like ice cream that’s frozen so solid it could shatter your teeth.
To prevent this outrage occurring, simply put the ice cream tub inside a plastic sealable bag (you can get fairly large sealable bags that will accommodate your standard 1 litre ice cream tubs). The layer of plastic keeps the ice cream nice and scoopable.

3. No more wasting your herbs

Herbs ain’t cheap, and if you have a plant-devouring feline resident like I do, you may not be keen on growing a herb garden on your window ledge to save money. Don’t worry, even those of us who are forced to buy cut herbs can still con-’chive’ to save a couple of pennies (yes, I went there).

If you have a couple of sprigs of leftover herbs from cooking, don’t chuck them in the bin! Popping them in the freezer means you can use them another time for soups and sauces.

4. No more avocado aggro

As you no doubt know, avocados aren’t exactly cheap. I think I might actually feel more disappointed when cutting into a spongy, unripe avocado than when I find rock hard ice cream (actually, that’s a lie. Inedible ice cream breaks my heart – and my teeth – like nothing else).

At the bottom of the avocado is its ‘belly button’, a tough little pip that you can pop right out to see what stage of ripeness the avocado’s at. If it’s green, give it a day or two. If it’s dark brown, bin it as it’s been left too long to ripen (shame on you). If it’s a beige colour, it’s just right. Enjoy!

5. No more pear pandemonium

Flipping pears. They’re as hard as bricks when you buy a bag of them, then they all ripen at once and need eating straight away. How selfish!

Ripened pairs can be turned into a super delicious and easy to prepare dessert. All you need to do is peel them, trim the stalks, place the pears into a slow cooker and cover with red wine and a little caster sugar. You can also cook them in a large saucepan but it will take half the time, so keep an eye on the pears so they don’t burn.

To be extra festive, swap the red wine for mulled wine and hold the sugar. Cook on the high setting for about an hour and a half. Once your pears are good and simmered, serve them with yoghurt, cream or ice cream.

This recipe from Simple Nourished Living is just the ticket!

6. No more lacklustre cooked veggies

If you cook your green vegetables for under seven minutes, they’ll stay greener than if you were to cook them longer than seven minutes. The reason is because the magnesium atom in chlorophyll turns to a hydrogen atom when it gets hot, damaging the cells and turning them more of a yellow green color.

7. No more stale biscuits

No one enjoys throwing away biscuits (and if you do, you’re bad and we can’t be friends, sorry). But what if they go stale? Don’t panic! All you need to do is pop the stale biccies in a resealable bag along with a slice of bread. The biscuits will absorb the moisture right out of the bread, making them good and tasty again.

8. No more gross guacamole

I love guacamole, but I’m not a big fan of the brown, unappetising eyesore it can turn into after only a couple hours of being opened.

You can prevent this by covering the guacamole layer with cling film or dribbling a small amount of water on top. This basically acts as a barrier between the guacamole and the air that likes to turn it brown and ruin everyone’s fun. Flipping air. Who said the air was invited, anyway?

9. No more tossed aside tea bags

Did you know that used tea bags can make tough cuts of meat extra tender? Put your leftover tea bags in a pan and boil them to make a marinade for meat before you cook it. Combine the marinade and meat with herbs, spices and garlic. Put the marinated meat back in the fridge to let it soak for at least a few hours or overnight. For next to nothing you’ll have delicious, melt in your mouth steaks.

10. No more crunchless crudites

Celery and cucumber can quickly lose their crunch while languishing in the veggie drawer of your fridge. You can combat this by wrapping them in tin foil. This keeps the crunch locked in for longer.

11. No more slowpoke bananas

If you fancy baking some banana bread but your bananas are too green to get going, try baking them on your oven’s lowest setting until they turn a rich, dark colour. When you peel them, they’ll be good and soft enough for you to start baking. If you’ve got bananas that are getting a little soggy in the fruit bowl, this is a smarter way to deal with them versus just chucking them in the bin.

12. No more oversized burgers

Homemade burgers really can’t be beaten. You can make them to your liking, add things like herbs and chopped onion, and they can often work out much cheaper than ready made burgers from the shop.

There’s a quick and easy way to prepare burgers for freezing in bulk. Buy some ground beef and put it into yet another sealable freezer bag. Seal the bag shut and flatten the ground beef out as much as you can. You then take a barbecue skewer or chopstick and then press it against the bag as if you were making a grid to play noughts and crosses with.

