What's the secret to cooking on a budget?

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1. Money saving meals

UK sales of prepared meals are forecast to reach a staggering £5.5bn in 2015, according to retail analyst Mintel. It's easy to understand why we rely on convenience food, but it often comes at a cost to our health and wealth.

Yet a Populus survey commissioned by BBC Dish Up revealed that saving money and eating better are the two main factors that would inspire the UK population to cook from scratch more often.

The good news is that a cleverly stocked store cupboard means you can do both. A few well-chosen ingredients will ensure you always have an appealing alternative to ready meals and takeaways – even when you're short of time. But which ingredients should you stock up on?

2. The basics

These six superhero staples should be in every store cupboard. Click on the labels to find out why.

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3. What seasonings do you need?

We all have our favourite types of food. Understanding the staples required for yours will make it easier to know if an ingredient is a worthwhile investment. Discover the top seasonings needed for each of these popular cuisines.

Italian food is easy to make and inexpensive, but success depends on quality ingredients. Buy tinned tomatoes, bay leaves, dried oregano and decent olive oil.

Mexican food is often sold in kits, but you can save money by making your own – and it won't take an age! Stock up on paprika, chilli flakes and tinned beans.

Indian recipes often come with a long list of ingredients, but if you have cumin, garam masala and chilli powder you'll always be able to make a tasty meal.

Chinese food is a takeaway favourite, but you can make it at home with a few store cupboard flavourings such as soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger and chilli paste.

Thai food has sweet, sour and salty notes from Thai fish sauce, coconut milk, chillies, lemongrass and galangal. All the fresh ingredients freeze well.

4. Be a 'canny' cook

Tinned foods tend to be cheap, but they retain a lot of nutrients and have a long shelf life. They can be used to make all manner of quick, healthy dishes, so don't limit yourself to baked beans on toast!

Beans and pulses: Dried v tinned

Beans and pulses are very nutritious and a useful standby for last-minute dinners such as spicy bean wraps, sausage casseroles or veggie stews. Dried beans and pulses are much cheaper, but tins are still cheap compared to most foods. Dried versions often need soaking and tins are more convenient.


Tinned potatoes are great in Spanish omelettes and casseroles. Sweetcorn can be used in everything from stir-fries to salads. Chickpeas and spinach are both great in curries. Try to buy tinned vegetables in water, rather than brine, which contains a lot of salt.


Tuna is a popular choice, but you can now buy everything from pilchards to lobster in tins. Try sardines on toast or with pasta. Anchovies add fantastic depth of flavour to sauces.

Dented tins: Can you eat it?

The food in most dented tins will be safe to eat, but this can't be guaranteed. Where the seal of a tin is broken there is a risk of botulism. If you choose to buy them check the tin first – if it is bloated, the ends 'pop' when pressed or the contents spit when it's opened, there is a high risk of food poisoning.

5. Store cupboard starches

Click on the labels to discover which starches suit your cooking best.

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Starchy foods such as pasta and rice should make up about a third of your diet according to the NHS eatwell plate. As well as being good for you, they are cheap and store well in air-tight containers.

6. Frozen ingredients to have at hand

The freezer section of supermarkets stock a lot of processed food, but there are some great value gems to be found. A well-stocked freezer can make life much easier, providing healthy, balanced meals in minutes.

  • Frozen vegetables. Stock up on peas, onions and mixed vegetables so you’ll always have options for healthy meals.
  • Frozen fish and seafood. Cook-from-frozen fish fillets are a healthy standby. Seafood mixes make great fish pies, chowders and pasta dishes.
  • Meat and meat substitutes. Try cook-from-frozen mince, or diced meat for stir-fries, wraps and curries. Quality varies, but frozen doesn't equal bad.
  • Frozen fruit. For sweet treats, frozen fruit makes great crumbles and smoothies. Over-ripe bananas can be frozen and made into healthy ice cream.

Other things to consider are frozen fresh herbs, root ginger and chillies: it's not the cheapest way to buy them, but it makes sense if you use them infrequently. Frozen mash makes many family-favourite meals easier and ready rolled puff pastry can be used to make cheat's pizzas or turn leftover stews and casseroles into pies.

7. Starter kit: Find your top recipes

Find simple, fuss-free recipes that work around your lifestyle; whether that’s a tight budget, fussy family or strict schedule.

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