You now have nine decent sized burger patties you can break out of the freezer if last minute guests drop in for dinner. You can also break off however many you need at a time for a quick weeknight evening meal.

13. No more boulderous brown sugar

Ah, brown sugar! How come you taste so good? Not that I would know, seen as you insist on turning into something left over from the Jurassic period whenever I turn my back on you.
Honestly, I think brown sugar and ice cream have some kind of conspiracy going on. All I know is, I’m not amused!

The problem with clumpy brown sugar is that it’s much more difficult to get an exact measurement if you’re trying to make cakes or…whatever else you use brown sugar for. Not only is this not very calorie-smart, but this is how you slowly but surely use more food than you really need to, which costs you money over time.

Apparently marshmallows have some special property that stops brown sugar from solidifying. If you drop a couple into the mix, you should find that your brown sugar’s nice and grainy next time you need to use it.

14. No more wasted wine

I hate waste, and wasted wine is very sad to contemplate, especially if it’s the good stuff! If you find you just can’t finish the bottle, you can freeze the leftover wine in ice cube trays rather than pouring it down the sink. This is also a great way to store wine for use in cooking, too.

15. No more crusty-edged cake

The problem with cake is that there’s often way too much to eat in one sitting. If you’ve been given a slice of someone else’s cake, you might find it’s a bit crusty and stale after a couple of days. Either way, it’s not very appealing.

A nifty trick for keeping cake from going stale is to prop a slice of bread against the edges with toothpicks. Again, the bread very kindly yields forth its moist and fresh-tastic qualities, making the cake fun and festive to eat again.

16. No more melancholy mayonnaise

Salads are great and all, but salad dressing can just bog right off for how overpriced it can sometimes be. There’s a cheeky hack for yummy homemade salad dressing. The main ingredient is that pesky last dollop of mayonnaise at the bottom of the jar or bottle.

Next time you’re running low on mayo, add a few dashes of olive oil, some spices and chopped up herbs. Put the top back on and give it a good shake. When you’re done, you’ll have a tasty salad dressing for a pinch of the price.

17. No more wasted mashed potato

Made bangers and mash but have lots of potato left over in the pan? Once cooled, scrape the leftover mash into a sealable bag and bung it into the freezer. It’ll be good for the next two months!

18. No more faffing about with porridge

Few things get my day started like a lovely big bowl of porridge. It’s just a shame that cooking it on the hob can be such a palava. Instant porridge just isn’t the same, and often it’s loaded with sugar and other stuff you didn’t sign up for.

Planning healthy breakfasts ahead of time means that you’re less likely to scurry into the shops on the way to work for food. Keep yourself in plentiful porridge supply by cooking up a big batch and then freezing it in muffin tins.

Once frozen, transfer the porridge ‘pods’ into sealable freezer bags. You can then grab a porridge pod each morning to put in a bowl and warm up while you get ready, or at work. Pretty smart, eh?

19. No more uneven cookie mix portions

Ever made cookies and cupcakes and found that you’ve used too much mixture for some of them? The results can look something like an aromatic Picasso painting.

A spring-loaded ice cream scoop can help you divide your cookie and cupcake mix into even portions, preventing such a wanton waste of good confectionary.

20. No more dregs of sour milk

Milk has an annoying habit of going iffy all too soon. The next time you find yourself nearing the expiry date with just a few splashes left, pour the milk into an ice cube tray and drop some broken chocolate chip cookies in with it. Once frozen, you can then pour your morning coffee over the cookie milk cubes for a sweet ‘this is so good I don’t even care if it’s Monday’ treat.

Rachel Connor has been with the charity for over 8 years, starting in Helpline before joining the MoneyAware team in 2012. Rach enjoys travelling, video games, watching anime, reading and creative writing in her spare time (currently writing a Young Adult fantasy series). She had a previous life as head writer on Cartoon Network's Ed Edd n Eddy and as a copywriter for LivingSocial. She's also written comics and graphic novels for the animated series Regular Show.

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  • Chris D

    I compost my fruit and veg peelings. Tea bags and fresh coffee grounds can be used too. I’ve even started a compost bag with my team and I take all of the peelings home to add to my compost bin.
    I don’t get much ( the unhealthy bunch)